Monday, May 10, 2010

JOE GO TO SPAIN: Part 1 - How does a food and wine trade mission work?

I pondered this very question in the time leading up to my recent trip to Spain. As well as several others: How many stateside colleagues would be present? How many producers would I be meeting with, and would any of them have decent product to sell? Who pays for all of this? Besides the round trip ticket and hotel accomodations for 4 nights, would the time spent be worthwhile?

As it turns out, we were 10 Americans, a few importer reps, a few distributor reps, and a few retailers, spanning the continental United States from Philadelphia to Seattle. I met with 6 producers a day for two days, inside a room at the Chamber of Commerce in Terrassa. Many of us met with the same producers, sort of what I imagine speed dating to be like except the participants are wine producers/export directors/brokers on one hand and importers/distributor reps and retailers on the other. And instead of 5 minutes we generally had an hour per appointment.

From what I understand, such missions are paid for by the local chamber with some significant subsidies from the regional (in this case the Catalunyan) government as well as the EU. If I heard correctly, each winery representative needs to pay 80 euros to participate, along with 50 euros for each meeting. So to schedule a full day's worth of meetings would run about 380 euros or approximately $500 US. Not exactly cheap, but I suppose worth the cost if a good importer is found and a lasting business relationship forged.

And the wines? If you're thinking to yourself, that if you need to go and spend money to find yourself an importer, your wines probably are not very good or interesting, then in most cases you would be correct. That having been said, there is always a need for commercial wines, available in commercial quantities, which are drinkable and relatively inexpensive. I came here seeking cava, and now I have at least a couple of possibilities to work with. Additionally, there were some hand made wines, produced in smaller quantities, which were quite good. One producer boasted some terrific pansal blanca (a variation of the xarel-lo grape grown in the Alella D.O, north of Barcelona.) Usually xarel-lo is picked green and way underripe for cava and even white wine production, though this wine was round, harmonious, mouthfilling and full of delicious fruit, with a silken texture. It reminded me of Chenin. This same producer made a red wine from an indigenous Catalunyan varietal called sumoll. It was intensely dark fruited and wild, while still retaining its acidity in the warm Mediterranean climate. Might be a good bet for production in California.

Also, a Priorat producer neighboring Clos Erasmus and Val Llach had wines to sell that were actually priced reasonably, not overoaked, and produced from organically cultivated grapes.

So yes, some new discoveries were made, and the time spent in Terrassa was worthwhile.

Next up: Cava history and cava production at Raventos i Blanc.