We were among the 3200 attendees at Millésime Bio 2011 last week in Montpellier, South of France, sponsored by Sud de France and organized by our hosts the AIVB-LR (Association Interprofessionnelle des Vins Biologiques de Languedoc-Roussillon).
Now in its 18th year, this international trade fair is devoted exclusively to wines made from organically grown grapes in accordance with current European regulations. Up 18% from last year’s attendance of 2700, the event allowed professionals to sample wines from over 500 producers and negotiants. Egalitarian in set-up and display, each selection of wines stood on its own to be sampled for taste and quality. The fair provided the exhibitors with spaces which included one table, two chairs, one white tablecloth, one spittoon, tasting glasses and ice. According to folks from the AIVB-LR,the fair’s purpose is to compare and assess wines rather than exhibition techniques. And while there were some attractive men and women behind some of tables, all were actually employed by the exhibitor – rather than models hired for the day, just to jiggle and flirt so that their wines might receive more attention than others.
The event catalog was helpful in planning our tastings as the tables were organized at random by design. The organizers say they chose this feature of Millésime Bio to help facilitate contacts and curiosity. “It may seem disconcerting at first sight,” they said, “however, the staff and the signposts will guide your “tasting route.” Or you could just purchase the handy catalog for 10 euros (about $14 US). Lucky for us, this was available free in the press room.
Millésime Bio was created in 1993 by a handful of AIVB-LR member winegrowers from Languedoc-Roussillon to promote their wines as well as the new vintages for would-be purchasers. We learned a bit more about its origin from Vincent Coste, proprietor and winemaker of Domaine Costeplane, during our dinner at Le Petit Jardin on the evening of our arrival.
“There were only eight exhibitors and four customers at the first Millésime Bio,” said Coste, “and the exhibitors were also the customers.” According to Coste, the show then grew to 30 exhibitors and then 100.
For this year’s event, 560 exhibitors came from France, Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Some of the wines were already familiar to us like Domaine Jean Bousquet who moved from France to the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza. We had tasted his Malbec as part of a Wines of Argentina virtual tasting event. Also familiar to us, Alta Alella S.L. from Catalon, Spain, whose PARVUS Syrah we had enjoyed on a recent trip to Madeleine’s at the suggestion of our favorite wine bard, Juan. At the fair, I also tasted their Blanc de Neu, a late harvest dessert wine, which earned a Gold award in Challenge Millésime Bio 2011, a competition of 733 wines.
Some of our new favorites included wines from domaine Hegarty Chamans, Domaine Monplézy, Domaine Cazes, Chateau de Brau, Domaine des 2 Anes, Les Chamins de Bassac, Domaine Lacroix-Vanel and Mas de Tannes, to name a few. We were pleasantly surprised at just how many good organic wines overall, as well as those from the Languedoc-Roussillon area we tasted not just during the fair, but also at lunches, dinners and a special tasting of 40 wines at Natoli & Coe œnological laboratory in Saint-Clément de Rivière.
AIVB-LR is an association of 164 members (as of 2009): 155 wine growers or cooperatives and 9 wine merchants. In addition to the annual Millésime Bio in January, the AIVB-LR organizes a regional competition “Signature Bio” in spring, the international competition “Challenge Millésime Bio” in autumn, and purchasing missions. It also participates in various trade fairs such as “Biofach” in Nüremberg and “Expression Bio” in Bordeaux.
Sud de France represents not only the wine of Languedoc-Roussillon but its products as well. Bringing together hundreds of appellations, Vins de Pays and varietals from Languedoc-Roussillon, the Sud de France label seeks to promote the values of the region: conviviality, art de vivre, gastronomy, tradition, quality, sun and sea.
We look forward to sharing more of our trip with you, including an interesting winery with a bit of an Irish twist. Stay tuned!