The Buyer
How Les Grands Chais de France delivers a one stop shop strategy 

How Les Grands Chais de France delivers a one stop shop strategy 

Le Grand Chais de France says it offers a ‘one stop shop’ for France, and increasingly other parts of the world, for its many buyers across the premium on and off-trades and listens carefully to what its customers needs are and then sets out to meet them. But is that how independent retailers and specialist regional wholesalers see it? Shirley Kumar went to its recent trade tasting in Leeds to find out.

Shirley Kumar
29th March 2023by Shirley Kumar
posted in Insight,

Les Grands Chais de France held two regional tastings, in Birmingham and Leeds, recently to give its customers the chance to taste its full range of wines, as Shirley Kumar reports.

With an eye firmly on targeting independent wine merchants and regional specialist wholesalers to on-trade in the Midlands and the Northwest, family owned estate owners and wine makers, Le Grands Chais de France’s 250 strong premium wine tasting showcased for the first time, not only the depth and breadth of its French wine portfolio, but its new wineries from Spain, Chile and South Africa at its two regional tastings that took place in Birmingham and Leeds in March.

All ready to go at the recent Les Grands Chais de France regional tasting in Leeds

Les Grands Chais sells wines in close to 170 countries. It has taken the unusual approach to run its own operations and sales teams to service the UK market rather than rely on major distributors. Its gamble has paid off. It works with some of the most influential regional independent wine merchants in the UK like Hal Wilson at Cambridge Wine Merchants and Ted Sandbach at Oxford Wine Company as well as seasoned regional specialist wholesalers Paul Tate-Smith and Graeme Broom, Wine Importers Scotland.

“There are definitely some nuggets and gems you can pull out,” says Paul Tate-Smith, founder of Paul Tate-Smith Limited and Derventio wine shop in Malton, North Yorkshire.

“Post Brexit, I used to go straight to the vineyards in France but the cost of shipping an individual pallet from a ‘guy in the Rhône’ has just got to such a cost that I can’t afford to do it,” he says.

One stop shop

The tasting was a good opportunity for both on and off-trade customers to taste the new wines from Chilean producer Vina del Nuevo Mondo

To explain how Les Grands Chais de France works; it distributes all orders from its hub in Alsace. Its business model allows customers to experiment with its vast array of wines from all regions of France where it owns a vast selection of vineyards and has several long-term grower contracts. It recently acquired Chilean Viña del Nuevo Mondo, giving it access to the organically certified Las Niñas range and South African Neethlingshof in Stellenbosch. Les Chais Chais is due to announce another acquisition from South Africa soon and according to Chris Davies, channel director on-trade and independent wine merchants, Joseph Helfrich has been visiting vineyards in New Zealand and Australia. It’s a case of watch this space.

The Famille Helfrich Private Wine Days tasting was just a snapshot of the 870 wines within the Les Grand Chais portfolio. The carefully chosen 250 award-winning wines and a small selection of spirits and no-low alcohol wines are specifically targeted at the on-trade and independents.

Tate-Smith has added, amongst others, a Chenin Blanc (£7.72) and Stellenbosch Merlot (£8.75) from the Neethlingshof’ estate to its portfolio, along with Bordeaux Château Trouopian AOP Haut-Médoc (£7.17), Loire Sauvion (£6.77), Clair de Lune Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages ‘Saint-Gervais’ Rouge (£6.68) and a Moillard Grivot AOP Cremant de Limoux Carte Rose (£7.20).

The regional tastings in Leeds and Birmingham is a chance for Les Grands Chais to talk directly to customers who are the core of its UK business

“The portfolio is such that you can pick and choose. The prices are competitive, the labels are great and the service brilliant, says Tate-Smith.

“I can place an order with Luke in France, it is consolidated, and bang done. Les Chais also help us with tastings, customer events so it’s not only a case of here is a wine and off you go.”

Tate-Smith, who sells to a huge farming community, says the Spanish Lomo Alto, Vino de la Tierra Castilla, a Tempranillo, Cabernet, Petit Verdot, from Castillo De Aresan estate with its cow label tells a story.

“It’s an interesting wine, a sweeter style says Tate-Smith. “In a wine bar or round a dinner table at home, if the first glass is good, it drinks easy, you will have another, our farmers will like it.”

Davies added: “I am pleased that Paul has decided to get that one because it is sometimes overlooked. That is the thing, with these little pockets of gems, not everyone will buy everything. They will come across a wine that has a story that can be told to consumers.”

Depth of range

Les Grands Chais de France can offer wines from all regions of France

Ray Nicholls owner of Ripponden Wine company and wholesaler in West Yorkshire added: “I liked the depth of the range and the pricing for wholesale is pretty good. I stock 478 wines in my shop and around 35 from France and Chile are from Les Grand Chais.

“The tasting was well laid out and focused by regions. The self-pour was brilliant. It meant I could concentrate on the wines.”

Nicholls is adding 14 wines to his list, mainly from France – Alsace, Burgundy, Rhone Bordeaux, Loire – and five new listings from the impressive range of Crémant sparkling wines, including Arthur Metz’ AOP Crémant d’Alsace Cuvee Speciale 1904, an exquisite, charming wine with a touch of citrus on the nose, lemony fruit on the palate and its froth of tiny bubbles. (£9.93).

“One wine that really stood out for me was Casa Bollen, Sauvignon Blanc, DO Leda Valley (£5.67). It punches well above it weight in terms of price. Delicate, fresh and a stunning with a green edge to it, hints of tomato leaf and green pepper. Amazing value for money,” he says.

Nottingham-based Brigitte Bordeaux shop and wine bar owned by Kathryn Brigitte says: “I decided to blind taste without looking at the booklet and there were a few wines that tasted far more expensive than the price. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Graeme Broom, owner of Edinburgh-based Wine Importers Scotland and a newly opened wine merchants, Cockburns of Leith, says: “We are a big purchaser for Scotland servicing mainly hospitality. When I first signed up to Les Grand Chais, the labels needed improving and I needed more box ticking such as biodynamic, organic etc.

Les Grands Chais de France works with its customers to help them cherry pick the wines that work for them from its extensive range

“I also needed the provenance and story. They have listened. I like the range of authentic and exclusive wines, many from smaller appellations and regions. The South African range is interesting, and the Côte de Rhône impressed me. The price points are competitive. We are adding 12 new lines to our list including Jura Domaine De Savagny Vin Jaune.

“The Chateau de Lamarque (£15.42) is a proper claret full of complexity and balance. A savoury character that demands some tasty beef to accompany it. It really stood out.”

Davies says the tastings are deliberately not pressured environments. Customers can self-pour or they can talk to producers or the Les Chais team if they want.

“It’s relaxed we have everything here. Everything you need. What is also comforting to these guys is these labels won’t be in the supermarkets,” says Davies.

Channel management

Les Grands Chais ensures its wines are positioned in the right channels of the trade

Les Grands Chais was one of the first major producers to sign up to the Best Practice Guidelines that laid down the rules by which independents merchants and on-trade buyers could rely on knowing specific ranges of wine are only sold in the right channels of the market.

Davies himself comes from an on-trade background. He ran a 40-cover restaurant in Birmingham. “I understand the value of having exclusive labels for the sector,” he says.

He sees wine merchants as thriving with the younger generation coming in, who maybe owning two-four shops, with many offering tapas with a glass of wine and a bit of wholesale. “I think that is a great business model, there are around 300 wine merchants across the UK still out there who Les Grande Chais can comfortably supply.

No-Low Wines/Spirits

“Going back to the notion of that ‘one stop shop we have the Nozeco aromatised and aerated de-alcoholised brand that we are honest about to independents as it is listed in multiple retailers,” says Davies. “But, because it’s so popular, retailers still want to stock it. I see the no-to-low alcohol as a growing category for us, it’s going to be hugebecause it is being driven by the younger generation.We now have an Nozeco Spritz targeted at the on-trade.”

Branded spirits

Les Grands Chais now offers a range of small branded spirits

Spirits is 10% of Les Grands Chais’ overall business. The spirit market started with Joseph’s father, René, originally a Cognac producer in Alsace. He supplied Eastern Germany over the Berlin wall. He still has the only licence outside of Cognac, not to produce it but to age it.

“Our target is to get our range of small branded spirits (rums, tequilas, vodka, Japanese whisky, gins, brandy, Cognac) to the indies and on-trade as an alternative label for something they are definitely not going to see in the supermarkets.

“One of our first gins we launched called Blue d’Argent (£11.49) was the first gin that Ted took on at Oxford Wine Company. He sells it in his shop and in wholesale because you haven’t got that price comparison,” says Davies.

  • Les Grand Chais is a supplier partner to The Buyer.