The Buyer
Virginia Wine Project: bringing producers and buyers together

Virginia Wine Project: bringing producers and buyers together

The Buyer teamed up with Virginia Wine and some of its key producers to help them better understand the needs of the UK premium on-trade and how buyers might relate to their wines with both a business roundtable debate with key players and a study tour of leading London restaurants, wine bars and merchants to see the kind of offers they have and where their wines might fit in.

Richard Siddle
24th September 2016by Richard Siddle
posted in Debates,

Virginian wine producers had the chance to hear and see for themselves their wines might perform in the competitive UK on-trade by taking part in The Buyer’s Virginia Wine project.

Despite its strong and respected reputation in the United States, Virginian wines are still largely finding their way in the competitive UK wine market. But when Virginian wine producers have had the chance to show their wines to UK buyers and consumers they have been encouraged that, with the right momentum and listings, they can find their place in this key market.

Particularly if they can make their case direct to influential on-trade operators and buyers and have the chance to demonstrate how their modern style of winemaking is now producing food friendly wines ideal for premium on-trade lists.

So that is how Virginia Wine, the state’s generic body, teamed up with The Buyer to look at ways in which it could firstly introduce some of its key wine producers to buyers and influencers across the premium on-trade.

The wineries involved were Barbousville Vineyards, Boxwood Winery and Veritas Vineyard and Winery along with New Horizon Wines, which specialises in distributing Virginian wine in to the UK.

It was proposed we do this in two ways.

  • A Buyers’ Roundtable Debate
  • and a Virginian Wine Producer Study Tour of key on-trade outlets in London.

You can read the full 16 page report on the roundtable and study tour here.

The Buyers

M’s Zack Charilaou was fascinated to hear more about what Virginian wines were all about

The buyers and consultants involved in the debate and project were: Simon Jerrome, Matthew Clark, Zack Charilaou of M Restaurants, Edward Gerard at Harrords, Peter McCombie MW and Joe Wadsack.

The producers also had the chance to meet the teams and buyers behind key London restaurants, wine bars and merchants including Noble Rot, Vagabond Wines, Vinoteca, and 28/50 to better understand how they approach wine buying, sourcing and where their wines might fit in to their ranges.

George Hodson, general manager at Veritas Winery, said: “The good thing about what is happening in Virginia is that we are having this discussion. We are not encumbered by 500 years of history or even regulations that say this is how you prune, this is how you must space out your vines. There is a lot of collaboration between the producers. Winemakers will get together and look at wines that have been vinified in different ways to see what they can learn from each other.”

Rachel Martin at the Boxwood Winery said the region was rightly proud of its connection with Bordeaux. “Bordeaux grapes grow well in our climate and in our soils so this is why we make these wines. But we are also Bordeaux style wines at a fraction of the cost. Wines made with balance and freshness,” she said. “My target market is people who are looking to discover new wines.”

Annette Boyd, director of Virginia Wine, said: “We are seeing a lot more experimenting going on with different varieties in Virginia that can do really well there. We have seen a 17% increase, for example, in plantings of Petit Manseng.”

Chris Parker, founder of New Horizon Wines said the region takes a similar approach with its export strategy. “We are taking a long term view, centered around having a unified message. It is why we have taken our time working with the right independent wine merchants in the UK. It’s been a case of establishing a base line with merchants who really know their customers. To build up a level of support and understanding that we can now build on and take to the next stage of our development. Which is why we are here.”

Buyers’ advice

One of the key bits of advice the buyers were able to share was the importance of being active in the UK on a regular basis.

Peter McCombie MW said: “You have to work the market. Washington producers, for example, have been in the market for a long time. They know how to work it and are prepared to do so.”

Edward Gerard at Harrods said it was vital Virginia found a way to work closely with on-trade buyers

Gerard at Harrods urged the producers and Virginia Wine to think seriously about working closely with key operators and investing in them to help push and promote sales. “Don’t underestimate the opportunity for buyers to make some money. For sales forces to prioritise selling certain wines,” he stressed.

Jerrome at Matthew Clark said the challenge in the UK now was that, even for well-established countries, is opening up space on a wine list to get your wines on to. “Even Bordeaux is struggling to do that,” he said. “You have to be very close the gatekeeper.”

Charilaou at M Restaurant was keen to understand more about Virginia. He said: “Virginia is new to me. So it is exciting to be talking about it today. We do have Octagon (Barboursville) in the shop here. I think that is excellent and it does very well. But Virginia is not at the forefront of my mind.”

Joe Wadsack said Virginia needed to be very clear in how it set out is export strategy for the UK. He said:“You have got three ways you can go. You can sell by variety or by region, but people are not really sure about that. But you are also selling something cool. You have not got a lot of wine to work with, so if you are going to sell the region, you have to make the message a lot simpler than it is.”