Another Peek Behind The Curtain: An Afternoon At The Pageant

Earlier this week I attended a trade tasting. Trade tastings themselves are nothing new or out of the ordinary, but this one was a little different. Normally, a distributor will twist the arms of the producers it represents to pour their wines at an annual event to which retailers, restaurateurs, and others in the retail tier are invited. These are speed-dating events that efficiently put buyers in contact with products and the people who represent them.  Also like speed-dating, there's very little romance.

This week's was different for a number of reasons.  First, it was sponsored by the wine region of Catalonia. Or, more specifically, it was put on by Catalonia Wines USA, which is a domestic wing of Catalonia Trade & Investment, which itself is the investment and development organization of the division of the Government of Catalonia.  In other words, it's the economic development arm of Catalonia's wine industry.
The Penedes winegrowing region outside Vilafranca and Sant Sadurni.

The tasting was also different in that, of the fifteen producers present, just one has an in-state importer. So, not only was it not sponsored by a distributor, but most of the wineries aren't even available locally.  All these producers came all the way from northeastern Spain to see if they could find themselves an importer.

It was hosted at a lovely penthouse restaurant with sweeping views of a river valley, with platters overflowing with cured meats, roasted nuts, and soft cheeses. Not surprisingly (as Catalonia is home to much of Cava country), there were open bottles of bubbly everywhere, adding to the celebratory air of pageantry.  The invitees were largely distributors and importers, (though I did hear one gentleman introduce himself as a facilitator, which sounds like either a lobbyist or a match maker, neither of which I knew existed in the wine business.)  I was invited as a member of the press to help shine a light on this region, which I shall because I learned quite a bit, most of which impressed me, so stay tuned for further updates on this region.

On its surface the event looked like a fancy version of a trade tasting, but the intent was clear: let's find these winemakers some importers.  The winery reps themselves were also quite blunt about the reason they came all the way to the midwest. And why shouldn't they be?  If you're on the prowl for a mate, there's no point in acting coy. What's more is that these wines were good, quite good in some cases. And more than fairly priced in most cases, too.  How, I wondered, is it possible that these winemakers have yet to find entree into the US market, one cluttered with mediocre, overpriced plonk?

This got me thinking about musicians who have yet to be discovered.  We all know of artists who have incredible talent, work hard, tour their butts off, and just haven't broken through to notoriety.  Certainly, you can't fake great wine any more than you can fake soul-stirring music, and they're both going to require a lot of work and sacrifice.  But, man, what was on full display at this tasting is that doing all the right things isn't enough.  You need some luck, too.  And creating the right circumstances for luck is what that event was all about.

Here's wishing all those producers a share of luck - and safe travels home.  More specifics coming soon.