“You may be closed but you are not forgotten”. That is the key message behind a series of A-list producer webinars set up by Armit’s buyer Nicolas Clerc MS aimed exclusively at sommeliers and those in the on-trade. The six events feature rarely-accessed wine estates such as Sassicaia, Chateau Latour and today’s destination Chateau Lafleur. Peter Dean caught up with Clerc to find out more.
“When restaurants re-open the nature of the restaurant trade will have to change, if you a sommelier you might have multiple tasks – might have to be a bit of a restaurant manager, a bartender, a bit on reception – you will have to be flexible – so patience and flexibility will be key.”
How are you adapting to life under Lockdown?
It’s a different way of working for sure, two months ago nobody knew what Zoom was, for example but now everyone relies on it.
It was difficult in the first month you start to work slowly, you work differently, but it’s quite good in my position with looking after lots of producer relationships – we are currently talking about future business, strategy, in fact now there is a lot more communication – also on a more human level – sharing ideas, looking at how we can promote their wines in a different way.
How is Armit adapting to the changes?
Restaurants has been a focus for past two years and has been about 25% -30% of what we have been doing, so a big part of our business has completely stopped, which is a shame because it was going so well – but we mustn’t forget about these people.
So as a business we are relying on private customers and retailers much more. Also wholesalers like the Wine Society, Oddbins and Majestic have all been doing very well and it’s good to partner with them, and this is maintaining us.
Are you still able to carry out your functions as an Armit buyer?
It is obviously affecting us big time. For example we always visit Burgundy following the campaign, we should have been in Bordeaux, Prowein, Vinitaly, where it is good for relationships, and looking to find a new agency, visit the estates.
So we are in Bordeaux en primeur at the moment and will launch the campaign without trying it – no eyes, no palate. So we are relying heavily on the trust of the negociant and the chateaux and rely on the scores of the critics.
Fortunately we don’t have a major release – so an Italian big release like Sassicaia, or Burgundy they have been done already. The next major release is in September or October so it doesn’t affect us in that perspective.
Next one will be Tua Rita from Tuscany – who have been sending samples to me at home. I am seeing a lot more flexibility from the part of the producers.
What changes have you made?
Well I taste far less wine basically. But for work what do you need? A computer, a phone, sometimes I need to see some clients (that has been a struggle obviously), but we still doing meetings, sales team is still there, we still talk.
But it is a good time to review strategy and planning and what we’ve been doing and what we will do when it’s back to normal.
But we are not wasting time, we have just announced Liber Pater which we are now officially doing on-trade distribution for, we have been in touch for a long time, and will be a bot delayed and will release it in September or October.
Having been a sommelier you must have lots of friends and ex-colleagues facing an uncertain future. What piece of advice would you like to share?
First, when I see the situation it makes me deeply sad – no–one expected this. But the key will be that you have to be very patient and be very flexible. When restaurants re-open the nature of the restaurant trade will have to change, if you a sommelier you might have multiple tasks – might have to be a bit of a restaurant manager, a bartender, a bit on reception – you will have to be flexible – so patience and flexibility will be key.
What are you and Armit doing to keep in touch?
We have been organising events for them and giving them access to producers – these webinars are really welcome – and have been operating a strong social media presence for sommeliers.
I have found that when people are at home they have more time – they have time to listen to a podcast, watch a video, so long as there is curiosity there. So we have been doing little things not big – but it keepsus active and keeps them active.
Tell us more about these interactive webinars
We have been running a series of interactive webinars exclusively for on-trade and sommeliers. I have managed to recruit an impressive listsof estates and winemakers, some not often accessible in the UK market.
The key message is to let the sommeliers know they haven’t been forgotten. The hospitality industry might be closed but Armit hasn’t forgotten you. So it’s a good opportunity for them to keep connectedand learn something in lockdown, to enjoy informative discussions about the history of the producer, wines, growing season and the future.
So with the first one we did with Domaine Leflaive I wanted to take the temperature I wanted to have say 20 people, but when I contacted old sommelier friends they would say that they wanted their teams to take part so then we ended up with over 70. But we had real fun and we didn’t even taste one wine – listening to good conversation is interestingas well
So the format is a one hour presentation about an estate, winemaker, vineyard, the wines, how are they working, the history of the estate to the present and what are the processes.
Sometimes we will taste wine – we will tomorrow – but we will talk about ‘What is your perspective of Bordeaux in restaurants? What do classified growths mean for a sommelier? Some need them some don’t need them – I like to keep it quite interactive – that’s the key –and have some fun.
Tomorrow (14th May) we will be with with Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur, on 20th of May we have Jean Garandeau from Chateau Latour, the session on the 27th May with Lois Pasquet from Liber Pater will be invite only as I will explain, June 3 we have Priscillia Incisa from Sassicaia and June 10 we will be talking with Didier Gimmonet and Jean Baptiste Geoffroy from Champagne Geoffroy/Gimmonet.
That’s an impressive list – how easy was it to get people involved?
It was my idea to access people who are not usually seen in the UK market – ones who are not the most accessible; most of them are very prestigious. My message to them was that I am not doing it for everyone – I want it to be limited – and I wanted it to be for restaurant people, sommeliers, and these estates consider sommeliers as an ambassador for them.
How can sommeliers and the on-trade get involved?
Email me on the Armit marketing email address
Even if you are not an Armit customer and I will send you an invite – so long as you are a sommelier or work in the on-trade.
With Liber Pater though we are not opening it out I will be selecting six or seven people from top establishments so we can position those bottles. Normally attendees cannot see one another, just the host and myself, but with Liber Pater they will be able to and it will be more like a meeting.
Congratulations by the way on getting Liber Pater and the world’s most expensive wine. Why if this such an exciting addition to the Armit portfolio?
Because it’s one of the rarest wines in the world and it’s an estate that’s established itself with a controversial image – very, very quickly within a region that is not easy. Because of the exceptional quality and with a price tag – I mean what is your expectation when you taste a wine that costs £30k a bottle?
It’s exciting because it’s challenging first of all – not everyone can taste it and it’s on an allocation basis – a bottle not cases – and finding the right place for these is quite challenging.
Armit Wines is a Partner of The Buyer. You can read more about the company by clicking here