The Buyer
A Week in the Life of Alliance Wine’s Fergal Tynan MW

A Week in the Life of Alliance Wine’s Fergal Tynan MW

Alliance Wine is one of the trade’s most innovative and influential wine distributors. So much so it actually makes much of the wine it sells from around the world. Leading the way is chief executive, Fergal Tynan MW, who shares his not very average week which might include everything from picking grapes to dragging himself through airports, but always enjoying the love of sharing and talking about good quality wine.

Richard Siddle
1st March 2017by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Supplier,

What do you get up to in your average working week? Alliance Wine’s Fergal Tynan MW steps up to the plate to share his…

Describe your average week?

I wouldn’t categorise many, indeed, any weeks as average. In general I split my time between our offices in Glasgow and London and time on the road. I’m overseas quite a bit with the buying or winemaking teams but just now I’m trying to take more time to see customers as often as I can.

There’s no substitute for direct feedback on how we’re doing and I’ve known many of them for a long time so those relationships really matter. As people are at the heart of what we do, I spend a lot of time with customers and staff alike in an effort to reinforce the identity and core messages of the business.

Which are to provide great wine above all else, teamwork, finding and keeping great customers, with energy, ambition, effort, and an excitement about doing things better.

What was the highlight of your last working week?

Proofreading our new list– we’re all about the rising stars and emerging regions so it’s a really eclectic but exciting range. It is getting quite big now which brings its own challenges but all of the wines have a role to play and it’s a stronger range than ever.

More particularly, it has evolved quickly to respond to changes in the market, but it’s a unique reflection of the Alliance values –high quality, drinkable, characterful wines that display a real sense of place and individuality.

here’s a healthy smatteringof the wild, funky but not f**ked, lots of small, artisanal producers, but also fair value wines that will work and excite our customers. The list is a result of a lot of hard work and a reflection of the fact that we’re still relatively small and fleet of foot – something that is incredibly important right now.

What has been a recent challenge you had to overcome?

Running out of lots of wine at one of our tastings in London last month as more people turned up than we were expecting – we’re very sorry to anyone who didn’t see us at our best

What would you like to improve about your job?

Telecommunication is fine but teleportation would be better. I have always been someone who enjoys the journey as much as arriving at the destination but I’ve reached the stage where I could happily bypass all airports

Key trends impacting on your business?

Short term – currency.

Medium term – We were puzzled at first as it seems counterintuitive given the general economic context, but increasingly we’re very happy to see a slowing down of entry level wines and an increase in the middle tier, with more demand for better wines, more interesting and appealing packaging and most excitingly, for a much broader range of styles and origins.

In general lists are getting a little shorter, changing more often with more thought going into the food matching. I would say that for the last few decades retail has been the driver for most of the changes and innovation in the wine business, but all around the world I think that we are seeing bigger and faster changes in the on-trade.Drinking less but better

What has been the best achievement in the last year?

Growing the production side of our business. It is a small but really important part of what we do – it sustains our creative side and allows us to offer something really different. An example is our Santa Macarena Pinot Noir 2016. Just arrived in the UK, it’s a single site, fantastic coastal vineyard near Leyda producing Pinot for under a tenner.

It’s a great example of what drives us –the perfect opportunity to work with great growers, exceptional fruit and to do something different. Being small allows us to be very choosy –we don’t make huge quantities, often just a few hundred, sometimes a few thousand cases. I don’t know of anyone anywhere doing what we do. It’s a different model, occasionally we make life complicated with all of these projects but it’s a small price to pay for what they bring

Best place you have eaten out at recently?

A motorway services between Madrid and Rioja – two chargrilled spatchcocked quail, with a side of good chips and a really good fresh green salad for €7. I spend a lot of time on motorways so however humble, that was a memorably good meal. Perhaps Jamie Oliver could take on service stations next?

Best bottle of wine you have drunk this year/recently?

I have never been able to answer a question like this succinctly (perhaps I drink too much) but if you’ll allow two highlights.

Smiley Chenin NV, Silwervis, Swartland– a wine to stop you in your tracks, a challenge, an adventure, a refresher course in the art of the possible –great wine

I am perhaps slightly biased but the 2016 vintage (yet to be released) Thistledown Vagabond Grenache from what I think is one of Australia’s great sites in Blewitt Springs (and Alliance wine’s own vineyard and winery in the country). Fermented with natural yeast in a large concrete egg, filled with alternating layers of whole bunches and whole berries, a long passive maceration and a small portion then aged in large old oak. It’s a wine of classic structure, but has an intensity, complexity and finesse that speaks totally of the vineyard. An old vineyard of wind blown sand, nuggets of ironstone all set under a big sky. It’s a dramatic and extreme place and the 2016 Vagabond is the wine we started Thistledown for.

Pick three people for a great dinner party?

Perfect with dinner: Sam Harrop MW

Thomas Jefferson is tempting but it would have to be Giles Cooke, Jean Wareing and Sam Harrop – we did various stages of the MW together, laughed a lot.

What is the best job you have had?

Finding great wine and people to work with – it’s almost the only job I’ve ever had but I did spend one idyllic summer as a lifeguard on a very isolated beach on the west coast of Ireland.

Favourite film that features wine/drink?

Hardly responsible drinking, but highly memorable, the teetotaler Richard E Grant in Withnail and I

Withnail & I – reminds me of my student days.

Favourite book that features wine/drink?

By contrast maybe Hugh Johnson’s the Story of Wine – elegant prose and I find something new in it every time I pick it up.

Favourite wine region in the world and why?

Jerez – for lazy hazy days or Ribera Sacra and Valdeorras – for sheer dramatic intensity.

Where are you visiting next?

Oregon and Washington.

  • If you would like to share your average week with The Buyer and the rest of the trade then please contact Richard Siddle at