For an american importer specialized in fine french wines from the Loire region, the chance to live in Paris, close to the source, is a much desired option . That's what Jon-David Headrick, a young american who set up his import business (Jon-David Headrick Selections) in Charlotte, N.C. two years ago decided to do . As his wife got the opportunity to work for a few months in Paris , he decided to come along . Both are fluent in french. Jon-David first came in Paris in 1998 for an MBA at Schiller college. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, he had no knowledge about wines, and during his first Paris stay he gradually discovered this culture. It soon became a passion and a job.
There are many ways for an importer to discover the vignerons and wines that will make his portfolio, and residing some time close to the producing region helps a lot.
He invited one of his customers in the U.S., John hafferty, portfolio director at M.S. Walker, who came from Boston for a 4 day tour in the Loire Valley, both for a taste of the region and visits at about 10 of his producers spread over different appellation zones in the Loire. Jon-David was kind enough to let me join for one day so that I could have a taste of the (tough) life of an american importer in France.
If you ever think business relations between a vigneron and an importer come down to figures and bargaining, just look at the dual picture above : This reunion is all about pleasure and complicity. Both men have been working together for a little more than a year and their partnership runs smoothly now. Damien went to the U.S. twice. The first time was to present his wines in wine fairs (a new Savennières is a rarity and his blind tasting prize made people there eager to taste his wines ) and the second trip, to visit cavistes and restaurants in N.Y. and San Francisco.
vineyards and the Epiré church in the background. We walk along the vineyard, look at the thick schists on the ground and soon reach a unique vista point. The view on Nicolas Joly's Coulée de Serrant and the Loire is great [picture on the right]. You even can visualize the mist coming up from the Loire and which plays such an important role for the wine of this tiny Appellation.
There are thousand ways for an importer to discover a new vigneron. Jon-David first heard about Vincent Ogereau through a french guy who lived in Boston and who came from the same village as Vincent, and had played with him in the same local band (Vincent O. is also a musician who graduated in the Angers Conservatoire). Jon-David happened to be looking for an Anjou wine for his portfolio and he made the trip to France to meet him and taste his wine range. His first impression was that these wines were real, not hidden by wood. For him, this was Anjou. He appreciated the rare balance between the maturity of the fruit, the terroir expression, the serious manual work of the vineyard and the selective sorting of the grapes.
As the tasting begins, Jon-David and John enquire about when the rosé wine will be bottled and available for export next year. Both are eager to have the wine as soon as possible, in april, to allow its distribution in the U.S. before the rosé season begins. Import requirements and transportation delays impose time lapses which oblige the importer and distributor to be efficient and swift .
Then we tasted the whites. His Anjou Cuvée Prestige is serious Chenin Blanc with a mineral nose . More "gras" than the previous white we tasted. Vincent says he initiated this cuvée in 1995. Jon-David dubs it a "baby Savennieres" as the terroir is so similar from Savennieres' (shists) , the grape variety is the same, and the style of the wine would make it noted as a Savennieres in any blind tasting. Connoisseurs love to select these wines which circumvent the strict administrative limits of the Appellation zones. Selective sorting of the grapes here, which is rare for dry wines, and fermentation plus elevage in 500 liter casks. Structured by wood but not woody. And 8 Euro only public price at the estate. After a Sauvignon 2004 of which John liked the creamy texture, amost lactal, that he did not find in other white Sauvignons, we were served 4 great Coteaux du Layon sweet whites in 50cl bottles. The two last ones , Coteaux du Layon " les Bonnes Blanches" 2002 and 2003 are a pure delicacy. What Jon-David noted the first time he tasted the sweet Coteaux du Layon wines by Vincent Ogereau is that they were at the same time powerful, straight and direct, with long lasting presence in the mouth. They sell very well by the glass in restaurants in the U.S.
Great day . Time to leave. We drive to Angers where they will spend the night, and where I'll catch a train back to Paris. For them, a few more days of wine travel before coming home (respectively to Paris and Boston) for Thanksgiving...
Damien Laureau : La Benetrie. Butte de Fremur. 49000 Angers
Fax +33(0)2 41 72 87 39
Vincent Ogereau : 44 rue de la belle angevine 49750 St Lambert du Lattay
Fax +33(0)2 41 78 43 55