Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wine across America - DC, PA, NY 28th April 2006

Wow, it has really been a whirlwind and things are going well so far - I am now 4 days into the tour and looking forward to meeting up with the WOSA gang in New York tonight. I am writing this on the AMTRAK train from Harrisburg Pennsylvania to New York City – the only direct service that avoids going through Philadelphia. It is always a good diea to purchase tickets online in advance as it is cheaper and it avoids finding a fully sold-out train - like this one.

I spent Tuesday night in Baltimore and presented a well-attended South African wine dinner at a restaurant called Abacrombie which has the reputation (I later realized) as one the best restaurants in the state of Maryland, Sonny Sweetman is the chef/owner along with his beautiful wife and they were filled to capacity with 53 people crammed in for a wonderful dinner. The cuisine was exceptional and the guests were intent on learning as much as possible – it was at this evening that it dawned on me that South Africa has really got a chance to win the battle for recognition in the USA. The dinner guests were interested, thirsty for knowledge about South African wine and eager to learn – how often do you see this in Europe these days? The US challenge seems so large and the obstacles enormous – but every time I am back here it appears that there is tangible progress in building brand South Africa. This is so invigorating – we just need to maintain the momentum and make sure that we take our best wines to the USA – this must surely be the KEY!

After a wonderful early-morning run around historic Baltimore harbour, Wednesday found us on the interstate highway back to DC for another trade tasting and South African seminar – I had the pleasure of meeting Carter Nevill, regional sales manager for Cape Classics and we hit it off. Cape Classics should be recommended for being a proud ambassador for South African wine in the USA. I also had the pleasure of meeting Brad McCarthy, the winemaker and co-owner of the famous Virginian winery Blenheim Vineyards which he co-owns with Dave Matthews – the US singer/superstar.

The next day was spent on a ‘ride-with’ (literally spending the day with a distributor sales person) doing tastings for a number of restaurants. We visited the eponymous Restaurant Eve, a great wine shop owned by the passionate Jonas Gustafsson. Then on to Le Paradou, an awe inspiring restaurant owned by legendary chef Yannick Cam; we tasted for at least an hour and shared rugby stories with sommelier, Nicolas Rouet who is a big South African fan. We got 2 listings on their epic winelist, the first time a wine from the Southern hemisphere has been listed – we felt very proud and decided to celebrate with a couple of cold beers at Vidalia, the famed DC eatery where we planned to meet fine wine merchant, Mike Tilch from Silesia Liquors for a 7 course tasting menu presented by Manager/Sommelier Doug Mohr. I have included (below) a video blog in which I interviewed Mike on his positive feelings about South African wines. The evening was capped with a spectacular 1970 Chateau D’ Yquem which was at the height of its powers – a very generous gift from Mike. What an evening!

A 04h45 wake-up was not really what was needed at this stage – but it had to be to catch an early flight from Dulles to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. More about this in the next installment! New York here we come!

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