Vinexpo 2011: Wine, Business… and a Case of Shin Splints

The notorious floating bridge connecting both sides of Vinexpo

I returned recently from a whirlwind week in Bordeaux, where I attended both my MBA graduation and Vinexpo. It was all very surreal, especially the chance to reconnect with good friends, colleagues and professors, as well as witness Vinexpo first-hand. In fact, I have so many scattered thoughts on this particular experience that I’m just going to list my many impressions in an attempt to convey what it’s like to visit one of the world’s most renowned wine and spirits tradeshows.

Business, not pleasure

People come to this show with a mission. Exhibitors consisted mostly of either suppliers (producers, wine merchants, etc.) or promotional boards (e.g. “Wines of XYZ country”). On the exhibitor side, you’re there to meet with existing customers (usually importers, key accounts, etc.) as well as hopefully attract new ones.

Attendees were largely importers seeking out new products and suppliers for their markets. This isn’t a show for wine enthusiasts looking to taste a bunch of wines. In many circumstances, you weren’t encouraged (or even allowed) to visit a booth without an appointment.

Then again, pleasure

That being said, I attended the show largely as a wine enthusiast seeking to taste a bunch of wines (shame on me). I came under the badge of the retailer I work for; though honestly, I truly hope to attend in the future on behalf of an importer because it really is amazing the variety of product you’re exposed to. Exhibitors were constantly asking me for my advice on the U.S. market and if I had any contacts who could take on their product.

Maybe myself in a few years…

Exhibition plan (note the floating bridge = red line)

International flavor

Based on pure observation, the largest representation of exhibitors hailed from France (bien sur!) followed closely by Italy. Most of these exhibitors consisted of well-established producers whose names you’d instantly recognize in any wine store. However, it was also very common to see smaller producers share a stand or organize themselves by a particular region. For instance, if you stopped by the California Wine Institute stand, you could meet with representatives from J. Lohr, Michael David Winery, Napa Valley Vintners, etc. The same could be said for producers from regions such as Corsica, Cahors, Sicily, Romania, Canada…

As for attendees, I know there are stats out there, but most I bumped into hailed from the U.K., Canada and the U.S., as well as Northern Europe, e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. There were also a lot of visitors from Asia, namely China, India and Singapore.

Your visitor badge listed the country you came from (au français) and that was always the first thing people would look at when meeting you.

Must wear comfy shoes

I think this goes without say. You cover a lot of ground during Vinexpo, given the show is spread out among three halls that I estimate measure a good mile from one side to the other. Furthermore, the show also featured a tasting center located across the lake from the exhibition halls, which was best accessible by “the floating bridge” (which I’ll get to in a moment).

However, in general, when you visit Bordeaux comfortable footwear is essential because no visit is complete without the notorious public transit strike. During this particular visit, there was a partial strike during the show and a full-blown strike the day before. I kid you not: I had shin splints by the time I left.

Don’t underestimate the floating bridge

I was not a fan of the so-called “floating bridge” that connected the exhibition halls with the show’s main entrance. Yes, it’s pretty, and the concept of crossing a lake along a red carpet is kind of cool. However, the floating bridge literally shakes during the entire 25 minutes it takes to traverse it. It’s bad enough trying to cross it first thing in the morning, but after a full day of tasting and 90 degree heat (coupled with a bad case of shin splints) it was nearly impossible to walk over on the way back.

Best experience

Without question, the best part of the show was the time I spent at the Wines of Germany stand, run by the German Wine Institute, aka. DWI (if you know me even just a little, you know I am a huge fan of German wine).

With the German Wine Queen at the Wines of Germany stand

The moment I stepped onto the booth, I instantly recognized the current German Wine Queen, Mandy Grossgarten, from the country’s Ahr region. I was living in Nierstein during the time of the annual Wine Queen elections and had the opportunity to watch her compete. I felt like I knew her personally and literally approached her as if I did. However, she didn’t seem at all surprised and we ending up chatting for a good half hour about German wine (what else?), as well as my thesis paper that was devoted to the subject and also her background (interestingly enough, she studied Chemistry, which has a strong correlation with winemaking. However, she isn’t from a wine producing family, like I thought). Needless to say, she is very knowledgeable on the subject of German wine, but best of all, is extremely friendly and great to talk with.

So, after my chat with the German Wine Queen, I attended a session on Generation Riesling that included a tasting on some of the lesser known German wines like Lemberger, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Sauvignon Blanc, and of course a handful of Rieslings from various regions. When asked if anyone had ever tasted a German Sauvignon Blanc before, I admittedly was proud to have been the only one to raise my hand (little did they know I had lived in Rheinhessen just a few months prior…).

However, the fun didn’t stop there. There were still twenty wines to taste and I wasn’t leaving until I had tried every one of them. The group representing the DWI at the show was definitely a fun bunch and I had the tremendous pleasure of having my tasting guided by the DWI’s Director of Marketing, Steffen Schindler. As one would hope, he was extremely passionate about the wines being presented. Furthermore, he also lives in the Rheinhessen region so we had quite a like to talk about. The wines sampled ranged from sparkling to red, as well as both dry and sweet whites. The highlight though was the chance to taste the sole Eiswein at the booth, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Wines to remember

Best of Show: Late Harvest Tannat

I can’t recall how many wines I tried, but there were many. However, below are the wines that made a lasting impression—all sweet, which is quite surprising given I rarely ever consume this style of wine:

Catamayor Tardío ’07 Liqueur De Tannat, Bodegas Castillo Viejo (San Jose, Uruguay): This was hands-down the coolest wine I tasted at Vinexpo. It is a sweet “late harvest” wine made from 100% Tannat. OMG—think Mexican hot chocolate with a kick: velvety texture, luscious cacao flavor and a touch of cayenne pepper.

2008 Cabernet France Icewine, Pelee Island Winery (Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada): Okay, I’ll admit the wine is very interesting, but what grabbed me most was the winery itself. Pelee Island Winery is literally located on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. It is the only winery within the Pelee Island appellation and also represents Canada’s southern most winery. As for the wine, it too was quite enjoyable: light on the palate with both herbaceous and red fruit flavors, most notably that of strawberry rhubarb.

Bechtheimer Hasensprung ’09 Riesling Eiswein, Johann Geil (Rheinhessen, Germany): I usually don’t gravitate towards the noble sweet German wines, but this one was sublime. Completely in harmony, it achieved the perfect balance between sweetness and acidity and frankly, did not taste that sweet at all. It was very light on the palate and coated your mouth ever so softly. There were flavors of honey, peaches and Cheerios (lightly roasted oats) and a finish that would not stop lingering—as Steffen put it best, “it just doesn’t finish!”


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