Steven Spurrier, Virginia Wine and the International Wine Market.
If you are reading this blog there is little need for me to re-iterate why Steven Spurrier is considered one of the world’s leading wine critics. What you may not know is that he has been a strong advocate for Virginia wines, the keynote speaker at the Virginia Wine Summit, and one of the most eminent judges in the Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. I like to think that Chris Parker and I were instrumental in convincing Steven of the quality and potential of Virginia wine.
This is a story of relationships that goes back ten years when in 2007, with the help of Richard Leahy and the Virginia Wine Marketing office, a number of Virginia wineries banded together to produce “The Virginia Wine Experience in London”. The venue was Vinopolis which at the time was a prestigious center of wine culture in the UK. It was planned to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of the British settling Jamestown and was a great way to point out that Virginia was the first location in America where English settlers attempted to plant vineyards.
Coincidentally, Chris Parker had taken a deeper look into the potential of Virginia winemaking and had established New Horizon Wines with the express goal of placing Virginia wines on the world stage. The best place to achieve that objective was in the UK, the most influential market in the world of wine.
In 2008 New Horizon Wines organized a transatlantic ‘virtual’ trade and media wine tasting using Skype, a relatively new technology at the time. We believe it to be the first time Skype had been used to connect winemakers with buyers and media. That story is probably a topic for another blog. The event was held at the prestigious Institute of Directors in London. Steven Spurrier attended along with other influential wine writers such as Steven Brook and Tim Atkin, and wine merchants from London and Southern England. Steven’s initial impression of Virginia wines from The Virginia Wine Experience in London was confirmed that day, and he has been an enthusiastic advocate ever since.
Andrew Hodson with Chris Blosser at Breaux Vineyards setting up for the first ever virtual tasting via Skype and Chris Parker in London taking care of final preparations before guests arrived
Journalists and wine professionals gathered at the Institute of Directors, London watching the Skype broadcast from Virginia. We left the line open for the evening for Q&A as guest
Steven Spurrier tasting the first wine of the evening at the Institute of Directors
The following year, Virginia wines featured for the first time at the London International Wine Fair with the core group of wineries that had constituted the Virginia Wine Experience in London. Our presence was small but we were one of the only exhibition stands where a contingent of winemakers and winery owners were available to talk to thousands of visitors who came through over three days. We were dwarfed by the grandeur of our international competitors but we were thrilled when Steven Spurrier stopped by to taste our wines.
One year later with funding from the Wine Board we were back in the London International Wine Fair this time with a more impressive stand. The Virginia wine industry at this stage was still inchoate and emerging on the international market.
This time we were secretly hoping that we would get another chance to taste our wine with Steven and sure enough to our concealed delight he came by the booth. As always with notebook in hand he tasted our Sauvignon Blanc all the while silently making notes. We poured our Viognier having reminded him that Viognier had been adopted as the white grape of Virginia. He spent a long time making his notes then he briefly told us that he would be right back-and to our amazement he returned with Marcel Guigal who was at the Fair presenting his wines.
Patricia and Andrew Hodson with Steven Spurrier at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF)
Now just a word about Marcel Guigal. He is the patriarch of Guigal wines located in the northern Rhone Valley in France producing about half a million cases of wine a year and incidentally the single largest producer of Condrieu -France’s AOC Viognier. It is exceptional for him to travel and highly unusual for him to actually meet with people he does not know unless of course Steven Spurrier invites him! I had never met Marcel despite the fact that I had visited his winery in 2002 with Bruce Zoecklein and Tony Wolf, the state enologist and state viticulturist, together with a group of almost twenty Virginia wine growers. We were not granted an audience with Marcel but his son Philippe, who now manages the estate, gave us a tour of the winery located in the village of Ampuis in the northern Rhone.
We poured for Marcel in humble trepidation. He and Steven spoke quietly to one another exchanging remarks and tasting again. We were standing watching every move. Then to our surprise Marcel walked off and came back with his son Philippe to share what was to them a completely different style of Viognier.
Patricia and Andrew with Marcel and Philippe Guigal at LIWF
Discussions about Viognier, Condrieu, and our developing wine regions in Virginia. Marcel Guigal, Steven Spurrier and Andrew Hodson
Here we had the Goliaths of French Viognier production up against the David of Virginia Viognier. Marcel, Philippe, and Steven tasted all of the Viogniers at the Virginia stand and met with the winemakers. Lively and interesting discussions ensued. It was a day to remember. Many people dropped by our stand that day saying they had heard they needed to taste the Virginia Viogniers. Coincidence probably but we were delighted we had made an impression.
Now here we are at the beginning of 2018 about to welcome Steven Spurrier as our guest speaker to the first Virginia Wine Academy wine dinner.
Whatever it was for Chris and I that started ten years ago, it was the spark or at least one of the sparks that explains why, on January 30th 2018, Steven Spurrier will be here to share with us his stories about wines he has loved in his 50 years in the wine trade.