Artisan champagne for £5 (€6)? With a side of pinot noir, malbec and pouilly-fumé at no extra cost? France’s Salon des Vins et Vignerons Indépendants (Independent Wine and Winemakers’ Showrooms) have just begun – a series of wine tastings on an epic scale which tours the country, starting in Clermont-Ferrand last weekend and running until 28 April, where the final showroom takes place in Nogent-sur-Marne.
Each event showcases the produce of independent winemakers. Quantities are, in theory, all you can drink, because each event (spanning several days) features hundreds of artisans, usually with several wines, champagnes or crémants each, ready for the public to sample. And entry to each event is €6.
What’s it about?
The Salon des Vins et Vignerons Indépendants was created in 1976 by the syndicate of independent winemakers. Now there are more than 7,000 members of this association across France. The aim was to protect the livelihoods of independent winemakers and promote their work to help their economic development.
Do I need to be serious about wine and speak French to go along?
Absolutely not. Everyone goes, from amateurs to restaurateurs looking for something unique to serve at their restaurants. Students are also regulars at the Salon des Vins et Vignerons Indépendants, which means Saturday afternoons can get boozy.
Having a grasp of French certainly helps, though, as the more you engage with the winemakers, the more different vintages they’re likely to offer you to try. Some, particularly from the more touristy regions like Champagne and Bordeaux, speak decent English, but it’s by no means a guarantee.
Why should I go?
It’s a discovery, and rather than supporting mass market vineyards (which tend to have a heavier environmental impact and churn out vast quantities to supermarkets), you’ll get to support small, independent winemakers.
You’ll also get to chat to the growers themselves, and it’s well worth taking the time to do this. If you’re interested in natural or organic wine, you can talk to the winemakers about how they cultivate their plots. Of course, you also get to try before you buy.
Then there’s the dinner party bragging rights when you turn up with a bottle of wine your friends have never heard of from an independent winemaker in Jura. It beats another evening turning up brandishing a bottle decorated with La Vieille Ferme’s ubiquitous rooster that you picked up from Sainsbury’s Local.
Which should I go to?
Champagne-lovers should head to the heart of the region, where Reims is hosting its 31st showroom at the Parc des Expositions next month from 10-13 November. There are 305 winemakers confirmed to attend already, including 10 champagne growers.
Try Champagne Brateau-Moreaux, a multi-award winning winery just 40 km south of Reims, or Champagne Maurice Vesselle, a relative newcomer to the champagne game. Founded in 1955, the winery is now run by the second generation of champagne makers, Didier et Thierry Vesselle, who have taken over their father’s business.
Lyon’s showroom takes place at Halle Tony Garnier, a former slaughterhouse turned events space, from 2-6 November. Sandwiched between the Rhône Valley and Beaujolais, wines from these regions are the best vintages to look out for here. No fewer than 76 winemakers from Bourgogne and Beaujolais are due to attend, and 74 from the Rhône Valley, before even getting started on the rest of the country.
It’s hardly surprising that Paris’s independent wine showroom, now in its 45th year, was the inaugural event, and remains the biggest to this day. Held in the vast events space with seven pavilions, Porte de Versailles (15ème), the scope here is huge, with more than 700 different winemakers due to be in attendance. It’s running from 30 November – 3 December, and since €6 can barely buy you a coffee on the Champs-Elysées, this isn’t an event to be missed on value alone.
How does it work?
Check the full programme and dates a vigneron-independant.com. All the showrooms are city-based so you should have no trouble finding public transport to get you there. Entrance tickets can be purchased on the door, and include a free wine glass for your tastings.
Just inside you’ll find a room plan, where all the winemakers are listed with a grid reference (typically the showroom is laid out in several long lines). This means that you can quickly scan for the sort of wine and region that you like, for example, ‘Condrieu, F12-18’.
It’s all wine-themed, but there are wine-infused products for sale too which make excellent stocking fillers. Whose boozy aunt and uncle wouldn’t want to wash themselves with syrah-soaked soap?
Do I have to pay the entry fee?
Here’s a top tip. When you buy produce from the winemakers, many of them will take your contact details. That’s because each winemaker gets a certain number of free entry invitations to showrooms they’re presenting at. If you buy lots of their wine, they’re going to want to make sure you come again next year to buy more, so you’ll be in with a good chance of a free invite.