Focus. That’s the key word when it comes to describing the California Wine Institute’s approach to representing and promoting its producers wines to the most influential wine buyers in the premium on-trade. It’s ditched the one size fits all large annual generic tasting and replaced it with smaller, bespoke, and, yes, highly focused events that it believes gives busy buyers a far more effective way to discover what the region has to offer. So that’s the concept but what are its upcoming ‘Essential’ and ‘Seeking’ tastings actually all about?
Richard Siddle sits down with Damien Jackman and Justine McGovern, the joint UK and Ireland trade directors for the California Wine Institute, to analyse their approach to trade tastings that puts buyers’ interests first.
Can you explain your tasting strategy? You have moved away from having one big, one size fits all tasting to more focused events. Why?
There is so much demand on the trade’s time with tastings in London we have felt for the past few years that it is better to offer two, focussed tastings of up to 500 wines, rather than a single huge one with around 1,000 wines. That way, people are able to allocate two to threee hours to come and see what is happening in California, rather than asking them to perhaps take a whole day out of their schedule.
Plus, the more touchpoints we have with the trade over the year the better. We are constantly trying to make things easier for the trade and having two targeted tastings allows the trade to focus on what they need.
It also allows the importers to focus on specific sections of their California portfolio which we have had great feedback on.
Last year it was ‘Essential’ and ‘Collectible’ and this year it is ‘Essential’ and ‘Seeking’. Can you talk me through them?
We have always had a ‘Seeking Representation’ element at our tastings, but last year we realised it was just not possible for the key importers to both be presenting their existing California portfolio to the trade, and trying to swing by the seeking brands to find new producers to work with. So, this year we are hosting a tasting and lunch match-making event called Seeking California at Beast restaurant on March 11 for committed importers looking for new California brands.
They will have the chance to sit down, taste, chat and enjoy a meal with 30 producers from California who are making the journey to London to find the right partner for their brands.
Part of the value in running this kind of a tasting is to help the California producers learn more about the UK market and we are excited to have The Buyer hosting a panel discussion with this group on the challenges and opportunities of the UK market after lunch.
Our Essential California tasting will then take place at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch on March 12 where our key importers will showcase over 500 California wines with an RRP up to £50 to the press and trade.
Over the last two years we have bookmarked Essential with our Collectible California tasting at the US Embassy in late September. This year however, we have something rather exciting and new earmarked for London on September 10 that will shine a light on California wine in a way we have never done before in London. Stay tuned for details on that!
How did you find last year’s bespoke tastings work? What sort of reaction did you get from buyers and producers?
Overwhelmingly positive. The split by price point has worked very well to allow the buyers and press to focus.
And how are you running this year’s Essential tasting – any highlights/ masterclasses from that?
We are very excited to be taking over the 7th floor at the Ace Hotel and will have a cool California vibe throughout the space, with plenty of great food to enjoy along with the wine tasting.
We have a number of masterclases including Louis M Martini winemaker Michael Eddy leading a tasting of this historic brands Napa and Sonoma Cabernets. Then we have“A New Take on California” with Birichino’s winemakers Alex Krause and John Locke, and London’s own Mr California Chuck Cramer, European manager for Terlato Wines hosting his very own masterclass featuring The Federalist, Big Max and David Bruce.
Following the trade event which will run from 11am to 5pm we will then be turning over the space to a consumer event which has been heavily subscribed by members of 67 Pall Mall and the corporate community in the City. It is exciting to see just how passionate these consumers are about California wine.
The Seeking event is again something different. How have you chosen the buyers to work with?
We speak frequently with so many importers who are looking to add more California to their range so it was quite straightforward to pull together a top list of buyers interested in this event. We have Troy Christensen, chief executive of Enotria & Coe and Max Lalondrelle, managing director, of Berry Bros & Rudd looking to attend as part of their strong interest in California. To be honest, we have been delighted by the interest from the buyers.
How do you manage it if more than one buyer wants to take on one of the producers looking for distribution?
Well that will be solely for the producer to determine, but it sounds like a good problem to have. But as we found on our recent buyer trip to California, generally this works out and there is usually a great fit between both parties, with plenty for everyone.
- You can register for the Essential tasting here.
- If you would like to attend the Seeking event then email Justine McGovern on email@example.com.