Last week, the 32nd annual Salon des Vins de Loire welcomed over 8,000 people over 2 days in Angers. I was one of them. This wine trade fair is specifically for professionals in the wine biz. But there are also members of the press documenting the event and learning right along with everyone else.
Salon des Vins de Loire: My day at a professional wine trade fair as a non-professional
So how is it that I ended up at a professional wine trade show?
I applied for a press badge and was warmly welcomed like everyone else. I wanted to learn more about my region’s wines, network a little bit, and share information about the event and the wines here on my blog and social media. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve taken a keen interest in wine — especially Loire Valley wine — ever since moving to France and this was THE place to be if you want to be in the know about the region’s wines.
Even though I don’t work for the wine industry specifically, it was worthwhile for me to go and I had a fantastic time.
So first, a few basics about the event.
The Salon des Vins de Loire is the only European trade fair focused specifically on a single growing region, that of the Loire Valley. The event offers wine pros the opportunity to get a preview of the year’s vintages before they go on sale. There were wine merchants, distributors, tourism companies, restaurateurs, press and more all taking part in the festivities and seeing what the exhibitors had to offer.
With over 300 exhibitors big and small (mostly wine growers) from Pays Nantais, and the Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and Loire Centre regions, visitors got an inside look at the Loire Valley’s wines through an exceptional selection of red, rosé and white wines, both still and sparkling.
If you’re into wine, that’s exciting, right?
But truth be told, before going, I was a tad apprehensive.
Sometimes French people get a bad rap for being snooty. Wine can have a pretentiousness to it as well that can feel intimidating. So French people and wine together might be a bad mix for someone who isn’t super knowledgeable about wine. I’d be going alone, and trying to speak authoritatively about wine in my second language had me a little nervous. All of that combined had me on edge.
But I’m happy to report that the salon didn’t have a pretentious vibe at all and I felt just as comfortable there learning and tasting as anyone else.
The wine growers I spoke to put me at ease and were happy to tell me about their wines and let me sample them along the way. I tried at least 50 wines and I wasn’t even there the entire day!
So what did I do at the wine fair? A lot of sipping and chitchatting, that’s what.
Let’s start at the beginning.
First off, a quick mention that there was SO much to see and do that this recap is barely scratching the surface.
I first had a walk around to check everything out. The floor was mapped into a grid and exhibitors’ booths lined the entire area.
In addition to the booths, there was a self-serve tasting area where professional wine buyers could go to taste several hundred wines at their leisure and read the corresponding info card, and then go on to speak to the producers if they choose. I skipped this section since I’m not a wine buyer, but it was extremely well organized.
After getting my bearings and grabbing my glass (more on that below), I attended the chenin blanc masterclass on Monday morning where we sampled 4 wines and learned about this fabulous grape that quickly became one of my favorites after moving to France.
A few quick facts: Chenin blanc is the 16th most widespread grape variety in France at 9,828 hectares of vines. A whopping 95% of it is from the Val de Loire. That comes out to be 62 million bottles per year.
If you find yourself at a professional salon des vins, here are a few etiquette tips:
(Thanks Cathy of Le Tasting Room for your help!)
Keep in mind there are plenty of wine fairs in France and around the world that are geared toward the general public where you can buy wine. Those are a lot of fun as well and etiquette is different when you’re at a fair for pleasure.
Do NOT wear heavy perfume, body oil, or any other type of scented product that could get in the way of objectively evaluating wines. Not only does strong fragrance have the potential to influence how you’re tasting the wine, but it’ll also get in the way of people’s experiences around you.
Do NOT swallow the wines. Pretty much everyone spit their wines into the crachoir after sampling and that is the professional thing to do. How can you evaluate wine if you’re drunk? Not very well. Always spit at a professional wine event. Actually drinking the wine will come across as very unprofessional. You’ll be sampling a ton of them!
Do NOT expect to buy anything or even see prices. Professional trade fairs aren’t aimed at selling bottles then and there, so prices aren’t really a focal point. I don’t think I saw a single price list or heard anyone discussing cost, at all.
DO pick up a wine glass on your way in. I didn’t realize that you take an empty glass from one of the tables on the way in and then keep it with you to bring to each booth. You sample each wine in the same glass. How’d I figure this out? I went to my first tasting and someone asked me where my glass was. #oops
DO ask questions. Wine growers want to share their expertise and tell you about their wines. Ask away.
DO be respectful of people’s time. With thousands of visitors per day, it can be hard to get a word in with everyone around. Once you do manage to talk to the exhibitor, don’t overstay your welcome. Sample, take notes, say thanks and move on. Arrive early to beat the crowds. Worked like a charm for me.
DO leave your business card. Self-explanatory there.
Some of the producers I talked to
Le Clos de la Meslerie: Peter Hahn is the American behind this Vouvray winery, about 15 km from Tours. With a small all-natural production using only organic chenin blanc grapes, the wines are different each year because each season’s natural conditions influence what the wine becomes. For Peter, winemaking is about people. He says, “I can’t think of anything that gives me more pleasure than imagining a bottle of le Clos de la Meslerie being opened in a restaurant or home a thousand miles from this little French valley and contributing to the conviviality and pleasure of an evening amongst people I may never have met.”
Domaine de Marcé: Christophe Godet’s Loir et Cher winery, appellation Touraine Oisly, sits on 32 hectares (79 acres) of vines. Eighty percent of the vines are white grapes — mostly sauvignon — with the remaining 20% red, made up of Gamay, Cabernet and more. They do about 30% in exports, even to places as unusual as Mongolia and Haiti. Christophe told me they just exported several pallets to the US for the first time and they should be arriving soon on the West Coast, so keep an eye out.
Domaine Lionel Gosseaume: Located in Choussy, east of Tours, Lionel’s winery is situated on a little over 15 hectares (37 acres). Sauvignon blanc grapes make up 75% of the vines. With red, white, and rosé varieties — plus a very warm welcome — I was over the moon to sample Lionel’s wines.
The Salon des Vins de Loire was an incredible event and I can’t wait until next year.
Are you familiar with Loire Valley wines? Do you have a favorite? Dry white wines are always a fave of mine.
Have you been to a wine fair?
Read this if you want to bring your French wines on a plane — the safe way.