Saudades do…. Brunello di Montalcino in Brazil

When I first was asked “could you organise us something in Brazil for a group of 15 wine producers from Montalcino” if I tell you the truth, I was slightly worried. I’d first stepped foot in Brazil 13 years ago, at that time it was all about beer and cachaca and the only wine I’d seen and tasted there (in a small town in Rio Grande do Sul) was a Brazilian copy of Asti..

Since then though, recently affluent Brazilians have moved steadily up the list of “potential wine consumers” just as Brazil has moved up the world power rankings and nowadays for wineries looking to escape the depression of their domestic markets, indeed finding an importer in the land of Samba and Pele, is top of many a wish list.

So last week I headed over to Expovinis, Brazil’s main meeting point in the wine industry calendar accompanied by a cheerful group of wine producers from the picturesque village of Montalcino in central Italy. It was the first group outing of Cooperativa La Spiga Montalcino, an association of farmers that over the years has seen the importance of viticulture amongst their members grow. Founded back in the 1950s, the association was used to share  machinery between the local farmers and built an olive mill for all to use. Nowadays their members include some of the most important wine houses in the region and together they decided to pool resources, take advantage of EU subsidies and explore new horizons. They’d brought with them a selection of their Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo, Moscadello and the jewel in the crown of Tuscan viticulture – Brunello di Montalcino.

Stand 66 Expovinis Cooperativa La SpigaAfter a frustrating day of set-up followed by an evening of churrasco, beer and caipirinha to ease everyone into the mood, we headed over to Expo Centre Norte, a modern Expo centre located between the city centre and the airport (30-40mins from each). After much persuasion we’d been allocated a stand close to the French pavilion in the logic that the Gaullic dominance of international markets would pull visitors past our stand. Once the doors opened though, the crowds flocked around the top Tuscan’s like bees around honey. A lot  lot of hard work by producers to ensure high quality in their winemaking and promotion done by the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino means that Brunello enjoys a reputation (despite the glitch in 2008) that many other appellations can only dream of.

Day 1 empties ExpovinisDay 1 went busily but smoothly and by the time the clock struck 9, many of the producers had emptied 30% of their wines and I was starting to get worried we’d be left dry by Friday. Expovinis may be the only wine fair for professionals in Brazil but it’s also one of the main wine events for consumers. From 5pm doors are opened to consumers and inevitably, the post-work crowds give the fair a whole different meaning. Perhaps quenching the local’s thirst for “vinhozinho” with 150$ Brunello is not what the producers had in mind but in a market where wine is still a relatively new trend, it’s part of the deal.

ImageOver the 3 days of the fair, the producers were kept busy with B2B meeting with importers and distributors and on day 2 we decided there was no better way to demonstrate how well the rich wines of Montalcino marry with the meaty cuisine of Brazil by taking them to a nearby churrascuria. A few of the producers are already distributed in Brazil whilst others are looking for importers meaning that despite having on the whole similar offerings, the targets were often different : importers or distributors. The sheer size of the country means that many companies do one activity and not the other.

On the last day of the exhibition we involved one of Brazil’s most prominent wine journalists, Jorge Lucki, to lead a Masterclass on the wines of Montalcino. Press, importers and sommeliers were lead through an hour’s presentation on how and where these wines are made illustrating the particularities of Montalcino:

– the hill of Montalcino is like a pyramid meaning that vineyards on each side produce very different wines. Wines made from grapes in vineyards to the North of the village are lighter with more elegance whilst those from the South have more power and structure. Many producers have vineyards dotted across the village and use these cru to make very different Brunellos

– the area’s flagship wine is the Brunello which takes over 5 years to make (the longest aging wine in Italy) yet the Rosso di Montalcino far from being a less aged Brunello, has its own fresh, easy-drinking identity

– the Sant’Antimo appellation allows wine producers the freedom to use grape varieties other than Sangiovese in their wines and can be produced in white and red versions as well as various monovarietals where the include at least 85% of the stated grape. These include Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

– the Moscadello di Montalcino – produced in still, frizzante or late harvest ensures the area produces wines for all occasions and dishes

Lineup of wines shown at the Montalcino MasterclassTo complete the programme the wineries of Cooperativa La Spiga hosted a closing soiree in a restaurant in the hip quartier of Itaim Bibi. BOS bbq run by Brazilian born Gustavo Bottino who spent a lot of time in the US was our chosen venue. The relaxed ambiance of the place along with the simple yet tasty food was the perfect setting for an evening of networking. I’d organised the event for the producers to have more one on one time with people in the wine industry – to get to know their thoughts on what they drink, when and how much they spend. We invited selected wine consumers, some friendly importers and a few press to the evening which finished with a charity sale of the remaining wines. The opportunity to take home wine that cost a fraction of what they would normally be available for in Brazil was not missed and at the end of the evening we’d raised 1000 euro for Gustavo’s chosen charity Projeto Sol that works with children of the favelas. There was nothing left to do now but enjoy dancing the night away to the beats of Samba..

Cooperativa La Spiga Producers
The line-up of producers outside the exhibition centre

The day after it was time to head home and take stock of what we’d done and learnt. The week had finished well – my 15 wine producers had made contacts with importers, distributors and wine consumers, started understanding how complex the Brazilian market is (the government imposes high taxes on wines and is toying with introducing protectionist policies), helped a local charity and had a fair dose of indigenous culture. Some even had the luxury of heading home with an order in their briefcase.

When I got back to grey-skied Munich I was definitely suffering from Saudades do Brazil or should that be Saudades do Brunello? ..

Many thanks to: Bellaria, Cantine Luciani 1888, Capanna, Collelceto, Collematoni, La Fornace, La Mannella, La Rasina, La Serena, Lazzeretti, Lisini, Mastrojanni, Podere La Vigne, Solaria, Ventolaio for their good humour and patience.

Wine events – getting the best out of them..

Over the years I’ve been involved in organizing a range of wine events from full on exhibitions with 3 days of milling through the crowds of curious wine drinkers (as opposed to wine lovers) in China to smaller events with strict-ish access for trade only. I’ve seen hundreds of wineries spend thousands of Euros to attend these events, some with great success, others with none. So here’s my list of observations of how to get the best out of an event. It’s just common sense for the most part but you’d be surprised at how many wineries don’t do these things..

1)      Firstly choose your wine event with care. They are the best way to get a foot in the door in new markets giving you the chance to meet trade and press, show your wines and hopefully get a contract. Many of these events produce super glossy materials talking of thousands of visitors when in fact the serious trade contingent in that market totals the number of people standing at the bus stop down the road and not the thousands they’re claiming. Don’t find yourself in an exhibition in a tent without glassware on a lawn with 50 visitors a day. Ask around before you decide where’s best to put your money.

2)      Make sure you know where you’re going and what you need to do. Daft I know but over the years I’ve been asked by people what the weather will be like, what vaccinations they need, if they can drink the water etc.  A bit of background research is easy to do, at least then when you get off the plane you know what’s waiting for you – or at least have a vague idea. I recently had an exhibitor who didn’t realize he needed a visa (by opting to use his own travel agent) to get to India and ended up going to Kathmandu for a day. He  then spent 12 hours in Indian transfer area of an airport and missed the event completely.

3)      Know the local culture. For example there’s not much sense in going to India and talking about how well your wine matches with roast beef when 30% of the population is vegetarian. Rather think of which dishes your wines would pair well with or which spices resound its qualities. It’s common sense but have an idea of who it is your consumers are and how and when they consume your wine…

4)      Get a list of the importers before you go and start a dialogue. Once an exhibitor complained to me that over a 3 day exhibition they’d not met anyone, when asked the question – but did you try to organise any appointments? They were left rather baffled. Times have changed, everyone’s fighting to get noticed so you got to work at it rather than just standing with a bottle in your hand.

5)      Get your materials translated into the local language  – and well. As a English mother tongue speaker, I cringe when I read some of the materials which I see wafted around by my exhibitors. Ok you might be able to speak passable English when selling the wine, but you need to leave your contacts something that they’ll be able to understand and that they’ll then be able to transmit to their customers easily without your hand gestures to help them understand your message.

6)      Take a good range of wines with you (if you have the luxury of choice) and make sure that they appeal to the local market. Find out what sells well in that market and make sure – if you can – that you have it on your table.

7)      Arrive a day early if possible so you can understand where you are and also hopefully avoid unforeseen delays. This’ll give you time to see the city and read a local paper to have an idea as to where the buzz in the place is. It’s all about having an idea about where you are.  Also I recently had a problem with a group of exhibitors who got stuck on a plane due to fog and ended up missing the gala dinner. I had a room with half the exhibitors missing, they didn’t get chance to meet the press and VIPS that were there. Disaster but one that resulted from cutting it too tight. .

8)      Look interesting. Perhaps this is the most obvious of all, but a smile works wonders. I’ve had exhibitors complain that no-one was talking to them but they were sitting with their backs turned, and chatting amongst themselves. Obviously unless someone really wants to taste that wine, they’re going to just walk on by to the next friendly, un-intimidating wine producer who is happy to talk.

9)      Do good follow-up. Many of these new markets are lacking in wine knowledge and for  them to stock new brands they need to know that you’re going to be there not only in terms of pricing but also in service providing materials they may need and even perhaps organizing a visit to the winery for them to see for themselves. A friend tells me that he has never closed a deal with a new client in less a year. Work hard and be prepared to be patient.

10)   Take it for what it is. It’s not a given that at every single event you’re going to make contacts to then sell 3 containers worth of stock. You may not get nothing out of the first trip but don’t necessarily think that it’s money thrown down the drain. All experience in a market is good and will somewhere down the line have a value.

Of course nothing is a given, you may decide to take a leap into the darkness and go to the least publicized wine exhibition in the most far flung reaches of China and find yourself a couple of importers. You never know, but either way, just make sure you’re at least prepared to tackle the event in the right way and have faith that somewhere down the line, it will happen..

WBIS – Where Wine, Business and Innovation meet

#WBIS – It’s not everyday you get to combine everything you love in life but when I was called in to a meeting with the briefing of “how about organising an event about the wine business”, there was something that ticked my fancy so to speak. The result was a day of seminars, new business pitching and a networking wine tasting.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/60499498 w=500&h=281]

#WBIS – Wine Business Innovation Summit 2013, Brussels from Marc Roisin on Vimeo.

Organised by myself, Marc Roisin (CEO and founder of Vinogusto.com) with valuable support from Jens De Maere (founder of Belgianwines.com) and a team of highly enthusiastic members of the Belgian wine scene, #WBIS was a great example of how  professional collaboration gets results. Growth and innovation were the themes of the day with nine seminars delving into the issues currently being affronted in today’s wine industry: – how to launch a wine brand – how to communicate to 25 – 35 yr old consumers – the ROI of catering to a community such as #Winelover for wineries or generic organisations – Video marketing – different approaches to selling wine on-line – the ROI of social media for wine producers and wine merchants – Wine tourism – is wine tourism the answer to increasing sales? – Unique wine identification & database management – The ROI of bloggers trips.. All themes that were chosen and voted on by our on-line community.

We selected the speakers for their expertise in each of the domains and for their ability to convey their message, views and experience to the plateau of well-qualified wine professionals that had travelled from all corners of Europe to attend. Despite #WBIS being a completely new event, we managed to haul in

  • Robert Joseph, well-known British wine critic come producer
  • Rich Tomko, CEO of Snooth
  • Finkus Bripp, multimedia specialist and creator of wineontherocks.tv
  • Miss Vicky Wine, social media whizz and wine producer
  • Andre Ribeirinho and Luiz Alberto, founders of the #Winelover community
  • Ryan Opaz, organizer of the EWBC
  • Stefano Soglia, expert on the development of wine tourism in Italy
  • Nico Bour, co-founder and CEO of Uvinum/Sportivic
  • Melanie Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant
  • Elena Zeni of Cantina Zeni
  • Jean-frederic Hugel of Hugel & FIls
  • Ward de Muynck of Chateau Castigno and Le Van Rouge
  • Filipe Jose Carvalho of Douro Spirit.

Following the exchange of opinions and experience at the round tables, #WBIS put the spotlight on wine business entrepreneurs with the #WBIS Business Awards. A panel of judges and a room full of qualified wine professionals were given the chance to hear 6 presentations from wine business start-ups. The 2-minute presentations were rated for their quality of presentation, degree of innovation, consumer focus and economic viability by the panel of wine business experts with three presentations scooping over 70 points. Vincod, a cloud service of on-line tasting notes for wineries grabbed the coveted #WBIS Business award.

It was then time to round off the day by uncorking some bottles at the #WBIS mega-tasting. Sponsors of the event Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur, Sfriso, Belgian Wines, Jaillance, Grenache Symposium and Hugel served their wines in the innovative Govino glasses provided by Hugel & Fils.

The 2nd edition of #WBIS will be held early 2014 – watch out for news:  @Winebis wbis.eu 

Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini – promoting the wines from the Marche in Flanders

Having worked with the Istituto Marchigano di Tutela Vini, a body that represents 80% of the wine exported from the beautiful Marches region of central Italy, to promote trade events in Belgium in 2010, in 2012, the focus was turned to wine consumers.

Despite its size, Belgium is a complicated market. Three areas, three different markets inside a country of 11 million. Not to mention the complication for the language. The south speaks French, the north Flemish (a version of Dutch) and Brussels, we’ll in theory the city is bilingual although in practice, there are more French ex-pats living in the city than Flemish. The most important for Italian wines is the market in Flanders thanks to the Flemish enthusiasm for all things from the Bel Paese.

In autumn of 2011, I selected a small group of influential wine bloggers, communicators and journalists for a press-trip to the Marches region to discover the homeland of one of Italy’s most loved white wines, Verdicchio.

consumer promotion Returning to Belgium, I worked closely with a number of wine clubs to organise 10 evenings in which a wine ambassador (who had been part of the tour a few months earlier) presented the area and the region’s wines. With few of the wines available on the Belgian market, I also collaborated with a local importer in Antwerp to organise a wine tasting and sales of the wines. This meant that any of the 600 consumers that took part in the tastings had the chance to purchase the wines.

The promotion was greatly appreciated by the association of wine gilds that dedicated a special report to the wines in their magazine that is delivered to 5000 wine consumers in Belgium and I discovered areas of Belgium that I would never have normally seen. Many towns and villages have these wines clubs that host an evening every month to discover a select region or appellation or even grape variety. The clubs vary greatly between them, some being more dynamic and selecting wines of a certain calibre only for their members whereas others are happy to be exploring wines that they would normally not buy. The common theme between them though is their passion for all things vinous.

Following the promotion, a number of the wine producers participating in the project then went on to find local importers in Flanders and a number of orders were made via the importer helping producers get known in the area. The other important aspect is that with direct flights from the Marche and Belgium (thanks to low-cost airline Ryanair), many of the people we spoke to at the evenings were also planning on booking their holidays to the region and exploring the area and wineries for themselves.