The Buyer
How Mary Taylor looks to capture best of 'authentic' European wines

How Mary Taylor looks to capture best of 'authentic' European wines

“I created Mary Taylor Wine because I don’t think you should have to be a serious wine expert to experience the kind of honest, authentic wines that the Europeans have been enjoying for centuries.” She is also true to her word having built up an impressive range of wines that capture the best of what so many of the classic, and not so classic, wine regions of Europe do best - but an affordable price. A good value wine range that has attracted a huge following at home in the United States amongst those looking to explore the highlands and lowlands of Europe as well as a growing international fanbase, including the UK, thanks to her partnership with Graft Wines. Richard Siddle sits down with Mary Taylor and Graft’s Nik Darlington to discover for himself what she sees as being the most exciting, authentic and affordable wine regions and producers in Europe that have made her the largest female wine importer in the United States.

Now Mary Taylor is not the first American to have fallen in love with Europe and all the diversity of cultures, histories, traditions and languages to be found across its multiple countries. But in the world of wine she is a rare breed. A US wine importer who has based their business on finding the best of what Europe can offer.

A voyage of discovery that has now taken 1,000s of US wine enthusiasts with her, happy for her to take them by the hand, sometimes off the beaten track, to explore and try varieties and styles of wines that they simply cannot get at home. Wines they know will be “sustainable but affordable” and mostly cost less than $20.

As she explains: “It’s the beautiful complexity of European wines that makes them so enjoyable. Even after all these years, I’m still endlessly fascinated by the way each village’s expression reflects its own unique ‘terroir’, or sense of place.”

Mary Taylor wants to bring off the beaten track wines from Europe to a wider audience starting in the US and around the world

The reputation and trust she has built up with her core audience means she is now able to use her name as the brand, the doorway, if you like, into different European wine regions and appellations.

It’s an approach that caught the attention a couple of years ago of the team at Graft Wines who could see an opportunity to use the “Mary Taylor” brand as a way to introduce new regions and grape varieties to its always demanding and curious customer base - be it for its premium on and off trade customers or its direct to consumer business.

First steps

Taylor says her fascination with European wines first started when she was working in a cheesemonger and wine shop in Massachusetts and came across such an extraordinary range of cheeses and wines each with their own stories and backgrounds based on the places they came from.

“That is when I fist started to learn the language of terroir,” she says.

A fascination that turned from a hobby to a career when she moved to New York and got involved in the wine scene there first working in the wine department at Sotheby’s before moving to wine auction and retail house, Acker Wines where she ran wine workshops and tastings.

It was when she started her own wine store and importing business in New York - Premium Wines and then Langdon Shiverick East- that she was able to really get to grips with the wines she wanted to source, buy and sell.

Which is what took her to Dijon in Burgundy to discover, study, and ultimately write about European wines through her quickly respected wine blog,Thoreau Wine Society, where she built up her first database of potential customers thanks to its over 10,000 subscribers.

Returning to New York, and after a short period working in finance at Merrill Lynch, she was in 2019 in an even better place to further establish her own wine wholesaler business, the Housatonic Wine Co - that would allow her to keep travelling back to source wines from across Europe.

Building a brand

Mary Taylor's Beatrix Potter-inspired branded wine bottle that champions the region or appellation where the wines is from and the producer

She finally decided to put her own name on the wines and build up her distinctive “Beatrix Potter-style” white label, Mary Taylor brand. An easier way for interested and enthusiastic wine drinkers to discover more of Europe and all its complicated appellations and ageing systems through a brand name they could understand, relate to - and pronounce.

“We work with families who make honest AOC, DOC, DO wines that are true-to-terroir with no aromatic yeast, no oak influenced and no artificial extraction, and are HVE certified sustainable at a minimum. Each wine lists the wine grower on the front label and maps the location on the back label,” she explains.

Affordability is the cornerstone of Mary Taylor Wines with retail prices in the US mostly between$11-$18. It’s an approach that has really hit a chord with her customers and helped her build Mary Taylor Wines to be a $20m retail brand in the United States.

Key to its success has been her ability to declutter and uncomplicate European wine to many US wine consumers confused by the myriad of appellation names, regions and grape varieties.

Hence why her brand is based on a simple, classic white label with “Mary Taylor” as the key selling point, supported by the name of the grower or producer.

As she explains on her website: “American consumers needed a brand they could trust to decipher the complex notion of terroir in a clear and straightforward way. Out of this realization, our elegant ‘white label’ was born.”

She adds: “People have to trust the Mary Taylor name and use that to then go on discover unusual wines and varieties,” she adds.

The scale of the business means she can now lay claim to be the largest buyer of Anjou Blanc in in the world and she says her Côtes de Gascogne is the number one of the style in the US.

Mary Taylor with some of the team at Tendril during her recent visit to the UK

She particularly prides herself of introducing unusual grape varieties and regions to a wide audience, but at effectively entry level prices.

As she explains on her Mary Taylor website: “Our simple White Label series is here to serve as your guide through the rural backroads and winding country lanes of the European wine route. Whenever you open one of our bottles, you’ll know you’re getting more than just another commercial brand or standard Chardonnay or Merlot. That’s because every Mary Taylor Wine is a genuine 'wine of place,' sourced from some of Europe’s most classic regions and, best of all, priced according to the 'Old World' view of wine as an accessible everyday luxury.”

She adds: “To us, the name of the grape only tells part of the story of what wine is supposed to be. The missing key, which the great winemakers of Europe have known for centuries, is ‘place’.”

Building a community

Mary Taylor has built a strong following of wine fans in the United States

Which is why she wants to work with wine growers and families who are embedded in the regions and appellations where they are making their wine. Producers who have become close friends and are now very much part of what she sees as a “Mary Taylor community”.

Last year she was able to bring 30 of her producer partners to the US to take part in a mini-tour of the country showing their wines at tastings in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York an Boston.

“We all took the Amtrak together and travelled around as one big group. It was great fun. There is a real spirit now between them all which is great to see,” she says.

Darlington says the Mary Taylor range is working “really well” with Graft’s customers: “They are not our typical kind of wines, but we are able to offer them really good Bordeaux at this level. The labels have an interesting retro factor to them and people are looking for more classics to try.”

Graft Wine is working well with Mary Taylor as its UK importer - here Mary Taylor and Graft's David Knott head off for store visits

When Taylor talks about Europe she is primarily focused on France, Italy, Spain and Portugal where she has been able to build up extensive networks of producers and growers either through personal visits or attending key trade fairs such as Vinitaly and ProWein.

Having established a strong US market she is now keen to build exports in a few key export markets starting in the UK, Canada and Mexico.

Her long term vision is to build its current $20m retail brand value - based on $3m in annual revenue - to $70m in the coming years, but will only grow if she can keep the fundamentals of the business the same.

After all there is only one Mary Taylor to source, import and put her name to all the wines.

Graft Wine distributes the following Mary Taylor wines

From France

Jean-Marc Barthez Bordeaux Blanc | 2021

Jean-March Barthez Bordeaux Rouge | 2018

Sophie Siadou Valençay Rouge | 2020

And from Italy:

Sofia Brescia Veneto Frizzante | 2021

To find out more and to order click here.