Bordeaux set to host world’s biggest wine festival

The world's wine industry will converge on Sunday when the prestigious Vinexpo kicks off in Bordeaux, the capital of French viticulture, with Chinese visitors leading the pack of foreign punters.

Bordeaux set to host world's biggest wine festival
Photo: AFP

Spain — one of France's leading competitors along with Italy — is this year's guest of honour at the four-day extravaganza drawing some 45,000 buyers and 1,000 journalists.

And a new space has been set aside for organic and biodynamic wines, dubbed WOW! — which stands for World Organic Wines.

“It's much more than a fair,” says Vinexpo's director general Guillaume Deglise. “It's the biggest get-together of the wines and spirits sector.”

The premier showcase for winegrowers, dealers, buyers and suppliers, which alternates each year between Bordeaux and Hong Kong, generates some 50 million euros ($56 million) in direct business and twice that in knock-on benefits.

Up-and-coming wines such as those from upstate New York's Finger Lakes region get a chance to shine, as well as offbeat new libations such as a Siberian vodka.

“Beyond the business that takes place at the stands, it's also a chance to take the pulse of the market, to catch up on the news, market trends, and issues that worry the sector” such as the effects of climate change or the impact of Brexit on the industry, Deglise said.

The wheeling and dealing will get off to a high-profile start on Sunday with the signature of a partnership between Vinexpo and Tmall, the online sales platform run by Chinese e-tailing giant Alibaba.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang and Vinexpo's new president Christophe Navarre will be on hand for the signing.

The group's founder, billionaire Jack Ma, is among dozens of Chinese tycoons who own properties in the Bordeaux region.

In a testament to China's burgeoning interest in Vinexpo and Bordeaux, the Chinese will make up the biggest foreign contingent at this year's edition, and the number of Chinese exhibitors has surged fivefold from four in 2015.

All together, there are some 2,300 exhibitors from 40 countries — mainly France, Italy and Spain.

Among the dozens of tastings on offer will be a “masterclass” by Spanish winemaster Pedro Ballesteros on Spain's “white wine revolution” which has seen sales skyrocket in recent years.

Organic wine 'reality'

Some 150 producers, mainly from South Africa, the United States and Argentina, will offer samples of their organic and biodynamic wines in the dedicated “WOW!” space.

“It's no longer just a trend, it's a reality of the market,” Deglise said.

“It's a good idea to showcase them so buyers can identify them more easily.”

A highlight of the fair is an expert blind tasting, the Vinexpo Challenge, overseen by Sweden's Jon Arvid Rosengren, who was named the world's best sommelier in 2016.

The gala closes Wednesday evening with a traditional dinner for some 1,500 A-listers, this year hosted by a Graves grand cru, Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere, and cooked up by Yannick Alleno, whose restaurants boast a total of six Michelin stars.


UPDATE: One killed and 10 injured in France garage blast

An 88-year-old woman was killed and her 89-year-old partner was seriously hurt during an explosion in a garage in the French city of Bordeaux on Saturday, firefighters said.

UPDATE: One killed and 10 injured in France garage blast
Firefighters work at the site where a large explosion in a garage destroyed the building as well as two neighbouring ones on February 6, 2021 in Bordeaux' Chartrons district. Photo: AFP

Initial investigations suggest gas was the cause of the blast, which destroyed the small building and seriously damaged two neighbouring buildings.

The woman had been listed as missing after the blast at around 8am (0700 GMT) in the Chartrons district of the western French city.

Firefighters said they found her body under rubble at around 4pm.

Her partner, the 89-year-old man, had been fighting for his life in hospital before his condition later improved, according to officials.

A second person initially named as missing has since come forward.

So far nine other people have been identified with minor injuries following the blast.

A member of the dog-technical team arrives at the site of the explosion. Photo: AFP

About 70 firefighters were on the scene.

Emergency services used sniffer dogs and equipment to clear the debris in their search.

The explosion destroyed a car park and garage on the ground floor and lodgings on the floor above.

The windows of several nearby shops were blown out by the force of the blast.

Lucie Perrouault, 21, said she was scared when the windows “exploded”.

“The glass from our window was blown onto us, we stepped on glass and my boyfriend was injured,” she said.

The large explosion destroyed the building as well as two neighbouring ones in Bordeaux' Chartrons district. Photo: AFP


Mael, 38, said she “was sleeping and I heard a great 'boom' — my bay window exploded”.

“I went outside and saw that an apartment had been blown up”.

While gas supplies to the district have been cut, “we don't know yet whether it was the gas network or canisters” that caused the explosion, said Eric Destarac, a spokesman for gas distribution company Regaz.

Firefighters recovered some gas bottles from the garage, he added.