Les vins naissent de la rencontre de la terre, du ciel, et de l’homme… Chaque année en Bourgogne, la réussite de leur millésime est une véritable épopée.
Le travail de la vigne et de la cave au fil des saisons aboutit à la création de vins exceptionnels, vivants, recherchés et adulés dans le monde entier : Romanée-Conti, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Meursault, Volnay… Ces vins portent en eux la parcelle de terre dont ils sont issus et l’âme des hommes qui leur ont donné vie.
A surprise request led to Shanghai-based sommelier Jean-Marie Pratt hosting a wine tasting for the presidents of France and China in front of the world’s media earlier this week.
A plan was set; President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping would taste top French wines together at a Shanghai expo on 5 November as they sought to tighten trade relations between their nations — before enjoying a private dinner that evening.
But, French officials needed to find someone on the ground who could host the tasting. « I’d known for about two weeks, but I didn’t mention it to friends — I wasn’t sure if it was really going to happen, » said sommelier Jean-Marie Pratt, a partner at Liber Wines in China and who has lived in the country for seven years.
Did President Macron just call
him up? That’s not
a million miles away, according to Pratt, who has worked in Michelin-starred
restaurants and is also a judge at the Decanter
Asia Wine Awards. « I was contacted by the French embassy [in
Shanghai] and they said they needed a
sommelier to host a wine tasting during Macron’s visit. »
« The embassy then added that the tasting
would involve both Macron and Xi Jinping together, on the opening day of the
International Import Expo in Shanghai, » he said.
They were Louis Latour’s Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2010, Gérard Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet 2016 from La Clape appellation in Languedoc-Roussillon, plus Château Cheval Blanc 2006. Officials initially thought that the presidents might only stop by a few moments. Perhaps the line-up changed their minds. « They actually stayed for about three minutes, » said Pratt, who served all three wines.
The two leaders sampled the Burgundy wine first, followed by Bertrand’s Languedoc wine and then the Bordeaux from Château Cheval Blanc. « Macron was very engaging and very enthusiastic, » he said. « Xi was very responsive and was also making some comments [via a translator]. » The Chinese premier was understood to have said that he enjoyed the wines and he also spoke about a ‘quality drive’ within China’s domestic wine industry in recent years.
On the day, Pratt tasted through the wines an hour before
the presidents arrived. But he was also
instructed to taste the wine in-front of the two leaders, before they had a sip
« I’ve worked for Gordon Ramsay, so I know pressure, » he said. « I just told myself in the morning that I’m going to do my job, like in a Michelin restaurant. »
He credited his time working alongside the late Gérard Basset for helping him to « learn a lot of tips on how to act when you’re in a stressful situation in a restaurant ».
For now, it’s back to the day job. « It was an extremely special experience. I’ve had so many messages from Chinese friends, » said Pratt. « In your lifetime, you might meet the head of State of your own country, but for a European to meet the Chinese President is extremely rare. »
French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly brought a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 to a private dinner with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping — after the two leaders enjoyed Cheval Blanc and a Burgundy Grand Cru at a wine tasting in Shanghai to mark a new trade deal.
Macron and Xi dined together in Shanghai on Tuesday evening (5 November) and the French President offered up a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 from Burgundy’s legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper, citing sources at the President’s official residence, the Elysée Palace.
A single bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 was auctioned for € 21 320 (£ 18 400 by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in January 2019.
It is the latest example of wine diplomacy, with Emmanuel Macron having served Château Petrus at a dinner with Xi on the French riviera earlier this year.
Tasting at Shanghai
Decanter.com can also reveal the wines tasted by the two leaders at the International Import Expo in Shanghai, where they marked a new deal between the EU and China to protect against food and wine counterfeiting.
They tasted three wines — from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Languedoc-Roussillon — according to Jean-Marie Pratt, the sommelier chosen by the French Embassy to host them at the expo.
‘It was an extremely special experience,’ said Pratt, a partner in distribution and consultancy business Liber Wines in China, and also a judge at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards.
Both leaders tasted all three wines and discussed them, he
said, with Xi also commenting on the rising quality within China’s own wine
The specific wines served at the expo, in order, were:
— Domaine Louis Latour’s Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2010
— Gérard Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet, La Clape, Coteaux du Languedoc 2016
— Château Cheval Blanc 2006
Why was Romanée-Conti 1978 at dinner?
Choosing one of the most renowned French wines was a way of marking a new deal over protected wine and food names between the EU and China, according to Le Monde, which quoted an Elysée Palace source.
The 1978 vintage was also recognition of Deng Xiaoping’s arrival as Chinese leader. He is credited with introducing reforms that opened up China’s economy.
It also happens that ‘1978 was the finest vintage of the decade’, according to Decanter expert Stephen Brook.
However, ‘most of the growing season was awful’, and it was only fine weather from late August onwards that propelled the region’s Pinot Noir grapes to full ripeness, Brook wrote in a ‘Wine Legend’ article for DRC’s La Tâche.
A new deal to
protect famous wine names
Emmanuel Macron’s visit coincided with a deal between the European Union and China to help prevent counterfeiting of protected names, from Champagne and Bordeaux to Irish whiskey.
The reciprocal deal gives better legal protection for 100 of
Europe’s ‘Geographical Indications (GI)’ in China, and does likewise for 100
Chinese GIs in EU member states.
‘It is a win for both parties,’ said European agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan. Pending approval in the European Parliament, the deal will be implemented in 2020.
Wine dominated a list of 26 French GIs that will benefit
from the new deal, according to a list published by the country’s agriculture
Once a holiday for adorably costumed children, Halloween is now celebrated by 72% of American adults, eager to dress up and party down. Sales of adult-sized Halloween costumes are at an all-time high. Theme parks, usually overrun by overstimulated tykes, host a different sort of clientele come October 31: a boozy, over-21 crowd. And liquor companies are taking note.
According to the National Retail Federation, a staggering 72% of US adults will celebrate this Halloween, compared to just 59 % in 2007. Across industries, Halloween spending has ballooned from $5.1 billion to $9.1 billion in just a decade. It makes sense that alcohol brands — from Sam Adams to Jägermeister to Svedka — want to cash in. Maybe the shift was inevitable. October, with its association with Oktoberfest, has always been synonymous with suds. And as the seasons change, there’s certainly a greater tendency to huddle inside heated homes with an adult beverage. It’s backed up by data: Every year since 2004, individual Google searches for both “wine” and “liquor” have spiked in October and stayed sky-high through the holidays.
Not a single beer or liquor company could share concrete October sales figures with VinePair; but with all the aforementioned brands running some sort of Halloween-themed promotion in 2017 — many have for several years — it’s safe to assume the holiday presents economic opportunity.
“Halloween is a huge occasion for 21-29 year olds,” Christopher Dunn, Mast-Jägermeister‘s U.S. brand manager, told VinePair in an email. “Millennials in particular are spending big.”
For consumers eager to wear their thirst on their sleeve, there’s no shortage of liquor-fueled costumes on the market. Jägermeister recently launched print-out online origami masks in the shape of a skull, bat, and, in a nod to its logo, a stag. This year’s Halloween push centers on banner ads that “haunt” people who watch one of the vodka brand’s spooky videos.
Despite representing only a fourth of drinking-age adults, millennials account for about a third of overall spirits consumption. For these drinkers seasonal, Halloween-appropriate liquor offerings abound. There’s Captain Morgan’s pumpkin-shaped Jack-O’Blast spiced rum, introduced last year. Pumpkin spice liqueurs from both Kahlua and Bailey’s Irish Cream debuted in 2013 and 2016 respectively. And Pinnacle, Hiram Walker, and Bols all have pumpkin-centric offerings.
Sam Adams, for its part, has produced its 20 Pounds of Pumpkin seasonal brew since 2010. Even though the pumpkin beer category lost some ground in 2016, interest in flavored beers overall has spiked. According to Technomic, the introduction of flavored beers more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, from 2.4 % to 5.3 % of total beer launches.
Millennials can claim 35 percent of U.S. beer consumption and 42 percent of wine consumption. Wine labels are now getting in on the action. Black Box Wines told VinePair that merely wrapping its wines in Halloween-ified packaging resulted in a huge boom in sales. In October 2016, sales of wines in Black Box’s limited-edition Halloween sleeve soared above its monthly average. More tellingly, 2016 October sales were 49 % greater than the previous October’s, and this season’s numbers are tracking to be even more successful than the last.
“Halloween is newer in wine,” said Jaymie Schoenberg, Black Box Wines’ vice president of marketing. “You’ll see some spirits brands leaning into holiday, but over the years, as more pumpkin limited editions come out, it’s increased the way in which adult beverages can be a part of the holiday. It’s a way of positioning Halloween as a little more grown up.”
Could there be something else at play here, though? Are we consumers being collectively infantilized?
Is this the liquored-up equivalent of ’90s nostalgia — a desire to trick-or-treat like we did in simpler days, except this time, we’re wasted? Given the ways that nostalgia marketing heavily targets millennials, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable jump.
This is a generation accustomed to upheaval, from unceasing tech advances to political tumult.
When you drive up California’s Highway 101, past Santa Barbara and then into the Santa Rita Hills, with the sunlight shining off the Pacific as you climb, it’s clear you’re somewhere special. On the other side of that craggy pass is the Santa Ynez Valley, a tiny pocket of California’s Central Coast that’s home to 120 wineries. It’s an enchanting place, where acres upon acres of grapes give way to lavender farms and fields of horses. It’s easy to forget you’re only two hours away from Los Angeles.
In the late 1990s, screenwriter Rex Pickett would make that drive and visit the area and sit at the bar at The Hitching Post II restaurant in Buellton, Calif., working on his latest novel, “Sideways.”
At the time Pickett was drafting “Sideways” at The Hitching Post II, however, the Santa Ynez Valley wasn’t a popular wine destination. There were grapes, yes, and there were wines, especially Pinot Noir. But even though there was a surge in wine production in the valley in the 1990s — when “Sideways” was published in 1999, Santa Ynez vineyards produced over 70,000 cases of wine — the area’s AVAs were mostly only loved by locals and L.A. day-trippers.
Then, in 2004, Pickett’s novel “Sideways” became a movie. A movie that was nominated for 122 awards, taking home an Oscar for best adapted screenplay and a Golden Globe for best comedy. A movie that, more than anything, made us casual drinkers all feel a little inferior about our ability to understand the nuances of serious wine appreciation. (“They overdid it,” Virginia Madsen’s Maya says of a wine from Andrew Murray. “Too much alcohol.”)
Maybe that’s why the “Sideways” effect, which is a real thing that has been studied by universities and winegrowers’ associations since the year after the movie came out, created surging interest in Pinot Noir — and dinged Merlot consumption to this day.
The film continues to drive tourism, too. When travelers first started showing up in the valley, wanting to see the landmarks featured in the movie, locals assumed it would end quickly. Surely the crushing lines that formed at the wineries early in the morning, blocking out the employees who held the keys to open the tasting rooms for the day, would abate eventually.
They did, but only because the wineries expanded tasting rooms to accommodate all the people newly interested in Santa Ynez Valley wines. In less than a year after the movie’s release, the Santa Ynez Valley tourism board distributed almost 40,000 maps for self-guided “Sideways” tours, according to The New York Times. Los Olivos alone added nearly 20 new tasting rooms, like Andrew Murray’s E11ven Wines. Miles and Maya may have criticized Murray’s wines, but the crowds still rolled in, curious to try anything mentioned in the movie.
The crowds came for
the movie, but they stayed for the wine. The area is best known for its Pinot
and Chardonnay production — those grapes grow best in
the cooler western part of the valley — but the warmer eastern side, where
Happy Canyon has only been a designated AVA for 10 years, is producing bigger
reds, like Bordeaux-style blends that rival those from California’s more famous
Napa and Sonoma growing regions.
just capture the essence of the area’s wine, though. It captured the essence of
the place itself, from the windmills in the quirky Danish town of Solvang, to
the tiny main street of Los Olivos, which, without cars, looks like it’s still
part of the Old West.
Next door, in The
Hitching Post’s new tasting room, you can see movie stills and
behind-the-scenes photos from filming, and bottles of wine made especially for
the film, which are now signed by writer-director Alexander Payne and stars
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh.
You can also sit in
one particular booth at Solvang Restaurant and, under a framed movie still of
Haden Church and Giamatti at that same table, talk to Lori, a manager who’s
been serving the restaurant’s signature Danish cuisine for years, about how the
actors encouraged her to audition for a speaking role.
You can even stand outside Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe, kick the dirt, and yell to anyone listening that you’re not drinking any f*cking Merlot. You’d be doing yourself a disservice, though. There are some great ones coming out of the valley, especially from Happy Canyon, and from Kalyra Winery, where Oh’s character Stephanie works and where she and Giamatti’s Miles tear down the Cabernet Franc as “flabby.”
The lasting interest in the movie is so strong that, today, the internet is rife with self-guided “Sideways” tours for people who want to create their own experiences. Local tourism offices still offer those “Sideways” maps, and tour companies offer excursions like the Sideways Wine Tour.
Earlier this month, Oct. 15 to 18, the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance hosted Sideways Fest, a three-day celebration of the 15th anniversary of the movie. The weekend included an outdoor screening of the movie with a panel discussion with “Sideways” alums, a bus tour of filming locations, and a wine festival featuring over 40 area wineries.
Today, there are more than a million cases of wine coming out of the valley every year. You don’t need to go to Santa Ynez Valley to taste them, but, as 15 years’ worth of “Sideways” fans can attest, it’s certainly worth the trip.