As thousands of attendees visited the Wine Enthusiast Magazine booth at Vinexpo last week—the premiere global wine and spirits five-day trade fair held every other year in Bordeaux, France—two things were clear: One, China is at the forefront of global wine sales; and two, the United States may be the largest wine-consuming nation, but it’s falling short where sales are concerned.
While it remains to be seen how the remainder of the year will play out, guests of the event were all business. Handshakes and signatures were made both inside the vast exposition center and during the evening events, which took place at the various stunning Bordeaux chateaus. Here’s a snapshot of the deals:
• Poured at Fête de la Fleur, the dramatic Vinexpo finale: 120 magnums of Haut-Brion ’06 plus 120 d’Yquem ’08, Lascombes ’05 imperials. The menu included appetizers of oysters, caviar, plenty of foie gras and a dinner (menu in French and Chinese) for 1,500 orchestrated by three-star Michelin Chef Eric Fréchon, hosted by Château Lascombes and Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et des Graves, Sauternes et Barsac. Lascombes is a Margaux second growth grand cru classé owned by Colony Capital, an American investment group. Estimated cost for the night (split amongst chateaus): $1.35 million.
• While Roederer Champagne’s Frédéric Rouzaud showed the iconic and completely renovated Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande to brand sales managers from around the world, a Roederer brand manager completed a deal with a Texas importer on the château lawn that sits atop the barrel cellar.
• Domaine Clarence Dillon’s President Prince Robert de Luxembourg (of châteaus Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion) announced the company closed a deal to buy its first Bordeaux Right Bank property, former Grand Cru Classé Château Tertre Daugay in Saint-Emilion, owned by Count Léo de Malet-Roquefort.
• Châteaus Cheval Blanc (St.-Émilion) and Clerc Milon (Pauillac) inaugurated their dramatically contemporary wineries with lunches and dinners throughout the week
• Clerc Milon’s new winery sets the stage for what owner Philippine de Rothschild hopes will be world-class wines from classified 5th growth vineyards that sit between Mouton Rothschild and Lafite vineyards in the Pauillac appellation. The winery was designed by acclaimed French stage designer Richard Peduzzi and Bordeaux architect Bernard Mazières. Peduzzi is the interior set designer for the Louvre and d’Orsay museums in Paris and has designed opera and theater stage sets around the world including the set for the 2009 "Tosca" for the New York Metropolitan Opera. Mazières blends architecture with winemaker needs and cutting edge winery technology. Clerc Milon’s contemporary winery image is on the label as of vintage 2010.
• Vinexpo rumors that Bordeaux négociant Castel (the largest wine, beer and water company in France) purchased the French Robert Skalli wine business, which includes St. Supéry in Napa Valley, were denied on Monday. Robert Skalli is looking for a partnership for the South of France business (excluding St. Supéry) but there have been no conversations with Castel, said Emma Swain, CEO of St. Supéry. Castel did not reply to Wine Enthusiast‘s query. Swain, who orchestrated the Sebastiani brand and winery sale, was in Paris pre-Vinexpo and, for the first time, Skalli did not have a stand at Vinexpo. Skalli, a longtime leader in South of France wines, is known for its Fortant brand in the US. Castel produces 460 million bottles of wine for export to 80 countries. Both companies are established in China.
Vinexpo 2011 Quick Numbers
• 48,000+ total global wine trade visitors and exhibitors, up 3% over 2009 (2009 was down 7.56%)
• 30,700 French wine trade (1st place)
• 10,000 combined US (3rd place) and UK (2nd place)
• Double China trade visitors over 2009 (1,189 in 2009)
• South Korea, Taiwan, and Russia returned after major downturn in 2009
• Europe: increase in buyers from Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland
• New labels you’ll see in US distribution: Still unknown but look for new imports and private brand wines from Chile, Spain, Italy and France in both under $10 and under $20 ranges.