It’s a busy and significant time at Enotria&Coe as it celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month and looks back on its achievements over half a century, as well as assessing how it is going to meet the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow. Part of that strategy is centred around taking its premium wine offer, and the services it can provide around it for busy sommeliers and on-trade buyers, to the next level. Which is why it’s a good time to catch up with John Graves, its new head of wine development, to get his take on a business he has re-joined and how he and his team are fully focused on making that strategy happen.
John Graves is excited about the opportunities Enotria&Coe now has to build and scale its premium wine offer to the on-trade and specialist independent wine merchants.
Such is the pace of change and demand on any major drinks distributor there is little time to stop and reflect – even if you are marking your 50th anniversary.
But it certainly helps remind people – if they need reminding – just how much experience there is in a business that first started out as a specialist Italian wine importer in 1972. The name might have changed – from Enotria Winecellars – but its focus on wine has not.
It remains a major Italian wine supplier, with partnerships going back those 50 years, but has expanded over the years to cover all the major, and many of the smaller, winemaking countries and regions in the world. This included broadening its portfolio to become a full drinks distributor covering wines, beers, soft drinks and spirits, particularly achieved through the acquisition of Coe Vintners in 2015 when the name change to Enotria&Coe.
John Graves is well placed to assess where the business now sits having returned earlier this year to a company he left to join Bibendum in 2017.
“Enotria has been hugely regarded in the trade for a long time as a credible wine merchant and the focus is now to grow significantly that side of the business and bring some scale to it,” he explains.
By that he means being a company that can “do the commercial proposition and the wine development side with real credibility and skill”. To do that well you need to have the right skills and experience in the business, he claims.
An experience he is confident he and his wine development team have to help grow premium wine sales across its customer base, but to also work hand in hand with Enotria’s wine buying and, in particular, national and regional sales teams to do so.
“We have such a dynamic sales team here and it is up to my team’s experience to help them grow the wine side of the business significantly,” he adds. “We want to really shine the spotlight on the amazing wine portfolio and range we have.”
He says Enotria already has the profile of national and regional customers “you really want to develop”. The opportunity is there now to bring in more and take them to another level.
“The success we have seen in national accounts is about having a dedicated team of experienced people working with them.”
Graves says coming back to a company where he spent the mid 2010s has reminded him just what a “stunning” range of wines and producers Enotria&Coe has.
“We have, for example, the best producer in Galicia, astonishing Italian producers from every region of the country, a brilliant Barossa producer, a fabulous Santorini winery. Our range literally blew my mind when I did a range tasting with the wine buying team.”
The big difference now is Enotria&Coe’s commitment to having a dedicated wine development team in addition to the existing business development team.
That is what has brought Graves back to the company, as well as attracting a number or senior figures from other major distributors and wine suppliers.
“We have got a very experienced wine team – four have got over 20 years in wine distribution.”
Building Enotria’s fine wine business and reputation is key to its future strategy, says Graves. Creating a halo effect of an elite range of wines around which it can position the rest of its premium and classic blue chip wine range.
“One of our main tasks is to integrate our development team with the sales team and look at how we can work best together. It’s not about creating elitist silos.”
He adds: “I am so impressed with the sales team. We have really good exciting, quality people and hopefully our experience in the development team can mean we can work together and learn from each other. They can also give us a kick up the arse and teach us a thing or two. They are also the future of the company and that is really exciting to see for the future of Enotria.”
On time in full
Graves is also quick to stress just how difficult the trading conditions are, made worse by the cost of living issues, and huge surge in energy prices. All of which have just added extra layers to the uncertainty that everyone is having to deal with and work to.
“Anyone who says it is easy at the moment is not telling the truth. It’s a very tough time for operators. It’s so hard to get staff and they can’t plan anything with rising costs and utility bills that are wiping out any profits they have. We have to make their life as easy as possible by doing our jobs properly. We have to focus on keeping the boat going the right way down the Suez Canal and doing everything we can to help people plan, prepare and deal with what they have.”
Which means having all the spokes in the wheel that allow you run a successful wine distribution business are all working as well as they possibly can. Be it credit control, customer service, operations, logistics. Everything has to be working to the top of its game, says Graves.
“We are all focused on being OTIF – On Time, In Full. That is what we are all committed to achieving. That is the vision and directive that comes from the top.”
Graves says its customers do not want to hear about the supply chain and cost issues it is facing. As a key supplier they just need to make sure your order turns up on time, is full and arrives when they need it, not when it is convenient for you to deliver it.
Ultimately he says the “wine development team won’t work unless every other part of the business works”.
Graves believes Enotria&Coe deserves great credit for pushing ahead and investing in the business when so many of its peers are battening down the hatches. “It is being brave and going for it. There is a really good feeling in the business. There has been a significant recruitment drive to bring top talented people into the company, but they will pay for themselves with the new business they will bring in. They will grow the business significantly,” he claims.
“The people we have recruited are ‘doers’. They are all hugely experienced in wine and understand and how it works. They are the sort of people who make things happen and have the commercial knowledge to do so and have worked in multi-million pound businesses. They are passionate about wine, but also want to sell wine. Producers like to hear you love their wine, but they also want you to go out and sell it in the best venues where their reputations get enhanced. The more we can do that the more the reputation of Enotria will grow. Producers are coming to us at an exciting time.”
He is now in charge of a 10 strong wine development team, that includes three experienced sommeliers – Kathrine Larsen MS, Gergely Szabo, and Mateusz Kowalczyk.
“Having three sommeliers in the team is really important. They have the commercial and business experience and know how to connect with and build relationships with fellow sommeliers. Most good sommeliers are actually more commercial than the people trying to sell to them so you have to get your approach right. If you are too pushy they won’t work with you and if you are too naive they won’t respect you.
“How you work with the best sommeliers comes with experience,” claims Graves. “Most sommeliers can pick the wines they want from your list. The key is to work with them to help pick other wines. It’s more of a consultative approach. You suggest, you give them feedback. You don’t arrive in a Michelin-starred restaurant with a clipboard and a flat cap. We want every Michelin restaurant to know Enotria can talk to them in a grown up and professional way about their wine and their list. If we come across as too corporate they will run a mile.”
He adds: “If you have the right capability in your company, but not the right people to apply it you are going to fail. You want people who are hungry to grow and do well as a team to build a quality, scalable business.”
Which is why the wine development team is also responsible for opening up new business – just like the sales team it works with and supports. How you then develop that business depends on the potential customer and your relationship with them, says Graves.
It might mean a member of the development team opens up a new account and makes sure they develop that relationship with that customer, whilst also working with one of the account managers to handle it on a more day-to-day basis, he explains.
“We manage the accounts as a team,” says Graves. “The person who has the senior contact with the customer keeps that relationship and then works with the account manager for that outlet to then keep that going. That way we have the right people doing the right work.”
He also welcomes “healthy competition” between the teams as it “inspires people to do well”. Which is why it is essential the wine development team has good close working relationship with its sales teams and account managers, he stresses.
The work the team does varies hugely from customer to customer and their specific needs, says Graves. “We are not interested in doing anything for the sake of it. If we are not adding value to the whole proposition then we should not be involved. We are there to build their wine business.”
The right approach
The starting point, he says, is to determine the right price for the house wine on a venue’s list and then build up from there. “If a customer would not drink their own house wine at home then it is not right for their restaurant. We have to get that right before we can do anything else.”
“We have our own warehouse and our own vans and if we are not filling them with right high-quality wines at the right price for our customers then we are not going to succeed in the long term.”
Graves says he is excited to be part of a company and a wine team who are all working in the right direction and are focused on “doing things in the right way”.
“The wine industry is the best business to work in if you do things right. We hope, in our small way, we can help build a real culture for the wine side of the business and help take it to the next level.”
- Enotria&Coe is a distributors supplier to The Buyer. You can find out more about the business here.