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Friday, 18 April 2014

The REAL Wine Fair 2014

I’m just back in Madrid after an intense 4 days in London, 2 days of which were taken up by the REAL Wine Fair itself, and 2 days of which were for me!

My main mission: to boldly seek out an importer for my wines in the UK

Secondary mission: to relax, enjoy, rest, drink wines, chat, get a change of scenery, etc. And I did!

I flew in to Gatwick with EasyJet on the Thursday evening after working at the office for a half-day; it’s close to the airport so it seemed like a good idea. I went straight to my friend’s house (in Battersea, see below) and dumped my suitcase, which only contained 6 bottles of wine sadly! Actually I was over-weight – 29 kg – but the young lady at the EasyJet check-in didn’t say anything. And neither did I!

Home Base in London Battersea
So it was straight to the pub, as I had a meeting arranged with the husband of the artist who did the artwork for my new labels (Jane Frere).

We went to the Prince Albert, just by Chelsea Bridge:

The Prince Albert - Image courtesy of
We had some nice wine and nice food at a reasonable price!!! I was surprised, as my past experience of London has been of bad and expensive wine and food!

Lovely oysters at the pub
The next day, Friday, I had absolutely nothing to do! No-one to meet, no convenient access to my emails, no task or no deadline for anything! It was great, even if kind of unsettling!

I woke up at my usual time, around 7:00, even though I didn’t set an alarm. So I lazed around a bit, made a coffee, and went back to bed and fell asleep till about 11:00!  Lunch was actually a full English breakfast, which I like to do once a year :)

photo english breakfast

Then I went for a wee lie down, with the intention of doing some reading, but I fell asleep – till 7:00 in the evening!  I think this was my body catching up on lack of sleep during the year of my (ab)normal lifestyle!

Next up was dinner, and we went to Soif, which is within walking distance of my friend’s house. It was really nice: a great wine-list of course, great food, friendly knowledgeable staff and again reasonably priced! What more can one ask for :)  Then, to bed early as I was a bit tired after such a hard day of doing nothing!

The next day, Saturday, was my last day of freedom, as it were, so we did some wandering around, just seeing what was to be seen.  We walked across Chelsea Bridge, through Eton Square and down to Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall and St. James’ Park.  A bit disneyfied and touristy I found, but hey, the weather was beautiful. Then we went into China Town for lunch (at the Beijing Dumpling) where I met up with fellow winemaker Alfredo Maestro.  After lunch more wandering around and we then went to Bar Italia in Soho, for a post-prandial coffee:

Bar Italia 1

Bar Italia 2
Then even more wandering around and we ended up at Gordon’s wine-bar, by Embankment. Great place; inside, a dark and low-ceiling dungeon like locale,  it was full up and there were no tables so we sat outside round a wine barrel for a while.

photo gordons

Now it was coming up for dinner time; and the Caves de Pyrene had kindly organized dinner for all the Spanish growers at Brawn, another awesome restaurant with a brilliant wine-list and equally brilliant food.

So I hooked up with Daniel Ramos, another Spanish grower (with whom I share a bodega in El Tiemblo), who had just arrived at Stanstead, and we walked all the way to Brawn; which was quite a hike, but the weather was nice and we felt like some fresh air. We got there about an hour early, so we sat at the bar and had a couple of wines! And tried some 'brawn'! I had no idea that such a think actually existed. I had always thought that ‘brawn’ was just the opposite of ‘brain’! I’d heard of ‘potted heid’ in Scotland, but never made the connection!

Brawn - image courtesy of
Then, after dinner, back to the house for a good night’s sleep, prior to the first big day at the fair.

Sunday was the day the fair was open to the public, and the forecast was that it would be busy.  And it was! I have to say that I’ve never had to work so hard at a fair in all the years I’ve been exhibiting at wine fairs.

My table at REAL

Cutting out and sticking on my labeles
The time just flew from 10:00 to 18:00. I did nothing but speak and pour wine, and I had sore feet and a sore throat! Usually, at wine fairs, I prepare a sign that says “I`ll be back!” and I go off and taste as many wines as I can and chat about wine stuff! But this time… I didn’t even have time to prepare the sign!

I suspect that something viral or ‘word-of-mouth’ happened, as the first thing that many people said to me was “I’ve been recommended to come taste your wines by….”.  It was awesome, thinking about it. It’s really the best and most sincere compliment that can be given to a wine producer. It has encouraged me no end, and has reconfirmed my belief that I should listen to myself, my heart and my intuition. I generally do, but there are moments when I’m assailed by doubts. The memory of that day will help to keep me on the right path. The path of low-intervention, terroir-expressing wines!  :)

The next day, the Monday, was a trade day, and I was also quite busy, though not as much as the Sunday. And in fact I had a volunteer helper:

Me and my helper
This is Leila, a friend who I was out with the day before, and she asked me directly “Can I be you wine bitch tomorrow?”  I was shocked and speechless for a few seconds! Because, not living in the UK, I’m not really sure these days what’s politically correct or socially acceptable to say or not anymore, but if she said it then I guess it must be OK!

So, thanks to her, I was able to escape from my table a few times and taste some other wines, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. Apart from restaurant and wine shop people, I also got some growers coming round to taste my wines, which is quite unusual for me (unless they knew me previously from some other occasion). I could tell they were growers because they were silent and didn’t ask any of the usual questions. They would just hold out their glasses, sniff, taste and look each other in the eye silently, and then go away!

So I don’t know what to think about that! But I think I’m going to take it as a compliment, because they must have had some kind of recommendation from someone, and they actually took the time to get away from their table. Unfortunately I don’t actually know what they thought of my wines, as they were so taciturn!

And then lastly, to round it all off, was the Georgian banquet, or Georgian supra, as it’s called. This is a wonderful way of having a dinner or banquet. Basically, instead of just one or two main courses, there was a constant flow of small dishes of different things.


But the main distinguishing element of a Georgian dinner, is the custom of giving toasts to all the guests. Every so often during the meal, you hear the ting, ting, ting of a knife on a glass and that’s the signal that the toastmaster is about to give a toast. I think this is a great custom, and we should adopt it here in Western Europe too. It has the effect of bringing all the guests at the different tables, together and of uniting everybody in a way. I found, at any rate.

Yet another distinguishing feature of Georgian banquets, is the singing. This time there is no ting ting ting on the glass, but every so often you hear the melancholic, minor key, sad, sad singing of two or more voices. You may or may not like it, but I’m a sucker for it, and it actually really did bring a tear to my eye. What with all that Georgian wine flowing too, and me being like the way I am! Of course I have no idea what the words in Georgian mean, but I’m imagining deep tragedies and laments, and yearnings; maybe from the Persian invasions of a few thousand years ago! I don’t know.

The next day, I was to fly back to Madrid – but in the afternoon. I decided a few years ago, that life was too short, not only to drink bad wine, but also to take early morning (or even morning) flights!

Which gave me time to go to the Doodle Bar, in the TestBed1 space/project/thing, which is in danger of being “redeveloped”. I hope my little contribution helps.


And then it really was time to go home. But wow, what a weekend, what a refreshing, illuminating, and encouraging few days. Just what body and soul needs, maybe just a few times a year :)

Monday, 7 April 2014

Getting ready for REAL Fair 2014

Yay, this Thursday 10th April I’m off to London Town! To the REAL Wine Fair. It will be a nice break for me, as I’ve managed to needlessly stress myself out lately instead of enjoying!

Boring but necessary tasks:

  • Buy return ticket Madrid-London with (Sl)Eazy Jet. Check – Did that a few weeks ago. Printed out the boarding passes already
  • Accommodation. Call friend and ask to sleep on his couch.  Check. Confirmed. Couch available
  • Send wines. Check. Done that already. But boy was it complicated! Now there are new EU-wide online forms to be filled in which are SO USER-UNFRIENLY, that you wouldn’t believe it if I could be bothered going into the grindingly boring details. Just to say that it took me several days, including liaising with the good people from REAL fair, AND their warehouse and shipping people. The forms are diabolically Byzantine, obviously designed just to keep specialist form-designing bureaucrats (un)gainfully employed. Better than having them roaming the streets I suppose! But no, relax, I’m not going to go on a rant here! hahaha :)
  • Pack bag. Nope, haven’t done that yet. But I don’t really need much for 5 days: change of clothes, extra bottles for wine, toothbrush, and not much else. Sandwiches and fruit for the flight, so I don’t need to buy any overpriced industrial sub-products on the plane! 
Some boxes of wine, ready for shipping off to REAL Wine Fair

So that’s that all sorted.

But like I said, I’ve managed to stress myself out lately for no good reason. I managed to finish pruning all my vineyards this weekend, which I think is a record for me. Usually I run very late and don’t finish till May some years! Also I’m in the process of designing new labels, which is proving to be really difficult and stressful! I am in fact all labeled out, and I don’t know what I like or even think any more. I need to get away from it all! These tasks are supposed to be enjoyable, not stressful.

But anyway, once I’m in London, my main goal is to reach an agreement with an importer in the UK and start exporting my wines there. It’s high time! I’ve been wanting to have my wines in the UK for a long time now, but have never got round to doing it.

The reason being that it’s hard being a one-man-band, small-time producer, because there are so many different areas of activity that all have to be dealt with; and each area is a universe in itself! Here’s the way I like to classify all the activities that I feel are necessary:

1. Tending my vineyards (and sourcing grapes)
2. Winemaking
3. Marketing, promotion and sales
4. Admin, paperwork, bureaucracy

Each one of these four main areas is of course incredibly complex and time-consuming, and so really, I only manage to do the absolute minimum necessary, in order to be able to produce quality wines (AND keep working at my day-job AND maintain diplomatic relations with friends and family) hahaha you gotta laugh!

For example, "Tending the Vineyards" includes at least the following:
- Pruning
- Removing canes
- Ploughing
- Cutting back grass
- Manureing
- Thinning
- Harvesting
- Transporting grapes to winery
- Dealing with vineyard owners
- Dealing with harvesters

And all of these sub-areas require time and thought and money; and can themselves be sub-divided into even more specific activities! And the same applies to the other three main areas of activities!

I find that sometimes I get carried away with one activity (for example, pruning) and before you know it weeks have passed and you’re late with some other activity (winemaking in the bodega, for example, or some paperwork deadline, or whatever). Or you take a look at your email in-box, and Oh Woe there are several important and/or interesting emails waiting for a reply. Which is of course rather frustrating because I know that I'm not doing a good job.

Anyway, the important thing for me, as I try to remind myself, is to (try to) relax, make good wine, and enjoy! I don’t even have a boss to deal with. Only me myself, and my own aspirations! I don’t NEED to stress myself out and worry about unimportant trivia!

But I’m not complaining. Far from it. I’d rather be doing this, than being bored, reduced to watching TV, or some such lifestyle! Maybe I need to do some yoga?

So really, what I'm most looking forward to about going to REAL (apart from finding an importer, which is of course really important) is just getting away from the label designing, bottling and corking up and shipping out, and sort of taking a deep breath, before getting back to the real world again in Madrid and getting down to some good productive work :). And of course tasting lots of wines and chatting with lots of people!

So dear readers (all 50 of you!), if you are in London this weekend, do come and visit me at Table 56, and taste my wines.

Here are some pics of the possible labels I’ve been playing around with:

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