Many hard-pressed Beaujolais growers, who hoped to improve their fortunes by exhibiting at a mammoth two-day tasting which ended on Tuesday, have expressed disappointment at the poor turnout by potential buyers.

The ‘Rendez-Vous Beaujolais’, staged at five separate sites across the region, was badly hit by a clash of dates with the en primeur of the Bordeaux Union des Grands Crus — an event that most of the wine trade and media saw as a higher priority.

‘It’s a shame,’ said Nicole Chanrion, a grower in the Cotes de Brouilly cru.

‘It’s felt like being in a void.’

Ghislain Large from Charnay in the Bas-Beaujolais had paid €300 to take out a stall, but had only had five visitors on the first day. ‘It’s a fraction of what I expected,’ she said. ‘But at least this event is a start.’

Michel Deflache, director of the Union Interprofessionelle des Vins de Beaujolais, which organised the event, said more than 500 visitors had attended, and that this was the target. The Rendez-Vous had cost around €450,000, he said. In comparison, the long established Grands Jours de Bourgogne, a biennial event that runs for six days and which took place the previous week, drew 12,000 visitors with a budget of around €1.5 million.

M Deflache explained it had not been possible to persuade the Union des Grands Crus to change dates, although the Beaujolais event had been planned long beforehand. ‘Many English importers and distributors had told us they planned to come, but that they were obliged to go to the Union des Grands Crus instead.’ He promised that when the event is repeated in two years time the clash would be avoided.

The centrepiece of the Rendez-Vous was a four-hour colloquy, discussing wine’s status as a media product, featuring a sociologist and a semiologist (an expert in the academic study of meaning), as well as Michel Bettane, France’s leading wine critic. Afterwards, one journalist asked if the discussion had not been excessively esoteric and high flown.

Despite the criticism, many expressed satisfaction that Beaujolais had begun a concerted effort to capture the world’s attention. And both visitors and exhibitors agreed on the excellence of the 2003 Beaujolais vintage, ‘the best since 1991,’ according to Michel Bettane.

Written by Patrick Matthews