Last weekend was the 2008 Hospice du Rhone. As always, it was a terrific show, with a great mix of producers, distributors, restaurateurs, retailers, distributors and consumers. It's one of the few events I do where the trade and consumers interact so much, and on such equal footing.
I think that one of the secrets of why the event works so well is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It presents terrific speakers, consistently some of the most important, relevant names in the wide world of Rhone varietals, but it does it without ceremony. The informal (but delicious) lunches are outside. The setting at the Paso Robles Event Center (home of the Mid-State Fair) is rustic, old-west, and a little bit goofy. The serious events are punctuated by skits including a "top 10" list read annually by Mat Garretson, and the whole event comes across as light-hearted yet substantive. This approach is typified by the pseudo-film-noir themes that they choose for their posters. The 2008 poster spoofing James Bond (at right) is a great example.
While the tastings always offer an impressive number of top-quality Rhone wines from around the world, the lunches are the most fun parts of the event for me. You sit at picnic-style tables without assigned seats, and may find yourself, as I did, next to Patrick Comiskey from Wine & Spirits Magazine, Rhone Ranger legend Bob Lindquist from Qupe, two distributor managers from Florida, and two pairs of consumers from Santa Fe. These informal interactions are a great way to demystify the people in the world of wine, and I always come away from the lunches with new ideas about how to enjoy, promote, and think about Rhone wines.
My final thought is how lucky we are to have this world-class event in Paso Robles every year. Yes, Paso Robles is becoming known as a hotbed for Rhone production in the United States (as evidenced by the recent creation of the Rhone Rangers Paso Robles chapter), but the Hospice du Rhone is still the one time each year when we can count on having many of the wine world's largest players come to us.
For someone like me used who has clear memories of presenting our wines to people in the industry who didn't know that Paso Robles wasn't a part of Napa, this is probably the sweetest result of all.