So where’s the dummy?

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Oh the shame. The terrible, terrible shame.

After writing the equivalent of War and Peace and two sequels over the past 18 months about the aviation security crisis and the LAGs issue, The Moodie Report Publisher is surely the last person ever to have any liquids confiscated at an airport, right?

Er… wrong. British Airways’ easing of the one-bag restriction this month led to a tragi-comical debacle that has probably scuppered our chances of a journalistic Pulitzer Prize for another two decades…

It all began with a vist to Cannes to meet John and Marc Gentzbourger (below), two of the nicest people in the business and part of a family dynasty that has had a huge influence in duty free down the years (Marc’s sister Ariel is Travel Retail Director Worldwide for Shiseido where she has done a fantastic job in building the Japanese brand in this channel).

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John (he has the English spelling, though everyone calls him Jean) played a pivotal role in the DFS success story through its first three decades, particularly in terms of the company’s relationship with Camus Cognac and Chabot Armagnac, the latter now owned by he and Marc.

That fascinating story will be told in the next issue of The Moodie Report Digital Print Edition. Following our visit to Cannes to research that article we can vouch to the outstanding qualities of Chabot, today the leading exported Armagnac but little more than a defunct brand name when John Gentzbourger spotted it in the 1960s on behalf of Michel Camus and the DFS brand owners.

Over dinner at Chez Gentbourger we sampled some magnificent examples of the great single-distilled French brandy that is Armagnac, including, incredibly, a memorable and still vibrant 1900 vintage (below).

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And befitting the warmth of the family’s hospitality I was sent on my journey armed with a beautifully presented 30 year-old Chabot (pictured below in all its glory).

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I duly wrapped it up in my raincoat in my small hold-all and checked it in on the flight to Paris where I had a quick lunch-time meeting with a perfume house before flying home to London.

Later, when I arrived at Charles de Gaulle, running late as always, the friendly woman at check-in said it was ‘pas de problem’ to carry both bags onboard, given the easing of the baggage rules. “Great, that’ll save time,” I thought fatefully.

And then… the security machine loomed in front of me. 1001 articles about consumers losing their super-premium spirits in transit flashed in front of my eyes.

“Monsieur..?” uttered the woman at the receiving end of the security machine, arching her eyebrows towards my suitcase.

“I know, I know…” I said, the mental image of 30yo Armagnac being poured into the sewers of Paris flashing through my mind. Ratatouille would drink well tonight…

How could I argue? I knew the rules. There was almost a Parisian quality about my shrug as I said “Yes I know, you’re right, I should know better.” But what I would tell John and Marc?

I thought of saluting the French quarter-final Rugby World Cup victory over my beloved All Blacks to try to get the sympathy vote but given that one of the security guys looked meaner than Sebastien Chabal I thought better of it. Inside I felt like All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw about the injustice of it all.

“What a pity. It was a gift. 30 year old Armagnac. From a very kind Frenchman. And it’s so expensive,” I wailed. “Is there nothing you can do?”

Miraculously, they took sympathy on me. I had struck a Gallic nerve. Several hasty conversations took place while I stood nervously by, an expectant BA staff member waiting impatiently to take my boarding card – all other passengers were now aboard.

Suddenly, in a turnaround that surely rivalled that great French comeback in the second half of the quarter-final in Cardiff, I heard the magic words, “It is ok, they will put it in the hold.”

And, by joves they did. I was asked to pack the Chabot back inside the case and, miraculously, a yellow-coated BA person appeared, picked it up and disappeared towards the plane. That 30 year old had been given a lifeline to live another day.

“Merci beaucoup,” I said warmly to anyone who wanted to listen, almost forgving a whole country for the devastation they had wreaked on the Kiwi pysche three months earlier. “Merci beaucoup.”

Ah that the story ended there… but in this particular tale, triumph and despair were to once again change places.

After a long day flying from Nice to Paris and then on (a much delayed flight) to Heathrow, a weary Publisher craved nothing more than a soothing 30 year old Armagnac to close out the evening. He reached for the carton, admiring its ornate construction and anticipating the fine earthy spirit that awaited within.

Except… it didn’t. The bottle was empty. Sacre bleu, how could this have happened? Did it leak into my suitcase? No, all clothes and papers were still in pristine condition.

Did security in Paris tip it out? Or, worse, decant it? Was they why they were so cheery when they waved me onto the plane? Had the curse of Chabal struck again?

No, alas, the explanation – revealed the next day – was, far, far simpler than that. Perhaps it was the after-effect of that quite heavenly 1900 Chabot, but the Gentzbourgers had accidentally presented me with an empty sample.

As I said at the start of this tale of woe, oh the shame. Imagine if Doug Newhouse at TREND ever got hold of this one… I would be ruined.

There was only one thing for it, I would have to ‘manage’ the news and break the story myself. But no matter how I tried the headlines just didn’t look pretty…

‘The Moodie Report Publisher caught empty-handed in customs ruse gone wrong’;

‘Making allowances for media stupidity’;

‘LAGs crisis worsens as empty bottles are seized in France’; 

‘Virtual publisher sups on virtual Armagnac’;

or even – evoking World Cup rugby disaster…

‘All Black for New Zealand as Kiwi is sold dummy by Frenchman…

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