Monday, 30 June 2008

Bristol Comes Out to Play

I went to Southville on Thursday to meet two men passionate about wine. Chris Scholes and Mike Cardwell are the brains behind the Bristol Wine & Food Fair that will grace the harbourside next month. We're in for a treat.

“Food is the new rock’n’roll”, says Mike Cardwell with a smile. “There’s been a revolution in the nation’s eating and drinking habits and events like this have been at the forefront of that. So many people now are really interested in where their produce comes from. One of the most important things about the Wine & Food Fair is that people will be able to come down and chat with the experts behind the stalls. These are the people directly involved in the making of the produce or the specialist importers.”

“Most of us drink a glass of Chablis or Rioja and probably forget that it’s actually an art form” says Mike. “It’s a very tricky craft and getting it right is difficult. I actually picked Champagne grapes when I was a student. I remember cutting my fingers and the cold, damp mornings. It gave me an insight into what it’s like to actually be a grower and to work on a farm. You realise that, as humans are involved, there are so many variables that can go wrong. It makes the process exciting but very scary!”

“We’re also ex-traders. Four years ago you’d find us down in Glastonbury by the pyramid stage running a coffee and patisserie stand. So we’ve been through the mud together. Being a trader you get insider knowledge. You quickly recognise what makes a good event and what makes you happy. We want to give good service to our traders, our exhibiters and the public.”

The Wine & Food Fair is shaping up to be the culinary treat of the year, with a huge array of things to see, do and taste. “There’s going to be a Chef’s Theatre, where you can watch top level chefs in action and get great tips to impress your friends when they come round for a meal, says Mike’s equally enthusiastic business partner Chris Scholes. ”We’re also hosting eighteen tutored wine and cheese tastings. This is a chance for people to learn more about cheese and wines in a relaxed environment. They’ll be plenty of talks and demonstrations and everyone can also taste any of the 350 wines on sale for free.”

“There’s going to be some amazing chefs in the chefs’ theatre. I was taking to Mark Evans at CafĂ© Maitreya and he was telling me that he’s considering cooking a whole menu with flowers, that really blew me away. We’re talking about working chefs here, not people that just write columns. These are the people that toil away in the kitchens, serving up some fantastic food.”

“Our main message is keep it local,” Mike declares. “We’re all aware of our environment and food miles but also we recognise that there are a lot of people that earn their living through local fairs. It really is a lifeline for these producers because they can sell direct to the public thus taking a bigger share of the profits. It enables them to sustain their way of life and helps them continue bringing fantastic produce to our tables.”

“There’s been massive leaps in the quality of British wine in the last ten years” asserts Chris emphatically. “Some of the sparkling wine producers are even beating Champagne in wine tastings.”

Both Chris and Mike have wine flowing through their veins. “I lived in Italy until I was three,” says Mike, “so I was introduced to wine at a very young age. We’d just be given a little glass to sip with the rest of the family, and then spend the afternoon sleeping it off!”

“My dad was from Blackpool,” says Mike “so one of my earliest memories of food is him frying his black pudding for breakfast. He really loved his red wine. He was wine-maker as well. He was famous for his strawberry wine. It was ridiculously strong though, just a glass would make you really tidily!”

“Most of all we want to demystify wine, make it simple and fun” laughs Mike. “We want to encourage people to use their taste buds and senses. We like to think about the fair as Bristol coming out to play! There’s food and wine, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer really!”


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