Recently, I met more and more French and non-French winemakers, producers, Domaine or Chateau owners or simply customers/travelers that seems to all know the same person. A store owner of the old city of Lyon who goes by the name of JoJo.
To my surprise, I give them the same answer everytime: "You know JoJo. I know JoJo too. We used to work together and I followed his adventures for many years before he settled in Lyon. He is a great guys...etc" and usually what was supposed to be a short meeting become a long discussion about wine, food and JoJo.
JoJo (aka Georges de Santos aka The Flying Sommelier) is in fact one the most knowledgeable guy I know in the wine industry. He is also the owner of a small yet overloaded-with-rare-wines-ports-spirits-and-other-gems-from-all-around-the-world store called: Antic Wine.
Often mistaken for TinTin (due to his somewhat resemblance to the famous little reporter from Herge), Georges is funny, super friendly, curious, stubborn in some ways and his personality mixes craziness with ingenuity. Very generous with a big heart, he has many passions and a life-long entertaining relationship with fine wine and food. He knows every single restaurant in Lyon and beyond and eat out in one of them each day, probably more than 360 days a years.
I met JoJo for the first time in 1997 when I landed my first job as a commis-Sommelier at Monte's Private Club in London. JoJo (at this time) was a waiter carrying the trays from the kitchen to the table under the supervision of his Chef de Rang and Maitre D'. The weird thing about this situation is that JoJo did have surely more knowledge about food and wine than any other staff members. He was also the most energetic person I knew but the management wouldn't give him a higher position.
During his break of a few hours (before going back to the restaurant for the evening service), he used to spend most of his time flirting with the best wine store in town in order to find some rare gems and old vintages of wines, ports and even brandy and spirits (from Colheitas and other vintage ports to Cognac and Armagnac, Jerez Sherry, Tokaji Aszu to TrockenBeeren Auslese, etc..), and anything else that could excite his mind and his palate. He was also reading a lot about wine, food and cultures from around the world.
I must say that Georges often enjoyed cooking for his many friends and we spent great times opening dozens or more bottles and smoking Cuban cigars each time we met with the bunch of food and wine lovers that we were back then (most of us were working in the restaurant business as Sommelier, Waiter, Bartender or Chef). These endless lunches or dinners were always memorable moments.
Somewhat frustrated after working as a Waiter, a Cook, a Bartender and a Sommelier in many places around London, he decided that he was time to travel the world in a quest of meeting with some of the most famous Domaines, Chateaux, winemakers, owners, producers, chefs and more. He took him four years to do it but he did it, alone with his backpack, his friendliness and his insatiable need to learn, discover and share mostly everything with people.
JoJo is the only person that I know that, during his trip, just knocked on the door of some of the most famous wineries and was welcome with open arms (without appointment). He also be-friended the owner and the winemaker in many estates that he visited. And many times, instead of just accepting to have lunch or dinner with them (like most people will do), JoJo had his own way: he offered them to cook for them and to prepare the lunch or the dinner for them...Who will dare do such thing except JoJo?...
JoJo came back from his trip and finally settled in Lyon, the Gastronomic Capital of France. He found a small semi-basement in the old part of the town (Le Vieux Lyon) between the 2 most reputed hotels of Lyon: "La Tour Rose" and "La Cour des Loges", and he transformed this little hole in the wall into one of the most soughtafter wine cellars in France with some of the oldest vintages of port available.
There, in his cellar, he opens bottle after bottle everyday. And I'm not talking about your everyday under $10 bottle of wine, I talking about the real deal, worldly famous labels that even collectors dream of opening but keep jealously in their cellar for unique occasions. For JoJo, everyday is a good occasion to open a few of those rare gems and share them with his customers for a more than modest tasting fee, and trust me, people are lining up at the door.
JoJo de-snob or unsnob the myth of ultra recognized labels and unaffordable wine brands. How he does it? First, he buys as much of these difficult-to-find gems everywhere he can, then bring them back to the store and start to open bottles after bottles for his everyday customers. Why he does it? Because he wants to experience each wine himself and share them with friends, connoisseurs and amateurs and especially all the people would will normally not have any access to these bottles.
It is not a question of money for JoJo, it is a question of sharing and enjoying the opened wines and the moment, that's it. No more than that. No fuss, No bullshit, No manners, No bourgeoisie, No aristocracy, No pretension. It is just about the pleasure of opening a very good bottle of wine, taste it and appreciate it for what it is. Ask him about Domaine de La Romanee Conti La Tache, Domaine Leflaive Monrachet, Petrus, Le Pin, Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Penfolds Grange Hermitage, Vega Sicilia, and much more... Ask him, you will see, he tasted them and drink them all, and share them all.
And in my opinion, there should be more people like JoJo to teach the world that wine is an earthy nectar produced by men and women that spend all of their energy, knowledge, patience and skills to craft the best elixir that they can make from the land and terroir that they love, nurture, observe and respect.
In 2006, I was one of the first fan to write a little note in French in his Livre D'Or on his website and to this day, this is one of my favorites notes that I wrote about someone in the wine industry:
"Georges, dit JoJo, il est de ces fous que l'on adore. Curieux, espliegle, bon-vivant et toujours une bone dose d'humour pour epicer le tout. Il est a l'extreme de l'extraordinaire et ivre de passion pour la bouffe, le bon vin, les voyages, les amis et les plaisirs de la vie en general. Avec un coeur gros comme ca et debordant d'energie, ce petit bonhomme vous accueillera dans sa caverne d'Alibaba pour une voyage autour du monde des vins sans precedent. Il vous contera surement certaines de ses aventures et ouvrira pour vous la porte cachee derrriere chacune des etiquettes de sa collection. Merci pour ta joie de vivre, ta generosite et la curiosite qui t'anime. Pleins de bonnes choses et encore Bravo pour avoir accompli l'un de tes plus beau reves. De la part d'un vieux copain Sommelier de Londres." Le Dom (10/06/2006)
It will be difficult to translate it literally, but I think it resume well the man and his passion.
Two years later, I'm still a big fan of Georges and continue to hear about him weekly via the many people that met him and went to his store to share a tasting session with him and his crew.
I will definitely recommend any wine and food lovers to travel to France, forget about Paris and go to Lyon, book a room at "La Tour Rose" or at "La Cour des Loges" and knock on the door of Antic Wine to meet Georges and his knowledgeable crew. You won't be disappointed, and especially you won't regret it.
The shop, Antic wine, is located at 18 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon France.
You can find more info on his website at: www.anticwine.com
If you go to Lyon and see JoJo, say hello from LeDom (du Vin) de New York.
LeDom (du Vin)