Allen Meadows from Burghound.com was kind enough to share his passion for Burgundy with the Joseph & Curtis readers. Pour a glass, relax and read our interview with Allen Meadows, a successful businessman who caught the wine bug.
Allen Meadows was a finance executive for 21 years, holding a variety of positions, including stints as the senior vice-president and director of corporate development for Great Western Financial. In 1999 he elected to retire to author a book on the subject of Burgundy but a year later decided to found Burghound.com, a quarterly review that is devoted exclusively to the coverage of Burgundy/Pinot Noir with bi-annual coverage of Champagnes/Sparklers.
Burghound.com was the first of its kind to offer specialized, and more importantly, exhaustive coverage of a specific wine region. The first Issue was released in January of 2001 and there are now subscribers in more than 60 countries and nearly all 50 states. Meadows spends over four months a year in Burgundy and visits more than 300 domaines during that time. (http://www.burghound.com/bio.php)
What is your background prior to Burghound?
I was a finance executive for 25 years holding a variety of positions including senior vice president for Great Western Financial where I ran the mergers and acquisitions and specialized finance departments. In 1999 I elected to retire to author a book on the subject of Burgundy, my long-time passion and obsession. The book project evolved to become an extensive quarterly review, Burghound.com. It was initially devoted exclusively to the coverage of the wines of Burgundy and later added U. S. Pinot Noir and occasional coverage of Champagne. (The book finally got written in 2010, The Pearl of the Côte – The Great Wines of Vosne-Romanée and is available at www.burghoundbooks.com.)
Burghound.com was the first of its kind to offer specialized, and more importantly, exhaustive coverage of a specific wine region/grape and we pioneered the on-line format. I spend nearly five months a year in Burgundy and visit more than 300 domaines during that time.
When did you first realize your passion for wine?
It happened at a very young age, which is to say around 20. My family had lived in France when I was quite young and my father acquired a taste for wine so, unusually for American families in the 1960s and 1970s, wine was always on the table at dinner. Thus it wasn’t unusual for me to have an interest, and in my early 20s I started experimenting while in college and never looked back.
It seems that everyone who gets seriously bitten by the wine bug has that one epiphany bottle and mine just happened to be a bottle of Burgundy. It made such an impression on me that when I graduated from graduate school, I couldn’t wait to see the people and the place that had created this wine. Once I got there I had trouble leaving and started going on a regular basis. Anyway, I fell in love with the place as much as the wines themselves and it’s been a love affair ever since.
How often do you travel?
I travel frequently throughout the year and as time is available for speaking engagements around the world. I am in Burgundy nearly five months each year, spaced out over three trips in January/February, June/July and October/November.
How many different wines do you taste on a weekly basis?
It depends. When I’m in Burgundy working it’s usually around 75 wines per day spread over 10 hours with a 2 hour break at lunch (without wine). I spit assiduously and drink plenty of water to keep both me, and my palate, fresh and sharp. I typically do visits 5 ½ days a week so in a typical week I would taste around 400 or so. When I’m working in my home office with samples, it’s significantly less rigorous as it’s about 12 bottles per day a few days each week.
What have you noticed has changed in the wine world since 2001?
Wow, this is a question where I could go on and on as there have been so many things. One of them is simply the rise of on-line sources of information and another is the rise of specialist publications, like Burghound for example. And with respect to wine itself, it’s pretty clear that the bar of quality rises every year. This has had the salutary effect of decreasing the amount of bad wine because if you make poor or flawed wine today, there’s nowhere to hide as anyone who is paying attention will know it. And producers are intently aware that reputations for quality take years to create but only a vintage or two to destroy.
Best advice to someone just starting to cellar wines?
Don’t pigeon-hole your tastes. Most neophytes know what they like and, more importantly, like what they know. This is a huge mistake. Find someone, a knowledgeable friend, a knowledgeable retailer or a critic whose taste aligns with yours, and then be a sponge. Listen, taste, discuss, question and learn. If you do this, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that what you like today will not be what you will like 5 years from now. From a collecting standpoint, the message in the bottle, as it were, is not to load up on whatever category is floating your boat at the moment. Play the wine field, buy a bit of everything. Once you’ve been around the wine world for a while, typically 5 years or so, you’ll start to have a much clearer idea of where your tastes run. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who got the wine bug, went out and bought 50 cases of whatever their love interest was at the time, and then 5 years later woke up wondering what they were going to do with a bunch of wine that they didn’t even like anymore. In short, buy a bit of everything as there will plenty of time for specialization later.
Where is the best wine being produced in the world?
That’s a loaded question because there are great wines being produced all over the world. As someone who admires Pinot-based wines, the reference standard remains Burgundy as they continue to produce legendary wines. Now if we change the question a little to ask where the most progress is being made with Pinot, then I would say that it’s either some combination of Oregon and California or New Zealand. I would also throw Australia into that mix as there are some really lovely things coming out of the Mornington Peninsula.
How many subscribers do you have and what does a subscriber receive?
We have thousands of subscribers in over 62 countries. About half of our subscribers are in nearly every US state; the other half are spread around the world – everywhere from Greenland, Poland, Russian Federation to Brazil. Of course Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are very large markets in addition to Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom.
In addition to four quarterly issues a year, subscribers have access to a fully searchable database of about 60,000 of my tasting notes with recommended drinking windows for present day vintages all the way back to 1845. This powerful tool makes finding what you want to know fast and easy and helps provide guidance on when to considering opening your precious aged bottles. Subscribers can search by vintage, score, producer, appellation, issue number or region and there are also options to search by “Top Value” (~$35 wines mostly Bourgogne and Villages), “Don’t Miss” (best wines rated regardless of price), or “Sweet Spot” (excellent value at an intermediate level ~$35-~$100). Importer contact information is also included to help consumers find the wines they are interested in purchasing. Millions of searches are conducted each year as this has become a valuable tool for wine enthusiasts and collectors considering what to buy or sell or when to open their precious bottles of wine. Subscribers also have access to the mobile edition of Burghound.com – extremely useful at retails stores on in restaurants with a handy “drink now” option to find wines ready to open on the spot. In an effort to support a subscriber’s continuing burgundy education, we pull old articles and progress reports with informative information on specific regions or producers and post them for subscribers to download and keep.
Favorite food/wine pairings?
Again, this is a very broad question as I like many pairings. There is a universe of possibilities with white burgundies and Pinot-based wines in general. But a few favorites would include a great Chablis and grilled herb-stuffed sea bass, pan seared salmon and Pinot Noir, a well-aged steak simply prepared with a well-aged red burgundy. Pinot in general is exceptionally food friendly so the possibilities really are endless.
How does one become a subscriber?
It’s simple. Just visit www.burghound.com and click on the subscribe/renew link!
What is the hardest thing for a winemaker to do?
This is mildly presumptuous of me to answer as I am not a winemaker. At the same time, I have spoken with literally thousands of winemakers over the years and probably the most difficult thing for the typical winemaker to do, is to do nothing. This is not at all the same thing as saying that a winemaker doesn’t need to do some things. But what I’m driving at is how the winemaker determines the difference between what is absolutely essential to do (in other words, the requisite minimum) and what is extraneous. To the uninitiated, this might seem like an easy thing to do but it’s not at all. One could perhaps analogize the process to rearing a child. Providing the necessary guidance to the well-being of a child is not at all the same thing as being heavily involved in every aspect of his or her life. By the same token, it can be a challenge to allow the wine to be what it is and express its terroir rather than constantly manipulating it so that it resembles what you want it to be. This requires a great deal of self-restraint and the ability to separate your ego from the creative process. Boil it all down and the take away lesson is that less can be more.
Your favorite characteristics of a particular wine (Pinot for an example)?
Pinot-based wines have many admirable characteristics but they arguably possess the most dazzling aromatics of any red wine type. If allowed to do so, Pinot reflects perfectly where it was grown and how it was made and thus the range of possible expressions is genuinely remarkable. With age, which is to say at around 5 to 6 years of age, the aromas become ever more complex and the flavors develop a velvety texture that is quite simply unique. It is this combination that, for me anyway, makes Pinot-based wines the most interesting in the world.
Why is Pinot so good and specifically Burgundy.
As I referenced in question 13, Pinot-based wines are capable of extraordinary transformations, so much so that at their very best, they are thrill-a-minute experiences. There is also an intellectual component to the finest Pinot-based wines that add yet another dimension to their appeal. They can capture the imagination and move the spirit in such a way that the experience is both visceral and emotional. Indeed so much so that I wrote my first book on Burgundy, called The Pearl of the Côte, expressly because I wanted to try to capture what it is like when you are lucky enough to have such a transcendental experience. Such moments like this don’t come along all that often but when they do, they transform you in their fashion because afterwards your ideas about perfection and beauty change. Sentiments such as these may seem like wine writer hype to those that have never experienced such a wine. By contrast, those that have, understand exactly what I mean precisely because such wines are truly unforgettable.