Wine Future in Rioja – opening Pandora’s bottle of grenache

pandoraSo the King of Spain, 18 bottles of Grenache, and a man wanted by Interpol walk into a conference in Rioja. Sound like the start of a bad joke? Welcome to the reality that is Wine Future!

The two-day Wine Future Rioja 09 event next month will showcase a long list of wine luminaries including Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke, Steven Spurrier, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jorge Ordonez, and Robert Parker.

The pinnacle of the wine summit will be a premium tasting with Parker (who will be meeting King Juan Carlos during his trip, Parker’s first to Spain since 1972). Limited to 450 attendees, the VIP tasting costs 217€ but can only bought in conjunction with the 783€ conference ticket. Parker and the organizer selected a lineup of 18 grenache based wines, seven from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, five from other parts of Spain, two from California (including one aptly named Pandora), and four from Australia.

Can you imagine a top-dollar tasting in Napa Valley, sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners, that showcased the wines of the Rhone, Australia, and Argentina?

Grenache, of course, is not the top dog in Rioja, land of Tempranillo. So the local hosts and sponsors of the event took afront and after much protest that included the regional Partido Riojano joining the fray. Now, two wines from the Rioja have been added, the Marqués de Riscal de 1945 and a Contador 2007. Neither of those wines contains any grenache.

But the drama doesn’t end there. The event organizer, Pancho Campo, has resigned from his position to “focus on clearing his name” according to Decanter. In 2003, a court in Dubai found him guilty in abstentia in a dispute stemming from his time as an event organizer and promoter in Dubai. Jim Budd has a thorough round-up of the evidence; Manuel Camblor has been writing about the events recently in Spanish on his blog La Otra Botella.

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19 Responses to “Wine Future in Rioja – opening Pandora’s bottle of grenache”

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Tyler. It’s worth pointing out that the Spanish media were very quiet about this matter until they simply had to say something because buzz around the blogosphere was getting too heavy.

    This doesn’t mean that some journalists in Rioja weren’t working on the story. On the contrary, at least two guys were doing some outstanding work and asking tough questions, but their editors kept the story from breaking out. The game-changer seems to have been the intervention of Miguel González de Legarra, spokesman for the Partido Riojano. He’s been very vocal in demanding some explanations about how an event held in Logroño, in a venue provided by the Gobierno de la Rioja, and funded in substantial part (around 35% is the going estimate) by the Consejor Regulador of the Rioja DOC, could ignore the wines of Rioja—a region plagued by immense economic difficulty right now—the way it did.

    I’ll continue to cover the story on La Otra Botella, since there are plenty of questions still unanswered about Pancho Campo (the Dubai bit is only a fraction of what is a mystery about Campo) and Wine Future Rioja 09.

    I am curious as to whether some defenders of Pancho Campo will appear here now that you’ve published this. So far, the pro-Campo arguments I’ve read on Spanish-language fora and blogs seem to center on attacking those who have been covering the story and asking questions. The most amusing of them are positively Nixonian.



  2. Another reason why this is such a great blog. Thanks for the excellent reporting.

    Do you know if Jay Miller attending?

  3. Tyler – many thanks for the link to my timeline on Pancho Campo MW. Your post gives some indication of WineFuture’s turnover – 450,000€ alone from those attending the mainly Grenache based VIP tasting. Any profits as I understand it go to The Wine Academy of Spain.

    As Manuel notes the intervention of regional politicians has changed things. One question that I assume they will be asking, if they are not already – my Spanish is regrettably rudimentary – is how was the Wine Academy of Spain funded when it was set up in 2003. The same year that Campo was found to be in breach of trust (sum involved 640,000€) in Dubai and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and the same year that PC left Dubai.

    I suspect that they will be wanting detailed answers to how The Wine Academy was funded and hard evidence to show that no money from the breach of trust case was used to set up The Academy.

  4. The wine world is so absurdly (over)dramatic. Pass the popcorn.

  5. Jim:

    You have to add to the income another 150 people that are paying for the event without the Grenache tasting.

    Also, 100 wineries will be pouring their wines at the trade show part of the event. Typical charges are about 1,000 to 1,500 euros per table.

    In addition to Rioja’s DO, there is over a dozen other outfits sponsoring the event. Pancho’s group also got a freebie on the locale for the event. There is a lot of money going to Pancho’s group and little expenses that he has to pay for this event.

    With all these money coming in maybe he will be able to pay his debt to his former partner in Dubai.

  6. Jim,

    If Miguel González de Legarra wasn’t asking those questions about the original funding for the Wine Academy already, he will be asking them this weekend, I’m sure. I intend to translate your comment here as part of my “Freaks of the Week In Review” Friday post. If Sr. González de Legarra doesn’t read English, I’ll make sure he gets this idea in Spanish, because it’s really important. One needs to follow the money in many different directions in this case.

    One thing José points out makes me particularly curious: He says that beyond the number that is attending Parker’s Garnacha shindig, there are “150 people who are paying for the event without the Grenache tasting”. Does that mean we’re talking about an event that will get only 500-600 attendees? Doesn’t that seem a modest audience, considering the magnitude of the speaking crew? Also, it’s about time someone revealed the “speaker’s fees” for the “top talent” being brought in. I would imagine Parker’s honorarium will be hefty, Unless, being the “Emperor of Wine” and this being the benevolent event to figure out the future (or perhaps the “fouture”?) of wine, he will go pro bono?

    This would make a great movie, I think.



  7. José

    Many thanks for the financial details. All the more reason for the source of the original of The Wine Academy of Spain to be made clear. Given PC’s conviction and current money laundering laws it is possible that those organisations and companies involved in WineFuture Rioja09 have a legal requirement to establish this information.

    Manuel – thanks for the translation.

  8. “Pandora’s” would be a great name for a box wine.

  9. From their website:

    “Winefuture-Rioja ´09 has exceeded all the expectations and goals of the organizers. The conference has reached 600 registrations from wine professionals from over 40 nationalities. 450 of these registrations are VIP tickets that include access to the Robert Parker Master-class and to the Official Dinner. The rest of the registrations are regular tickets that give access to all the panels and speeches. ”

    It’s still early but you can get that many people to watch a cement mixer. The program doesn’t seem to have been thought through very well either. Obviously Parker isn’t able to do a master class on Spanish wine but given that a good part of the money for the event is coming from the local government, it seems like somebody should have figured out a way to have the talk tie into Spanish wine some way. And if Zraly’s wife is as knowledgeable about Rioja as she’s supposed to be, she should have been able to point out the minimal garnacha in most Rioja wines.

    Far more interesting would have been to do a tasting of “peers” instead of random vintages. Instead of continually hyping the 2007 Southern Rhones, why not compare grenache around the world from the same vintages? Like maybe 1998? Or compare one each of 1998 and 2007 from Australia, Priorat, Rhone, etc. There were a number of aging predictions made based on very few vintages from Spain and it would have been illuminating to see if any of those are likely to pan out.

    Often as not, when tasted side by side, the Chateauneuf du Pape wines do not impress more than many other wines, so perhaps that is the reason to show them at their youngest and freshest. But even so, I wonder why the obsession with promoting those since he’s not a producer or involved financially in the wineries?

  10. […] Dr. Vino al fin le entró al “Affaire Campo” y publicó su propio resumen de lo que se sabe y no […]

  11. So do the 450 attendees feel like they’re part of a punchline now?

  12. It has been pointed out to me that details of one of the wines to be tasted at the Grand Tasting as posted on the WineFuture Rioja09 site are not correct:

    ‘the wine Atteca Armas is not from DO Campo de Borja but from DO Calatayud….’

    The two DOs are not even in the same Spanish region: Borja is in Aragon and Calatayud in Catalonia.

    Further comment might be both unkind and superfluous…..

  13. Apologies – my error Catalayud is in Aragon. I was confusing it with Cataluña.

  14. pancho_campo

    Pancho was seen via Skype at the Wine Academy of Spain seminar in NY this week. He did talk about how important WineFuture 2009 was.

  15. I did a 2 day Wine Intensive with Pancho and he is a great self promoter and his colleague did most of the heavy lifting. Obviously just an opinion, but he was really oily.

  16. Hi Tyler – Long time no chat! I have to say, I heard about the whole PC story through friends in the US and either I am searching in the wrong places, or it is still pretty hush-hush in the Spanish wine community. I have to say the conference looks a little more interesting with Zraly on board, but since I wasn’t going to attend I hadn’t really been paying attention to it (it was attend WineFuture or attend a talk with Claude Bourguignon on soil…guess which one I picked??), and I was away working harvest. So here I am, a sommelier working in Spain, thank you in the US for keeping me updated!

  17. Still asking (Dr) Pancho Campo MW the questions as he doesn’t answer. In particular whether The Wine Academey of Spain founded in 2003 the same year Campo absconded from Dubai and the same year he was convicted for fraud.The Wine Academy of Spain is organising the conference and, as i understand it, will take any profit the conference makes.

    Am assuming that all the sponsors and distinguished speakers at WineFuture Rioja09 will have asked the same question.

  18. It is a shame there is so much snobbism about Grenache. In the wine tastings I conduct I introduce this very agreeable and approachable varietal to as many people as I can. It pleases me greatly that we are seeing some of our most talented winemakers in California adding Grenache to their repertoire’.

    One of the things that has to be appreciated about Grenache is that it is one of the few wines that goes perfectly with Curry dishes.

  19. I do agree grenache is perfect match with spicy food…


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