During the years that Beverly Tabbron MW have been responsible for the purchasing of our French portfolio, she has made many memories – memorable for so many reasons – of her various visits to our producers. Being a wine buyer certainly has its advantages and privileges; you get to travel to some beautiful parts of the world and spend time with some delightful wine growers. Here is her French memoir.
I, like many of my colleagues, have been missing trips to our producers due to the imposed travel restrictions. Now that we are (hopefully) out of the woods and able to travel, I am looking forward to being able to visit winemakers in person later this year – those who I have only been able to communicate with via Zoom, telephone and e-mail over the last 18 months.
Regardless of restrictions, and thanks to modern technology, we have still been able to introduce new wines to our portfolio from regions new to our list. I have discovered Domaine Vendange and their wines from the Savoie region – a mountainous part of France and part of the gruelling Tour de France route, where they produce tantalising wines from Jacquère, Altesse and Mondeuse with amazing minerality imparted from glacial soils. I have been looking for a range of wines from this part of the country for a while and am very excited to meet winemakers Diane and Benjamin in person, rather than virtually.
One of the regions that I look forward to visiting regularly is Burgundy, and I have vivid memories of so many tastings with Pierre Naigeon in Gevrey-Chambertin. Pierre is able to wonderfully explain the various terroirs of the region, ranging from cooler to warmer sites and the different soils, providing a complete masterclass on Gevrey-Chambertin. Pierre vinifies all of his parcels separately meaning he makes over 75 different wines – and there is a lot to taste as a result. He rushes around the winery with his pipet and glass fetching samples from tanks and barrels, and recently eggs, explaining everything in fluent English. As a result, I have missed trains and follow-on appointments after a tasting with Pierre having been so engrossed with the tasting. One year we even missed lunch as we overran – quelle horreur (this is France after all) – and were so grateful to Sebastien and Anne Bidault of Domaine Bidault, and Robert Gibourg who provided an ad hoc picnic of cheese, bread and cold cuts when we finally arrived to see them. Their wines tasted even better afterwards.
We have been working with a number of the Chậteauneuf-du-Pape producers in our portfolio for many, many years. I remember one occasion when André Brunel of Domaine les Cailloux reminded me that our companies have been working together since 1955 (I hasten to add that I was not around at the time)! This really stresses the importance we place on long term and consistent partnerships that we enjoy with many of our producers. Our partnerships with Château Fortia and Domaine de la Solitude also date from around this time, and we are now working with the next generation of the families who are coming through and taking over the reins at the estates. The wines are perhaps a little more modern in style as a result, in-line with current drinking trends but it is always such a pleasure to be able to visit these Domaines to see their diverse styles.
One of our favourite producers is the delightful Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, who is such a good ambassador for her wines and the region. Here she is behind the wheel of her 2CV taking Jim Wilson, our Portfolio Director and myself for a tour of the vineyards. Her white barrel-aged Bordeaux, Château Lestrille Capmartin, is made from a good proportion of Sauvignon Gris together with the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, a great illustration of the diversity of grapes that France can produce.
One of the downsides of being a buyer is that you always seem to travel to taste new vintages in the winter. I have often been in Burgundy, the Rhône and the Loire tasting ice cold white wines from tank or barrel in freezing cellars – hard to keep focused when your hands are shaking so much and a struggle to make your notes! I remember one particular year when I was in Sancerre where the wine was just undergoing its tartaric stabilisation with ice on the outside of the tank. It still tasted good once it had thawed out in the glass and mouth!
I read recently that France is estimated to have between 7,000 and 10,000 grape varieties, although only 250 are officially authorised by the Minister for Agriculture and 95% of all wines are produced from the main 40 varieties. It is always exciting to discover the lesser-known grapes and be educated, however long you have been in the business and whatever qualification you hold, and I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of the vineyards of France in the years to come.