I used to be a partner in a family business importing wine from France, Germany, Italy and Spain some 20 years ago. I went into the business with a very romantic notion of visits to fine chateaux, whose doors would be open to me, a serious wine importer, with the finest vintages being uncorked for my pleasure. Leisurely tastings with the finest local cheeses and other delicacies, a lifestyle I was born to enjoy.
I soon learned.
Until I moved to Hvar, I had never had a job with so many early morning starts than as a wine merchant on buying trips on the continent. In order to get to those fine chateaux, one has to arrive, and chugging down the French autoroutes in a hired Ford Luton transit van with a typical 5am start took some of the romance out of everything, as did (perhaps more so) the necessity to drive after the tastings, which dampened somehat the drinking experience (I had not learned then – or now come to think of it – the professional approach of using the spitoon).
But there were plenty of highlights, the majority of which were with the much smaller growers. Our Vouvray supplier, for example, who was never at home, and our meeting instructions were always to find his white Renault 4 in the fields, honk the horn and wait 10 minutes, after which a tasting of sparkling Loire sparkling loveliness would ensue. My favourite was a lovely old chap in Chenas, who told us to check next to the house if his car was there in the event of him not answering the door, for he would be somewhere close by. Very obligingly, he had left the keys in the car, which was already laden with five cases of his finest, with the warehouse door unlocked and open 10 metres away.
Those memories came back today as I read the piece by Marcy Gordon, just out in the Wine Enthusiast, about the joys of accompanying an importer of Croatian wines around the vineyards of Dalmatia and beyond. If France, with a long commercial tradition of international wine sales could be challenging, just what must it be like for the modern-day importer of Croatian wines looking for wineries with little signage, even less online presence and a language barrier to get through as well?
I met Marcy and the rest of the Blue Danube crew on their trip earlier this year, and accompanied them to a tasting with the mercurial Teo Huljic tucked away in the back streets of Jelsa’s delightful old town. It sounded like a wonderful trip of discovery, coupled with perhaps a little frustration at the Dalmatian reality and lack of information, things which of course add to the charm of the place for those not on business or in a hurry.
Read Marcy’s piece in the Wine Enthusiast here, and check out the Californian pioneers, Blue Danube, and their list of Croatian wines available States-side here.