AS AN EXPERT IN IMPORTING WINES AND SELLING THEM TO THE PUBLIC, JONATHAN TEW, OF FINE WINES DIRECT UK, TALKS ABOUT THE PREFERENCES OF HIS CUSTOMERS IN WALES AND ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF THE WINES OF THE OLD WORLD BEFORE AN EVENTUAL BREXIT
Cardiff, Wales, (United Kingdom), May 14th, 2019.- Fine Wines Direct UK has, in just ten years, become one of the leading wine importers in the UK with sales of over £8 million per annum. It is first and foremost a wholesaler, an independent specialist importer of wines from across the world, many of which are exclusive to their business. Fine Wines Direct supplies some of the best hotels, gastropubs, restaurants and caterers throughout Wales and the South West of England.
It also has a quaint shop in-situ with the warehouse and offices on the outskirts of Cardiff which is open to the public to enjoy. With over 1000 wines, champagne, fortified wines, spirits, premium lagers, ales and ciders in stock, many of which cannot be found elsewhere in the area, it really is a worthwhile visit for any wine lover!
I interview Jonathan Tew, retail manager at Fine Wines Direct UK since autumn 2017. I discover that his favourite grape variety is Albariño and that he has served some Hollywood A-listers, including Robert Redford and Liam Neeson!
Fine Wines Direct UK is a wholesale merchant, but is also open to the public; when a customer enters your store, do they ask you for advice and recommendations, or do they go straight to the shelves and browse until they choose a wine to buy?
It’s a real mix. For some they know exactly what they are after and it’s fairly straightforward. Others just want some re-assurance they are purchasing a nice bottle, whilst others wish for some guidance. It’s probably not far off a third for each type of customer. Being someone who myself doesn’t like to be jumped upon when shopping I prefer to acknowledge people and then give them the space to browse whilst making myself available if necessary – you can read peoples intentions.
You are the largest importer of Spanish wines in Wales and one of the most important independent wholesalers of Rioja in the UK, but what type of wine do your customers prefer the most?
There is a huge demand for Spanish wine and in particular Rioja in South Wales. Having come from Oxfordshire where Bordeaux and Burgundy had greater attention from customers this come as a real surprise to me – it’s very much a local market.
The company has successfully built the brands of many producers over a long period of time and customers are familiar with the wines from when they dine out; Marqués de Cáceres, Grupo Pesquera, Marqués de Ulía and Siglo to name a few. The late Benigno Martínez who was a founder and director at Fine Wines Direct and a successful restauranteur undoubtedly has influenced the local food and wine scene with his portfolio of Spanish restaurants, which today are still run by the Martinez family today.
We also do very well with Allan Scott, a New Zealand producer we import, particularly with their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Although everyone’s tastes are unique and varied, by unscientific observation my initial suspicion is that there would be a skew in data towards fuller bodied reds for men and crisp dry whites for women.
Do customers ask more for varietals, or for the origin when choosing a wine?
The UK is fortunate to have such a diverse range of wines widely available from all over the world, even in a local corner shop for example. So, this is very much dictated by the model of the country of origin. I’d never hear someone ask for a Tempranillo from Rioja or a white Marlborough – they’d either ask for a Rioja without much thought to the blend or specify what varietal they are after from Marlborough.
With climate change and sustainability such hot topics, do any of your customers value organically produced wines?
Organic wine is something increasingly being requested and being shown interest in. People in particular pick up on them having lower sulphite levels, as a culture we are increasingly interested in what we are putting into our bodies.
Overall, what determines the choosing of a wine, both by customers to buy, and by yourselves at Fine Wines Direct UK to sell?
I think the majority of people play safe with their wine choices and like to purchase things they have tried before. However largely dealing with the mid-market our customers tend to have a good understanding of wine and are perhaps more willing to experiment than those who wish to spend less on a bottle of wine. Most people have a price point in mind when shopping, but perhaps have flexibility in what wines they might walk out with.
As a company quality is very important to us but also take into account practical and commercial considerations with purchasing decisions.
What is the main reason as to why customers buy a sparkling wine; is it to celebrate a family event, to drink as an aperitif or to accompany a meal?
I think the whole Sparkling sector has benefitted from the luxurious image of Champagne. Prosecco is so popular because people can celebrate finishing work on a Friday with friends without breaking the bank. Most Sparkling is likely to be consumed before a meal or simply as a drink. People tend to trade up to Champagne for special events. Cava is yet to find its feet again with UK consumers.
Italy, by a country mile. France second.
As a company which has many incredible connections around the world, how would a future Brexit affect the importation of wines from the countries of continental Europe to Wales? What are Fine Wine Direct UK’s future goals, especially in light of an exit from the EU, to maintain your position as an importer of such unique and esteemed wines?
It’s a question which is impossible to answer, as we are yet to see what Brexit is to look like.
Exchange rates and tariffs of course will have an influence on demand; and how their price points compare to other winemaking countries and even other drinks categories. However, the wines of the old world are just that, and people will always desire them.
It’s important to keep perspective. My father has a letter he bought from auction, addressed from a merchant which at the time was known as William Pulling & Co. of Hereford, responding to a somewhat well-heeled rather demanding customer enquiring as to his Champagne shipment. It’s like something off an old BBC sitcom, where the merchant is politely explaining with what you sense gritted teeth, that the occupying German forces are some 20 miles from the Champagne house and supply is a little irregular at that moment. The present isn’t the forever…
Whatever the outcome, we will be in the same position as our competitors. We are fortunate in having Wales’ only bonded warehouse and can hold good stock levels. We just need to keep working hard to offer the best value for money we can and deliver the best service out there for our customers.
Fine Wines Direct UK
242 Penarth Rd, Cardiff CF11 8TU, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 29 2078 7500
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