“A person couldn’t recreate this trip with a million dollars.”
I just quoted a person that was on this trip with me. He stole it from another person that had previously been on the same trip that we were currently on. I sat back in my chair on the balcony of my hotel room overlooking Bordeaux-Lac (Bordeaux Lake) pondering this very flamboyant statement. Could one not lavish tons of money and easily have the time of their life in Bordeaux. Yes, I thought but one thing, or should I say person, made this trip worth more than a seven figure salary. Bear Dalton. This trip made Bear’s 20th straight year to visit Bordeaux during ‘En Primeur’. Combine all the trips over the years and he has spent one full year in Bordeaux. That is quite impressive. But, more impressive than that is the amount of people that show true respect to the man in the cowboy hat. Our group had the unfortunate occurrence of falling ill during the second week of our trip, Bear being the last to do so. While he was sick, he sent us on our way knowing that this was a trip of a life time and he didn’t want to slow down our schedule. Our new guide, Francois Thienpont, took us to numerous stops on the right bank that day. There was a common theme to the rest of the day without Bear. At every stop from Ch. Lafleur in Pomerol to Ch. Angelus in St. Emilion, the French director or winemaker or Chateau owner asked one thing: Homme au chapeau? The man with the hat? Where is Bear? This theme resonated with me through the day. I came to realize that day the answer to the question I had pondered earlier. The answer was a resounding, NO. One cannot recreate 20 years worth of relationship building. One cannot throw tons of money at a singular trip and be able to open doors that we walked through, talk to chateau owners with candor, shake hands with royalty such as Robert of Luxembourg, or be invited to a dinner at Chateau Batailley where a history of wines ranging from 1881 to 2010 were opened with a 3 star Michelin chef’s courses on the table. These special occurrences must be earned. Earned through years of hard work and friendship development. Earned through buying Bordeaux for 20 straight years in good vintages and….not so good vintages. A Chateau owner told me during this trip that ‘Bear Dalton has become a beacon for Bordeaux wines in the world. He is a rock star, even maybe more than most wine critics such as Robert Parker or James Suckling.’ I absolutely believe this statement to be true. Driving in a car with the ‘mad hatter’ (I say this because he is somewhat of a crazy driver who started off his day with a proper cup of tea), I would randomly point at a vineyard and he would instantly begin to spout out facts about the vineyard, region and terroir of the land surveyed while painting vivid stories of the Chateau owners and their history. The drives down the back roads to the famed Growth vineyards became not only a tutorial but a true wine geeks delight each morning. On the last night of the trip, I sat on the same balcony with another member of the group and he asked a simple question: What was the biggest thing that you learned from this trip? I took a minute to think it through and came up with an answer: To do things the right way year in, year out and garner the respect of the people around you….no matter what country you are in. Thank you Bear. Homme de chapeau. The man with the hat.
James C. Barlow
Certified Wine Educator