Eric Solomon -Founder of European Cellars
Articles are property of Brenda Francis and are not to be reproduced in any way without written consent from Brenda Francis. In the wine business there are those that set the prices on existing markets, like Robert Parker and Wine Spectator and then there are others who are catalysts for new markets. Eric Solomon is a visionary who holds the attention of even the most regarded market setters. Fifteen years ago Eric Solomon began importing wine under the name European Cellars. At that time, he realized the potential of the Southern Rhone Valley, an area that not many had heard of. Since then, he has built a very impressive French portfolio. European Cellars currently imports over ninety different producers into the United States from four different countries. Using his knowledge of European, "Old World" style wines and his understanding of the American palate, Eric collaborates with the winemakers on many of the imported cuvées. He tells us that France is where European Cellars was. "The New Spain," as Solomon nicknames it (after Jon Radford's book of the same name), is where European Cellars is now. He believes Spain is in a revolution of sorts, much like the revolution that put Italy back on the map in terms of quality. He speaks of Spain's raw potential "The word balance, the word elegance, we're going to see more and more. It's not hard to get color out of a Spanish wine. The same mainstream opportunity is big, like Australia, because we've got not only good wines, but great wines." Solomon starts the presentation with a Power Point slide of the cover of the Wine Spectator. "You know your work, your category has finally arrived when Wine Spectator acknowledges your category …they charge $35,000 for a full page ad and sell ad space to clients like Rolex…if they commit their cover to Spain, you know it is a very good thing." Solomon fittingly starts the tasting with samples of five white wines from his "New Spain" category. The wines are fresh, crisp, fragrant, and lively. One of the white wines was a rosy-hued barrel sample, carried all the way from Spain. Spain has been producing incredible reds, but there hasn't been that much to pick from in the category of white wines until recently. We explore the misconceptions about Spain's weather and terrain, as we view a slideshow of steeply terraced vineyards and gnarled vines, tucked into a backdrop of green. He explains that Spain is the third most mountainous country in Europe and some vineyards receive too much rain on "off" years. As we move on to tasting red wines, he offers us tastes of bobal, monastrell, and mencia and claims to be "the self-appointed, ambassador, mid-wife, and champion of indigenous varieties…. You're an engineer in a recording studio. You're not making the music, you tweak the high notes....We're doing quick study on the indigenous varietal. You try every indigenous varietal of the area, even the bad ones. You immerse yourself and you try and understand quickly 'what is the voice of bobal?' Sometimes the mute button is on for a little while before you figure it out." With excitement and affection in his voice he tells us that he's bought a small vineyard of old vine monastrell, grown at altitude, in chalk. This is just the type of harsh conditions that cause monastrell to produce intense, inky, spicy juice. Monastrell is an indigenous varietal, which happens to be the second most widely grown grape in Spain, next to garnacha tinta. These two grapes have been grown in Spain for thousands of years, but many of us know them from the Rhône Valley of France, as mourvèdré and grenache. Not focusing on acquiring large production vineyards and wineries for his portfolio, he speaks with enthusiasm about the smaller producers, in the unfamiliar regions. He hikes the terraced vineyards with the generations who cultivate these special places filled with unknown varietals. Robert Parker put it simply, "The name of Eric Solomon on a bottle of wine is synonymous with high quality." France is where European Cellars was, Spain is where European Cellars is now, and on the horizon is Portugal. Solomon is currently focusing his resources, creating the kind of relationships in Portugal that have made him so successful in France and Spain. "I am looking to Portugal to produce blue chip wines at the level of Priorat, the greatest wine Spain produces." Eric and company will continue to embrace the wines of France and Spain, as well as do what they do best, work as a catalyst in the wine renaissance of Portugal. njoy first-hand the wines that keep experts like Robert Parker on the edge of their seats.