Musty Bunches - Tales from the Spit Bucket
By Musty Bunches | 12 June 2001
Musty has been in a particularly prolific mood this month. It must be all that summer sun, or maybe its all the free wine from the host of wine shows. Whichever, in a truly philanthropic gesture Musty, as a veteran of more Vinexpos than she'll ever admit to, gives you, her loyal fans, her top tips on surviving this monster event. Now you can arrive in Bordeaux undaunted, knowing how to act, dress, smell and talk like an old pro and remember kids "respect the appellation".
Yes, it's time for that biennial bunfight, Vinexpo once again. Is it really two whole years since Musty was last sitting in a nose-to-tail traffic jam on the Rocade for the privilege of being ignored by truculent Italian winery owners? Well don't time just fly?
A veteran of more Vinexpos than she would care to remember - and certainly more than she would ever admit to - Musty would like to pass on the following Essential Survival Guide to those who will be signing their life away in an overheated, over-full aircraft hangar for five days.
Musty's Guide to Surviving Vinexpo
Remember that you are a guest in a foreign country. It's no good barging in and expecting everyone to speak English - especially the Americans. Treat the locals with sensitivity.
- Learn to speak French
Harder than it sounds. Simply saying "hon hon hon", "poff" and shrugging your shoulders a lot will only fool the locals for a minute or two. After that, you need conversation. Good openers include "J'adore le Piat d'Or"; "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivee" and "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin."
- Learn to think French
Easier than it sounds. Assume that a) you are far superior to anyone else on the planet and b) because of this everyone is out to get you. You won't go far wrong.
- Learn to dress French
For men there are two distinct looks: a) sharp suited and stylish; and b) wearing a ridiculous jacket with trousers the colour of vanilla ice-cream. The jacket should be either bright yellow (and possibly corduroy) or old-school tweed. This works particularly well should you want to be mistaken for a Bordelais or a Champenois.
For women, there is only one look, whether you are 18 or 80, drop-dead gorgeous or drop dead ugly: neat jacket, white, semi-transparent blouse and skirt that is short enough to stop traffic.
Both sexes should wear half a bottle of perfume or after-shave. It doesn't matter which, so long as your cloud of scent hangs around you like a swarm of bees and renders all tasting impossible.
France is a highly advanced place, and many visitors from less developed countries such as Mexico, China and Britain can find the culture shock quite startling.
Fast, reliable and reasonably priced. Don't use them as an excuse for lateness - like your average local, it just won't wash.
The French drive with one hand out of the window (ready for gesticulating with) and one hand on the gear stick. This leaves nothing left to steer with, which explains why French cars have the longevity of your average bottle of Muscadet.
If you must drive, remember that, as with their attitude to North Africans, the French still have a system of "Priorite a droite" - priority to the right. Except of course, for places where this no longer applies. In such circumstances, the French mark the change with a very obvious lack of road signs. This is because the locals like nothing so much as a good car crash; an opportunity to wave their arms around a lot and get excited.
French food is undeniably the finest in the world - ask any Frenchman. Such classics as "le Big Mac" have transformed the way the world views its cuisine, and the predilection for highly frangible bread and pastries first thing in the morning is a stroke of masochistic genius.
- The climate
Bordeaux in June is always dry, warm and sunny, emphasising the perfect nature of the region for growing grapes. Except for the years when it is freezing cold and pissing it down with rain.
- Plan ahead
The trade fair is about as big as Belgium, with, coincidentally, as many inhabitants, and getting around it is hard work. The record time for getting from one end to the other is three hours and fourteen minutes, held by a Swiss marathon runner who had been training at altitude for three weeks prior to attending. So plan carefully, write a list, make appointments a long way in advance and concentrate on a different area each day. This should enable you to see about 0.3% of the trade fair - if you stay for all five days.
- Getting around
It's a good idea to build up your fitness gradually in the weeks beforehand, so that you will be able to cope with the extensive walking Vinexpo requires. A few years ago, a small train used to trundle from one end of the fair to the other, but this was stopped after a group of fundamentalist Bordeaux 'Terroirists' hijacked it and drove it into the nearby boating lake for "not respecting the appellation".
Forget cordon bleu cuisine. The genius of French cooking has always been its ability to make simple food an event to savour, and Vinexpo is no exception. Just 100 Francs will buy a meal fit for a king. Louis XIV was, of course, a big fan of stale ham and cheese baguettes and lukewarm mineral water.
- The heat
When people used to say Vinexpo was the industry's hottest trade fair, they meant it! Fortunately, nowadays, air conditioning keeps the temperature at a reasonably constant 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This, apparently, is ideal for serving red wine.
A few do's and don'ts
DON'T ask a Frenchman what side his family was on in the war.
DON'T ask a Bordelais whether he can make a Turning Leaf-style Cabernet.
DON'T go up to the spirits exhibitors and ask them why they bothered turning up.
DON'T tell a Champenois that his wine tastes just like Lindauer.
DON'T even bother with the Italians.
DON'T, whatever you do, pretend you're enjoying yourself. Weary ennui carries the day.
DO show consideration for others. If you must sleep, choose a nice quiet area, such as the German stands.
DO try and blag your way into the Club des Grandes Marques tents by pretending to be a close personal friend of Robert Mondavi/Monsieur le Vicomte etc. The standard of nibbles is usually far higher and you may even get a free lunch.
DO keep a note of any amusing incidents and send them to Musty for her Vinexpo post mortem in a few weeks time.
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