BHW Interviews Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections


Greg M.

Hey everybody, this is Greg Martellotto with Big Hammer Wines Films. We're here today in Bordeaux, city Sainte, with Jeffrey Davies of Signature Selections, and I'm so happy to have you here with us. Thank you sir for sparing some time and your expertise to talk to us about Bordeaux.

 

Jeffrey Davies

My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to come by during a busy period, which is Vinexpo.

 

Greg M.

Yes.

 

Jeffrey Davies

Much appreciated. I'm glad we have nice weather for you.

 

Greg M.

We've had a fantastic week and tasting lots of great wines. So a little background for those of you who maybe haven't seen Jeffrey Davies' Signature Selections on wines imported into the US. He has been in Bordeaux since the 1970s where he met his wife, and studied abroad as a student while at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

 

Jeffrey Davies

Exactly.

 

Greg M.

... which of course is near and dear to us. And during that time you had the opportunity to study with none other than Émile Peynaud. You studied Oenology, which we want to talk about because I'm sure you have amazing stories to have this much background. And you have since become a negociant in the Grand Place selling wine in 25 countries for over 30 years. And you know the ins and outs and the evolution and development of Bordeaux as good as anyone.

 

Greg M.

And so that's why I'm so happy to learn from your experience and know more about the wines that have impacted you, that have impressed you, and also know more about this changing region. Because it's well regarded as one of the greatest, not only quality, but also value regions in the world. It's obviously the second largest wine region in the world, but I think what a lot of people don't know is how dynamic the changes are.

 

Greg M.

So let's jump off with, how do you do what you do? What are the skills you've acquired to identify wines that present quality and value to consumers? And second question, how do you identify great wines?

 

Jeffrey Davies

Those are complex questions. A lot of it just comes naturally with experience. It's driven by a passion. I don't think you can do what I try to do without being passionate about wine, and it's always been, for me, ever since I started first as a journalist and then as a negociant, it's always been about the passion. And I've been very fortunate, in that I've been able to translate that passion into a successful business.

 

Jeffrey Davies

I spend a lot of time in the vineyards with the growers and I think, obviously, that's where it all begins. And with the constant exchange with the growers and the owners, you learn more and more and as you point out quite accurately and contrary to the public perception,Bordeaux is in a constant state of flux and change. Most all of it I think is very positive. I do believe that one could make the argument that Bordeaux is the state of the art, both in vineyard management and in wine making today.

 

Jeffrey Davies

And we see this in the sense that everything we do here in Bordeaux, people from all around the world, the Southern Hemisphere, the Northern, the East, the West, come to see what's going on. They hire some of the top consultants here to come and help them with their wines. Michel Rolland is probably the most famous amongst them as he was frequently called The Flying Winemaker.

 

Jeffrey Davies

So there is a constant change and evolution going on. Part of it is driven, as we talked about earlier, by foreign investment. New owners coming in from the United States, from Europe, from Asia, and wanting to take whatever property it is they have bought to a new level, to a higher level. So that drives the progress, that drives the change.

 

Jeffrey Davies

When I was at the Institute of Oenology, I remember we were tasting the 1975 vintage and thinking, wow, this is great. This is fantastic. How could we ever make better wine than that? Well, we've since learned that we can, but it happened over and over again. There was 1982. We thought, gosh, how can it ever be better than that? Then there was 89 and 90. Then there was 98 and there was 2000. How can it be better than that? Then there was 2005; amazing vintage. I remember Michel saying, “There was no rush to harvest. We could leave the grapes forever,” and they just got better.

 

Jeffrey Davies

And we had another in 2009, and then in 2010. How can it get better? And then 15 and 16 come along, how could it get any better? And then not everywhere, put in many cases in 2018, it still gets better! And it gets better because we're understanding, and we're working better in the vineyards. We've cleaned up a lot of things in the cellars, maybe we've rolled back on this, that and the other thing, be it extraction new oak, what have you. There is a constant evolution, so I think the wines just get better and better.

 

Jeffrey Davies

And I think the other point that you touched on that to me is very important is that while the press spends a lot of time writing about the most expensive wines in Bordeaux,the best writers also talk about the great values that are being produced here.I don't think that there are too many places that can vie with Bordeaux in terms of value for money.Maybe you have to work a little harder to find them than in some other regions, but as we went through the tasting earlier, you tasted many wines that can sell for less than $20, $25, $30 in the United States. I don't think there are too many wines fromanywhere in the world that would really give them a serious run for their money. So-

 

Greg M.

We tasted a 96 point wine under $30 and I think you're hard-pressed to find those ones anywhere.

 

Jeffrey Davies

And as we talked about, my passion is finding those artisanal producers who are trying to make the very best wine that they can from their terroir, and I bring any help that I can to them. And as they get there, then I try to bring that message to both the press and to our customers to help them get a foothold in the marketplace. Because as you know now from having been here at Vinexpo, and I know it's not your first time, but you walk into Vinexpo and you just go ...

 

Greg M.

Right, paralysis.

 

Jeffrey Davies

This is way too much wine here. How can anybody wade through it? And so our job is to find what we think are the most interesting wines being produced here in Bordeaux, getting that message, hopefully, to the press, who then gets it out to a larger audience because we do all need help in ferreting through the tens of thousands of wines that are being produced around the world. I don't mind that. I find it passionate and stimulating, but it's quite a challenge.

 

Greg M.

Well, it's never ending because the topic is so deep. I remember when I was in college, I was looking at studying neuroscience and biology and pre-med and I thought, well, the brain seems about as deep and complex, and it is as, as anything imaginable. But with my career choice, it's true thatwine is very deep and complex. We can spend decades pursuing this topic, looking at even with you, you're an expert in Bordeaux and there's still more to uncover. There's still more to learn. There's still changes afoot.

 

Jeffrey Davies

I think, it's almost banal to say that the more we learn, the more we realize we don't know.

 

Greg M.

Sure.

 

Jeffrey Davies

And that's true, probably in neuroscience, but it's also true in wine. And there isn't a day that goes by that there isn't something new that I discover or I find or I hear, and it makes me want to go and chase it down and find out more. And that's what drives the passion. I guess, you have to have a certain intellectual curiosity.

 

Greg M.

For sure. And not to mention there's an evolution. There's an evolution with vineyards that were younger, that were maybe less interesting that became more interesting with time, wines that were bottled young that maybe we overlooked, vintages that we overlooked. That's something. You just mentioned some of the top vintages in Bordeaux that raised eyebrows, that people were scoring from 97, 98, 99 points.

 

Greg M.

But the reality is we make wine every year. Nature gives us grapes every year, and the real testament to high quality wine makers and vineyards, and the real insight for the consumers is knowing that great wine makers make great wines even in lesser vintages. And when you can dial into that, you really start to understand where the value and opportunity is, and that's hard to come by. It can only come by experience and attentiveness. And I don't think most consumers have paid enough attention to that. So that's where I think the insider access comes in.

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