Montesquieu Winery Reports from Lake Como’s World Wine Symposium

December 22, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

Villa d'Este, Lake Como

On the shores of Lake Como at the historical five-star hotel Villa d’ Este, the third annual World Wine Symposium (WWS) took place in November — and we at Montesquieu Winery were thrilled to participate. The WWS, also known as the “Davos of Wine”, was created by François Mauss, president and founder of the prestigious European Grand Jury wine tasting organization.

Several years ago, François partnered with some of the world’s most famous winemakers – Aubert de Villaine, Angelo Gaja, Pablo Alvarez (Vega Sicilia), and Alain Vauthier (Ausone) – to bring together the leading players in the wine industry from all over the globe for several days of sharing, learning and networking.

It is their belief that wine is not simply a commercial commodity, but rather a product with unique historical and cultural dimensions that must be protected and defended. This concept is paramount to these famous producers— for example, Villaine is leading a campaign to add the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits, along with their system of climats (specific vineyard sites), to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites.

The aim of the Symposium, as François Mauss describes, is to be a “sort of global think-tank, an international forum, where actors from all different sectors of the global wine industry can come together to discuss, debate and defend the common social, political, economic and cultural interests of the world of fine wine.”

DRC's Aubert de Villaine led a seminar that kept Fonda and Bill Harlan's full attention

Wine connoisseurs from every facet of the industry are present—producers, suppliers, distributors, négociants, journalists, politicians and enthusiasts—and they all gather to taste, listen, discuss, and debate over three days at the magnificent Villa d’Este. There are seminars and discussions led by prominent figures in the wine industry. At the first annual WWS, Stéphane Derenoncourt was an honored speaker, presenting the topic of “New Technologies of the Wine World in the Vineyard and Cellar: What Will the Future Be?”

This year’s wines included some of the world’s most celebrated estates, each among the very best in its category or appellation. Aubert de Villaine, proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, was pouring his 2001 DRC Grands Echezeaux and his not-commercially-available 2007 DRC Batard-Montrachet; Willi Bründlmayer presented tastes of several of his top single-vineyard Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners; Mommessin’s winemaker offered samples of the legendary Clos de Tart Grand Cru, one of only six solely-owned Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy (four of the others are owned by DRC); the head of Salon Champagne presented his 1999 Le Mesnil; and Stéphane poured Derenoncourt California alongside Bill Harlan and his wines.

Stéphane and Bill Harlan pouring for the 2011 World Wine Symposium

We were honored that Derenoncourt California received an invitation to be featured in such company, as it joined Harlan Estate as the sole representatives of American wine. The Symposium attendees, many of them Europeans, were eager for their first taste of Stéphane’s Napa project. Additionally the Symposium’s Chinese buyers and collectors, who are enamored with many of Stéphane’s prestigious Bordeaux wines, were also keen to experience our Derenoncourt California wines. The response was very positive, with the feedback centering on how exciting it was that Stéphane was able to capture the power and intensity of Napa fruit while at the same time attaining the freshness, complexity and precision that characterize the best of the Old-World.  A charming and very favorable review of our 2007 Derenoncourt Coombsville Cabernet Franc was done by Wine and the City and James Lawrence of The Wine Remedy, both from the UK, by speedboat during the Symposium at Villa d’Este in Lake Como.  See the video here below, it’s good fun!


Wine and the City and James Lawrence of The Wine Remedy review our 2007 Derenoncourt California Cabernet Franc

Over 200 participants came from all over the globe, including India, China, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Europe and the U.S.  And while we were meeting many for the first time, we had quite a few friends in attendance.  We know the founder of the Symposium well — François hosted our CEO Fonda Hopkins and Stéphane on a wine buying trip to Piemonte a few years back, and he was a special guest at the launch dinner for Derenoncourt California in 2009. And Dany Rolland, Michel Rolland’s wife, was pouring their Mariflor, Val de Flores and Yacochuya wines, so we caught up with her over lunch and touched base about the progress of our projects with Michel including our Juntarse.

Roberto de la Mota, one of Mendoza’s most highly regarded vintners and a gracious host of our team last April, delivered the keynote address about Argentina’s winemaking history. We caught up a bit with Roberto, discussing the special cuvée he is putting together for our clients. And we enjoyed reconnecting with Guy Lignac, the owner of the St. Émilion property that makes Chemin des Ayres for us, who was pouring his wine at the tasting.

Julio Viola, whose Patagonian wines we will soon be importing, was leading a contingent of producers representing Argentina, this year’s featured “rising star” wine region. On the final evening, we shared cognac and cigars with Julio and talked late into the night about the world of wine, including more future possibilities to partner together.

Whether we were nurturing existing relationships or developing new ones, the conversations were thoroughly stimulating. It was a pleasure and honor to sit at lunch with Aubert de Villaine of DRC, who is largely considered the most brilliant Pinot Noir vintner in the world and who Stéphane refers to as “a truly great man.” Later at dinner, we sat around an intimate table of four with Bill Harlan. Bill told us his life story, including tales from the year he spent traveling on foot from England to South Africa living on 35 cents a day, and we traded ideas about the future of the American fine wine market.

Aubert de Villaine, Dany Rolland, Julio Viola and his wife, with our CEO Fonda Hopkins

This is the genius of the WWS – creating an environment in which wine professionals from all over the world working at the highest levels of the industry can develop relationships, share expertise, and help each other overcome common challenges. This is not a trade show, but rather a “meeting of the minds” so to speak. It is especially enjoyable to be in this sort of environment with others who share our passion that wine is essential to the art of living, and that wine, along with food and the arts, is a beautiful way to elevate the quality of one’s life. It is here and in this spirit that wonderful connections and opportunities arise.

The art of living is in its full glory at the Symposium, starting with the venue itself. The Villa d’Este is world renowned for its beauty and fascinating history, positioned on the banks of one of the most idyllic lakes in the world. Just north of Milan, the Villa was built in 1568 as the summer residence of Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, with 25 acres of exquisite gardens adorned with statues, mosaics and other veritable treasures. Not to mention the museum quality furnishings incorporated throughout the hotel including period furniture, oil paintings, local Como silk-covered sofas and chairs, and many other meticulous antique works of art.

Over time the Villa has been home to numerous aristocrats along with colorful stories and influence on the grand and famous property. In 1784 the Marquis Bartolomeo Calderara became proprietor. When the Marquis died, his wife the ballerina Vittoria Peluso, remarried Count Domenico Pino, a young Napoleonic General. Worried he may be nostalgic for warfare, she had fortresses and towers built on the slopes overlooking the gardens where military cadets simulated battles to her husband’s delight. These structures are still standing in the gardens today!

The Villa d'Este below from one of the remaining garden fortresses

The property has been continuously updated and renovated to offer the most luxurious amenities without sacrificing any of its Old World charm. Throughout the three days of the Symposium there are exciting tastings organized around various themes, with wines from some of the world’s most famous estates, all punctuated by delectable meals prepared by the acclaimed chefs of the Villa d’Este.

We at Montesquieu Winery were privileged to attend and look forward to next year’s Symposium which will be held again at the fabulous Villa d’Este!

A beautiful place to enjoy a glass of Derenoncourt California

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