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Posted: Tuesday, November 03 2009. 22:55

Davos of Wine concludes on a Promising Note

The first World Wine Symposium dubbed as the Davos of wine held in Villa d’Este in Italy last week, turned out to be a very successful conclave ending on a promising note of establishing a global platform to discuss and resolve  some of the problems dogging the wine industry, reports Subhash Arora who attended the historic event.

Angelo Gaja talking about Italian wines

The conference was organized by Francois Mauss, a journalist, jurist and wine event organizer who founded Grand Jury European in 1996. If the conference was a test of organizational capacity for Mr. Mauss, it was a phenomenal success with around 250 wine professionals registering for the event, at a time when the financials for the wine industry are dismal at worst and unenviable at best.

Although there were registrations from as far as Tasmania as also from Singapore, USA, Canada, China and the lone presence from India, Francois was very satisfied with the participation and the quality of the registrants. He did admit that he would have liked to see wider participation from Japan and several other countries, but the numbers went far beyond the 150 planned initially; the 5-star hotel was fully booked for the symposium. 

The conference was packed with seminars some of which touched upon the sensitive topics like the role and ethics of media in the age of internet by one of the most well-known French journalists Michel Bettane, and the importance of wine tourism by Willy Klinger, the Director of Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

One could see wine luminaries like Angelo Gaja, Egon Mueller, Alvarez Pablo, Steven Spurrier, Bipin Desai, Luciano Sandrone, Piero Antinori and several other important producers like Chiara Lungarotti, Giorgio Rivetti, Conte Lucio Tasca d’Almerita and Willy Bründlmayer. Croatia made a special appearance with several of their wines available at a tasting followed by lunch; they had flown in a well-known chef  for the event, along with their own silverware and presentation props.

To say that it was an excellent gastro-oenological experience would be an understatement. With Michelin-starred chefs aided by the resident chef of Villa d’Este, each meal was a multi-course cuisine with over 8-10 wines, preceded by tasting of wines which included regions like Barolo, Austria, Croatia, Champagne as well as a few tastings organized privately by a few producers.

Some of the exciting topics will be covered in the following issues of delWine but an impassioned speech by Angelo Gaja was a truly a super-star performance from the iconic Barbaresco producer. The subject of ethics for the media will haunt the wine journalists till the next conference. The quality issue raised by Michel Prinz  zu Salm-Salm, the former president of VDP were highly relevant in today’s controversies haunting Italy and France. The possibility of a user friendly internet platform was a highly discussed subject from Yair Haidu, as was the investment in wine and the discussions on the status of wine being pushed back by the spirit industry.

The participants who might have been in a state of stupor with over a 100 wines tasted during the course of the conference were generally a satisfied lot who plan to return, even if the registration cost of € 1500 might be considered high by some south of the Himalayas, though it included 3 nights of stay and full, royal treatment and pampering by the hotel and the several interesting programmes designed.  The face of the organizers  was Francois, who was always smiling and doing crowd control with his light bodied, crisp but not too acidic, slightly off-dry approach that left a persistent and pleasant taste in the participants who were ready for the second bottle of the ‘Davos’ next year.

‘It was a wonderful conference,’ exclaimed the half-Danish-half Swedish full resident of the USA Gil Schwartz, an international consultant, who raised many important questions and even chided the European industry for its current state of seeming despair in the world arena where the New World wines are steadily gaining superiority, at least in numbers sold.‘To get so many people, such quality of people on a neutral territory by a neutral person who has no personal interest, is absolutely fantastic,’ he gushed.

Steven Spurrier, well known UK wine author, writer and an ex wine-merchant in France was balanced, elegant and yet full of colour in his comments. ‘This conference has been an undoubted success. It provided a fantastic platform to discuss so many issues under one roof. But next year I would like to see it tightened up a bit. I mean, it should be more participative and the approach should be not only to discuss the problems but try to find solutions. I am glad people like you, Joel, Gil and Bipin asked very relevant questions. I would like to see more of that interaction. Also, there should be a panel rather than a speaker and a moderator.’ Steven was a panelist but felt that his role was rather limited.

Peter Althaus, a Tasmanian producer was, however, not too impressed with the event. ‘Although there were enough opportunities to network, I cannot say I learnt anything new and many speakers spoke so fast in French that the translation was hardly comprehensible,’ he said.

Although the venue was in Italy and international in nature, French seemed to be more the European language in evidence despite translation facilities for all the seminars. At times translators could not always keep up with the speakers- perhaps due to the compactness of the programme, the speakers had to rush through their presentation, bringing out the problem of comprehension.

Joel Payne, an American journalist and an expert on German wines and who is also the editor of the annual German Wine Guide, was quite appreciative of the conference and the quality of speakers. ‘I was particularly impressed by the frankness with which Michel Bettane spoke about the ethics in journalism in a free atmosphere. I think the discussion of German wine laws through Prinz Michel's talk about the VDP was really meaningful. Also, the talk given by Haidu about the wine internet portal like the Face book of the wine industry was extremely interesting. It was a bold talk by Olivier Humbrecht from Alsace, knowing that there would be many skeptics in the audience about biodynamic farming. Meeting so many internationally important wine personalities at one platform was a very rewarding experience for me.’

Indeed there were many people one reads about in wine columns or books who were present in good numbers. Last I had met Elin McCoy who is a regular writer on Bloomberg and has written a book-a  biography on Robert Parker :Emperor of Wine: Rise of Robert Parker’ - was at the En Primeur Tasting last year at a private dinner with Christian Seely, MD of Pichon Lalande. She was also a keen participant in all the seminars.

Elin said it was a great platform where one could get to meet so many people for collective action. ‘ To me it was a personal surprise to know that Europeans are so nervous about the danger of wine and alcohol drinking- and this is the cradle of wine. The world of wine is highly fragmented and it is important to meet some optimists and have an informal exchange of ideas,’ she said.

Indeed, the general consensus was that the conference was an unbelievably successful event but that Francois should identify some of the issues bothering the industry and have panel discussions with industry big-wigs with an intent to find  a solution at the forum which is sure to become more powerful and influential, going by the quantum and quality of participants. He may also have to avoid succumbing to the temptation of having speakers engaging in a promotional activity.

The issue of cork vs. other closures, increasingly high alcohol in wines, global warming, wine and health issues as related to hard liquor, concrete steps needed to unshackle society from liquor and move towards wine are some of the issues that need to be dissected in detail. There are enough experts who believe in the strength and synergy provided by the First Symposium as the Davos of Wine. One needs to build up on that to make it an annual event of substance for years to come.

Subhash Arora

       

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