“I often refer to our division of Les Grands Chais de France as our best kept secret, hopefully that’s about to change.” That’s how Chris Davies, head of Famille Helfrich in the UK describes a business that can exclusively supply on-trade buyers and independent wine merchants an extensive range of wines from all from France and increasingly the rest of the world. Here Davies explains the important role that Famille Helfrich plays within the wider Les Grands Chais group and what buyers can expect from the two portfolio tastings it is hosting in Manchester and London in October.
There is an opportunity to taste a large section of the Famille Helfrich range of French and international wines, plus its extensive spirits selection at two tastings being held next month first at Manchester Hall, Manchester, October 5 and then at 67 Pall Mall, London, October 12. To attend either email Chris Davies on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just to start for those who don’t know Famille Helfrich, how would you best describe the wines and producers you have?
We are a family, albeit a very large one with over 60 properties that we own and manage both in France and overseas. Joseph Helfrich started the business in 1979 with a bank loan of FR5000. Last year the business turned over €1.14 billion, produced 43m x 9ltr cases shipping them to 177 countries, meaning Les Grands Chais was responsible for 22% of all French wine exports. Joseph and his family are still at the helm today. It could literally be a film.
But most importantly, its thanks to the scale and success of this solid foundation, along with our unique business model – being a producer and not an agency – that Famille Helfrich is able to supply such a wide and diverse portfolio of wines that are exclusive to the independents and on-trade.
We also have a strong environmental focus with 100% of our properties engaged in environmental practices and HVE certified (or in conversion) and 38% of our vineyards are organic (or in conversion).
So you are able to offer wines and producers from all the main wine regions of France?
Yes, all of the main regions and some of the not so main regions, such as Savoie and the Jura which are becoming increasingly trendy and we have a big range of wines from both. Really the only region we don’t have a presence in is Champagne, but we are the number one producer of Crémant with wine from every production region.
As a business we champion wines from lesser known or forgotten AOPs, for example Haut Poitou in the Loire which is doing really well for us, and filling the gap left by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc this year with a Sauvignon from France.
Who are your target buyers and which channels of the trade in the UK are you most focused on?
The wines under the Famille Helfrich banner are destined exclusively for the on- trade and independent wine merchants. Having the scale that we do means that we can have clear segregation of portfolios for each of the key distribution channels.
You are showing a full range at your October tastings. What can buyers look forward to?
It’s not quite the full range, but it represents all our key properties and brands with 190 wines from across France and 40 from Germany, Hungary, Italy Spain, the US, Argentina, New Zealand and Chile.
Whether it’s style, substance or price you’re looking for there will be something for everyone.
Highlights will include the first samples from our brand new Chilean property, Las Niñas, along with wines from new properties in Terraces du Larzac, a new Grüner Veltliner from Hungary, as well as two new vegan wines, Castillo Camp Llano from our Spanish property, Aresan.
On the spirits side, we’ll be showing a new range of rum -Bologne, a new gin – Antidote and a new French whisky called Légendaire.
You are also holding two events for the first time. Why is that?
The last few years we have held the tasting in Birmingham, but this year we have moved it to Manchester and London as these are important areas for us. We want to raise awareness of Famille Helfrich and our properties with new customers in these cities.
We also have a new team member, Julien Dillmann, formerly with Corney & Barrow, who will be helping me to develop and drive sales of our wines into London and the south, particularly in some of London’s indies and on-trade wholesalers.
We intend to keep moving the tasting around the country in future years as we do supply the whole of the UK and we think our customers would like that too.
We have heard a lot about the bad weather in France and the impact on the harvest. How are things looking now as we get close to the harvest?
It’s been well publicised that the French harvest will be much smaller than usual this year and one of the most challenging for many years. Due to the climatic issues that GCF has faced over the past 12 months, the harvest has been delayed by several weeks so we are not yet able to make an informed comment.
We will be assessing the situation with our regional head winemakers across France shortly and we will then be in a position to provide the trade with a much more accurate picture going forward.
What trends have you seen over the last 18 months of lockdown in terms of French wine sales and what has been most in demand?
Straight away we saw an increase in the premium end of our portfolio, so our wholly owned premium properties. Unfortunately, the on-trade was closed, so that left the indies to wave our flag which I think they did very well. We had new accounts come on board and the existing ones were extremely busy.
What are your hopes and targets for the year ahead?
It would be great to get back to a level of normality that I think we’ve forgotten We’ve seen good numbers coming through this year from May onwards and I hope that trend continues. I also hope that we continue to become increasingly recognised for the uniqueness of our offering, as well as for the service and the quality that we can provide.
Anything else to say about your tastings?
For people that don’t know us, come and have a look as you will be pleasantly surprised. Our reach is enormous but still small enough to be managed in an on- trade and independent environment.
Regardless of whether you are a brewer or regional wholesaler looking for a supply solution, anything from Grand Cru Alsatian Wines to 187cl PET single serve Australian, or an independent looking for a producer to supply interesting and diverse wines from France mixed on a single pallet and delivered duty paid to your door, we can help.
I often refer to our division of Les Grands Chais de France as our best kept secret, hopefully that’s about to change.