Wine is a gift from God. Any juice left to nature will become wine. The winemaker is merely a conductor who coaxes the best that he can out of the process that God created. Beer, on the other hand, is purely a creation of man. Beer is engineered and requires multiple complex steps and processes. The brewmaster is a highly skilled craftsman and his beer is his signature creation -- his art. Where the two of these come together, where the divine gift meets the skill of the craftsman, there is Champagne. It is the highest form of both.
In 2013, a young French girl named Agathe Raffin came to stay for the summer with my daughter as a foreign exchange student. One night, we pulled up Google Earth so that she could show us the tiny village where she was from. I thought nothing more of it. Two years later, while traveling in France, her father invited my wife and I to stay with their family for a few days. The tiny spec of a village was Cramant, situated in the Southern part of the Champagne region. It's a place trapped in time with quaint little cottages and shops sporting little flower boxes in their windows lining the impossibly narrow streets, surrounded in every direction by Champagne vineyards. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
When I arrived, I knew nothing about Champagne. By the time we left a few days later, I had been immersed in the history and culture of Champagne. Surrounded by gorgeous landscape, we were treated to private tours of dozens of little Champagne houses and private tastings of bottle after bottle of what can only be described as the nectar of the gods. More importantly, I discovered that this sweet young teenager had been making her own Champagne with her father for her entire life. Her family had been growing grapes on the same land for generation after generation back into antiquity. It was in her very blood. And it was divine.
Upon returning to the States, I made it a mission to get her Champagne imported to the United States. For years, I made phone calls and wrote letters and scheduled meetings. I paid out-of-pocket to get tasting samples shipped in, all in an effort to convince someone, anyone to take a chance on this tiny little Champagne house and its liquid gold. Over and over again, I was told that, though it was indeed very, very good Champagne, its annual production of fewer than 900 bottles was simply too small to be worth the cost of bringing it in. After all, the "experts" said, the wine market is severely overcrowded as it is, with more than 70,000 different labels for sale in the U.S. alone.
And then COVID hit. I suddenly found myself stuck at home with time on my hands and I got my own importer/distributor license. I would bring Regnier-Raffin Champagne to the U.S. with my own hands if that’s what it took. Doing so required me to register and be qualified with no fewer than seven state and federal agencies. I paid fees, posted bonds, submitted to background checks, filled out forms, had the forms lost, resubmitted the forms, got interviewed by investigators, filled out more forms and created new accounts with more agencies.
I convinced Agathe and her father to let me purchase a small initial shipment of a few hundred bottles. Then I managed to convince Nate Walsh of Walsh Family Wine to take a chance on retailing it. Fortunately, all I had to do was let the Champagne speak for itself and all it needed was someone courageous enough to listen.
And then. Then, I discovered that France was in lockdown, thanks to a bureaucratic response to the COVID pandemic. It took nearly eight months to finally get the Champagne loaded onto a ship, delivered to a wharf in New York, cleared through Customs and, finally, trucked to Virginia. We missed the opportunity to sell at the Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas, New Years, and Valentines' Day. My frantic phone calls and emails to Nate at Walsh Family Wine assured them that it would be here any day now, as week after week went by. Finally, it came. And, thanks to Nate’s faith and support, it is available for sale, both at the winery and though his website (https://www.walshfamilywine.com/).
All that money invested, an entire year of dealing with bureaucratic quagmires on two continents, the headaches and worry that my supplier, shipper or retailer would bail on me? Lost nights of sleep worrying that I had missed some form or fee or registration and my investment would be trapped in permanent limbo in some forgotten corner of some forgotten government warehouse? Was it worth it?
Just try the Champagne and you’ll understand why I had to do this.
Maybe at one of Walsh's signature summer events like June 5th's Concert in the Pines with The Feehan Brothers, or one of the summer dinner series with Chef Erik Foxx on June 19? Details on the winery website.