Campo Viejo – where size is everything

This autumn I had the chance to visit one of the Rioja’s largest wine producers Campo Viejo thanks to the very nice people at Pernod Ricard and I have to admit it was perhaps the most impressive visit I’ve ever done. Not only for the scale – producing 24 million bottles is no easy task – but also for the attention to detail and the thought that went into every element.

Campo Viejo barrelstore

Not surprisingly the figures were mind-blowing:  grapes harvested from 4700 hectares vinified separately in 320 steel vats. A warehouse where 5 million bottles of wine were left to age, 70,000 oak barriques in the barrel store all housed in a winery of 45,000 sqm, an amazing feat of architecture.

Designed to fit harmoniously into the landscape, most of the structure is hidden underground and the feel inside the huge spaces is futuristic, almost science-fictional. The precision involved in making wine on this scale is mind-boggling. Each step in the process is monitored down to the tiniest detail and needless to say every inch was spotlessly clean.

Contrary to what some may think, this was far from a factory for making coca cola, this was an operation set up to use as mush diversity in each element in order to create a wine that would be consistently expressive of the Rioja. The mix of hundreds of components (each vineyard vilified separately, 300 different batches of oak for the barrels) is a necessary element when producing wine on such a scale.

Campo Viejo vatroom

My write up as a tourist can be seen on my blog bubbleandchic but what I took away from the visit was a great understanding of how unfair the wine industry is becoming. There’s the growing idea that good bottles of wine can’t be made from large producers and that the mass produced wines have little passion for what they do or hold little interest for the consumer. In my time in this industry I’ve come across many small producers would benefit from seeing just how Campo Viejo’s attention to detail enables them to make consistently good wine. Their staff were extremely warm, welcoming and informative and  were nothing less than passionate about what they do and the Campo Viejo brand.

Anyone who thinks that large producers have little to offer, should really take a trip to Bodega Campo Viejo and then think again…

WBIS – Wine Business Innovation Summit – 2nd edition

Wine. Business. Innovation. These are the three ingredients we mixed together when creating the WBIS event in Brussels in January. I say “we”, I’m referring to  myself and Marc Roisin, founder of Vinogusto and a passionate wine business entrepreneur, along with Jens de Maere, distributor and promoter of Belgian wines.

Earlier this year,  170 people bore the snow and sub-zero temperatures to travel to Belgium for the first edition of the Wine Business Innovation Summit. This January, we’re taking the event to yet another cold, beer-centric city : Munich.

WBIS Brussels

So why is that?

Well being a wine event doesn’t mean that we have to be in a wine region to enjoy it. This event is more about the business behind the wine industry rather than the wine itself although wine gets a spotlight during the guided wine tastings by the Wines of Germany and the German Wine Institute on Sunday. We’ll also have a moment on friday night to share some wine together.

Munich, like Brussels, is pretty easy to get to from almost everywhere in Europe. For us it’s important to chose a place that people can fly, drive train and coach too without too much effort. Being one of the largest airports in Europe, having direct rail links to France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy and then being easy to read by road, a trip to Munich shouldn’t turn into a logistical mission.

And what will we be doing there?

Just as the first edition, we turned to the on-line wine community to decide what they wanted to talk about and, via a poll and online voting, we can up with a range of topics for our programme of seminars. We limited our first WBIS experience to one day and some of the attendees told us they’d like to see more content on the Sunday so this year we’ve made a second half-day programme with more sessions and two wine tastings.

This year’s programme will include the importance of bloggers on the wine scene, the rise of wine clubs, how to become a professional wine writer, how video can make a difference to our brand, the importance of place Vs brand, the importance of consumers in driving sales. All the seminars are lead by experts in each field.

Who do we expect to come?

This is the question I often hear, “Who is #WBIS aimed at?” and here I have to say “people in the wine industry who are looking to grow and develop new projects”. I thnk its important in any business to learn, grow, develop and change. Some of the wine producers I work with have great vision – analysing their markets and developing new products to meet the needs of new consumers, knowing how they want to develop their business and very often they are looking for people to help them make that happen. We have entrepreneurs launching new projects to help consumers choose wines, provide services to wine producers or down the supply chain and we have bloggers and communicators looking to understand how the market is changing and how they can make the most of their role in it. WBIS is a collection of dynamic people looking to make headway, foster new projects and be disruptive in a traditionally conservative wine market.

 

On the WBIS website, we have the programme of the event as well as tips for where to stay and a link for registration

 

Video from WBIS in Brussels 2013

French Wine Trip – a summary in pictures

A few weeks ago I posted about the #Frenchwinetrip, an innovative project funded by FranceAgrimer and coordinated by Sopexa (to whom I very willingly lent my professional services :-)) involving a bus, a group of international bloggers and as many French wine regions we could cram into 9 days. The aim was to use the words of the chosen wine, food and travel communicators to reveal the diversity in styles of French wines across 6 different languages.

During the trip we met wine producers, sellers, negociants, promotional bodies and educators and tasted over 250 wines from just about every corner of France. Those we didn’t visit directly were included in the ad-hoc tastings we created along the way, on the bus, at dinner and during a wine tasting competition we put together on the last night in our snug apartment in Beaune. Thanks to the amazing attention the wineries and promotional bodies paid to us, I have so much material from that trip that I don’t know where to start so here’s a first post with a few of the pictures. More tales of the #Frenchwinetrip can be found on roadtripinfrance.com

Linn Grubbstrom - our blogger for Denmark
Linn Grubbstrom – our blogger for Denmark

Day 1 – The trip started in the Loire on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We arrived late on our branded bus from Brussels due to traffic, rain and a longer than expected stop at what we presume to be our driver’s favourite service station. The video team were there with their cameras, boom and mic’s poised to catch the first swirls of the glass from our 6 bloggers Jens, Irene, Linn, Matt, Sebastian and Alex as they listened to a presentation of wines from the region. This was just one of the stands of Vitiloire, a wine festival held in Tours city centre every year known to be one of the most successful town wine fairs in existence.

Cycling in the Saumur-Champigny vineyards
Cycling in the Saumur-Champigny vineyards

Day 2 – Luckily the day after the sun shone as we headed out with our bikes up and down the hills of the Saumur-Champigny learning about how the appellation has encouraged organic agriculture and has invested in weather stations to allow give farmers more information about meteorological conditions to limit the use of treatments in the vineyards.

Blending Bordeaux at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux
Blending Bordeaux at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux

Day 3 – We arrived in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux AOC appellation accounts for 1.5% of the world’s vineyards and 5.4milion hectoliters (which would be 720m bottles) of quality wine are produced here each year. Just about all Bordeaux wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the combination depending on the location of the vineyards. The left and right banks of the Garonne river have very different soils and microclimates making them more or less suitable to each grape variety. We tried our hand at blending at the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux.

I am so sweet Bordeaux

One of the savoury dishes paired with sweet bordeaux

Day 4 – Sweet wines of Bordeaux – the sweet wines of Bordeaux are made in 11 AOC appellations covering 4,040 hectares. With 530 estates producing 15m bottles of sweet wines per year, the lush wines account for only 2% of the Bordeaux production. Too often thought of as accompaniments to desserts, the Sweet Bordeaux body is working hard to educate consumers on how they can be matched with a range of dished including tapas, oysters, shellfish, fish, spicy dishes and cheeses. We stopped off at Chateau La Bouade for a winery visit and special food and wine pairing lunch with top chef Gerard Gottrand including these deliciously spiced chicken wings.

After lunch it was time to board the bus and head South..

Languedoc - a beautiful place to make wine
Languedoc – a beautiful place to make wine

Day 5 –  Languedoc – the new El Dorado of wine. During our 2 days in the region we visited a winery and had two dinners in the company of wine makers from many different appellations. We discovered some amazing are being made in this region which was previously only known for its bulk wines. Large wineries looking expand their portfolio (Domaine de l’Ostal Cazes is owned by the same family as Chateau Lynches Bages in Bordeaux) as well as wine affascinados looking to live their dream of buying a vineyard are taking advantage of the low cost of land and perfect weather conditions (lots of sun, dry summers and plenty of wind) to make modern, deliciously fruity, complex wines that are changing the reputation of Languedoc wines.

Gres de Montpellier

Day 6 – Gres de Montpellier – On our way towards Burgundy, we stopped near the town of Montpellier to visit two Chateau producing Gres de Montpellier wines. The wines much be at least 70% Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre (of which at least 10% Grenache) and are bottled in their own Gres de Montepellier signed bottle, like those of Chateauneuf du Pape in the nearby Rhone Valley region. The wines must be aged for at least 16 months and are full of fruit, cinnamon, spices, and minerality. This is one wine that will definitely make its way onto my shopping list.

The wines we tasted at Joseph Drouhin
The wines we tasted at Joseph Drouhin

Day 7 – Burgundy – This region accounts for 0.5% of the world’s wine production and 4% of the world’s value of wine. There may be only two main varieties (Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites) but the diversity of the terrain means that 60,000 different styles of wine are produced here each year. After being completely lost in the same-same-but-different appellations and crus, I reverted to the rule of thumb: the longer the name the better and more expensive it’s probably going to be. The tasting of 14 wines at Drouhin was one of my favourites of the trip – the Clos des Mouches 1990 (which we were told was a perfect vintage) was a proper treat.

Day 8 – After another winery visit, lunch with sushi and white wines from Chablis and the Jura, it was finally time to relax with a lot of local food and many more bottles of French wines. With more than a week of travelling through the French vineyards behind us, it was time to test our palates with a “guess the French wine” competition. In keeping with Burgundian complexity, we threw in wines from regions we’d not visited. We had surprised looks, gasps of “I thought it was!!” and a lot of eye rolling especially when Champagne was confused with a Cremant de Jura, and an unusually non-aromatic Alsacian Riesling got the better of all of us that the general conclusion was – we may have done a lot, but France has so much still left to show us that we can only hope there’ll be time for a Road trip in France 2014..  let’s hope so…

Once the work was over, the roles were reversed on the film crew.
Once the work was over, the roles were reversed on the film crew.

P.S. Our 6 wine and travel crazy bloggers posted, pinned, clicked, recorded and tweeted about our adventures to their public and bravely stood in front of the camera’s of our untiring video crew every day providing roadtripinfrance.com content in English, French, Dutch, Danish, German and Russian. A longer film of the trip will be released in the next few months.

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..