In just over 40 years Joseph Helfrich has turned Les Grands Chais de France from a 5,000 franc loan into one of the world’s most important wine producing groups – currently worth €1.14bn and accounting for over a fifth of all France’s wine exports. Famille Helfrich is the group’s exclusive on-trade and independent retail arm that is showing over 200 of its wines at two UK tastings. The London event is next Tuesday while the Manchester one just happened with Mike Turner suitably impressed with what was on offer – especially a wine from Gascogne that is £3.68 DPD.
“Les Grands Chais, and by extension Famille Helfrich, are very aware that increasing their portfolio abroad is the next rung on the ladder, and like most they’re achieving this through a blend of acquisitions and strategics partnerships,” writes Turner.
In a preview interview with The Buyer’s own Richard Siddle, Chris Davies (sales director for Famille Helfrich in the UK) admitted that “Famille Helfrich might well be the Les Grands Chais de France’s best kept secret.” Now I’m not daft enough to have not heard of Les Grands Chais de France before, with wine behemoths Calvet and JP Chenet in the portfolio, but Chris had me there; its Famille Helfrich operations were a new one on me. So this week I headed to Manchester for the first of their two portfolio tastings, to discover this network of over 60 family owned and partner estates spread throughout France (and the rest of the world) to see what they had to offer the UK on-trade.
Who are Famille Helfrich?
Famille Helfrich are the on-trade and independents arm of Les Grand Chais de France, one of the most outrageous success stories of the wine industry. Joseph Helfrich famously started his family business in 1979 with a bank loan of a mere 5,000 francs. Last year Les Grands Chais de France had revenues of over €1.14bn, producing more than 500m bottles of wine and shipping to 177 countries, which made them alone responsible for 22% of French wine exports!
The group itself owns and manages over 60 properties in France and abroad. Its size and scope (over 3,400 hectares owned across France alone) allows them to have competitive offerings to multi-channel retailers as well as a separate portfolio of offerings to on-trade and independents, a function managed by the Famille Helfrich arm of the group.
The Famille Helfrich portfolio contains approximately 870 wines, with around 250 of were showcased at Manchester Hall this week, before the line-up heads south to 67 Pall Mall in London next week (12th October).
Scope across France
As mentioned, with over 3,400 hectares owned and managed across France Famille Helfrich has a great scope for the famous plots and lesser known joys of French wines. I could have picked any region to highlight this, but I thought I’d head to their line-up of Burgundy wines. I love Burgundy as a wine lover, but as both a stockist and consumer my wallet sometimes has an issue. It’s really important to have a range of Burgundy, and that includes the mid-range wines from lesser known-appellations, but just a nudge up from the Hauts-Côtes. To see and taste fabulous wines from appellations such as Fixin, Saint-Véran, and Rully rubbing shoulders with Gevrey-Chambertin, Mercurey, and Mersault really showed the scope of what Famille Helfrich has to offer.
One of the interesting omissions in the portfolio is Champagne, but the portfolio certainly doesn’t lack for great quality bubbles. The wider group is the largest producer of Crémant wines in France, with production in each of the eight main regions for Crémant production. For those of you heading to the London tasting, make sure you check out the sharp and refreshing bubbles from both Jura and Savoie, the rounded and brioche-rich Bourgogne, or for something a bit different then maybe the spicy and ‘niche’ Blanquette de Limoux.
Scope across price points
For those of you at the Manchester tasting, or those heading to London next week, you’ll notice in the tasting booklet that the prices aren’t printed in full in the booklet. Don’t worry, they’re not trying to be coy, it’s just to make life simple on the day. The way pricing works is based on order size. The minimum order size is half a pallet (in total), with price tranches split at 1 pallet, 2-5 pallets, and 6 or more. They then sort all the transport out and 3-4 weeks later (driver shortages not withstanding) the wines arrive at your door fresh from France.
Davies very kindly sent me the full pricing sheet, and one of the first checks I made was to the “House Wines” section. I make a big thing about house wines at restaurants. If the house wine isn’t good then I won’t order any other wine because the place I’m at clearly doesn’t care enough. But at less than £5 DPD, the (above) pictured selection of wines from their “House Wines” selection are well worth investigating, with the Le Havre De Paix IGP Gasgogne an absolute steal for as little as £3.68 DPD!
Elsewhere in the world
As much as he might hate me for dropping him in it like this, someone well worth chatting to is Nick Butler, an Aussie winemaker who looks after the properties outside of France. Les Grands Chais, and by extension Famille Helfrich, are very aware that increasing their portfolio abroad is the next rung on the ladder, and like most they’re achieving this through a blend of acquisitions and strategics partnerships. They have holdings in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Hungary, and partnerships in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
One of the highlights of the tasting for Famille Helfrich, however, is their recently acquired Chilean winery, Viña Las Niñas. An organic vineyard site with a “decent sized winery” (in Nick’s own words) means that they can begin to vinify, blend, and bottle their own Chilean portfolio under full control, whether from their own grapes or those bought in under contract. There will be new labels, new names, and a range of individual valleys, to more generic bottlings to look forward to. For now, however, the Aetos range on show are well worth a taste, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon particular favourites and wonderful value.
Burgundy-based export manager, Marine Dejaegere, spoke to me about the company’s increasingly proud record on sustainability. From the next vintage, 100% of their properties in France will be HVE (the French government’s sustainability initiative) certified to at least one of the three levels, with many having already achieved the group target of the top Level 3; 38% of the vineyards are also organic or in conversion. Less prevalent in the range are biodynamic or no-added-sulphite wines, but they do exist, including a very beautiful no-added sulphite, organic Château de Fournas Corbières that warrants a taste, as does the beautifully packaged Infusion Sans Sulphites Cotes de Roussillon Villages.
For More Information
To sign up for the London tasting of the Famille Helfrich portfolio on Tuesday 12th October at 67 Pall Mall, or for any other information on the wines or offerings, please contact Chris Davies, sales director for on-trade and independents.
Famille Helfrich is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.