By Musty Bunches | 30 June 2003
Following the raging success of "The London Diaries" - the gritty expose on life as an exhibitor at the London Wine Trade Fair - Musty decided a sequel was in order. She has thus charged a young merchant friend of hers to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to chronicle the real story behind Vinexpo. You may call it bone idle but she prefers to call it the vineXpo-files.
Saturday June 21
Even my colleague Ed is excited as we arrive in Bordeaux. This is it. The beating heart of the wine world! For five days we will be tasting, meeting and signing contracts like crazy!
Alas by the time we've picked up our hire car, navigated the town's one-way system and been directed round in circles by the various diversions, there isn't much time left for exploring. The old buildings are magnificent, while the half-finished tram system is, as Ed puts it, a testament to the ability of French workers to go on strike.
Still, thinking positively, it means we don't have to spend long in the hotel. I think that I saw a rat in my bathroom, and after two hours queuing to get into a restaurant Ed is muttering darkly about going back to cook it for dinner.
Still, after a good night's sleep I'm sure we'll both feel more cheerful.
Sunday June 22
The first day of Vinexpo and not, I'm afraid, a good start. Last night was the Fête de la Musique, and every restaurant in Bordeaux was blaring out Andean folk songs or bad French rock music until three in the morning. Four hours sleep and at ten o clock it's already 30 degrees.
Still, the trade fair is exhilarating. Every nationality in the world is here! Having pre-booked 12 appointments a day, my diary is pretty full, but nonetheless I resolve to check out the Algerian wine stand when I get a moment. Wine is nothing if not a discovery!
Alas, by mid afternoon my schedule is in tatters - ruined by consecutive meetings with a South African, then an Argentinian, then a German. How was I to know when I set up my schedule six weeks ago that this would entail covering a total distance of two and a half kilometres?
Not only that, but when I arrived at the South African stand, my contact had gone. I was a little indignant until it turned out he was one of a delegation of furious New World producers who were besieging the organisers over the failure of the air conditioning in their hall.
"The bloody French turned it off deliberately," said a purple Australian. 'It's the only way they can stop people buying our wine.' Others are more reasonable, preferring to see it as revenge for the Gulf War.
Either way I can see their point. Forty degrees is perhaps a bit on the warm side to be tasting wine. One buyer, injured by a flying cork from a super-heated bottle of calvados, is threatening to sue the organisers.
Monday June 23
I fear Ed and I may have made a mistake with our gîte. The farmhouse itself is lovely, but the description of 'commuting distance to Bordeaux' is a little optimistic. Despite setting off at 7.00 this morning, Ed and I didn't finish our 120km journey until almost 11, and my itinerary was once again shot to pieces.
Fortunately, the French authorities have acted on the faulty air conditioning in the best way of all by drafting in thick grey clouds, and even the South Africans are relatively peacable.
'You see,' says one of the organisers, 'God really is a Frenchman.'
Rumours continue to circulate about 'aircon-gate' and the authorities are under pressure to deny the rumour that the Australian ringleader has been executed and his head put on a spike in the Burgundian food tent.
By the end of the day, Ed, who has attached a pedometer to his foot, tells me he has walked 10 kilometres.
Tuesday 24 June
I can't believe I'm only just half way through! The sun is back today, and after a six o'clock start to beat the traffic, Ed and I manage to arrive on time. Alas, with the heat and the early starts we're both exhausted and at midday I find my colleague asleep in the middle of the spirits section. 'It was the quietest place I could find,' he complains.
Outside the air-conditioned hall it is carnage. Exhausted journalists are passed out in ornamental flower beds and two Italians come to blows about whose turn it is to stand under the lawn sprinkler. One aggrieved member of the Club des Marques complains that he has paid thousands of dollars for 'the world's most expensive tented sauna'.
Not a productive day. Ed's pedometer shows just 3km - most of that in the car park. After a four hour lunch, I have visited just three people, and one of those was an Israeli producer who I visited for the ice on his stand. A Dutch restaurateur is taken off in an ambulance after trying to dig an escape tunnel.
Out for dinner at Chateau Putain tonight. It's one of the newly classified Crus Bourgeois and I was looking forward to it enormously before I left home, but now I think I would rather go back to the gîte and an early night. Still, I have a great relationship with the owners, so I'm sure they'll understand if I decide to leave early.
Wednesday 25 June
Chateau Putain was a mistake. By ten o'clock, exhausted by overwork and lack of sleep I believe I fainted into their ornamental fountain, taking a tray of foie gras canapes with me.
Ed says it was nothing to do with the heat and that I was 'downing the wine like it was water', but I tell him I must have been trying to cool off. Who on earth wears a dinner jacket in 30 degree heat?
On the plus side, despite having a mysterious headache all day, I tasted my first full range of wines! Having been kept in the fridge, the reds were even the right temperature.
At four o clock rumours start that there is cool pilsner lager in the German section. Two Japanese buyers are crushed in the mad stampede, but it turns out to have been a false alarm cooked up by the German Wine Institute to attract visitors. On hearing the news a British journalist slumps in the corner and starts to cry.
Ed and I leave the fair at six and arrive home promptly at 9 o' clock. A good day.
Thursday 26 June
Was it really only five days ago that I left home? I seem to have been here for ever. I can't imagine a world where one doesn't queue five minutes for the toilet or pay six Euros for an inedible sandwich for lunch.
Yet Vinexpo is over. I arranged four meetings this morning, and at each one of them I was met not with kindliness or professionalism but scowls and dismantled stands.
One Burgundian was particularly rude. 'Go away and get a life,' he said. 'It's over.' When I pointed out to him that the show wasn't due to finish until the afternoon and it was currently 9.30 he attacked me with a tub of goose rillette and I was forced to retreat.
Even the Algerians had gone.
Looking back at my schedule I realise that I have missed 90% of my appointments and tasted just 24 wines. Perhaps I can do better in 2005.
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