Jonothan Davey might still be relatively new to the wine industry, but he is making the most of his management consultancy training to make the biggest impact for his specialist wine importing business, Nekter Wines. Here the focus is on working with a small community of mostly minimal intervention winemakers which has seen him target in on California as one of the most exciting, and dynamic winemaking regions for producers with the wines to shake up the premium and independent on-trade.
The 2018 vintage could be a game changer for smaller, independent, minimal intervention winemakers from California, which is music to the ears of Jonothan Davey and Nekter Wines.
Tell us about Nekter Wines and how and why you started?
I decided to jump with both feet into wine importing from a successful, solid and completely irrelevant background in management consulting. I decided I had seen enough of PowerPoint and Excel and wanted to do something in an area I was passionate about. As it turns out, it was not, in fact, the end of Excel!
You have decided to have a real focus on new styles of wine from California – why California?
We believe California is the unsung hero of the wine world. The frontier melting pot nature of the economy and the culture means that wine has been grown for over 400 years in the state spread across an enormously broad spectrum. We bring over wine made from the oldest known Carignane vines in the world (in Mendocino). A new generation of winemaker is tackling this fantastic palette of flavours with some really exciting winemaking styles … the resulting wines, in our opinion, are uniquely forward thinking – carbonically macerated Counoise anyone? We just never see them over here as the US market is so vast.
How do you go about sourcing your wines from California and what are you looking for?
We started off working with assistant winemakers from some of the top names in state – Kongssgaard, Matthiasson, Frogs Leap – and now we are growing with these guys to the extent that they are becoming household names in their own right. The intent is only ever to work with 30 producers and create a stable of winemakers with the same philosophy. Basically doing as little as possible to the fruit to make the wine as good as it can be.
We think this is a compelling community to be part of rather than jumping into bed with 400 other producers from across the world – and it’s working. Some super premium clients are using us more and more here in the UK for niche mid-high end products and some pretty serious winemakers are starting to join us like Donkey & Goat, Ashes and Diamonds and Big Basin.
What for you are the key interesting trends for wine buying from California?
To be honest just letting the guys we work with be themselves and do their magic. We’ve got Cilliegiolo coming over, Charbono, Cortese, Aglianico, Graciano. Loads of new styles and new approaches and that’s just from 2018 vintage. The winemakers are all bedding in their house styles and so the experimentation is becoming more about how they express that philosophy across the different heritage grapes and the enormously varied California vintages.
2018 is going to be an absolute killer for minimal intervention wine. Lower than average temperatures throughout the whole growing season means more phenolic ripeness at the same low alcohol levels 11% – 13% abv. The heavy hitting hot alcohol guys struggled to get enough ripeness in 2018, so I think it’s going to be a perception changer for the whole market.
Which regions/ styles are offering the best quality to value ratio?
The Sierra Foothills and up in Mendocino continue to offer great value, but that’s still $6k-$8k a ton of fruit. The reality is that California is expensive!
Clearly a lot of top Californian producers can sell most of their wines domestically, how open are they to working in the UK?
We are working on some benchmark producers who have still never exported. Not a single bottle. There are two reasons for them to sell wine in the UK. The Kudos – or opening another market. Most of these guys don’t need the former and they are already selling every bottle of every vintage.
How do you convince them you are the right importer to work with particularly as you are still relatively new?
We work with a veritable who’s who of some of the best wineries to emerge from the state in the last decade – being in the same specialist cadre as those people and the spiel of being one of the 30 (split across California, South Africa and Australia) is pretty powerful.
Which channels of the UK trade are you looking to target with your wines?
It’s predominantly premium on-trade right now. We’re looking to get some more in-roads in to the leading independent market as well as some on-trade with multiple outlets. But then it’s a balancing act for volumes – it’s never a simple answer, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun!
How are you doing in the premium on-trade…any good partners/restaurants you are working with?
Most of what we do is pretty high end. If you add them up we service over 30 Michelin stars.
Why do you think they are keen to take on more Californian wine?
They want the best wine in the world and ideally they want to be able to differentiate themselves. Some of the parcels we get over are limited in volume to 10 cases of wine – and that’s pretty much the only wine coming across the Atlantic. The top-end places like that they have the inside track.
Where next for California. Where do you see yourself buying more wine from in the future and areas you have yet to really explore?
We’re about half-way to having our stable full for the Golden State. We’re more interested now in working with established wineries who will open doors and who are not a hand-sell to each and every client. People who bring brand recognition. A rising tide lifts all boats.
- Nekter Wines was founded by Jonothan Davey who has now taken on Imogen Taylor.
- You can find out more about what is happening in the Californian wine scene at Wine Institute of California and if you want to find out more about the opportunities of working with Californian producers and other UK importers specialising in Californian wine then you can contact the UK office of the Wine Institute of California or email Justine McGovern, director UK & Ireland, on email@example.com.