California wineries join forces for exhibit in VinExpo ’87
The trappings were exactly what one might expect from a restaurant called the “California Grill.’
It was a fresh, open-air affair under crips, white tents poised at the edge of the water. A California-blond hostess was at the door, and three clean-cut chefs (two women and one man) stood behind the grill, cooking up menu offerings the likes of “grilled rabbit stuffed with Smithfield ham with fresh sage noodles,’ “grilled lamb with wild rice galette,’ “Amador bacon and potatoes cooked in the coals with Kona Kai green salad,’ and “grilled oysters and sausages.’
On hand were California goat cheese and, of course, California wines, including some of the best the state has to offer–Cabernets and Chardonnays from Clos du Val, Cuvaison, Sterling, and Mondavi wineries; a Gamay from Charles Shaw; Zinfandel from Caymus; and many more.
The difference was that this California Grill was not in Malibu or Napa Valley, but here in Bordeaux. And its life span was a short–albeit splashing –five days, from June 22 to June 26 during VinExpo ’87, France’s biennial international wine fair.
Seventeen premium California wineries spearheaded by Robert Mondavi Winery joined forces to organize and finance the U.S. exhibit and restaurant, a giant step forward in comparison with the previous VinExpo in 1985, where Mondavi was the first and only official exhibitor from Calfornia. U.S. wineries, whose total output accounts for approximately 4 percent of world wine production, have never been serious exporters. Clearly, exhibitors at last week’s fair are hoping that situation will change.
“This was an important long-term investment for California,’ said Paris-based California wine wholesaler Bruce Macumber. “The winemakers were here primarily to tell the wine world that California is now ready to compete on the world market.’
General response to that news, according to several of the participating wineries, was extremely positive, with significant numbers of the more than 25,000 visitors to this year’s fair seeking out the American exhibit. At the neighboring California grill at least 200 lunches were served daily, well over the projected number of covers.
But despite all the Yankee optimism, some reservations were evident, particularly among the French. One Michelin three-star chef seen dining in the California Grill reasserted that France is still not ready for California wines. As for the cuisine at the grill, designed to show off the potential of California wines with food, “interesting’ and a restrained “good’ were the adjectives the same chef used. And why not, he added, all the chefs here trained in France’s three-star restaurants!
But if this and other chefs of France’s gastronomic elite see no demand for California wines, we have evidence indicating that an increasing number of their countrymen do. According to wholesaler Macumber, demand for American wines in Paris two years ago, when he founded Vin de California here, was close to zero. In 1986 he sold 10,500 cases, which represented only 52 percent of all American wines sold in France that year. And earlier this year a large French distributor servicing more than 30,000 restaurants and cafeterias in the Paris area took a sizable stock in 12 different American wines–an impressive commitment.
Wine prices slide: While the French contemplate American wines, American restaurateurs keen on building their stocks of French wines will be pleased to note a significant slide in the price of 1986 Bordeaux and Burgundies–15 percent to 30 percent less compared with those of 1985–as well as a general lowering of the cost of stocks of vintages from 1980 to 1984. Bargains can even be found in older wines of the 1970s, for example, for which reductions of up to 50 percent have been reported lately.
It’s all due to decreased demand resulting from the fall in the dollar’s value and a normalizing of prices after the steep escalation by French producers over the past four years.
Restaurants move: Despite some tough economic times in Paris–or perhaps because of them– Paris restaurants are on the move.
Guy Savoy, Michelin two-star chef whose restaurant by the same name of rue Duret was wellknown to American visitors, has moved to 18 rue Troyon, former home of Bernardin restaurant, renowned for its fish and seafood.
Bernardin owners Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze closed up shop in Paris to concentrate all their energies on their Le Bernardin restaurant in New York, which rates four stars from The New York Times.
L’Ambroisie, Bernard Paucaud’s restaurant which succeeded in garnering two stars from Michelin despite miniscule quarters on the Quai de La Tournelle, has taken up residence in luxurious new quarters on the regal Place des Vosges, making himself a much more likely candidate for a third star.
Fifty-four rue Varenne, a familiar address to fans of Alain Senderens and his former restaurant there, L’Archestrate, has been taken over by an ex-Senderens sous chef and rechristened L’Arpege. (Not to be confused with L’Aragon, the recently defunct, immediate successor of L’Archestrate at that address.)
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