|1 Apr 2020|
I started working at Thos Peatlings (the wine arm of Greene King) in 1989. Studied and completed my Diploma under Robin Crameri MW. Moved to Adnams to look after all wine sales in the Essex region. This swiftly moved into the Greater London area, setting up the warehouse, managing stock volumes and journey planning for deliveries, targeting high profile wine accounts in the City.
The real progress occurred when Adnams purchased Haughton Agencies – at the time, one of the most prestigious wine agency businesses in the UK listing some of the most sought after iconic Old and New World wines. I was given the role at Haughtons of “National Account Manager''. Filling the shoes of the previous owner was a daunting challenge and the learning curve was exceptionally steep. Some of the relationships with the owner went back many years, so a tough skin and understanding the wines within the portfolio were a must. The portfolio included Amberley Estate, Cullen, Mountadam, Tim Gramp, Charlie Melton, Montara, Yarra Yerring from Australia; Forrest and Martinborough from New Zealand; Ridge and Saintsbury from California; Luigi Bosca from Argentina; and from Europe the likes of Daumas Gassac in France and Telmo Rodriguez in Spain. A stunning range of diverse and brilliant winemakers!
The learning curve took a rapid upwards climb when travelling extensively around the globe with Simon Loftus (Chairman of Adnams) visiting almost every one of these stunning wineries and great winemakers. Getting a true understanding of the individual micro-climates, the soil variations, the trellising systems, canopy management and then the techniques used in the wineries, old and new – from metre square open top fermenting tanks to fully computerised systems. The diversity was incredible – the use of carbonic maceration, micro-oxidization and having the chance to ask direct questions on yields, yeasts, their barrel selection, batonnage and alcohol levels. All totally fascinating - and this was prior to doing any blending across the components the vintage/harvest had delivered – every vintage being slightly different. Some vintages were much more challenging than others when you are in the hands of weather issues, animal problems and vine related diseases.
Simon’s knowledge was in-depth and spending many hours driving mile upon mile from one winery to another gave me the chance to digest what we had just seen and prepare for the next visit.
The account base at Haughtons had spread across a varied size of customers, but some own label wines were being made for the likes of Tesco, Fortnums, Harrods and First Quench (Threshers). More traditional major merchants across the UK, Oddbins, Majestic were all interested in the wines within the portfolio and listed them. We also supplied hotel groups (DeVere), London restaurant groups (Bleeding Heart), accounts in Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man and Dubai. It was great and I had learnt so much.
In 1998 I was offered a job with Siegel's Wine Agency, a smaller company but which had a stunning portfolio based around some of the best German producers – Loosen, Donnhoff, Gunderloch to name a few. It also had ties in South Africa. I visited Cape Town on several occasions and, with my contacts in Dubai looking to expand their portfolio, I managed to secure them the options to be the sole distributors of the likes of Meerlust, Klein Constantia, De Toren and Haute Cabriere. These stunning wineries all still having great success in the Dubai market.
At Siegels I met a young dynamic Serbian winemaker, Boris Kovac - who had fled across the border when all of the issues were happening in his homeland. He had worked under an Australian winemaker, Michael Goundrey, and had learnt some exceptional winemaking techniques in the South of France. I tried to purchase Siegels with my Managing Director, but that did not materialize.
Using Boris’ winemaking capabilities and my producer contacts and knowledge, in 2002 I set up Alchemy Wines Ltd, a family-based business looking to shorten the supply chain. Working directly with winemakers in France, Spain, Australia and South Africa to deliver the multichannel account base Alchemy had “wines direct from the vineyard”, with no agents. Our mission was “Dedication to Creation” of great wines punching above their fighting weight.
As with any business, there have been high and lows. I was lucky enough to blend and create the house wine at the Burj al Arab for four years with my team in Spain. The Burj then wanted a change and I created two wines from South Africa using fruit from De Toren and Klein Constantia. This was the first time that the hotel’s logo was used on a wine bottle (some political hoops to jump through first) but it worked well.
Back in the UK and looking to revamp the Southern French category for Morrisons, our Sandpiper range was born in 2005. By 2007 it was the 7th largest Southern French brand in the UK market. Sadly, by 2010, Alchemy’s margin had been squeezed so thin that I had to remove the wines from the shelf.
This led to Alchemy looking for additional international markets, blending and creating styles each international market was looking for, working backwards from the consumer’s taste profile and working with our distribution partners collaboratively. We entered China and Japan in 2013 and 2014. In 2015 we launched into Metro Cash & Carry in Russia – and Canada in the same year, with some volumes into Africa. The USA followed and we continue to look to spread our network of like-minded distributors further, including Brazil, further options in the USA and new labels from Italy into Russia. The list continues…
I have now been working with Boris for 20 years and we have established a wonderful relationship. We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have created some wonderful wines together – our D&B range is the best of what we can do, and now comes directly from his own Domain near Latour de France. I have a similar relationship with my Spanish team, with great wines, great prices and with our ability and flexibility to blend for and understand each market – we are set up to grow in the future.
Recently Alchemy has created the Clarets’ Claret for Burnley FC “The Clarets” (as I lost my father in 2010 to Prostate Cancer this was not a difficult choice). £1.50 from every bottle sold is split between Prostate Cancer UK and The Barry Kilby Prostate Cancer Appeal – Barry is the Deputy Chairman of Burnley and is recovering from Prostate Cancer. Other OIs and I have historically raised many thousands for PCUK – cycling, functions, dinners - a cause very close to my family and my heart.
We have never really looked actively at the retail proposition historically, but are doing so now, so any OI looking to try some new wines made by another OI, please take a look at our website and sign up to our newsletter – www.alchemywines.co.uk.
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