Such is the competition in the premium on-trade wine market that even distributors of the scale and reputation as Enotria&Coe need to be changing, adapting and moving not just with the times, but ahead of it. Which is why it is keen to push the credentials of its fine wine portfolio and the fact it has promoted Kathrine Larsen-Robert MS from her premium wine ambassador role to the head of its new fine wine division. Here she sits down with Richard Siddle to explain what her new position entails and how Enotria&Coe wants to work closely with its producers and restaurant buyers to develop a fine wine offer that allows them to sell the finest wines to as many customers around the country as possible.
Kathrine Larsen-Robert MS is excited. Excited to have a free hand in developing Enotria&Coe’s new fine wine range and division. But also very aware of the responsibilities that brings as well, as she explains to Richard Siddle.
Ask any major wine supplier what the market has been like in 2023 and they will rack up a lot more negative factors than positive ones. But with one exception. Fine wine. Whereas most areas of a distributor’s wine range have been under pressure over the last 12 to 18 months, fine wine has continued to perform well, and opened up more opportunities for suppliers and restaurant buyers alike to look at how they can expand their fine wine offer.
Which is why Enotria&Coe has set up a dedicated fine wine operation within its business, to help focus and drive the fine wine opportunity for both its producers and customers. An opportunity to work with both existing, and potentially, new producers and provide them with a new platform to sell fine wine to the premium UK on-trade.
“If you look around restaurants and across the on-trade then the fine wine sector is reasonably robust. Yes, there has been slow down in people going out to eat, but they are spending more when they do,” says Kathrine Larsen-Robert, who has been tasked with pulling its new fine wine division together, and sourcing, and bringing the right fine wines to the market.
It’s not as though Enotria&Coe has not been selling fine wine before, she stresses. “We have always had fine wine. This is the first time we are putting this level of focus on it so that we can give the right level of fine wine service to our customers,” she explains. “It will be essential in opening new doors for us.”
After nine years with the business, she says this new opportunity feels like a fresh start as she has been given the chance to make the role and division her own. It’s also the second time that Enotria&Coe has created a new role just for her, having been its first premium wine ambassador since January 2015.
It’s a role that also very much plays to her strengths. An award winning Master Sommelier – she was named UK Sommelier of the Year in 2014 – she has worked in fine dining restaurants across Europe and in London including Skylon, Le Pont de la Tour, Orrery and Zuma.
Her new role allows her to make the most of her wide network of leading sommeliers working in some of the top venues, restaurants and hotels in the UK. She says when she was on that side of the fence, the most successful and helpful suppliers were those that really understood their businesses and what pressures and challenges they had and what they could do to make their lives easier and more efficient.
She knows what it takes to get on the right side of a busy sommelier and how important having the right type of premium wines in your range can be in terms of your reputation and relevance to a leading sommelier. That’s where you could really make a difference to your restaurant’s reputation – and bottom line, she adds.
Fine wine range
In order to develop the right fine wine range, Larsen-Robert has been spending a lot of her initial time looking at its current producer partners to see which wines in their ranges could be suitable for a fine wine listing. “That has been a long process to do,” she says.
Ultimately she wants to bring together a list of around 200 fine wines that Enotria can really get behind and is currently around the 150 mark so still has plenty of room to play with in terms of bringing more wines and producers into the range.
“I have got the freedom to go out and bring wines into the UK. But I also don’t want the list to become too big. We want to have a classic list and then go with what it is in demand.”
So how does she define a fine wine?
“That’s a good question. For me it is a wine that people know about and are excited to talk about and there is a secondary market for it. It needs to be exceptional example of a particular style, grape variety or region,” she explains.
A fine wine, though, does not necessarily mean it costs a lot of money. “You don’t do it by price point. It’s more important that they are wines that have made a name for themselves in the UK. That’s what gives a list credibility.”
Wiines that are known, respected and have a reputation amongst both sommeliers and their customers, she stresses.
A list that made up of the classic regions and must haves on a restaurant’s fine wine list from Champagne to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Napa, Sonoma, and then the best from around the world including fortified and dessert wines. Which certainly, she says, opens the door for fine wines from South Africa, Australia, Chile, Argentina and even China.
“It will be exiting to be constantly developing the list as well. The world of fine wine is changing all the time, particularly with what is happening with climates and terroirs.”
Working with customers
But get it right and she believes a distributor’s fine wine range can really help give it an identity with its customers. It is also where Enotria’s long term commitment to having leading sommeliers working as part of its sales and development teams can really give it an advantage when out talking to customers about these wines, she adds.
It’s another reason why she is so excited to be in this role and working hand-in-hand with its sales teams and Enotria’s brand managers to really focus in on its fine wines and helping out where she can. After all they are the ones that know what a huge difference having a fine wine offer can make and why it is so important that Enotria is taking it so seriously.
“If everyone is on board that is a big part of the job done,” she claims. “That will be an enormous advantage for us when we are really ready to push [the fine wine division] in the new year.”
Which is why she has been so pleased to see how “positively” the new fine wine division has been received across the group. “I think internally it is seen as very good for the business to have a fine wine division,” she says.
It also means she and her team can bring the right producers to their customers’ that are right for their venues and support them with all the staff training they need.
“That’s one of my key learnings from having worked on the floor. The support you get from your suppliers is very important. But also being offered the right kind of support, and the right sort of wines for your customers. You don’t want to have your time wasted.”
A factor that is even more important at a time when there is such a shortage of staff and any time a senior sommelier, or general manager has, is even more critical than normal. “Knowing how to talk to these people is very important,” she adds.
As a major sales operation Enotria is only too aware that is only half the job getting its fine wines on to its customers lists. It is another thing selling them. To help give its customers the tools and knowledge to do so, Larsen-Robert is developing fine wine workshops in partnership with Enotria&Coe’s dedicated training team, led by its training manager, Charlie Carter. A programme that can be customised for different restaurants, or bring a group of venues together to talk to the sommeliers and their teams about the fine wines they have and their unique selling points.
“We hope to be able to run these workshops for three to five customers at a time. It will also be our way of going out to them and really explaining what we are trying to do for them,” she explains.
Importantly these workshops will travel around the country so that Enotria can take its fine wine message to customers in all parts of the UK. Enotria will also have dedicated fine wine champions based across the country in each of its regional sales teams who will be able to provide support and training for its customers.
“The aim is for them to act as coaches for our customers and for the workshops to also be forums where customers and our account managers can share success stories and ideas, encouraging everyone to benefit,” she explains.
It will also be targeted at those venues that sell fine wine, but don’t have a sommelier team to do so. “That’s where these workshops can really make a difference and open their eyes to the opportunity that fine wine can give them.”
She adds: “Increasingly people want relaxed food and drinking experiences which means our fine wines won’t just be offered to Michelin star restaurants.”
Enotria is also looking to create a special fine wine section at its main warehousing facilities in Park Royal, London where it can have a dedicated fine wine tasting area for customers to come and taste across its range.
The biggest date in Larsen-Robert’s diary is March 2024 when she and her team will be putting on a dedicated fine wine tasting and a chance to fully introduce the range and what its new fine wine services are all about.
It will also be stepping up bespoke promotions for its fine wines with targeted mailers to a dedicated database of interested customers. “That will be an opportunity for us to put the focus on a particular region, wine or producer,” she says.
Opening up new customers
Having a separate fine wine division is also an opportunity for Enotria to build relationships and open up accounts with new customers, particularly the more exclusive, luxury venues and private member clubs and associations. That’s why it is important for Enotria to build the right reputation and credibility for the fine wines in its range, says Larsen-Robert. “We want to appeal to more fine wine producers to join us.”
Enotria is also keen to work with other fine wine merchants and specialist secondary market players who may have parcels of wine they can offer. “We also want to build relationships with negociants and other potential bodies around the world, and open up new customers and suppliers of fine wine,” she adds.
Clearly the initial growth will come from existing customers and getting their personal feedback about what they are looking for in terms of a wine offer and service. “They also know there is a lot of cash margin to be had as well,” she adds.
Which is why Enotria will be looking to price its wines to give its customers the flexibility and ability to get the cash margin they need. “We see that as one of our most important things to get right. To be competitively priced gives our customers the freedom they need,” she explains.
It’s why it enables customers to buy fine wine in any amounts they like, from a single bottle upwards. “It allows them to have a fast moving and diverse list of wines ready to drink now without having to hold a lot of stock. It also helps them build trust in our range and what we can offer them.”
If she and her team can get that trust and credibility right then Enotria&Coe’s new fine wine division will be well underway.
- To find out more about Enotria & Coe go to its website here.
- Enotria&Coe is a commercial partner of The Buyer.