Taking the equivalent of a football team of sommeliers, buyers, wine importers and critics on a tour of London restaurants is not your average way to spend an afternoon. But that is exactly what The Buyer did last week as it teamed up with the Syndicat des Vignerons de L’AOC Vouvray, to re-introduce key trade members to the different styles of Vouvray, meet some of its producers and take them to the kinds of restaurants that the average customer might drink their wines in.
The Buyer’s latest buyers’ restaurants tour looked to showcase different styles of Vouvray by giving buyers the chance to taste them alongside the food and dishes that average customer would be drinking them with.
Getting wine merchants, buyers and sommeliers to come to one trade tasting can be quite a challenge, deliberately taking them to three mini tastings over four hours sounds a little fool hardy. Particularly when you do the numbers: eleven buyers, three producers, two importers, three restaurants, 20 wines, 11 courses, across four hours with taxi rides and short walks in between.
But it has already proved to be a successful format for The Buyer in bringing new ideas and ways for busy buyers and sommeliers to taste, sample and experience different styles of wine from one region or country.
To do so requires a wine region or company with the ambition and foresight to take up the challenge and create a restaurant tour of their own. Which is very much what Vouvray’s generic body, the, Syndicat des vignerons de l’AOC Vouvray, and its communications and marketing partner, Sopexa UK, wanted to do in order to bring a new rejuvenated focus on this classic region of the Loire and France as a whole.
The main objective as far as the Syndicat was concerned was to have the opportunity to tell its story to leading buyers and influencers in the UK trade as well hear their thoughts on what possibilities they think there are for Vouvray wines in the UK.
Francois Bouteille, head of the Syndicat, said: “We want to be able to demonstrate to you how our terroir shows different facets and characteristics of the area. Vouvray was the first wine region in France to be recognised as a PDO in 1936. The region itself has been making wine since the fourth century.”
It might have a long, highly regarded tradition of making quality, food friendly, restaurant wines, but the competition for places on a wine list increases by the year and it is vital that even the most recognised and established wine regions find new ways to re-invent and re-introduce their wines to key buyers and influencers.
Which for Vouvray, its invited producers and The Buyer meant bringing together the right group of people, willing and interested in tasting new wines, but, also quite happy to join in, roll up their sleeves and literally walk around the streets of London in search of the next wine to taste.
The Buyer’s eleven included:
- Olivier Gasselin, wine manager operations, Hakkasan
- John Chapman, operations director, Oxford Wine Company
- John Graves, on-trade channel director, Bibendum
- Martin Lam, restaurant and wine consultant
- Paola Tich, founder, Park+Bridge wine merchants
- Joe Wadsack, wine consultant and broadcaster (ITV’s This Morning and James Martin’s Saturday Morning)
- Harry Crowther, restaurant and wine consultant including Living Ventures and The Alchemist and runs his own blog at grapetimes.co.uk.
- Andrew Johnson, managing director, Woodwinters
- Jonathan Kleeman, sommelier and “director of hydration” at Twisted Cellar, a new wine merchants in Bishop Stortford
- Raul Diaz, wine consultant who runs his own training and education business, winetraining.co.uk
- Jonathan Davey, Nekter Wines
They were able to enjoy a selection of over 20 wines from key producers, and their UK importers, split between sec, demi sec and sparkling.
Taking part from the producer side was: Ingrid Petrus of Domaine Damien Pinon; Guillaume Paris of Domaine Paris Père et Fils; Benoît Gautier Domaine de la Châtaigneraie, represented on the day by its UK agent, Thibault Lavergne; and Vigneau Chevreau, whose wines were presented by Alastair Llewellyn-Smith of Thorman Hunt.
To have a successful, time pressured restaurant tour you also need the right outlets to go to. So a big thanks must go to the collective teams at our three London restaurant partners for making the day go so smoothly: Pitt Cue in Devonshire Square; Hawksmoor Guildhall; and M Restaurant Threadneedle Street.
For Martin Lam the event was the perfect combination of a “fun and educational afternoon in good company”. Gasselin at Hakkasan agreed: “The tasting was really good in terms of variety of styles shown, and it was also a good opportunity to try some concepts I had never been to before. Particularly Pitt Cue. I would certainly like to do another event like this.”
Raul Diaz added: “The fact that you are visiting three places, it makes the entire experience lighter, more creative, more interactive. It was spot on. When is the next one?”
As for the wines Gasselin added: “There is a real opportunity in terms of their food and wine friendliness, their longevity and minerality, to challenge some of the world’s great whites. But equally some a lack of focus.”
He particularly thinks sec wines prices £10-£15 trade price a bottle have a strong opportunity in the on-trade, demi sec at £15-£25 and sparkling wines under £20. Diaz recommended similar prices at £10-£12 for sec, £10-£15 for demi sec and £15 to £18 for sparkling.
Andrew Johnson at Woodwinters found it “was a great refresher course in the wines of Vouvray, which do deserve to be better represented”. “I think the format works well and added a nice casual and fun feel to the day,” he added. “It’s something I would be more than happy to go to again. Before the day and, although having been the agent for Domaine Huet, my overall knowledge of Vouvray and other producers was patchy. I have always been a fan of Loire Chenin, but Vouvray has, for me, always been seen as a niche market. They are definitely a hand sell.”
As for how you bring Vouvray to a bigger audience Johnson believes it needs to be pushing the Chenin Blanc message more. “There is an opportunity to still fly the Vouvray flag, but perhaps to do so by piggybacking on the brand of Chenin Blanc. It gives the consumer the chance to recognise something familiar. Regionality is always going to be important for the high involvement consumer and quality producers but something more generic like Chenin Blanc could work to bring in more general consumers.”
Versatility: good and bad
Jonathan Kleeman says the region’s versatility is both a positive in terms of the enormous choice of wines that buyers can look at, but also means it is hard to pin down what exactly Vouvray and its various sec, demi sec and sparkling styles are.
Harry Crowther agreed: “Vouvray needs to create a sense of identity for the region. It needs to nail its colours to a stylistic mast.”
He urges producers, for example, to focus in on the styles that are going to appeal to a wider, more casual audience, particularly with the sec wines. “There were good examples of younger winemakers ticking the box that the casual drinking area wants to drink, which is a balance between the more unctuous styles and the linear pithy approach,” he said.
“Sustain that given style over a period of time that the market can begin to relate to, then (re)introduce other (more playful) styles. Then add some more meat to the bone.”
Diaz said there is certainly potential, but the area also needs to look at the areas where it can improve: “I think that if they want to showcase a fruitier, more modern style and change the labels they can get quick wins.”
- You will be able to read a full report on the event in the coming weeks on The Buyer
- Our thanks go to Syndicat des Vignerons de L’AOC Vouvray and its producers for helping bring the tour together, all the guests and the three restaurants for hosting, feeding and watering us: Pitt Cue; Hawksmoor Guildhall and M Restaurants.