There were 14 of us who got together to rent a space in common so as to save on expenses; all of us more or less small-ish artisan-type producers of organic and/or natural wines. Each producer had one barrel.
Technically and logistically, everything worked out just fine, thanks to Jose Miguel Márques (Bodega Marenas) who coordinated between us and the fair organizers, and to Julian Ruiz (Esencia Rural) who kindly provided the barrels that we used to display our wines.
Socially, I devirtualized quite a few friends form Twitter and FB, and also made a few that have still to be virtualized!!!
I had a pocketful of visiting cards, but unfortunately have managed to lose them all; and of course now I can't remember the names of all the people who came to taste my wines! But here are some that I do remember:
Nacho Bueno, Spanish wine-blogger; sponsor of one of my oak casks (see this post), and collaborator in the creation of the 2010 coupage "Los Cinco en Punto"
Ignacio Segovia, organizer of The Winebus, running wine-tourism visits to wineries within a radius of about 2 hours from Madrid. Hopefully, he will organize a visit to me, when I have a winery that is 'visitable' one day!!! :)
Sam Caldwell, owner of SMC Fine Wines, who distributes to restaurants and winebars in La Mancha
A trio of Frenchmen (living in Spain): Carlos Campillo, of Petit Bistrot fame, the only winebar/restaurant in Madrid exclusively serving natural wines. Benoit Valée, importer of French and Spanish natural wines, to his new winebar, L'Anima del Vi in Barcelona, and Jean Jacques (surname?) soon to be starting a wine project in Madrid.
Mar Galvan, a professional wine-taster and writer, (for Verema among other publications), who took this photo of me!
Mónica Fernández Bobadilla, export manager at Pago Casa del Blanco, came to visit several times a day, so she could step out of her high heels and relax from the very serious and corporate ambiance at her own winery's stand!
I have two interesting anecdotes worth mentioning (both involving food and wine! How surprising!):
After closing up the shop at 7 o'clock (ie, rinsing out wineglasses, tidying up, etc) I was milling around trying to decide what to do for dinner, when my problem was instantly solved by Samuel Cano (fellow natural wine producer, from La Mancha), who'd booked a table for 10 at a restaurant, and invited me along. So we drove to Daimiel (about 20 mins away from Ciudad Real) and parked right next to the restaurant (which is of course impossible to do in Madrid!). It was a low, white-washed, traditional-looking building right in the centre of town, called El Bodegón. Inside, the decor was really nice (ye olde traditional style, tiles, exposed wooden beams, etc). In fact it used to be a bodega, and they'd kept some of the machinery and features for decoration. Downstairs in the basement, they had kept the 'tinajas' (large clay vats for fementing wine) and cut out a doorway into each one; and inside each vat was a table for two!! How romantic is that?
But we had a round table for 10 upstairs. I was expecting some traditional food from La Mancha, ie solid, consistent, no-nonsense energy-giving food, but was I in for a surprise! It turns out that the restaurant did 'nouvelle cuisine' or 'fusion' or whatever it's called! So we were served plate after plate (I lost count after the 12th!) of intricate and complex delicacies (tiny portions on large plates!). They were all very tasty and interesting, but it's not really my style. It was in fact the first time that I'd had such a 'dining experience'. I'm really glad to have done it, but I don't think I'd do it again, if other options were available! I think we were given special treatment (as Samuel is a friend of the owner!) and we 'only' paid €55 each. This is a huge amount for me to spend on dinner, but on the way out I saw the menu at the front door and noticed that each one of those tiny plates we had cost an average of €20!!!! And we weren't charged for any wine, because we'd all brought our own!
Action replay at 7 o'clock, milling around, and this time my problem was solved by Roberto (surname?), winemaker at Suertes del Marques (Tenerife). He was going round collecting bottles of wine and inviting people to a paella for dinner at the house he was staying at. Which was in Alcolea de Calatrava, about 20 mins from Ciudad Real. It was a sort of bungalow, with a large back garden and all the infrastructure needed for a barbeque, ie firewood, charcoal, grill, kitchen, table and chairs, etc!
Two paellas were planned (a vegeatable one and seafood one), but unfortunately a Frenchman was in charge of the cooking, and he burnt the first one!! For the record, it was Sebastien (surname?), who makes natural wine in Alicante! But to the important business of the evening: Roberto had managed to collect 28 different bottles of wine, which we all proceeded to taste blind, to see if we could guess at least the variety and the region. Well, I was in the presence of some awsome and experienced expert tasters (like Juan Ponce, Gregory Perez, Mal Galvan, Alfredo Maestro, and more etc), while I couldn't taste my way out of a paper bag, so I was just tasting and listening and learning.
Round about wine #12, I thought that I knew what the wine was, but I didn't dare to speak up, and lo-and-behold, when the bottle was uncovered, I was right - it was an oak-aged Albillo.
Then at around wine #20+, I was pretty sure that it was a Garnacha. The experts were humming-and-hawing and not committing themselves, so this time I just blurted it out. And it was! :) That just goes to show, that if you practice enough and remember the wines you taste, you really can learn. I managed to identify that Garnacha, because I take every opportunity I can to taste Garnachas, and have been doing so for about three years! Even so, I couldn't identify the region!
Eventually at about midnight, the paella was ready, and it turned out very nicely!
Then, more wine and wine conversations till about 4:00 a.m. We talked wine for the entire 8 hours that we were there! Amazing! No talk about football, politics, filmstars, or any of that other stuff that people tend to talk about. Absolutely brilliant.
I have to say that I behaved myself admirably, as I was driving. So I actually spat (most of) the wines we tasted blind, and then I stopped drinking altogether after the paella. Which brings me to the last anecdote: I was driving back to our own bungalow (on the other side of Ciudad Real) with Alfredo Maestro, who had promptly fallen asleep as soon as we set off! And he didn't even wake up when I got stopped by the police, and had to furnish documents and explanations!!! They didn't give me a breathalizer test, but I think I would have passed it if they had. So, home and in bed by 5:00 am. Not bad, considering!
Would I go again to a similar fair? Well, for the wining and dining and networking and conversational experiences, yes. But not to sell wine or 'make contacts'! And I'd think twice about going to a fair for 3 days in a row!
And talking about wining and dining experiences, I'm going to end this post with a rant against Spaniards and Spain in general - because I've been living here long enough, and paying Spanish taxes for long enough, to have the right to complain!!!! And what I'm complaining about is the absolutely appalling and shameful quality (and quantity) of the catering services provided at Fenavin. They consisted of a large functional cafeteria, of the type you used to see at airports, railway stations and bus-stations. No table service. Only 2 barmen attending hundreds of customers at the bar. I managed to get a beer after about 15 mins (but only because I saw someone I knew getting served and I got him to sneak my order in!). I didn't bother trying to get anything to eat, but went outside instead. Where the situation wasn't any better. There was a street with 4 or five bar/restaurants serving lunch. But did they buy extra food for the 3 days of the fair? Did they put out extra tables? Did they hire a few more waiters, to attend to literally thousands of extra customers from the fair? No, they didn't! Go figure what's going through the bar owners' and fair organizer's heads, if anything! Oh well. I wasn't too bothered myself, because I'm used to it, but what must foreign visitors be thinking? What kind of an impression would they be taking home with them?