The Men of Vinexpo, France’s Biannual Wine Bonanza

A biannual affair, France’s monumental, just-wrapped Vinexpo Bordeaux has, once again, firmly established itself as the world’s leading exhibition for the wine industry. A few numbers: there were approximately 50,000 attendees at the Bordeaux Convention Center; overall wine consumption between now and 2014 will reach a whopping 2.729 billion cases of wine, most of that light and sparkling; the US, China, and Russia are the countries primarily fueling this growth; in 2009 alone, this retail market already represented $389 billion. Indeed, people really enjoy knocking back a glass of the good stuff.

While women buy more than half of the wine that ends up on your table, according to Wine Enthusiast, men still dominate the somewhat fusty, very-serious-despite-the-intoxication Vinexpo, which isn’t to say that there aren’t a slew of younger, more internationally-minded budding sommeliers to enliven the crowd. We spoke with 10 of the expos most insider-y insiders – from Baron Philippe de Rothschild to the Mayor of Bordeaux – to get the scoop on what’s new in the world of the vine.

Adrien Laurent, Baron Philippe de Rothschild Nevermind that three bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild sold not too long ago at Hong Kong’s Sotheby’s auction house for a record $232,692 – each! Adrien Laurent, Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s U.S. and Mexico Export Manager, doesn’t rely on pretention when discussing his house’s eminent wines. In fact, if you can get him to talk about the history of the Rothschild family and how Baron Philippe turned Bordeaux’s wine world upside down back in the 1920s, when he was a mere 20 years old, you’ll really see the Oeno-lover take off his gloves. I’m just praying that the taste of ‘98 Château Mouton Rothschild that he poured me (and that I spit out) won’t be something he remembers me by. “I never spit out Mouton Rothschild,” he confides. I must add, in the interest of full-disclosure, that he did graciously pour me another splash of this legendary cuvée, which I fully savored.

Pascal Boyé, Nicolas Feuillatte Boyé can be authentically described as a kind of dashing figure in a romantic novel. The French champagne executive lives in NYC, spends his weekends in Aspen, and takes business meetings in Epernay and Bordeaux. “We are the youngest of the big champagne houses,” he explains. Started a mere 36 years ago in Epernay, France, the heart of AOC Champagne, the house prides itself on its modernity. “We are the pyramid of the Louvre,” says Boyé. The number one champagne house in France is number 5 in the U.S. Within the next year, according to Mr. Pascal Boyé, Feuillatte’s North and South America Export Manager, the world’s third largest champagne house will move to the number four position in the U.S.’ 22 million bottle-a-year market.

Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux There isn’t a resident in Bordeaux and its environs who doesn’t sing Mr. Juppe’s praises. He took over as Mayor of Bordeaux in 2006, and has since carried out remarkable beautification and restoration projects. The modern, efficient tram system that whisks you around the mid-sized city is another thing to write home about. In his opening remarks at Vinexpo 2011, Mr. Juppé emphasized the crucial role that Bordeaux plays in the world of wine, and how vital wine is to the French culture and economy. He also proudly mentioned the city’s ambitious plans to open the Centre Culturel et Touristique Du Vin, which will “serve as a platform to discover Bordeaux wineries” and be an “immersive experience into the world of wine.” Any dirt? Only that since being named French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs six months ago, Juppé can no longer devote all his time to Bordeaux.

Jacques Dupont, Wine Writer Jacques Dupont, French journalist for Le Point, was the first to start “special wine issues” in the French press. His annual September wine issue for Le Point ranks number one of all such French publications. In September 2011, his newest book, Le Guide Des Vins De Bordeaux hits bookshelves. Dupont is more than a wine journalist. He is a keeper of traditions, teller of wine stories, and caretaker of French heritage. His first chapter in his new book starts off with an homage to Figeac and its proprietor, Thierry Manoncourt, who passed away last August. For now the book is only in French. The author plans to have it translated into English, “But first in Chinese. And that might take some time,” he says. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on the new Grands Crus Classés: The Great Wines of Bordeaux, with Recipes From Top Chefs Of The World, you can read his foreword there, in English.

Enguerrand Baijot, Lanson International Champagne’s most eligible bachelor is named Enguerrand Baijot. This young scion doesn’t just read like a hero in a romantic novel, he looks like one too. Ladies, tie your ribbons and fasten your bonnets, because this young and dashing Frenchman is just about to give up Old London Town for the Big Apple. Brand Ambassador for Lanson Champagne, this handsome man has been charged with representing the family business in the U.S., so be prepared to see much more of Lanson Champagnes Stateside in the coming months. And even I wouldn’t be surprised if a Hollywood casting agent snapped up Enguerrand for the first season of Who Wants to Marry a Champagne Mogul? Stay tuned.

Philippe Massol, Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin When we acknowledge that Bordeaux is the world capital of wine, then it’s only fitting that the Wine Cultural and Tourism Center should sit right on the Garonne River waterfront, in the Chartrons district of Bordeaux, where so much of the modern-day wine trade has its roots in history. Massol is the tall, blond Director of this ambitious oenological project, a project that will be a cultural gift from Bordeaux and France and an homage to the importance of wine to world civilizations. “Wine is an intercultural dialogue,” says Massol. To liken it to other ambitious projects such as the Eiffel Tower, the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre’s Glass Pyramid is to be not too far off the mark. “The building will be fluid-like. It will be a full sensorial experience of wine,” adds Massol. Its archives and informational databases will include the world’s wine regions, and won’t be exclusive to Bordeaux or French wines. Book your oeno-tours now for 2014, when the Center is scheduled to open.

Kelly McAuliffe, Master Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe enjoys the distinction of being the only American Master Sommelier in France. He also exudes warmth and charm and a real enthusiasm for French wines, especially wines of the Rhône region, a place he and his French wife and children call home. Fluent in français, and with a fondness for saying things like, “That wine is Super Bon!” (perfect franglais), McAuliffe still sometimes reminisces about his 20 years, on-again, off-again spent with Alain Ducasse. For now he is content to open up the world of French wine to oenotourists who take his wine tours, visiting châteaux in and around Avignon and the Rhône region including Château-neuf-du-Pape, Hermitage and Tavel.

Thomas Thiou, St. Émilion One of the only Tastings By Vinexpo that I actually had time to make was Le Cercle Rive Droite, Grands Vins de Bordeaux. On offer were nearly 200 wineries many of whom were from St.- Émilion and Montagne St.-Émilion. The French can be supremely gracious when they open up and especially when you can get them talking about their wines. Thomas Thiou, proprietor and winemaker of Reclos de la Couronne as well as Château La Couronne, was just this sort. It probably helped, too, that he once was the Communications Director for the Conseils des Vins de St.-Émilion. Before I could say, may I taste your 2010? he was already on the phone to the St.-Émilion Tourism Office and the Wine Council, organizing a guided tour for me of this UNESCO World Heritage town. St. Émilion became truly one of the top highlights of my Vinexpo 2011, the town is a true gem and every bit worth the pilgrimage!

Stephan Asseo, L’Aventure Stephan is the Superstar of Paso Robles vines. This Bordeaux man gave up his native country and its rigorous AOC rules for greener pastures in California. That was 15 years ago, and today, Asseo’s Central Valley wines are counted as some of California’s best. Asseo’s “renegade” cultivation and blends of syrah, petit verdot, and viognier, are what has gotten him attention in Robb Report and Wine Spectator. “Blending is what increases the authenticity and the complexity of the creation as a whole,” he says. For Asseo, embarking on the new territory was an adventure, hence the name of his winery, “L’Aventure.” “I slept in a trailer on the property for the first few years,” says this California blond and man-of-the-terroir.

Dan Snook, Joann “I’ve got a scoop for you,” is how my conversation with Englishman and Bordeaux-resident Dan Snook began. This guy obviously knows the right pickup line for a reporter. Turns out, the scoop was for real. Joann U.S. has just now made it possible for restaurants to buy their 1855 Grand Crus Classés wholesale from Joann’s Jersey warehouse. Same goes for hotels, too. Joanne is one of Bordeaux’s biggest négociants with over 150 prestige châteaux (over six million bottles) in stock. Their complete catalogue is now warehoused in the U.S. Gone are the days when a Michelin star U.S. restaurant would have to run down to the liquor store to buy their Haut-Brion for the evening’s discerning clientele.

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