As a bulk wine pioneer with an enviable reputation for thinking big on sustainability, Lanchester Wines has come a long way from its founder Tony Cleary’s living room 40 years ago, but its latest project is deliberately small-scale. Vintrigue Wines is a bespoke brand, focused exclusively at independents, with a determination to support the sector. David Kermode spoke to Steve Machin, its national account controller, to find out what makes it different.
“Whatever happens after lockdown, we are convinced that buying habits have changed now and we believe the independent sector will remain buoyant,” says Vintrigue Wines‘ Steve Machin.
How did the Vintrigue Wines concept come about?
Historically, we haven’t really had the portfolio for independents. In a way, Lanchester Wines has been a victim of its own success at the bulk end of the market, so that’s how people have tended to view us. When you walk into some of the independents and say you’re from Lanchester Wines, they just default to thinking of us that way. Vintrigue has actually been in the offing for a number of years, but it was only early 2020 that we really launched it operationally – and then a couple of months later lockdown came in.
How is Vintrigue different to the core Lanchester Wines operation?
Conceptually, it is geared solely towards independents, so there’s an enhanced portfolio with lower minimum order levels, wines with provenance and a story behind them. All these products align with our own sustainability credentials as a business because we firmly believe being carbon neutral is just the beginning.
Obviously both Vintrigue and Lanchester share the core logistics operation, which is a real advantage. And our customers have the ability to order from our different departments, for example our sister craft brewery, Full Circle Brew Co.
The way we engage with the customer differs as well, so we have provided support with tastings, access to winemakers, tasting samples, which is something we haven’t really done through the Lanchester Wines platform largely because of the large scale volumes we deal with.
Lanchester Wines is already a hugely successful brand so what made you convinced of the need for a new sub-brand like Vintrigue?
The idea was developed before Covid 19 came along because we have seen the ongoing move within the independent sector towards quality and provenance, and away from price, with the whole ‘drink less, but drink better’ message, which has had a great deal of traction. We wanted to harness the strengths of the parent Lanchester Wines brand – experience, range and logistics – to add value to the independent sector, but working on a smaller, more tailored scale.
Whatever happens after lockdown, we are convinced that buying habits have changed now and we believe the independent sector will remain buoyant.
How do you plan to support independent retailers?
What we’re looking to do is to make premium, quality wines as accessible as possible. We’re looking at range tastings when it’s safe to travel again, though tastings are online for now, with access to winemakers, and we also have craft beer and options for bespoke gifting and packaging too.
There is potentially a lot of added-value we can bring. On pricing, we’re as competitive as anybody else, but we understand indies’ purchasing is not driven by that. As a business, we are independently owned, we are incredibly flexible, we have our own design team, so if a customer wants POS posters, we can deliver that for example.
If an indie wants some support, then it’s one step up to the owner to say “listen Tony (Cleary), we need X to support this guy” and the chances are it will happen. Vintrigue is something that the whole company has got behind.
Independent retailers often complain about multiple retailers discounting the same products at prices that they cannot afford to match. How will you avoid this happening?
We have no plans for Vintrigue to deal with any multiples. On the Lanchester Wines side, we obviously deal with the multiples, usually creating their own brands, but these wines are not going to be available to independents just as Vintrigue wines are not available to the multiples.
Vintrigue is a small team with a very tight rein on distribution so if I work with somebody and there’s another merchant that wants to stock the same wine, then it’s about having a conversation and we may be able to help that rival retailer with something else. We don’t want everybody to have the same wines.
Tell us about some of the Vintrigue wines?
Well, we have a new orange wine from Italian producer Tombacco, ‘Origine Bianco’ from Sicily, which is quirky, matured for two years six months and has some oxidative qualities. It’s had a really great response from both indies and the higher-end on trade when it was open. It is a little bit different and, pardon the pun, intriguing.
We have our Le Argille ‘Cab di Cab’, an Italian blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon fermented entirely in concrete, so no oak interaction at all, a beautiful wine that’s incredibly concentrated.
While our American partner is the renowned Trinchero Family Estates with brands such as the iconic Napa Cellars and Trinchero Family Estates both from Napa, and the Charles & Charles range of Washington State wines from Charles Bieler and Charles Smith.
And have you managed to navigate the Covid restrictions to get the message out?
Yes, the other week we had a fantastic online tasting with around 30 independents and Charles Bieler and we tasted through his Washington Cabernet blend, his Riesling, his family’s Aix-en-Provence rosé and also a Central Californian Pinot Noir. It’s great to see that interaction between the independent trade and the guy who makes the wine. Online tastings are cost effective, really engaging, it works for time-starved busy independent merchants and it’s all Covid-safe of course.