The standards and competition between national drinks and wine distributors in the UK is arguably the highest in the world. Each one can point to their own wall of trophies and awards, so how as a sommelier and premium on-trade buyer do you decide which one is right for you? Well, that ultimately comes down to the people that are the real DNA of how these companies work. Here The Buyer goes behind the scenes at Alliance Wine to talk to its senior on-trade sales team to find out how they work, build relationships with customers and what it is they think they do that makes them stand out from the rest.
All eyes are on the Tokyo Olympics of course, which are coping with an unprecedented level of restriction, so now seemed as good a time as any to find out how Ayana Misawa, winemaker at Grace Wine, one of Japan’s leading wineries, is coping as a winemaker. The interview is the first of a new series The Buyer is running throughout the summer with key influential winemakers across the globe. We want to know from the people who actually make the wine how has their life been in the past 18 months? What additional challenges have they faced as winemakers? And how are they adapting to the new normal?
Before picking up a pen, notebook, wine glass and spittoon for a living, David Kermode spent much of his career working in one of the most stressful jobs possible running live TV news and shouting instructions into the ears of highly paid news broadcasters, whilst desperately trying to keep to deadlines and keep the whole show on the road. As a drinks writer he has once again returned to his broadcast days by starting his own podcast – The Drinking Hour on Food FM – where he hopes to bring a fresh approach to wine and spirits on the airwaves. Here he shares some of the highs and lows from his high profile national TV days and just what he thinks makes a good podcast work.
Elisha Rai and Tom Cannon are not the first to have enjoyed a successful career in the City before swapping careers to go into English wine, but Rai is one of the first to have done so from a BAME background. Here they explain how they are looking to bring a very different approach to English wine, by focusing on creating a rosé brand – Folc – using grapes bought by the best producers they can find in Kent and Sussex. A brand that was launched in lockdown and has already picked up medals in the IWSC and IWC awards – only one of two English rosés to have done so.
Since Condor Wines was established in 2011, it has carved a niche as one of the UK’s foremost importers of wines from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Condor’s founder, Lee Evans, hosted a day of webinar sessions with representatives from several of the really interesting wineries with which he works, comparing and contrasting their different regions and enlightening us on the challenges and opportunities they face now and in the future.
“We have had an exciting 12 months and been able to launch a whole number of concepts into the market,” is how David Rowledge, owner of Alchemy Wines, looks back at what he says has undoubtedly been the busiest and arguably the most rewarding year of his career in the wine and drinks industry, which has culminated in the community.co charity drinks range and a new wine brand with former England cricketer Phil Tufnell.
In just over a decade Mirabeau has become not just one of the most recognisable, influential and fastest growing Provence rosé brands, it has successfully crossed a line few wine brands have been able to achieve and become a lifestyle brand in its own right. So much so that other household lifestyle brands, particularly from fashion and health and beauty, are keen to bask in the halo effect from the aspirational, escapist Provence imagery that Mirabeau has captured so well. Here founder Stephen Cronk, in the second part of his extensive interview with The Buyer, explains how the business plan for Mirabeau was to create a brand from day one and the steps they have taken to make it happen.
Nika Tiki is a Lanchester Wines best-seller, a flagship Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that’s a firm favourite with the on-trade and its customers. So Lanchester’s director of purchasing, Lesley Cook, was facing a potential crisis when it became apparent that Marlborough’s 2021 vintage was going to have incredibly small yields. To make matters worse, such was the popularity of the previous vintage that there was nothing left from 2020. Add in a sharp increase in shipping costs and it looked like the perfect storm. Here, Cook tells David Kermode how she needed to work fast, to secure an alternative supply from South Africa, creating a new wine, Moloko Bay, that replicates the characteristics of Nika Tiki, without replacing it.
Former Somerset cricketer and wine expert Geoffrey Dean reports on the inspirational story of Doddie’5 Red Blend 2019, a unique South African red blend which has many parts to it but one purpose – to raise money for ex-Scotland rugby player Doddle Weir OBE, now suffering with Motor Neurone Disease. Weir wore the No.5 shirt for Scotland while Schalk Burger, who made the wine with his son Tiaan, wore the No.5 for the Springboks. In another homage to the wine’s sporting provenance the blend is made of five grape varieties with £5 from every bottle sale donated to Weir’s MND charity and Burger constructing the wine as if it were a team of legends.
Here’s an en primeur system of paying for wine in advance that gets to the core of real winemaking, dedicated to reviving, and in some cases, bringing vineyards back from the dead. Derek Mossman Knapp of Chile’s Garage Wine Company explains how he has helped introduced a ‘Revival’ winemaking programme focused on neglected vineyards across rural Chile. A project that is both helping to rediscover old vines and create unique new wines, but has also captured the imagination of major producer and distributor, Freixenet Copestick, that is helping to part fund the initiative as well as sell Garage’s wines in the UK.
Stephen Cronk’s dream to make wine in Provence took a long time to come true. Eleven years and a whole different career in telecoms passed by before eventually he, and his wife Jeany, plucked up the courage to actually make happen what they had spent over a decade craving to do. But it was a time well spent as it gave the Cronks the time, the experience and the knowledge to start and then grow what has gone on to become the global success of Mirabeau. A business based on the concept of creating a Provence wine brand that embodies the nature and viticultural values of the region, but also captures the iconic imagery and lifestyle of the south of France. As they introduce the first wine grown on their own estate – La Réserve – Stephen Cronk sits down with Richard Siddle for the first part of a two part interview on how the Cronks’ Mirabeau dream came true.
Trying to cope with the symptoms of Long COVID and the restrictions on international travel have made life tough for Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying. In a candid interview he explains how he has managed, adding two new estates to his Greek wine portfolio, both from islands he has not sourced wine from before – Ios and Kefalonia, which the smart money predicts will be the ‘new Santorini’. So what is it about Greek wine that has continually fascinated him? From championing it back in his Oddbins days to the present, where the world has finally woken up it seems to what the country has to offer.
“Rosé is the only wine where customers buy with their eyes. All rosés are customer-facing in our stores. On our Vagabond machines, the guests are able to see the different shades of pink, and there is a definite sweet spot that Provence rosés hit.” That’s the way wine buyer and winemaker, Freddie Cobb, says Vagabond Wines displays and sells Provence rosé in its bars – to great success. Here he looks at why and how Provence has not only made such a difference with rosé it now leads and drive the rest of the category. But, he stresses, Provence is also a lot more about rosé and that’s why its future is so exciting.
The conundrum facing many drinks brands is whether or not to use social media influencers in your marketing – and if you do, who are the most, well, influential to use for your products? It’s not a problem, however, for Katherine Jones. Not only does she run her own successful influencer marketing business – generating over £20m in sales for brands in only four years – she is using her influencers to help promote her new low sugar, vegan Prosecco brand, ThinK Wine, as she explains to Richard Siddle.
To help increase diversity within the drinks industry, Distill Ventures, the brand development and start up investment arm of Diageo, is launching what it is calling a new ‘Pre-Accelerator Programme’ dedicated to early stage founders from underrepresented groups that often are overlooked for corporate funding and private investment. It is pledging to invest $5 million in drinks entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds over the next 12 months. Here Distill Ventures’ portfolio director, Ara Carvallo, explains how the scheme is going to work and how it is part of its overall commitment to drive diversity and inclusion.
“The South America Wine Guide is the culmination of my decade or so living there and is the sort of book I would have loved to have had when I arrived.” This is how Amanda Barnes describes her new book that encapsulates all her experiences of living and working in a continent where she has seen huge advances in winemaking, not just in the main Argentine and Chilean wine producing countries, but across the continent and into Peru, Bolivia and beyond. Here she shares a few of those experiences and how she went about creating a book that is already being seen as the definitive guide for South America.
High street retailing and the internet have been the two channels that have kept the global drinks industry moving over the last 15 months with record sales online and Christmas-level trading in the major supermarkets. Which has been particularly good news for those preferred retail suppliers that the big chains rely on when their demand goes up. But it is only good news if you are capable of stepping up to the mark, which has been the challenge and opportunity Off-Piste Wines has grabbed with both hands throughout the pandemic.
Selling and distributing wines into the premium on-trade is as much about the relationship a producer has with its importer as it is the quality of wine being sold. Only when both have the full confidence of each other can they build on that relationship and introduce more wines and increase their footfall together. This is very much the case between Chuck Cramer, who heads up California’s portfolio from Terlato Wines in the UK, Europe, Middle East and ABS Wine Agencies, who first started working together at the end of 2020 when ABS took on Rutherford Hill, Napa and has now gone up a gear by taking on The Federalist and Dueling Pistols wines too.
Langham Wine Estate is still relatively new to winemaking, it has the UK’s youngest winemaker in Tommy Grimshaw, and yet the awards keep rolling in. Last year it was named the world’s top sparkling wine producer and its wines racked up high critics’ scores and top awards at wine shows – including being the only British pink fizz to win a Gold from the IWSC. Now it has launched an ambitious new wine called Zig Zag and is Britain’s first on-tap sparkling wine. The wine is an English col fondo meaning its secondary fermentation takes place in a keg. Kate Hawkings visited the estate and got the story.
Ever since grapes were first fermented, wine has a played a small, but at times significant role in human history and has centuries-old links with music, poetry, philosophy, social history, and human well being. So it is very much a natural fit for wine education to become part of the cultural mix of courses offered by Devon’s Dartington Trust. Here the Trust’s new associate director of wine, Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, explains why he is so pleased to be part of the wine programme aimed both at the public and trade professionals.