Wine Merchants, What is your point of difference?

As we publish this we are emerging out of the coronavirus lockdown, hospitality businesses are reopening and we are looking to establish the ‘new norm’. With all the noise going on, it is become more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

 Have you ever found yourself eating out (in the days when you used to be able to) scanning the list and seeing the same wine listed in other restaurants, wine bars and pubs you’ve been to before? In a similar way, if you see the shelves or check the websites of wine retailers up and down the country, really good wines do crop up again and again. That’s normally a sign of quality, and quite understandably a good wine is something that most buyers gravitate towards. Customers meet at winemaker dinners and producer trips and share their views and preferences, and it is inevitable that those conversations create curiosity and influence to an extent.

Although a list of SKU’s dotted with wines that are repeated elsewhere is not necessarily the sign of an identikit list, there is only so much differentiation you can make with your product range if you are selecting from the best suppliers, unless they have a dynamic, exciting, esoteric and regionally diverse list. With that in mind, how does a retailer really stand out from the crowd? As one of my mentors used to say, the most important difference you can make over your competitors in any business is ‘service, service, service’. It is amazing how you are prompted to rate any kind of product and service that you have used, and the truth is, that measure helps to elevate service levels especially with those where it does not come naturally. The bank I use has always been based on the principle of high levels of customer service, and everyone I have ever spoken to there is genuinely nice and helpful. It is in the company’s DNA. The garage I have to use for my car service contract is the polar opposite, where the staff were often surly and disinterested, and you can sense it is not a happy ship. Now that they are held to account for the way they interact with their customers, their attitude has definitely changed for the better, even though it does not seem genuine.

The wine business is no different. In the same way that you prefer to do business with a distributor that is flexible with minimum orders, where invoices and orders are accurate, arrive intact and when they are meant to, your customer expects the same reliability and flexibility from you. But that is only where the comparison begins; our customers are looking for a business partner they can trust with their advice on products, to share market data and analysis that shapes the way they interact with the consumer, with point of purchase ideas, which can range from shelf talkers to info-link labels accessible via your phone, and tips on category management by geography, style, occasion, shopper demographic, etc. Just as you are looking for a distributor who is willing to support you with producer dinners and tastings, in-store sampling and annual/bi-annual tastings , your customers are looking for a retailer they can trust to advise you about the wine that suits their requirements, and offers them regular opportunities to engage via events.

If things continue as they are, and lockdowns become ever more restrictive, those retailers with a decent website, where you can place your order and get the wine delivered, will have a distinct advantage as it stands. Those willing to adapt to the market conditions may thrive. Perhaps a distributor who offers to help with your orders – from picking to packing and delivering – would be an added bonus, so you can focus on selling and taking orders. I recently saw a flyer which had been popped through the letter box from a local florist which offered to help with deliveries of food and provisions to those that are house bound. It appeared to be a sincere act of kindness, and even if it is a shameless opportunity for good PR, where is the harm in that?

One thing is for certain, those that that have always offered that point of difference and continue to do so during this most difficult economic situation will emerge stronger ‘on the other side’ (to borrow one of the most utilised phrases of the moment).

Sparkling Wine – an MW’s perspective

Hallgarten Head of Education, Beverly Tabbron MW, has used the last few weeks to ponder sparkling wine, the different forms and her favourite styles.

Sparkling wines have always been the choice for celebrations, and bubbles always make things go with a swing.  Champagne in particular has always been regarded as the aspirational fizz of choice, and the one to choose for that special occasion.

However Prosecco is now a go-to choice for many consumers. It is on all the shelves and can be seen on TV shows; hairdressers and cafes – as well as restaurants – might even offer a welcome glass of Prosecco on arrival. Like ‘Champagne’ it is almost a brand all by itself.

There is a wide range of Proseccos available for consumers to choose from, and we were delighted to launch our new Prosecco range from the Praprian Estate, owned by our long standing producer Paolo Sacchetto, which includes two sparklers which are both vegan and organic. Two hugely topical characteristics in wine and one of the main reasons why we introduced the range.

We like to encourage people to try something different and entice them away from their usual Champagne and Prosecco choices, so here are a few that could add a different sort of sparkle:

Made in the same production method as Champagne, but from the far north east of France is the Crémant d’Alsace ‘Saint Julien’ from Dopff au Moulin in Alsace. Dopff pioneered the production of Crémant when Julien Dopff attended an exhibition in Paris in 1900 and was introduced to the ‘Champagne method’ of producing sparkling wine with the secondary fermentation in bottle. He experimented with this back at his Domaine and voilà, Crémant d’Alsace was born!

We have all seen that England is establishing itself a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its sparkling wines produced mainly on the chalk soils of Sussex and Hampshire.  This is the same chalk strain that passes through Champagne giving good acidity and freshness, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the main grape varieties that go into the production of both Champagne and English bottle fermented sparkling wines.  A great alternative to Champagne, and one that is grown and produced on our own doorstep.

For something different, a favourite of mine is the Pignoletto Frizzante ‘Romandiola’, a lightly sparkling wine made from the Pignoletto grape, slightly off-dry and a cross somewhere between Pinot Grigio and Prosecco in taste.  It’s a really refreshing and quaffable style, and not too fizzy either – in my eyes, one of the best wines to serve as an aperitif on a summer’s day.

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.

WOTM: Château de Campuget, ‘1753’ Syrah Sans Sulfites, 2018

A new addition to the Hallgarten portfolio from our long-term partners in the Northern Rhône region. The grapes for the Château de Campuget, ‘1753’ Syrah Sans Sulfites come from the Château’s own vineyard, which is situated 15 kilometres south of Nîmes, near the village of Manduel in the heart of the ‘Appellation d’Origine Protégée’ (AOP) of the Costières de Nîmes, however winemaker Frank-lin Dalle has chosen to designate this wine as Vin de France to distinguish the distinctive style of this wine, which has been made without sulphites

 

In a nutshell

This classy and intense wine shows a smoky, liquorice and plum character with a hint of dark chocolate and pepper.

The producer

Château de Campuget was established in 1942 and is a top quality estate near Nîmes, which is steeped in history. The Château itself was built in 1753 and at the same time the first vines were planted, prompting the 1753 range of wines which mark this historic date. The fusion of tradition and progression unite in the cellars here,  producing wines with integrity, finesse and a wonderful expression of terroir, from a wide range of traditional Rhône varieties. In 2019, Château de Campuget was certified as Haute Valeur  Environmentale, which officially recognises the environmental performance of winegrowers, including biodiversity conservation, plant protection strategies, managed fertiliser use and water resource management.

The wine

This wine was vinified without the addition of sulphites. The grapes were carefully selected to ensure only the healthiest and highest quality fruit was fermented. The berries were destemmed and vinified with minimal intervention in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks at 20°C. Post fermentation maceration lasted two weeks with twice daily pump overs extracting the rich fruit flavours and structure from the tannins. The wine was made without any oak influence in order to allow the purity of fruit shine through and was bottled early.