French Winemakers Make House Calls

To my amazement, I read a story last week that described the launch of a new service in France called Vignerons a la Maison, roughly translated as Winemakers In the House. Winemakers from French estates will pay house calls and conduct tastings for you and your friends, if you have a minimum of four people—a vinuous Tupperware party. Founder Philippe Kazek says that the winemakers are trying to maximize their opportunities in these perilous economic times, and are willing to stop off at private homes on their way back from appearances at trade fairs.

If you’re over 50, you may think I was reading The Onion, but this story actually appeared in Decanter magazine. Kazek will launch the service with 20 winemakers, and anticipates he will have 400 participating by the end of the first year. The tasting is free for consumers, although the point of the exercise is obviously to sell wine.

Back in the 1970s, when the number of wine-producing regions was far fewer than now, French wine was the undisputed King of the Mountain. French winemakers didn’t lower themselves to make appearances at trade fairs, since that would have meant mingling with the public. They held court in their chateaux, dispensing allocations to favored importers and brokers.

Times have changed. With the exception of the top properties (First Growth and Classified Growth Bordeaux, Premier and Grand Cru Burgundy), many French wine estates are having a hard time peddling their wares. The average producer of generic Bordeaux today cannot sell his wine for as much as it costs him to make it. In the vast wine lake of the Languedoc Roussillon, things are even worse; except for the estates owned by beverage conglomerates, most wineries are not distributed in the U.S. at all.

So don’t expect the winemaker from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild to come to you house, beret in hand, hoping to sell a few bottles. It will likely be someone from a far more modest property, a label that you’re not going to see on the shelf at your neighborhood wine shop. Perhaps they can be flexible and also do some light housework to earn extra cash—mowing the lawn, washing the car, or cleaning those perpetually smudged windows.

Even better, maybe these travelling winemakers will break down and put the names of the grape varieties on their labels. As I suggested several weeks ago (in a post entitled What’s Wrong with Bordeaux), this would go a long way toward selling their wine in the U.S. Americans have been trained to order Chardonnay, Cabernet, or Merlot, and many can’t connect with a label that doesn’t identify the varietal name. Thus far, many French winemakers have been reluctant to do this.

In the meantime, those windows are looking filthy.


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