And so ends an era in the wine business.
Don Alfredo, as Billington founder Alfredo Bartholomaus is fondly known, is one of the best people I have met in my time writing about wine. (Though his penchant for the pisco sour, a Chilean cocktail, always baffled me.) Bartholomaus was among the first importers to bring cheap, well-made South American wine to the U.S., and every time you enjoy a bottle of Argentine malbec or Chilean sauvignon blanc, you have Don Alfredo to thank.
My pal Dave McIntyre has the sad details about Billington’s end on his blog and in the Washington Post. It’s the recession, of course – the recession that all the wine wise guys said wasn’t going to hurt the wine business. Well, when it claims someone like Don Alfredo, it hurts the wine business.
I met Bartholomaus several years ago when I took the famous Billington trip to Chile. He was a joy – understood how wine writing worked, never asked for a favor, and understood that those of us on the trip would write about the wines we tasted because they were good, and not because he was paying the bills.
One of the best parts of the trip, which was a tradition, came on the last night, when Don Alfredo recited Pablo Neruda’s love poetry after dinner. How do you replace a tradition like that in today’s multi-national, label-driven,celebrity winemaker culture? You can’t, and the wine business will be the worse for it.