1976-2006... I still can't figure out if the American Embassy in France has a very special sense of humour but 30 years after the 1976 Wine Tasting whose sad memories still haunt our minds (just joking!), about 80 American winemakers were invited at the residence of the US Ambassador in Paris to present their wines to French journalists, distributors and professionals
About 1,500 people gathered in the very beautiful residence of Craig R. Stapleton, recently appointed US Ambassador in Paris, to taste famous, less famous and even revent wines from California, Whasington, Missouri and Oregon. As a big fan of American wines I was among the first ones to rush to this tasting. The session opened with a 1-hr presentation about "Zinfandel, California's own grape". This was a bright move since Zinfandel is completely unknown in France and very much represented among the Californian wines. It is one of my favorite ones but I'm very privileged since I've been going to California at least once a year for the last 25 years. Zinfandel is still mysterious to most winelovers in France as well as to a lot of professionals.
Let's go in the tasting rooms. There were 3 of them: the Louis XVI living room, the ballroom and the main dining room. The decor was so beautiful it was a little distracting but once you got used to your luxurious surroundings it was very pleasant to get to work. To tell you the truth I stayed away from the biggest wineries and headed for those I didn't know or wished to know or wanted to make sure I remebered how great they were. My first stop was for Esser Vineyards created by Manfred Esser, former winemaker of Cuvaison, in 2001. I had the pleasure to meet his daughter, Julia, who lives in Paris and whose difficult mission is to find an importer for her father's fine wines. I tasted a great 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and a wonderful 2004 Merlot - so Californian and sunny I was in heaven.
I then moved to the table of Foppiano whose Petite Sirah (not very common in France) is on my top list. Their 2003 Petite Sirah was exactly what I was expecting: fruity but fine, high alcohol but still elegant. My last stop was at the Farniente table where the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Dolce was very nice.
The purpose of this tasting was to help American winemakers to find importers or distributors in France. Sadly enough the French market is a tough nut to crack for foreign wines. French as well as Italian and Spanish tend to ignore foreign wines for various reasons. It's not completely their fault. Indeed the marketing of American wines in Europe (excluding the UK) is not very well targeted and/or adapted to the local culture: it is directed to the professionals when in Europe the demand is created only by the end-consumers. In the case of foreign wines, two types of end-consumers are concerned: the young winelovers and the traveled amateurs.
Being European I would be curious to find out how you feel about this problem of American wines in wine-producing countries. Do you feel your wines are misunderstood or not known enough? What do you think you or we could do to help American wines to access more deeply the French and European markets?