It takes a lot of work to get restaurants even in one city to get behind a wine driven initiative. To get the whole country behind one that is focused on promoting natural and artisanal wines would appear more than just a tall order. But the Real Wine Month, which backs up the Real Wine Fair in May, now plans to have up to 350 restaurants taking part. Chief organiser, Doug Wregg from Les Cave de Pyrene, explain how it all comes together.
The scale of the Real Wine Month makes it arguably the biggest national on-trade wine event of the year. Here’s how you can get involved.
You have to have a very thick skin to be a drinks distributor for the on-trade.
You might think you have the best wines and spirits and most exciting drinks list known to any sommelier in the land, but equally you know as soon as soon as you are out of their line of sight they will just as happily be courted and chatted up by the next drinks supplier that walks through their door.
It is just the same with all the portfolio and importer tastings that take place seemingly every day of the week. All that time curating the most interesting tasting, crafting the perfect masterclasses, hosting producers from all the world and doing all you can to get the coveted buyers and sommeliers to attend. Then if they turn up they are just as likely to be wearing a name badge from the tasting of your most direct competitor, or take tasting notes emblazoned with the logo of another close rival.
When it comes to loyalty, suppliers know deep down it’s like the slow dance at a 90s disco when it’s every man, woman, sommelier and buyer for themselves.
So how do you break this two timing cycle and tie restaurateurs and on-trade customers closer to your business?
Well Les Caves de Pyrene goes as far as anyone in trying to break the mould. Not only has it gone out on a limb and created its own trade and consumer wine event to celebrate and showcase natural, organic and biodynamic wines with the Real Wine Fair – which returns to London’s Tobacco Dock on May 7-8.
It looks to take that fair to the country by combining it with Real Wine Month where it looks to get as many outlets as possible to get involved and put their individual stamp on helping to promote natural, organic and biodynamic wines.
It is, says organiser Doug Wregg, who somehow also manages to fit in his sales and a marketing role at Les Caves de Pyrene, also a way to ensure all the effort that goes in to organising the fair – which takes up at least a quarter of his year – having a real impact and benefit for Les Caves as a business.
After all there may be many who look at the natural wine scene as a movement, similar to an art movement, where it is all about the concept and not about real business, but all the great artists in those movements from Picasso to Dali knew how to make money as well.
It is the ambition of the Real Wine Month that is so impressive. This is not just a few wine dinners held in three or four cities across the country. It hopes this year to end up with close to 350 different outlets taking part. The bulk of which, around 150, are in London.
“We started with a 100 then grew to 200 and now we look like we could be up to 300 this year,” says Wregg. “We have people UK wide involved now from local pubs right through to Michelin star, Le Manoir level. You would like to think it is a no-brainer for restaurants to get involved.”
What is also key about the month is that each event is different and down to each participating outlet to do their own thing. Yes, they can make use of posters and other point of sale, but it has to be their initiative and mean something to them if it is going to work, stresses Wregg.
“Some really go hell for leather and look to make a real difference,” he adds.
It is also a great way for restaurants and bars to really show their personality and work with wines that are off the beaten track that demonstrate their USP to their customer base, says Wregg.
“It is also hopefully a new way to draw attention to the diversity of their list and wine by the glass offer in a fun and interactive way.”
The only stipulation is that restaurants must agree to support the event by offering discounts on their by the glass menu – a minimum of one glass of red and white wine – and make it a prominent part of their wine list during the promotion. Which could either be printing a special list, or highlighting on black boards and other point of sale.
Notably Les Caves de Pyrene does not have any set criteria by what it calls a natural wine and is keen for each outlet to talk about these wines in a way that makes sense to them and hopefully their customers.
“What we want to do is create a dialogue around the country about natural wines. To build the momentum and to create something that is really genuine and means something to the restaurants involved,” explains Wregg.
It is hard to think if anything else quite like it in the UK on-trade and is only really possible because of Les Caves’ natural distribution and contacts around the country. Particularly as the stars of the show are natural and biodynamic wines which are not always likely to pack out a downtown restaurant in Bradford on a quiet Tuesday night.
Wregg says he and the Les Caves team and its producers will also try and support as many events as they can around the country. Which might mean them personally attending a good 10 to 20 events each themselves.
“It is a great way for us to engage with regional restaurants be it through co-hosting events, wine dinners. We also have our growers going out and taking part in events as well.”
Now restaurant months per se are nothing new, but the fact it is driven by an on-trade distributor makes it distinctive and ground breaking.
It no doubt helps that Les Caves de Pyrene also part owns leading influential wine bars and restaurants itself in London with Terroirs, Trafalgar Square, Toasted in Dulwich and Soif in Battersea, through a separate business, Natural Wine Bars. It potentially therefore has the inside track on what UK on-trade outlets are likely to get behind and see a real value in.
This year will see each of those outlets linking up with influential natural wine bars from around the world who will be coming to London to put on what Wregg calls “mash ups” in Terroir, Soif and respectively. The bars involved are to be announced but come from Barcelona, Melbourne, Paris and New York.
“We want to make London the centre of the wine trade during May,” says Wregg.
If it also helps Les Caves de Pyrene get a little closer to those restaurants for the other 11 months of the year then we can’t begrudge them of that.
The Real Wine Month and Fair in numbers
- When: Tobacco Dock, London, May 7-8.
- 170 growers from across mainly central and Eastern Europe.
- Held every two in three years to allow growers a break and to bring more focus to the show in the years it happens.
- New feature this year include the chance to pre-register for seminars on the Real Wine Fair website.
- Here is a list of seminars and tastings already planned.
- The fair will also include partnerships with a number of street food outlets.
- The fair is open to the trade on both days and the public on May 7. Click here for trade and press registrations.
- If you are involved in hosting promotions and events during Real Wine Month and would like to share your experiences and why you are involved then we would love to hear from you. Email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.