The vinous adventure continues on the road to the wine show in Cannes, France, including sampling Palon’s heavenly 2004 Gigondas.
In my first article, A long and winey road, I related how I became a wine agent and was soon after invited to an all-expense paid visit to Cannes. The event there was a by invitation only, a prelude to the huge bi-annual VINISUD wine fair held in Montpellier, that features wines from producers located around the Mediterranean.
Hélène (my wife and invaluable partner – you see, she speaks French) and I left Toronto amid a nasty snowstorm in early February, 2006, landed at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris and hied our way to Avignon in southern France via the very fast TGV train. We emerged from the modern train station into brilliant, warm sunshine and a sparkling azure sky. Ah, Provence.
We rested a few days in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and then plotted our Cannes and VINISUD winery selection strategy over a long, languid lunch (I warned there would be many of these) at Le Café de la Place located in the principle square in the middle of town. ‘Cousin’ Robert and our vinous angel Christian Esparza, owner of the local wine emporium, Caves et Domaines joined in the delicious deliberations. While Christian ordered some splendid local wines and recommended wineries to see from the Cannes/VINISUD participant list, Robert gleefully assaulted the endless array of delicacies displayed before us. “Make sure you see Charles Pacaud and try his exquisite Domaine La Croix Chaptal creations from the Languedoc,” Christian advised. “And, be certain to meet Eva Schubert from Champagne Forget-Brimont … she is as special as the bubbly her winery produces. Another thing,” he continued, “Developing strong personal relationships with the vintners is of paramount importance.” It was a good thing I was taking notes because glasses of Vacqueyras Blanc and Gigondas Rouge from Domaine Palon were mysteriously evaporating.
I’ll digress briefly to tell you about the Palon’s heavenly 2004 Gigondas, one of the victims to which Robert and the rest of us laid waste. Skillfully crafted by 24 year old Sébastien Palon (the fourth generation of Palon vignerons), it was comprised of 79 per cent Grenache (I love Grenache), 15 per cent Syrah and six per cent Mourvèdre from vines averaging more than 40 years of age. It was a lovely clear deep red and sported aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries that had been steeped in alcohol, along with hints of wild underbrush (garrigue), liquorice and tobacco. In the mouth it was velvety, concentrated and beautifully balanced with a lingering aftertaste of roasted coffee beans. It was one of the finest young Gigondas I had ever tasted. When we imported the wine several months later, it sold for a mere $CAD24 the bottle.
Back to journey and the admonition to: “Develop strong personal relationships with the vintners!” But, how could we do that? No matter with whom in the industry we spoke, the message was the same. The odds of a new agent obtaining a single order, let alone many, from the LCBO, were as slim as a carnivore’s pickings at a vegans’ buffet. And, without orders, how could we ever hope to become close to our suppliers? Then it came to me. Many years earlier when living in Montreal, I was introduced to the fledgling Opimian Society wine club. They offered delightful European wines from small, artisanal wineries that could not be found at the SAQ. Why couldn’t I do the same thing? That way we’d be able to place regular orders with each of our wineries while we waited for the colossal ones from the LCBO to roll in. What better way to develop long-lasting relationships?
The following day we headed off for the Mediterranean coast with Robert at the wheel of his old, battered Renault Cinq. I should mention that he derives sadistic pleasure by telling us about his glorious Provençal weather while we perish on the frozen Ontario steppes. So, it came as no surprise when he mischievously inquired, “Could that be mimosa in full bloom I see over there? Oh, are there cherry blossoms yet in Toronto?” The man’s wickedness, like his thirst, knows no bounds.
By mid-afternoon we reached our destination. We descended into Cannes and then cruised along the storied sea-side Boulevard de la Croisette to the Carlton Hotel. There we witnessed a wondrous thing – vehicle after vehicle disgorging themselves of countless cartons of wine.
We bid a tearful farewell to Robert (we hadn’t been able to secure him passage to this cornucopia of hedonism). The tears were all his. And, not for us, but for all the free wine he would be missing. We would catch up with him a few days later in Montpellier where the main wine event VINISUD was being held. More on this another day.
The hotel’s main reception area was, as anticipated, palatial. We checked in, wishing we had Louis Vuitton luggage so we could pretend we were regulars. Then we registered for the next three days of tasting and carousing. I noticed in the program we received that several new suppliers had been added to our originally requested list. Hey, the more the merrier. Also on the participant list was Courtney Wynte, Head of European Wines, General Listings for the LCBO. How wonderful! We would be able to meet with him and learn all about our new partner, the LCBO and how together we were going to prosper.
Our room was most spiffy – grand, luxurious and, oh my, expensive. The posted rack rate was the equivalent of $CAD950! Yeah, right, maybe during the film festival? But even in the off-season we knew the suite didn’t come with the rations. We had learned that the producers paid a fee to participate which included our splendid room and board. Our regard for them soared. As we freshened up, visions of that evening’s pre-dinner grand tasting and following banquet danced in our heads.
The saga of my journey to becoming a wine agent continues with my next article. I’ll tell you all about the remainder of our stay in Cannes, including the tasting sting, a gorgeous Gigondas and meeting the legendary Eva Schubert. ‘Till then – cheers!
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