The wine trade is blessed with inspiring characters on both sides of the winemaking and buying fence. So when two of the most creative and innovative personalities come together on a new project it’s worth taking notice. Which is why The Buyer was intrigued to sit down with highly experienced wine buyer, Andrew Ingham, formerly of Morrisons, Coles and Greene King, and Rollo Gabb, wine producer and founder of Journeys End, the successful South African wine brand, to hear about the new wine brand – Interpunkt – created by Ingham that is now making wine with Gabb. A new wine brand that promises to shake things up, both with its branding, edgy attitude and sales strategy and its paper bottle packaging that it believes is the way forward for modern wine brands and the environment. Richard Siddle finds out what Interpunkt is all about.
Interpunkt is already making news before a bottle has hit any retailer’s shelf or made it on to a restaurant wine list. Richard Siddle finds out what the fuss is about.
Andrew Ingham and Rollo Gabb very much fit into the category of wine figures to be taken seriously. It’s not just their combined track record of respectively buying, selling, producing and distributing wine for some of the most successful and important wine businesses over the last 20 plus years. It’s the fact they think and act differently to their peers.
Be it the wines Andrew Ingham wants to buy and put on retailers’ shelves and pub and restaurant wine lists around the world. Or the wines that Rollo Gabb has helped make, distribute and promote in all the most competitive international wine markets.
They both have been able to bring their strong personalities to the businesses they have been involved and crucially always put the consumer first, and what they might want to drink, at the beginning and end of any business decision they make.
The fact they have decided to bring their considerable talents together is worthy of all our attention.
To be fair the concept and initial thinking about what has become the Interpunkt wine brand started with Andrew Ingham. How he then brings it to market with the right style of quality wine is where Rollo Gabb comes in.
Interpunkt is a brand that wants to appeal to the new, non-traditional wine drinker. It wants to break away from the shackles of usual wine talk and tasting notes that turn so many consumers off wine, explains Ingham. Instead it wants to appeal to them as a wine brand with an attitude, and a purpose to produce wines anyone can enjoy and understand, in packaging that is ethical and good for the planet. Hence the paper bottles. But more of that later.
Ingham says this desire to disrupt the wine market and appeal to new consumers is not something new and always been one of the KPIs he set himself in all his senior roles, be it at Morrisons, Coles in Australia, Greene King, or most recently out in Hong Kong working for the DFI Retail Group.
“I have always wanted to make wine as accessible and as fun as possible to the consumer. I have listened to every brand proposition you can think of and my challenge back was always how are you going to make it relevant to new drinkers and people who do not currently drink wine,” he says.
“Just look at the amazing job they are doing in beer, gin, and across spirits in making their brands appeal to a wide group of consumers. The biggest wine companies in the world don’t take bringing new people into wine seriously enough. Interlink was born out of that attitude.”
It was actually born in Ingham’s apartment in Hong Kong where he spent long days and nights cooped up during the Covid lockdown. “That’s when I came up with the idea for Interpunkt. To make the most of this opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and do something for myself. To create a wine I truly believed in. A brand with a mission to make wine fun, disruptive and inclusive.”
Which is where the name Interpunkt comes from, says Ingtham. “It basically means to connect. To help consumers connect with wine they might not normally have chosen to drink. I see myself as the middleman in that. That is where the ‘Inter’ comes from. The ‘Punkt’ is being inspired by things outside of the wine industry.”
He adds: “I read a lot about brands in other sectors and people who have gone out and done something for themselves. I take a lot of inspiration from Vivienne Westwood the fashion designer. She was a school teacher who decided to make clothes. Then there is the Sex Pistols. They had a ‘go do’ attitude and picked up guitars for the first time and wrote one of the best albums ever made. I am not a winemaker, but I have a punk attitude.”
Interpunkt might not want to present itself as a serious wine brand in the traditional sense, but it takes what wine goes into the bottle very seriously indeed. He says having the idea of Interpunkt was one thing, he really needed to get the advice and feedback from people he trusted to ensure it actually had a future.
Which is where Rollo Gabb comes in and the credentials of Journeys End and his South African winemaking team.
Being such a prominent wine buyer and producer it’s no surprise to hear Ingham and Gabb have known each for some time. Particularly during Ingham’s time as head wine buyer at Greene King where he worked closely with Gabb to create a series of wines for the group. This involved Ingham going out to Journeys End to blend the wines and staying on Gabb’s farm in Somerset West.
This is where the two forged a business partnership and friendship that went beyond simply supplying wine for Greene King. They liked the way each other worked and the cut of their respective jibs.
They were also able to work together on what were quite radical wine brands and packaging for Greene King at the time, says Ingham. They then worked together on a similar branding project during Ingham’s time in Hong Kong working for the DFI Retail Group.
“It was great going out to South Africa to work with Rollo and his team and see what they are doing there. We created some great products together at Greene King, with really striking labels and easy to drink wines that worked so well in a pub environment. Rollo and his team really delivered and gave us great quality, stand out wines that our customers at the time really responded to.”
He adds: “We have always had a natural synergy together. I look up to him and see him as a bit of a mentor and always respect what he has to say. He’s also brilliant fun to be around.”
Gabb in turn says: “I have hugely admired Andrew in his career and learnt a lot from him. I also completely agree the wine industry needs shaking up and it needs new dynamics to do so, or we are going to end up with endlessly ageing consumer base. Wine needs to keep re-inventing itself with continual ideas and energy to keep going. So why not punk it up a bit. As Andrew says, the spirits and beer industries are already leagues ahead of wine.”
So when Ingham was looking for his first wine partner for Interpunkt it was a no brainer to approach Gabb.
“We looked at the branding and liked what we say. It was very different and clearly out to engage with a new consumer group,” says Gabb. “It was also very different to what we are doing with Journeys End.”
The idea to use a paper bottle very much appealed to Gabb as it is something he has been looking at for some time and had not, until then, found the right concept for.
“We felt for Interpunkt it was the right way to go. It also fits neatly with its sustainability and ethical message and its desire to shake up the industry a bit,” he adds.
The look and feel for Interpunkt also comes straight from Ingham’s imagination. He says he did look at the idea of working with a branding and design agency but was put off by the £30k estimates. “That did not feel very punky,” he says.
The paper bottle (made by Frugalpac) certainly fits neatly with the Interpunkt imagery and is potentially more relevant to its target customer base, says Ingham. “We are a new proposition with a different mindset. That’s what is so appealing about the cardboard bottle. It can appeal to anyone and bring people into wine. If I wanted to create a new wine brand then why would I make it out of glass. Any new wine brand has to have sustainability at its heart.”
Gabb adds: “I totally agree. Interpunkt is a brand that works in alternative packaging. It could also do well in a can. But not glass. Sustainability is part of its punky story.”
He says Journeys End has also been able to find a local South African packer that can handle paper bottles which is also helping to create local jobs in the area too.
Ingham hopes he can build a community of consumers around the Interpunkt brand who can share their stories and experiences and take inspiration from how some craft beer brands have done the same.
“People often say they don’t like wine, when they are more likely to be put off by it and all the elitist language and traditions that surround it. You can’t just be a label, you have to a soul to it as well,” he says. Which is why its strong sustainability and ethical
He is particularly pleased to be starting the range with two South Africa wines, made by Journeys End, which include a Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, both IPW sustainably certified and described respectively as “fresh and zesty” and “juicy and easy drinking”. Ingham also feels the South Africa wine scene also captures what Interpunkt is all about with its anything goes attitude and desire to move forward, rip up traditions and create wines that are true to the people of South Africa.
Gabb believes the initial two wines capture what South Africa is doing well at the moment and really helps “promote the soft fruit style that people want from the Cape”. “They really resonate with the consumer.”
As the brand gets close to its official international launch date, Ingham says he feels like he is over “the hump of the start up stage” and is “close” to a number of listings in key accounts with the brand looking to launch at around the £10-11 mark on shelf.
“We are talking to multiple channels in the on and off-trade both in the UK and internationally. We have also presented it to major airlines.”
The brand hopes to be in the UK market from next March.
“We need to get the wine into the hands of as many people as possible. The packaging has been designed to do that. To stand out on shelf.”
He is also working on a range of cartoon characters to represent the brand and act as personalities on social media. A way, he says, to again get away from traditional wine speak and use visuals and more interactive and appealing tools to get the messages across about the wine.
“They are a bit tongue in cheek but hopefully be a nice way to talk about what is happening in vineyards in an informal and fun way,” say Ingham.
They also look like the kind of characters that might work as a NFT down the line too.
But then Interpunkt already has its ready made characters leading the brand and making the wines in Andrew Ingham and Rollo Gabb. The Interpunkt Double Act.
- Interpunkt is being imported in the UK by the C&C Group and distributed through its main UK channels: Bibendum; Matthew Clark; and Walker & Wodehouse.
- The University of Montpellier and the Technical College of Bordeaux are to include Interpunkt, and the concept behind it, in their syllabus for their respective MBSc and MBA wine courses.