Like the centre of Bordeaux France, cafes line the “streets” of Vinexpo, the world’s largest wine and spirits exposition held in … well Bordeaux. It’s the modern day, bourgeoisie Moulin Rouge where Satin is played, this year, by rosé and sparkling wine selections. All other wine — and spirits to a much lesser extent– make up the chorus line.
This year some 40,000 to 50,000 visitors and exhibitors will flood the halls, which is not surprising given that wine and spirits sales totaled $330 billion worldwide in 2008. Come 2012 that figure will likely hit $390 billion with America taking the lead in sales that same year.
At Vinexpo, exhibitors entice visitors (most of whom are highly influential in the industry) to their juice stands with “outdoor” cafe or lounge seating, of all different flavors and decors. Aesthetics run from a tall jumbled pillar constructed of wine bottles (of course), to a mirrored cluster of wine glasses acting as chandelier. There is no shortage of creativity, all of which is flawlessly executed. One of my favorite themes was use of silk screens, bamboo and faux garden decor that gave some booths an element of mystique-meets Eastern tranquility. Besides a copius amount of consumption and a surprising dearth of drunkeness; there is another common thread: beautiful people, all beautifully dressed. (I am going to need to step it up a notch.)
For all the good looks though, the beginning of my Vinexpo experience ran a little shallow. First, despite having tried to register via email before the cutoff deadline mind you, Vinexpo had no record of who I was when I arrived and refused to look up the email I sent to them previously. After driving six hours, this left me wanting more – especially when I had to pay the $40. Next headache: press pass, which took two hours of waiting when it should have taken two minutes.
Next, there is nowhere to sit down to work, (save the press center or cafes that belong to exhibitors). Luckily, one such exhibitor gave me shelter from tired arms and legs. (More on them in next update.) Finally, and absolutely worst of all was the Wi-Fi connection that either didn’t work and/or didn’t work for my budget . If you are just a visitor, you must pay $75 for an Internet connection if you plan on using it for the whole week. For as over the top and decadent as this event appears, complete with the free booze, I am dumbfounded at this stinginess.
Luckily, my press status got top clearance and the press room is like the holy mecca of VinExpo with Internet, computers, coffee, fruit and working space galore.
WhiIe waiting for my press badge, though, I had to kill some time. Where to start? As a newbie to the wine world and speaking not a lick of French, I had to go on “vibes.”
First stop, Sieur D’Arques. Why, I don’t know, but it looked inviting and the staff not too busy to spend some time. I approached the tasting bar and asked for a sample. (Of course, asking politely if the gentleman perhaps spoke English). Now, I know that French folks don’t like speaking English and will tell you outright they don’t know how, when in fact they do. This man looked me up and down, without qualm or smiling muscles, and nodded me off to one of his staff. Gulp. I quickly shot a glance around me to see if I had just entered a private party booth by accident. Did the music just stop?
A cordial woman came to my assistance and looked less than interested. We chatted a bit, and she gave me a sparkling rosé — the queen of Vinexpo and I assume everywhere in short order. The rosé was a beautiful salmon peach color but the rest is forgettable to be quite honest. It was here that I confirmed what I suspected already: that wine is so much more than what’s in the glass. I think it’s at least 70 percent experience around the glass. My next few stops were much more pleasant, though I hope it was not merely due to the color of my name badge. More notes from Bordeaux coming up.