Vinexpo 2003: Monday 23rd June

Sunlight streams through the window. I am already sweltering and I have not even got out of bed. Still, I heard the front door close at 7:30am as Mdm Lopez left for the patisserie to buy our croissants, our sustenance for the day. She returns with a vexed look on her face and Gallic mutterings of consternation. Quel dommage...the local patisserie was closed and we must defile our sensitive palates with our mass-produced, supermarket croissants with the consistency of rubber. I will not allow this to ruin the trip. I must keep my chin up and cope.

We head off to the exhibition centre, our hire car's air conditioner cranked up to Siberian level and by the grace of God, the traffic is not too congealed. This is our only full day at Vinexpo since the remaining days interspersed with chateaux visits. The main hall is modestly busy, not bustling like it has been in the past and I notice an absence of Far Easterners (in particular the Japanese) and Americans. Four years ago, Japan was undergoing a wine-boom and the exhibition resembled shopping day at Ueno market. I was flanked by two Japanese colleagues and it took hours to get anywhere since we spent half the day exchanging pleasantries in perpetual obeisance. The Americans of course, are boycotting Vinexpo following President Chirac's rather tepid response to the Iraq war. Just two weeks previously I had dinner in London with a couple of Wall Street bankers whose anti-Gallic stance shocked me but still, it is amazing how much trenchant opinion softens once you open a splendid Grand Cru in front of their eyes.

My first meeting is at the stand of a negotiant where I meet Gildas D'Orllone, managing-director of Chateau Pichon-Lalande. He is immaculately groomed as usual and speaks frankly about the current market and the continuing absence of Mr. Parker. I am told that he will be gracing Bordeaux with his presence around September 2003, so I expect his results will released not until the end of the year, by which time the American protest should evaporate, having survived the previous months on rations of Two Buck Chuck.

After visiting a few suppliers I spend the afternoon retasting the 2002 Cru Classe, organized by the Union de Grand Cru. I spot a few well-known faces in the throng: Oz Clarke scribbling away over there, Hugh Johnson's eyebrows sampling some Pomerols yonder. I leave the tasting after an hour, convinced more than ever that the en primeur season is premature, but the least I can do is keep people informed of the wines evolution through my newborn website.

I exit the tasting and walk straight into a PR launch for a new South African brand. Of course, the accompanying film contains just a few snippets about the actual wine and instead of having the brand name indelibly printed upon my brain, I think how pleasant it would be to visit Tabletop Mountain. Still, this does not match the ludicrous launch of Blue Nun at the last Vinexpo.

Allow me to digress. There in the midst of the exhibition, I unexpectedly came face to face with a group of half-naked drama students painted head to toe in gold paint prancing around a corporeal blue nun to the sound of Carmina Burana. They seemed to be re-enacting the nativity play, although according to the blurb I was given, it symbolized the precise moment when the blue nun received her elixir of life via a bottle of Liebfraumilch. Unable to stifle their giggles, the iridescent drama students rather detracted from the solemnity of this tumultuous event and even the vestal virgin herself appeared on the verge of proposing a menage-a-trois. I dismissed such tomfoolery as a German PR's whim and predicted the imminent demise of the Blue Nun brand. Sales in 2002: five million bottles.

We leave the exhibition around 5'ish to catch forty winks before this evening's party at Chateau Dauzac. The temperature has dropped towards less life-threatening levels and it has turned into a beautiful summer's evening. Chateau Dauzac is surrounded a perfectly manicured lawn with a large boating lake in front of the main chateau building. The festivities begin amongst a copse of trees where invitees are encouraged to partake in various traditional French games: petanque, croquet (which I always assumed was English, although I guess it sounds French) and others, which involve undecipherable rules and coloured wooden blocks. After an hour's worth of games with semblances to those I played at nursery school, we take a table near the lake and taste a few wines.

I am particularly impressed by the Chateau Dauzac 1996, the best wine I have tasted thus far from the estate. By this point we are starving and so it would appear, are the herd of guests, for when the canapes emerge from the kitchen, they immediately disappear into the mouths of ravenous vultures. Have they been fasting for a month? When the lamb chops and foie gras appear, well, all hell breaks loose and it turns into the feeding of the five thousand as a majority ignore social etiquette and devour morsels before the chef has hardly finished preparing them.

Andre Lurton, who took over management of the chateau in 1993, stands on a chair and makes a welcoming speech in French and English. He looks resplendent in his cravat and blazer and his looks belie his age but when I spot him in the tenebrous dusk cutting a rather lonely figure amongst the guests, looking slightly lost, no doubt exhausted from all the preparations.

We leave around midnight and prepare for tomorrow when we are Right Bank bound.