I met this interesting guy named Tom Welsh. About 8 or 9 months ago, Wally Reston, the senior mixologist at McCarthy’s restaurant here in Elkhart, came to me one evening, while Mrs. Tiedemann and I were having dinner at McCarthy’s.
Wally said that he had a friend named Tom Welsh who had heard of our wine company, was also very passionate about wine, and was interested in becoming involved in the wine business at some point. Wally wondered if it would be ok for Tom to contact me to arrange a meeting to discuss our wine company and opportunities that might exist for him in the wine business/industry and talk shop.
I am always happy and eager to talk about wine. My response, of course, was to have Tom call me. Over the following weeks, Tom and I tried to arrange a meeting but could never get our schedules to match. One of Tom’s messages indicated he would be traveling and would call when he returned. I didn’t really think too much about the message as it was a courteous note to let me know that he would call me when he returned from his trip – pretty standard stuff.
Several days later, I received another voicemail message from Tom, saying he had hoped to reach me. However, he was in South Africa, getting on a plane and I wouldn’t be able to call him back at that number. He would call again in a couple of days. I thought to myself, wow, this guy gets around. South Bend one day, South Africa the next. Finally, one snowy Saturday afternoon in early February, Tom and I finally got together at my office for a chat about wine.
I have come to learn that Tom is a very interesting and nice guy and yes, quite passionate about wine.
Who is Tom Welsh?
Let me provide a little background information about Tom and his professional career before we discuss his interest in wine.
Tom was born and raised in South Bend but has lived elsewhere (not only in the U.S. but also around the world) since 1979. Professionally Tom has been involved in the restaurant and hospitality industry for most of his professional career.
One day in 1983, Tom says he answered a one-line ad that read “Restaurant management experience for overseas employment.” He says he imaged London, Paris, etc. He applied, got the job and a few weeks later was in Sudan. Not quite the same as Paris or London.
Today, Tom works for a company called CIS (Catering International & Services), headquartered in Marseille, France. CIS provides an array of services to the oil, gas, mining and construction industries for their remote sites around the world. They provide catering, site services, facility management and supply chain management for their customer’s employees wherever the services might be needed, be it an oil rig, remote site in the middle of a desert or in a mountain range.
Currently Tom is supervising operations in Mozambique and Mongolia. Tom lives between South Bend and Marseille, France, when not living at one of the CIS sites he manages. Tom generally spends 10 weeks abroad and 2 weeks at home in South Bend each quarter of the year.
Tom tells me his passion and interest in wine started in the 1980s while working at a start-up restaurant in Houston, Texas. It has continued to grow ever since then. Today he is collecting wine for his own cellar and in 2010 he started studying for his Master Sommelier designation with the Court of Master Sommeliers. When Tom stops traveling around the world his wish is to be involved in the wine industry in some fashion.
There is an organization headquartered in Montreal, Canada, called the Association for the Promotion of Wines and Spirits in North America, or better known (and easier) as APVSA.
For over the past 10 years, APVSA has supported the sales and development of winemakers from other major wine producing countries to the U.S. and Canadian markets. APVSA organizes approximately 70 wine tastings throughout Canada and the U.S. annually in order to promote its members’ wines. Some of the tastings are held in Chicago.
I happen to be on our APVSA’s mailing list for Chicago Events and on its invitation list for International Events.
In late January I received an invitation to attend the Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne 2014 in Beaune, France. (The Grand (or Great) Days of Burgundy – 2014)
The Wine Tasting
The Burgundy tasting started on Monday, March 17, 2014, and concluding on Friday, March 21, this event only takes place every two years and is limited to 1,000 attendees. The attendees are generally from the press and wine trade from around the world. The Burgundy area is located in the east central region of France and is one of France’s main wine producing areas. The main grapes of the region are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Here is a quick statistic: In 2013 Burgundy wines accounted for 15% of the volume of French wines shipped to the U.S. and for 17% of total revenues. Since I am in the process of making my first Glenwood Cellars Pinot Noir, I am interested in all the information I can get on this wine.
I immediately thought of Tom Welsh living in France and wondered if he wanted to attend the tasting as a representative of Tiedemann Wines. Tom was excited about the opportunity and rearranged his schedule in order to attend for several days and went off to Burgundy to taste wine. What follows are Tom’s comments on the event.
Tom Welsh on Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne 2014
I recently had the pleasure of representing Tiedemann Wines at a wide ranging series of exhibitions of Burgundy wines in France. The tastings were grouped by area and held in several different venues in the towns central to the areas of the wines presented. The town of Beaune, the central town of the Burgundy region, was the focal point and was the location of one of the venues that I attended. I stayed in Beaune, which afforded the opportunity to see the town by night and experience a couple of its several fine restaurants.
The majority of the wines offered in the tastings were from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Most of the 2012s were barrel samples bottled just for this event, their final bottling to take place between April and June for release later in the year. My first impression of the Burgundies I tasted was that the 2011s were still more restrained, tannic and best left to age another year or two, while the 2012s were immediately fruity and fresh, in spite of most of them not yet having been bottled.
Several of the winemakers I spoke with acknowledged the early drinkability of the 2012s, but felt that it might be a youthful phase which might shut down after bottling. And, in fact, the 2012s may end up being more age worthy than the 2011s. The weather conditions and the period of ripening affected the yields and therefore the quality and acidity of the grapes. In general, the crop yields of 2012 were much lower than in 2011.
A few producers had barrel samples of the 2013 vintage available to taste. It was interesting for me to taste wines still in their developmental stage and to have a glimpse of the type of wines that these would become. Many winemakers spoke of the difficulty of the 2013 vintage due to complications from weather conditions and from disease. Hailstorms damaged many vines and thus 2013 experienced very low crop yield. Nevertheless, they were all very positive about their expectations for the final outcome. Consumers can expect above average quality from 2013 Burgundies but limited availability and higher prices.
Some of the producers had bottles from 2009 and 2010 available to taste. These were both highly regarded vintages, and the extra two to three years of age made a great difference, especially in the Premier Cru bottles. A few producers also offered a taste of an older version of their wine to give an idea of how their wines age. I tasted certain wines from 2008, 2002 and even 1996, all of which were good but had undergone a significant change of color, and in the case of the 1996, some loss of clarity and freshness. The 2008s in particular, were still vibrant and young tasting and must still have several years remaining in their prime.
Burgundy is a complicated region with its approximately 100 AOC (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée – the French term for a designated place where a wine’s grapes may be sourced to bear that name). These range from village names to specifically named vineyards. Certain vineyards, because of their particular soil makeup and/or their location on a hillside rather than flat land, will qualify it for Premier Cru or Grand Cru status, indicating probable higher quality and definitely higher prices. This can lead to confusion because many producers may own parts of the same named vineyard, even down to half of a row of vines. Thus, many wines will bear the same vineyard name, but may have different characteristics depending on methods and decisions made by the winemaker.
Following is a brief overview of the wines I had the opportunity to taste. There were more available than one person could taste in a week but I did my best!
DAY ONE – Côtes de Nuits
This day’s tastings were held in four venues (I attended three of them), all to the north of Beaune. I started the day in the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges where 44 producers from the area were featured. I managed to taste about 15 of these (there were a total of 50 offered) in my allotted time.
I moved from there to a venue in Gilly which featured the wines of Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis, Clos de la Roche and Bonnes Mares, among a few others.
I finished at a venue in Marsannay, where several of the wines of the Cotes de Nuits were featured, primarily Gevrey-Chambertin, Marsennay and Fixin. These areas produce almost exclusively red wines.
All of the producers had a “Villages” cuvée for tasting. These are made from grapes sourced from vineyards designated as good enough to be separated from the generic regional bottlings, but not complex and unique enough to earn a Premier or Grand Cru status with all its grapes originating from the named vineyards. Those elite vineyards are usually located on hillsides as opposed to flat land. Nearly every producer also had one or more Premier Cru vineyard bottling available.
Of the three areas I visited, the Nuits-Saint-Georges wines were the most “rustic”, less fruity at a young age and more tannic than those further north. One would expect to have to wait a few years for them to reach their prime. The memorable Premier Cru vineyards from Nuits-Saint-Georges were: Aux Bousselots, Les Crots, Les Poirets, Aux Argilliers and Les Poulettes. There was a discernible difference between the Premier Cru wines from the vineyards to the north of the town because of their clay-based soil and those to the south of the town with their more porous limestone-based soil. The latter displayed greater complexity, with higher acidity and mineral characteristics than those from the north side, which were riper tasting but of course still very good wines.
The second stop featured wines from Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambole-Musigny and Bonnes Mares were generally very fruity and drinkable, even though, in the case of the 2012s, not yet bottled. Again, the 2011s (fewer of these were offered at this venue) were more tannic and less drinkable than the 2012s. I would say that I had the highest percentage of enjoyable wines here, with those from Bonnes Mares being particularly impressive.
The Côtes de Nuits wines were somehow a stylistic average of the previous stops. Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay had both drinkable, fruity wines and those more serious and muted for now. The Marsannay wines frequently carried vineyard designations but were not Premier or Grand Cru status. The Fixin wines were all good, but none particularly stood out as did several of the Gevrey-Chambertin. (Bear in mind that I was in my fourth or fifth hour of tasting at this point and even with conscientious spitting, there develops a fatigue of the palate and mind under such volume of generally similar wines.)
I left the last tasting thinking that the Gevrey-Chambertain wines were the best, but not yet ready to drink. However, later with dinner I had a 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin on the recommendation of the sommelier. I had planned to order a 2009 or 2010 as these were highly regarded vintages and had a bit more time in the bottle, but he talked me out of that and I was glad I went with his recommendation. This was of a higher caliber than most tasted during the day, and it was a beautiful wine. It had a full-bodied and silky texture, very fruity, yet balanced, but with strong, mouthwatering acidity to carry it long into the future. This wine was the 2011 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin ‘La Justice.’ In the shuttle van returning from the last tasting, I had noticed a sign for the ‘La Justice’ vineyard off the main road and saw the vineyard itself. It is not far from Beaune, so it was great to enjoy such a very “local” wine with what was also a great meal.
Stay tuned next week for Day 2 of Tom’s report on French Burgundies. I appreciate Tom taking time from his busy schedule to represent Tiedemann Wines at this event, and for his report on the wines and his activities. I only wish I had been with him.
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Until next week,