Yesterday morning I was up bright and early for the first day of the Salon; unfortunately Tom King of the RSJ Restaurant was up early but not so bright. At about 8:20am he lurched into the breakfast room (and I mean he lurched) looking the worse for wear. He was ill and had been up all night, and wouldn’t be coming with us to the Salon. That meant no driver, and no convenient door-to-door lift. Catching the Navette – just like catching any bus – means being somewhere at a certain time. Within microseconds of receiving this news Jim Budd appeared wearing coat, scarf and carrying bag; he was off to catch the 8:45 bus. I decided to emulate him, but in retrospect wish I hadn’t. Nevertheless, like an innocent lamb, five minutes later I was heading out for the Navette. Jim eventually caught a lift (lucky fellah!), but I waited for the bus to arrive.
And – in temperatures well below 0ºC, I waited, and waited……
Eventually an InterLoire employee appeared and after making a few telephone calls information began to trickle out. Nobody seemed to know what was happening, but the main piece of news was that the buses hadn’t turned up, and that the bus company weren’t picking up the phone. I was stranded. More importantly, so were a number of foreign buyers and importers waiting at the same bus stop, people who generate tangible business for the region, driving money into local coffers. And at the railway station (the main bus pick-up point), I later learnt, there were hoards of buyers and journalists left stranded. There was no real explanation, no back-up plan, and no co-ordinated response (although scrounging of lifts with the help of the InterLoire employee did yield results for a lucky few). There were no taxis available and it was – although someone did suggest it – too far to walk, especially along the snow and ice-encrusted pavements.
To be fair, none of this was really InterLoire’s fault, but to me it seemed to hammer another nail into the Salon’s coffin; no matter whose fault it is, first-time visitors (and maybe those more established) will see this as yet another aspect of a disorganised and poorly presented meeting. Perhaps next year they won’t return; I’m going to be watching for the reports on numbers of visitors to the Salon with interest this year, as I suspect they will already be down. But what’s the betting that is blamed on the icy weather rather than the lack of judgement shown in pushing back the Salon one week?
Anyway, enough opinion on InterLoire. What of the wine? Yesterday was a really productive day, as I revisited domaines I know well, domaines I have overlooked for a couple of years, and some new faces too. As for the former category, first tasting of the day was at Domaine de la Pépière, with Marc Ollivier’s associate Rémi Branger (pictured right). The wines here were as good as ever, and it was a fascinating experience tasting and contrasting his newer cuvées, including the 2010 Clisson (newly ratified cru communal), 2009 Trois (three years sur lie), 2009 Château Thébaud (a cru communal of the future, surely) and also some remarkably good red wines from the 2011 vintage. In the domaines too-long overlooked I tasted at François Pinon – some good wines there, in a very floral, pure, minerally style – and new names included the two Muscadet domaines, Gérard Vinet and the Choblet brothers of Domaine du Haut Bourg. The latter knock out wines which are perhaps the best from the Côtes de Grandlieu appellation I have ever tasted, particularly the lees-aged wines; it is amazing what ten years sur lie in subterranean tanks can do for a wine. These polished, floral more stony Chablis-like styles are great wines for richer dishes. I tasted the 2001 (from bottle) and the 2002 (a sample from cuve).
Later on, dinner at Favre d’Anne was pretty good; rather more upmarket than I am used to during the Salon, but the carpaccio of scallops with wild mushrooms and truffle oil was certainly an experience worth having. And please note I was on my best behaviour….especially as Jean-Martin Dutour, president of InterLoire, was on the next table. It was, I decided, perhaps not the best time for me to draw his attention to my criticisms of the workings of this year’s Salon. I hope and expect he already realises – especially following the resignation of François Chidaine from the committee – that he has a difficult situation on his hands. It might only take another appellation or two to follow Bourgueil’s lead and to remove their funding from InterLoire for the whole system to unravel.