The foyer of the ‘Multi-Uso’ in Guimarāes is full of hundreds of people waiting behind the closed doors to get inside what to an outsider may be a theater or an auditorium. People are seen talking animatedly, exchanging greetings and hugging and kissing each other as if they were meeting after a long time. There are stands displaying chocolates, wine accessories, cookies and Amorim cork display etc.
An outsider can tell from the informal clothes most men and women are wearing with collared tags of multiple nationalities around their necks that it is no theater, even as the doors open to a symphony playing on the big amplifier system with 180 sets of tables and chairs set in the big hall in a fashion with 5 sets of glasses on each table. There are 58 sets of such tables each meant to accommodate 5 people, with one person sitting at the head of the table across from four on the other side, facing him.
Welcome to ‘Multi-Uso’, the tasting hall at Guimarāes (pronounces as gey-ma-resh), the seat for the 19th edition of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB) where 316 professional judges from 48 nationalities, including the solo judge from India, have congregated to taste 8397 samples compared to around 7400 last year, with an increase of about 15%. If recession were the dampener in the last couple of years, this ought to mark the end of the recession.
On the previous day, Porto airport, about 50 kms away, had an interesting sight, with the arrival hall equipped with a reception area complete with amenities like wine and water and adequate staff to welcome the guests arriving by air from different part of Europe.
Let the show begin
Thomas Costenoble, MD of the Concours (competition) welcomes the judges to the ‘cultural capital of Europe’ for 2012 and explains the procedure for tasting and marking the samples: Silver – 84-86.9, Gold 87-94.9 and Grand Gold 95+/100. These are only the guidelines as Baudouin Havaux, CEO of the competition explains to me later. ‘We like to keep the quality very high and do not give more than 25% medals. This assures the participants paying up to €135 a sample, that the medals that they win have a lot of value. The Great Golds hardly go beyond 2% and are really coveted.’`
Who participates in this competition by and large, I ask Baudouin later in a chat?’ First of all, it depends upon the market the producers are looking at. There are four international competitions of a similar stature including ours-Decanter, Vinalies and MundusVini (he perhaps forgot to mention Vinitaly). Those who are looking for the UK market may look at Decanter seriously, while the German market encourages participation in MunduVini; Vinalies is good for French wines but the producers who are looking at bigger markets in Europe will find CMB more valuable.
In all, 8,397 wines and spirits from 52 producer countries are competing on 4th, 5th and 6th May in Guimarāes, European Capital of Culture 2012. France once again remains the leading participating country with 2,541 entries. Ranking second is Spain with almost 1,600 entries. Italy and Portugal are next in size with 993 and 925 entries respectively, followed by Chile with 447.
Breaking the 10,000 barrier
So when do they hope to break the 10,000 barrier, many travelling judges ask Baudouin Havaux, CEO of the competition founded by his father Louis Havaux, who transferred it to him and is now happy to be a taster only for the competition, besides being actively involved with the magazine, Vinopres. ‘We certainly don’t have such targets in mind,’ says Baudouin emphatically. ‘Not only is it difficult, we want to go slow on further additions as it is a great responsibility to make sure the producers get the best quality of tasting. We want to make sure that we provide the best possible tasters.’ He also indicated that a thorough assessment was always made statistically for each taster to make sure his score is in line with the rest of the jury.
The competition is already the biggest competition in the world when considered on a consecutive 3-4 day format hinting at competitions that may be bigger but that are tasting at different venues throughout certain parts of the year, explains junior Havaux.
From Brussels to Lisbon over a glass of beer
Founded in 1994 by his father Louis Havaux, Baudouin decided to take the competition from 2006 to Lisbon from where it went to Maastricht in Netherland, Bordeaux, Valencia, Palermo and Luxembourg before bringing it to Portugal for the second time, in Guimarāes this year.
How and why did they decide to take the competition to different countries with all the difficulties of logistics and increased costs and uncertainties? The story as Baudouin tells delWine, goes that he and Jesus de Carlos, Marketing Director of Amorim who are co-sponsors for many years, were having a glass of beer that was followed by another and another, at the end of a successful competition when Carlos said to Baudouin, ‘we have been co-sponsoring the event for several years but I think Amorim will get better mileage if we could have the tasters actually see the cork making facilities in Portugal.‘
What was said in part jest, became true as Havaux accepted the challenge and they organized the next edition in Lisbon from where several tasters did go to the factory and the rest, as they say, is history. It has turned out to be important because this has brought renewed vigour even in the tasters who have been tasting from the very beginning. They can look forward to new wine regions and taste their wines as well. The move has worked well. There is hardly a taster who misses judging at any edition unless it is because of unavoidable circumstances.