Two wine fairs, one weekend, worlds apart
Over the past weekend, we managed to visit not one but two wine fairs. The first (pictured on the right) was the Mostra del Vi de l’Empordà in Figueres, Catalonia which, despite being in its 29th year, still doesn’t have a website and definitely no form of social media. The second (pictured on the left) was the Vignerons des Aspres which was the first of what the winemakers in this sub-region of Languedoc-Roussillon hope will be an yearly event set in the village of Thuir. Despite one being in France, the other in Spain and the foothills of the Pyrenees separating them, their focus was the same: for the winemakers of lesser-known regions to show off their wines to locals and visitors.
As the Mostra de l’Empordà is the older of the two, it’s the best to talk about first. Set on La Rambla (yeah, it’s not just a Barcelona thing) in the center of Figueres, it’s a very pleasant outdoor venue which is where most of the events in town are held. With trees from the 19th century arching overhead, the wineries set up their booths along one side of the Rambla. The other side is reserved for something of a “bar” area. The event is usually scheduled to take place on the first Thursday of the month and closes down four days later on the following Sunday, going as late as midnight every day. This is of course problematic given that this is typically right in the middle of the harvest season and it’s very hard for small wineries to take off this much time to attend. Even if they can, the fee for being part of it is several hundred euros, making it a bit more out of reach and why, out of nearly 50 wineries registered with the DO Empordà, less than 20 were at the fair.
To be fair, there is tent set for more involved tastings which are by and large free. You just have to know when they are and rush to get in on them as seating is quite limited.
To taste the wines at the fair one needs to purchase a glass for 10€, which comes with a booklet with five wine tickets and five food tickets. This is not an unreasonable price given that it seems you receive five pours of wine and get to keep the glass. But in reality, the more expensive a wine is, the more tickets it costs as the wineries get a very small payback from the city organizers of the event for each ticket they collect. So naturally, to try and offset the pile of bottles they burn through in four days, they try to get more back in the tickets and those five tickets a visitor receives could very well just give them two pours of wine. Not the greatest of deals, especially when it rains like last weekend and you can’t visit any booths at this outdoor fair.
Now let’s take a look at the Vignerons des Aspres event which took place in the old Byrrh factory in Thuir. Now fully remodeled, the roof does a wonderful job of keeping of the rain while you wander your way through the insanely huge barrels that they still use in this “cathedral of vermouth”. There, between each of the large barrels each winemaker set up a table with their wines. There was a pipe running along each side of the aisle with the winemakers and they had set up their tables in front of it making for a rather narrow passage, especially given that there was quite a big turnout for the event. And that’s a big key difference. Realizing that this event is in the middle of what is typically the harvest, they did it just one day and only from 6 to 9pm. That and we were told that the wineries didn’t have to pay anything to attend. The end result was that of the 35 or so wineries in the region, 24 were showing off their wines.
For visitors, there were gegants and a ragtime band playing, really, really delicious plates of pâté and French cheese from La Voie Lactée, and then of course the wines which came at a cost of merely 5€. That’s it. Five euros bought you a glass and a booklet of 24 tickets to give to each winery as you sample any and all of their wines which ranged from 3€ a bottle to 100€ or more (and we indeed tasted one such wines without a problem).
It’s pretty easy to see which event we favored and the big reason in this is that the French know how to put on gastronomic events to promote a specific product. The Spanish are losing sight of what the actual goal is, which is to taste the wines not get drunk on the wines. It’s easy to see this in Figueres (and countless others) that you have a city administration trying to create a “pop-up” bar in the main promenade in town literally at the expense of the wineries who are then trying to not lose their shirt in the deal and thus making their wines too expensive to taste. If it keeps up like this, then the Figueres event will probably fail, whereas the Thuir event looks set to expand the next time around.