When I stopped to think about it (and there wasn’t much time for that) it’s pretty amazing. You invite a few thousand people to come and taste wine at the weekend and they all fall to, totally sorted and in their stride, as though they did little else.
The hall doors open, and within five minutes girls in halter tops are discussing Chianti, blokes in jeans are sniffing away at Shiraz and men in blazers are asking their wives whether they prefer the Gewurztraminer or the Pinot Gris.
It is the ultimate democratic wine discussion, where everyone’s opinion is of equal weight, where you can find the answer to any question, and where a mellow mood allows genial appreciation without pressure.
Our suppliers are as keen as our Members to be there. Pruning your vines or doing your paperwork in a village in France or Spain you feel a million miles from your customers and their expectation. Very occasionally one turns up on holiday and takes half your day – pleasantly enough, but hardly solving any problems. At the Vintage Festival you see precisely who you are making your wine for. You may be surprised by their questions, their knowledge or their lack of it, but you get an unvarnished reaction.
Members can put a face to the wine they like, hear a story to pass on, get a restaurant recommendation or even plan a holiday. The Festival does all the things that a wine label can’t: give a wine context, personality, humanity. When I am faced with a wine list I know the first thing that guides my choice: do I know any of the people whose wines are listed? If not the people, the places? It’s the polar opposite of choosing by brands – and it’s the spirit of our Club. Always has been, always will be.