In an average week we probably come across a visiting winemaker on at least a handful of occasions. But do we ever spare a thought for what it must be like to be constantly on the road, telling your same story in the hope you can build distribution and interest in your wine in more markets around the world. To find out we asked Faouzi Issa, co-owner and winemaker at Lebanon’s Domaine des Tourelles, to share memories of his last global trip.
One night London, the next Stockholm, then on to Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris, flying over to New York, or back to Madrid. Sounds more like the itinerary of a major rock band. But it’s also a typical week for the hundreds of winemakers that are constantly travelling the world selling their wines. Like Lebanon’s Faouzi Issa of Domaine des Tourelles.
You have to travel a lot to sell your wine and tell your story. How do you find that? Do you enjoy it or find it difficult to motivate yourself all the time?
It’s the story of my life, travelling, meeting clients and our agents all over the world. But it’s a must to create a dynamic export market and I just love it! Especially when my task is to open new markets, and difficult ones. It is always motivating – the only downside is that I need to work doubly hard because I still need to be connected with the winery and office back home every day.
How long have you been travelling the world telling your story?
Since 2010. I travel on average about 80 days per year, and I try to limit it to that just to keep the balance with my family life. I have three young kids and I don’t like to be away for too long in any one trip.
What would you tell your younger self about what to expect in the coming years and tricks to know, lessons to learn about how best to make the most of your international trips.
Preparation is key. I always prepare well ahead of my trip to get the maximum out of all activities and leads. I’ll do research on all the people I’m going to visit, read articles and reviews so that I know who I’m dealing with. In high potential markets I try to have a ‘wing’ or some good on-the-ground assistance. For example in the UK I work with Madeleine Waters of co.co PR and in New York with May Mattah, a local wine consultant, to help develop the market even more and maintain the momentum for me in between visits.
Another piece of advice I have learned along the way is to not think too much about return on investment or having set targets for orders during the first period in a market. It takes time to grow organically and ultimately everything that you do begins to snowball. You need to lay the groundwork, get to know the press, conduct tastings, get press reviews before you will really see the return in a market.
Explain what a typical trip would entail?
Firstly I will meet with my local agent/distributor to assess and review the market, discuss numbers and recent successes. I always do winemaker events whenever I visit a market and take time to visit trade accounts with the sales team. It’s so important to know what challenges they face when trying to sell my wines and it’s crucial I really understand how each market works – they’re all different!
I always make a point of spending some time with journalists and influencers. And of course meeting consumers is one of the most important things when it comes to understanding the local market.
Who organises the trip and how?
I organise it all myself. If I end up with a PA who can do it all for me, that will be the dream deal!
What do you think are the most important things to get out of any international trip you do?
As I have already said, research, preparation and the willingness to spend time understanding the market would be the key things I would advise any producer to do. And not to expect it to all happen immediately.
Also you need to be adaptable. Sometimes the best laid plans go wrong. On a recent trip to Edinburgh we almost got snowed in and all the flights were cancelled thanks to the ‘Beast from the East’, so we had to take the train which took just over 11 hours to reach London. But we made it in time for our tasting the next morning!
Which are the best countries for you to visit and why…
The UK and New York city. Both because I have assistance in the local market which helps me achieve what I need to do efficiently and easily. Plus both markets are open to new discoveries and wines from all over the world.
Which are the more challenging countries to travel to and why…
Germany and France I find quite difficult markets to deal with as they are quite closed. The US as a whole is also challenging because it needs huge focus and lots of connections, but I absolutely love it!
London, Bath, Malta, Montreal
Made in Louise in Belgium. It’s a lovely boutique hotel , very convenient and not expensive at all.
Arabica Bar & Kitchen in Borough Market in London
Terroir Tribeca in New York. The Sommelier is amazing
Do you have any rituals or things you do to try and keep yourself going and motivated?
I always like to take time to visit flea markets in each country I visit – I collect vintage bottle openers. I also like to take time to go for a walk or a run to overcome the jet lag!
What general advice would you give a producer travelling the world telling their story?
Be confident in what you do!