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Hospice du Rhône {John Alban}

May 22, 2012 The Press No Comments

I was surprised to learn just how involved John Alban is with Hospice du Rhône. From moderating panel discussions, to acting as the MC, John is a central part of the organization.

We had our first Alban that weekend, although not at the event. Thursday, on the eve of Hospice, while at dinner with friends, we came across a bottle of 2002 Alban Grenache. It was stunning.

The truth is, I wanted to meet and interview John for a long time. So when I ran into him while talking to Jason Carter of McPrice Myers, I thought, “what the heck, I might as well ask.”

John was gracious enough to chat for a few moments about the importance Hospice du Rhône for him and where he hopes to see it go.

ALP: “What does it mean for you to be such a big part of the 20th Hospice du Rhône?”

John Alban: “In many ways it’s surreal. In the early days, there was no reason to believe that this was sustainable and certainly it was a fantasy, a beautiful fantasy that it would flourish. For many years I used to joke that we were pushing a bus up hill, and we would talk to other producers and other people and they would say, ‘oh yeah, that’s a great idea, I want to ride that bus!’ But I didn’t have the confidence to explain to them that ‘you can get on the bus, but were still all in the back pushing it up a big hill!’

“Then really about 2000, 2001, and a lot of it coincides with Vicky [Carroll] joining us and taking over the helm and directing, the bus started going downhill.”

ALP: “It picked up momentum?”

JA: “It did and now, in many ways, it’s kind of a turbo charged bus and there are a lot of people on it, a lot of people who have helped push it, and a lot of people who are the pit crew. I’m going to leave this analogy alone, but what really has been magnificent is that in the early goings, we weren’t good at telling anyone how they could help. Come about 2000, 2001, these beautiful angels stepped up and just helped, they didn’t ask if they could help, they just did.”

John spoke of the efforts of many who saw a need and stepped in, including those who have helped move Hospice du Rhône towards a more media savvy approach.

“You look at the wines people bring; you look at the seminars that people organized and offer up to us, auction lots that have been offered up, the enthusiasm for the Grand Tasting. Look at this line-up of McPrice Myers wines, so many wines in this room today people are on waiting lists to buy. There’s Justin Smith pouring SAXUM. People could say, ‘well that’s a waste, why do you do that?’ I guess what I am really saying is there were so many people who could say, ‘well you don’t need to do that’ and this event has gone from what people needed to do, to what they want to do. They’re all here, because they want to be here.”

ALP: “You spoke today about the importance of having the French involved, the Yves’, the four amigos (Yves Gangloff, Yves Cuilleron, François Villard, and Pierre Gaillard). Does it change the focus at all, or just add to what was already going on here?”

JA: “That’s a great question that really harkens to the focus of Hospice du Rhône. The focus of Hospice du Rhône is an international celebration of Rhône varietals. So some people mistakenly thought that if you brought in this group of “foreigners” that you were going to lose this spotlight on “us,” and “us” had different definitions depending on who the “us” was saying it. But for “us” organizing the event, since the spotlight was always an international celebration of Rhône varieties, how could involving people from other countries diffuse the spotlight? That just put more intensity to the light we were trying to shine. We wanted people from Spain and Australia to participate, and early on we were involved with them. But France was hesitant, and I get it. Whoever heard of Paso Robles, and who ever heard of the people organizing it? I would be skeptical about getting on a plane too.”

ALP: “Here you are a 5th generation winemaker from France saying, ‘why should I…’

JA: Yeah absolutely and I would say, ‘you’re right! You should be skeptical!’ One of the things that changed, once the “Amigos” started to come, I could say you have every right to be skeptical and if I were you I would talk to some of your comrades who have been there, because they can tell you better than I can. Talk to Yves Gangloff, talk to François Villard, talk to Pierre Gaillard, and ask them what it was like. Ask them what we were doing; ask them if they would come back and if they would encourage you to come. So you can see it is a huge resource [having them involved].”

ALP: “What do you hope for the 30th and 40th Hospice du Rhônes?”

JA: “What I see happening and I have embraced and try to foster, is that the event has to evolve. Part of that evolution is that some of the old guys like me, need to play a diminished role. We need new blood, we need new visions. Faith Wells, our Communications Director, I will never forget her sitting down in a meeting with me and she mentioned things like Twitter and Facebook, and after a few moments she looked at me and said, ‘you don’t know what I’m talking about do you?’ I didn’t and she said, ‘well there are other ways we can spread the message.’

You don’t know what you don’t know. If it’s going to stay fresh and interesting and alive, sustainable, there needs to be another generation.

So to answer your question, my dream, another 30 to 40 years from now, I show up and a few people come up to me and say, ‘aren’t you John Alban?’ And I’ll say, ‘yeah, I am,’ and the rest of them won’t have any idea who I am. And I’m ok with that.”

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