The Buyer
Chris Davies on Les Grands Chais de France’s UK tastings

Chris Davies on Les Grands Chais de France’s UK tastings

Les Grands Chais de France might sell wine in close to 170 countries around the world but it’s the UK which continues to show the way for its premium wines as more independent wine merchants and regional players look to take advantage of the enormous opportunities it can offer not just from France, but around the world. Wines that will be on show at its big regional tastings taking place in Birmingham and Leeds this week, as UK channel controller, Chris Davies, explains.

Richard Siddle
6th March 2023by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Producer,

The Grands Chais de France tastings in March will include wines from its new wineries in Spain, Chile and South Africa. The events are taking place in Birmingham (March 7) and Leeds (March 9).

A key factor in the success of Les Grands Chais de France in the premium UK wine market is it listens to what its customers want – and has done for some time. Its UK team, headed up by the experienced Chris Davies, has put in the hours listening and talking to independent wine merchants, specialists wholesalers, on-trade wine buyers and sommeliers to really get to grips with what they are want from a major wine supplier like Les Grands Chais de France.

It’s why a producer of its scale still remains independent in the UK, choosing to run its own operations and sales teams rather than rely on pushing those responsibilities out to a major distributor.

It’s an increasingly unusual position to take, particularly for a business that is selling wine in more countries than you can probably name.

Last year’s Les Grands Chais de France tasting allowed the group to show its extensive range of wines to buyers in one location

But it means it gets to hear directly from its customers what any issues there might be in the supply chain and it can act accordingly, explains Chris Davies, channel controller for independent wine merchants and the on-trade. It also means they get to hear about the styles of wines – and price points – they are looking to source and list.

The fact he even has the words “channel controller” in his job description shows how seriously Les Grands Chais de France takes its responsibilities to ensure only the right wines in its range end up being offered and potentially sold in the right outlets and venues.

Best Practice

Les Grands Chais was one of the first major producers, some 10 years ago, to sign up to the Best Practice Guidelines that looked to lay down some regulations by which independents merchants and on-trade buyers could rely on when dealing with key suppliers. Safe in the knowledge that they knew these specific producers will ensure their ranges of wine are only sold in the right channels of the market.

Chris Davies and Les Grands Chais de France have worked hard to build strong relationships with regional wine merchants like Cambridge Wine Merchants

It’s why Les Grands Chais now works with some of the most respected and influential regional independent wine merchants in the UK like Hal Wilson at Cambridge Wine Merchants and Ted Sandbach at Oxford Wine Company.

Davies says any operator or wine merchant capable of taking a mixed pallet of 80 cases is best placed to work effectively with Les Grands Chais. “But those 80 cases could be across 80 wines if they wanted.”

“It’s why we work so well with regional independents that might a couple of sites and who can take that level of order. We find some of the smaller merchants might club together in order to make up an order.”

Key tastings

It is against that backdrop that Les Grands is preparing to put on its two key tastings of the year for its independent and on-trade customers.

As so much of its business is outside London and with the big regional players it makes sense for Les Grands Chais to take its events to where the majority of its customers are based. Hence the dates and venues for its March events are:

  • March 7. 10am-4pm. Burlington Hotel in Birmingham.
  • March 9. 10am-4pm. Aspire in Leeds.

It is the key time of the year for Davies and his team to really get in front of his customers and show the latest wines, the new vintages also introduce them to new wineries that have joined the business.

Les Grands Chais de France is holding two major tastings this month – in Birmingham and Leeds

“These events have worked really well for us in the past,” he says and he is particularly pleased to have key personal in the group coming over to the events that best represent what Les Grands Chais is doing in all the key regions of France. With close to 75 properties in France it is important that Les Grands Chais itself picks the right wineries, winemakers and wines to best show what it can do, says Davies.

“We have got people who are specialists for their region who can talk on behalf of the other properties,” says Davies.

International properties

It will also be an opportunity to introduce independent and on-trade buyers to the new international properties in the group that include:

  • Neethlingshof from Stellenbosch in South Africa, which was acquired in October 2022.
  • Viña Las Niñas in the Apalta region of Chile that was bought early in 2022.
  • Castillo de Aresan in Spain in 2017.
  • Danubiana in Hungary.

“It is going to be exciting to show these wines to the buyers and see how the new vintages are doing,” says Davies.

It will be one of the first time that Les Grands Chais customers will get chance to taste wines from South Africa’s Neethlingshof

The group hopes to introduce more non-French producers to the group in the coming years as part of its strategy to be “a global wine producer with estates in premium wine regions around the world”. Already its international range accounts for over 25% of total total volume and in 2022 produced 42m 9 litre cases.

“Having that international reach means we can flex and give so many options to our customers,” says Davies.

The Signature Range

Buyers will also have another chance to get to see the new wines and vintages in the Signature range that are some of the best examples from Les Grand Chais’ extensive French portfolio.

Introduced last year the Signature range consists of around 80 wines including 10 properties in Bordeaux, like Château Cantin and Château Faizeau, three in Burgundy, like Domaine Michaut and Domaine Marguerite Carillon, five in the Languedoc, including Château des Jaume, two in the Loire, like Château de Fesles and then one each in Provence, the Jura and Alsace.

Chile’s Viña Las Niñas will also be at Les Grands Chais de France’s tastings

Davies says these properties’ wines are developing to create a “core nucleus” that really showcase what Les Grands Chais is all about.

“These 22 properties that Joseph [Helfrich], the owner, and his family have pinned their colours to represent excellent examples of what the regions and styles of wine have to offer.”

Together they offer buyers a definitive list to go to and cherry pick which is best for their business, he adds.

Supply and support

Despite its scale Les Grands Chais de France remains very much a family business still run by Joseph Helfrich and his wife and family

A key theme of this year’s tastings will be the support and reassurance Les Grands Chais can offer both in terms of availability of supply, but also the formats and packaging they come in. With on-going supply chain issues being able to control how you get your wines into the market is a key competitive advantage at the moment and Davies says his team will be on hand to talk to customers about any trading issues and challenges they face and how they might be able to help.

As well as being a major wine producer, Les Grands Chais also bottles and provides packaging for millions of bottles of wine a year through its dedicated facilities in Europe.

It will also be an opportunity to show buyers the different packaging formats and options that Les Grands Chais can now offer be it with cans, its new recyclable PET bottles and other formats. “We are seeing a lot more demand for PET bottles,” says Davies. “It’s going to be important to push that a lot more with the consumer. They work well, particularly for house level wines in On Trade.”

He adds: “But we can do any size, or format a customer wants. We can provide independent buyers a whole number of choices, a one stop shop if you like.”

  • The Les Grands Chais de France tastings in March take place:
  • March 7. 10am-4pm. Burlington Hotel in Birmingham.
  • March 9. 10am-4pm. Aspire in Leeds.
  • Les Grands Chais is a supplier partner to The Buyer.