First up – I’m not a morning person, having spent most of my professional life in the performing arts – so a 6am start in order to drive to Millésime Bio in Montpellier with Paul is, in every sense, a bit of a new dawn for me.
I’ve been involved with Les Clos Perdus at a low level ever since its beginnings in 2003, and I’m the proud owner of a four-hectare vineyard at Fraïssé des Corbières which Paul looks after for me, and whose gapes find their way into L’Année rouge as well as the single vineyard cuvée Frézas. But recently, I became an investor in the business, and have committed to helping Paul with marketing Les Clos Perdus’ wines at professional wine salons.
So we speed towards Montpellier in Paul’s distinctive orange van as the dawn breaks on almond trees in blossom across the landscape – and a new chapter opens for me.
Millésime Bio – mondial du vin biologique and the international platform for organic wine-making – is housed in Parc des Expositions de Montpellier. First impression: the sheer scale of it! With some 800 exhibitors in four adjoining halls, a programme of talks and videos, restaurants and cafés, it’s literally a wine village. And then the satisfaction of realising how important the organic wine movement has become, not just in France, but in the wider world too, a magnet for professional buyers from all over Europe and North America.
There’s an interesting democracy about the way the salon is organised. Exhibitors are ranged not according to region and country but almost, as it were, placed at random. In that way, you make unexpected discoveries. We find ourselves sandwiched between makers from Chateauneuf du Pape and Sancerre. The level-playing-field ethic also gives everyone the same plain table top with no fancy displays allowed – nothing but a pure interaction between the wine, the maker and the potential buyer. That suits us very well.
This year Millésime Bio is celebrating its 25th anniversary – Les Clos Perdus has been on the journey with the salon for nearly half of that time – and it’s the place of choice for LCP to meet up with its regular and loyal importers, cavistes and sommeliers.
As day one swings in to action my instructions are to describe, (usually in French) our gamme of seven wines – L’Année blanc, L’Année rouge, Cuvée 141, Prioundo, Mire la Mer, L’Extrême blanc and L’Extrême rouge. Keep it neutral, and keep it simple! The wines will do the rest. Plus, the professionals almost certainly know tons more than I do. But I can’t quite stop myself embroidering a bit when I come to describe the steep north-facing slopes near Tautavel where l’Extrême comes from (because I remember the back-breaking labour of picking there a few years ago) – shisteux, I say, très vertigineux, impossible à tractoriser! – waving my hands around with Gallic enthusiasm. Fortunately, the wine speaks for itself.
Our regular importers swing by to taste our latest vintages, and I begin to build up a picture of this key network of people who take our wine to almost every corner of the globe. We have agents in Australia (coals to Newcastle, or what?), Quebec, California, Japan, sans compter most of the major European countries. The warmth of their response to the wines and their eagerness to hear all the latest news from the cellar and vineyards goes beyond mere professional interest – and I find that both unexpected and touching.
On day two, it feels as though every caviste in France has beaten a path to Montpellier. Some are regular customers – like expansive Matthias from Weingarage in Zurich, whose existence seems to be one long, joyous party – while others have found their way to our stall through word of mouth. It’s somehow satisfying to think of Les Clos Perdus’ wines being drunk in corners as diverse as Fontenay-le-Comte, Ajaccio, La Rochelle, Noirmoutier, Paris, Zurich and beyond.
The salon has been a huge success and the order book is bulging. We return to home base at Peyriac de Mer with one of our importers and amazing Basque/Rioja wine-maker Oxer Bastegieta in tow for a convivial evening – a brilliant meal cooked by Paul’s wife Deb and exceptional bottles from Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant vineyard in the Loire, Paul’s minerally, complex L’Extrême blanc and Oxer’s own beautifully balanced ‘Suzanne’ Rioja (a nod there to Leonard Cohen, he explains).
The following week we’re off to Demeter wine salon in Angers for two days – altogether a more laid back affair on a smaller scale, though part of a much bigger Loire wine circus in the next hall, bristling with sharp-suited marketeers and fancy stalls bearing extravagant photos of glossy vines and turreted chateaux.
There’s a collegiate, co-operative atmosphere in our corner – ice is scare (we’re in the Loire – there are many white wines to cool!) and we share what little there is to go around. There’s time to taste one another’s wines (discoveries for me include Céline & Laurent Tripoz’ carefully crafted wines from the Maçonnais and impressive Bandol from Domaine Castell-Reynoard), and we swap experiences and compare winemaking techniques (correction! Paul does – I listen attentively..). But there’s still business to be done, and plenty of interest in Les Clos Perdus’ wines. We reconnect with regular clients, particularly those from the Loire and Paris area. M. Québec has travelled up from Montpellier and passes by to increase his order, and we’re suddenly engulfed by an eddy of Japanese student sommeliers, eager for new tastes, new experiences.
It’s cold up north, but on the first evening we take a walkabout in the fine city of Angers and happen on a buzzy natural wine bar – A boire et à manger – (motto: ‘seul ennemi: la soif’). Not surprisingly, since its salon time, it’s bursting with young, hip winemakers engaged in intense debate and degustation. Our own wine-by-the-glass choices range from the frankly swivel-eyed end of the market to the damn near sublime – the world of natural wine is a broad church.
And then it’s time to head back home on the TGV, my suitcase heavy with bottles of wine to share with friends in Paris and London. It started to snow on the final morning and, as I trudge towards the station in the continuing snowstorm, I’m hoping that I’ve acquitted myself well over the last few days and haven’t made any major gaffes. The experience of helping Paul has given me a valuable insight into the way Les Clos Perdus positions itself in the market, how wine is bought sold, and the generosity of spirit of so many of the people up and down the chain.
If I’m asked, I’ll be back for more!