The best wine event that I've ever been to was Bulles au Centre in 2018. It took place on Sunday, July 15th that year. Organized by méthode ancestrale GOAT Les Capriades, Bulles au Centre is the only real wine fair dedicated entirely to pet nat. It features producers from around the world, although, of course, the majority of them make wine in the Loire. That's also where the fair is located; the 2018 edition took place in a 19th century cave (aka dank ass cellar) in Montlouis.
I'd just arrived in France, so I remember driving the outskirts of Montlouis that morning in a bit of a daze. It was a really sunny day, probably a bit over 80 degrees, with spectacularly blue skies. Having spent enough time in the Loire during days that reminded me of going to college in Michigan (read: 42 degrees, drab, "low ceilings" as pilots like to say, very wet), this felt like a fucking godsend. My trip was already made. After I parked my cream-colored rental junker and found Guilhaume, who was killing time smoking by the entrance, we bought the essential wine fair breakfast: a few fatty, meaty sausages with good mustard. Reinforcement for the day to come. Then we went into the cave to start tasting. It was a little after 11am.
Most wine fairs feel a bit like a business conference. Natural wine fairs are like that too, just with more tattoos and people speaking Danish. Bulles au Centre feels like a county fair though. A bunch of big deal natural winemakers (like Thierry Puzelat, who I vividly remember wearing a beat up Detroit Red Wings hat that day) stand around shooting the shit with their families and friends. Kids play tag, or help their parents to clean up glasses. Everyone drinks everyone else's wine, nobody complains about flaws, some people pour wines of absolute brilliance, some pour absolute garbage. Not surprisingly, people get pretty drunk. By 3pm or so, one Loire winemaker (he shall remain nameless forever, don't ask) who'd been stumbling around for a while decided to tattoo a grapevine in veraison on his bicep. An hour later, he was 100% blackout drunk, and carried out of the cave by three other winemakers and his girlfriend, one person per extremity. I worried about him but heard the next day he was alive, and his new vintage just hit the US so I think he's doing alright.
A bit after that, in the late afternoon, people started getting really animated. I was operating on no sleep and a six hour time difference and my French is spotty, so I wasn't exactly sure why. Then some winemakers pulled out a moderately sized TV and some speakers and stuck them on the grass outside and everyone immediately left the tasting tables, bottles of pet nat in hand. They got more sausages, some people put on jerseys, and the entire fair came to a halt to watch the World Cup final. Streamed on top of a stone wall, with a delay, next to a cave. For the next 90 minutes, a bunch of winemakers I idolized (and their families) became crazy French soccer fans and displayed a sort of nationalism that, as an American, is always both inspiring and a little worrisome.
France beat Croatia 4-2 that day. After the game ended, Bulles au Centre just continued on. People went back into the cave and started pouring pet nat again. At some point, Cyril Zangs began mixing mojitos using his Double Zero apple brandy (sort of his wine fair party trick), which makes both a surprisingly good and extremely potent drink. A DJ set up in the front of the cave and spun American records. I think Guilhaume and I left around 5am, some 18 hours after we'd arrived.
I woke up at noon, totally alone in a giant country house Airbnb with too many bedrooms and not enough windows. Everyone else was back at work. I spent the next week in France. On my way home, at Charles de Gaulle, I bought my son a Kylian Mbappe jersey. The old lady at the register said "allez les bleus" and quickly turned to the next customer. I don't give a shit about soccer but I’ll always remember the 2018 World Cup. We often overthink wine and sports alike. But sometimes the best both have to offer is just a bunch of drunk (and incredibly talented) farmers screaming at a TV streaming a soccer game next to a dank ass cellar in the middle of nowhere.