The first chapter of Tasting Notes describes a sales trip to the South of France. Richard Siddle from The Buyer tells me he found it ‘even more poignant as none of us can travel and these are the memories we all have.’
Wine people are big travellers. Jamie Goode, the self-titled Wine Anorak, tells me he spent 320 days on the road last year. Few of us come close to Jamie but I’d assume that most people in the wine business go away at least once a month.
Not only does wine come from countries all over the world but it is one of these products that is quintessentially ‘from’ somewhere. To understand it you have to be there.
Oz Clarke, in the entertaining yet erudite Red & White, quotes Christian Moueix, the owner of Petrus, as saying, ‘You need to have sex in the vineyard before you can fully understand a wine.’ I have never had sex in a vineyard – Oz says he hasn’t either despite his encyclopedic knowledge of wine worlwide – but I understand where Mr Moueix is coming from. The enjoyment derived from wine is magnified by the knowledge and the intimate experience of the place where it is made.
Commercial wine people travel almost as much as wine writers, if only because getting a buyer to visit a winery is a big step towards a deal. Visits are also a perfect opportunity to treat buyers to a sumptuous meal or two and cosy up to them. Which is why British supermarket bosses keep on trying to protect their buyers’ independence by either imposing a minimum number of visits per day or forbidding them to accept hospitality.
The danger of business travel, particularly in wine where it often involves superlative food and wine you couldn’t afford on your salary – and let’s face it, nobody goes into wine for the money – , is the contrast it can provide with your home life. Many years ago, when my eldest daughter was small, I remember coming back from a particularly exciting trip, to a dirty home and a snotty, grizzly toddler. I stood in the kitchen, looked at the dirty dishes piled haphazardly in the sink and wished I were still in Carcassonne. I am not proud of that fleeting thought but I can’t be the only one who’s experienced it.
Another factor of the disconnect between professional and home lives is that you see the best side of the people you travel with or you meet while you’re away, apart from the odd exception. Yes, buyers can be tedious or demanding and sometimes both, but they’re people too and when the deal is done they want to relax and enjoy themselves. So you have a jolly good alcohol-fuelled time at the company’s expense and everyone becomes best friend.
I imagine it’s even worse for wine writers or journalists who are treated and feted by their hosts, sometimes beyond their wildest dreams. I recall drooling over social media pictures of a press trip to South Africa a few years ago where the cream of the British wine press seemed to go from infinity pools to surfing and fine eating under perfect blue skies while the rest of us were growing webbed feet during one of the wettest November on record.
Travelling creates strong bonds of friendships within the wine tribe. It also can endanger the balance of our lives if we let travelling become an addiction and a way to escape from reality.