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Spotlight on: Wine buying across the industry - "Never a dull moment"

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The Women in Wine LDN group met at Liberty Wines October 19th, where we held a panel discussion on wine buying. We had an amazing set of panellists who talked about different aspects of the role of being a wine buyer as well as the challenges they face across different sectors of the trade:

Photo courtesy of  Clara Rubin ,   National Training Manager at Berkmann Wine Cellars   From left: Hannah van Susteren or Atlas Fine Wines/Women in Wine LDN, Regine Lee of Liberty Wines/Women in Wine LDN, Emma Dawson of Marks and Spencer, Beth Brickenden of London Union, Jennifer Doherty of Liberty Wines and Vicky Stevens-Clarkson of Atlas Fine Wines. 

Photo courtesy of Clara RubinNational Training Manager at Berkmann Wine Cellars

From left: Hannah van Susteren or Atlas Fine Wines/Women in Wine LDN, Regine Lee of Liberty Wines/Women in Wine LDN, Emma Dawson of Marks and Spencer, Beth Brickenden of London Union, Jennifer Doherty of Liberty Wines and Vicky Stevens-Clarkson of Atlas Fine Wines. 

When asked about what wine buying entailed, several common themes emerged from all the panellists. They work closely with their counterparts in forecasting and sales to source the right wine that will not only work from a price point of view, but will also give the consumers value, or as Vicki put it aptly, “relevancy to their lives”. Buyers are no longer bringing in wine and relying on consumers to just accept their selling points, instead they are focused on what consumers want from the product. Another similarity is their heavy involvement in forecasting and quality control. On top of this, they firefight supply chain problems and currency fluctuations; juggle the constant priorities of working with stores, consumers and dealing with producers, as well as the added pressure to be on top of market trends. 

Emma discussed the approach that Marks & Spencer has in creating their range; 

“If we are doing the same thing as all the other supermarket retailers, there would be no point in us existing. We need to go above and beyond and offering customers something that much more special and exiting. I like being a maverick sometimes.”

She then spoke about how she sources wine from far flung places like Japan and Brazil, finding the 'sweet spot' when tapping into consumers’ interest in taking a punt on something new and carefully balancing the right price and intrigue to get the sale. 

Jennifer provided some key insights in to building Liberty Wines’ range, with their ultimate goal being to bring the best producers from a region on-board. She highlighted the ethos of the teams is to find wines that the sales team are also passionate about - inspiring them to connect new wines with their customers. The importance of quality control was discussed a great deal. It was clear from the discussion that buyers are not only accountable to the bottom line, but also to the consumers who need to be reassured that they will get a product that is not faulty and can be consistently relied upon.

Beth provided insights into the important aspects of buying wine for a pioneering on-trade channel of street food markets.  The varied customers who eat at Street Feast are now people who are extremely knowledgeable about food and want the wines on offer to compliment this style of food.

She highlighted that following the trend of organic and biodynamic wine, people are “now looking for wine from unusual and from non-traditional winemaking countries like Turkey and Lebanon, which is also a reflection on how people are becoming more adventurous with food.” 

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Vicki gave a fantastic overview of buying wine for the fine wine market and its challenges: limited supply, the need to be reactive to consumer trends and demand, stiff competition from UK brokerages and international fine wine marketplaces. She also discussed the need to ensure that in the age of technology and emergence of online competitors such as Vivino, fine wine merchants need to make sure they add value to the consumers’ purchasing experience by providing spot on advisory assistance as well.

The discussion then turned to topical themes and what is making wine buying challenging today. Not surprisingly, Brexit was discussed in detail.

Other very juicy topics in our Q&A covered changing role of the La Place de Bordeaux on international markets, climate change’s impact on vintage variation and the long-term sustainability of winemaking and the competition wine has from craft beer.

It was clear from all of the panellists that in the world of wine buying, relationships are key. The supplier must understand the business and really get your customer for the chain of supply and demand to be successful - whether you are a huge supermarket or a street food specialist. 

All in all, it was a very informative evening with a fantastic group discussion.

Photo courtesy of  Victoria Daska l, Project Manager at World of Fine Wine

Photo courtesy of Victoria Daskal, Project Manager at World of Fine Wine

Special thanks... to Liberty Wines for hosting Women in Wine LDN and to our wonderful panellists. Cheers!

Up Next... We have an events lined up for December and January. Location and further details will follow shortly. 

What are we now...  In just a year we are 160 women strong representing over 50 companies within the industry. Please do extend invitations to your colleagues, contacts and friends; it has been incredible to see this community take shape and we want it to continue to grow. 

Go on and… Chat to us on Twitter.

Q&A event with winemaker Kathy Jordan, Jordan Wine Estate

We were incredibly pleased that Kathy Jordan was able to join us for an evening at High Timber restaurant to discuss her inspiring journey and dedication to her family’s business, Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Kathy spoke to a packed room, with over 40 women from the Women in Wine LDN group. 

What began as a small, grape farm in 1990 run by her father-in-law, and “me, my husband Gary and a tractor driver” Kathy says, has grown 10 times in production to become a nearly 1,000 ton cellar winery which still maintains its family feel. Kathy spoke fervently about the business side of the estate. She described the transition from growing grapes to be delivered wholesale to a co-operative to making estate wine, largely driven by their confidence in the quality of the fruit. As their business expanded, so did their roles and management of the farm. Gary, a trained geologist, focuses the vineyard, while Kathy is involved in winemaking and business side of the estate.

A highlight was her discussion about their growth: “The reason that we grew is that we brought land from a neighbouring vineyard. That uniquely gave us every slope aspect on one property.” As a result, they were able to diversify the grape varieties planted, and expand their cellar and range. However with growth comes the need to regroup and make sure it’s sustainable.

 “The most important thing to remember is that you will have a growth spurt, but then you have to consolidate. You and especially your staff may feel stretched at this time, so then you look at hiring more people and changing your processes. You have to be sustainable and look at what your growth is doing and the positives to make good of it.”

When asked about what has attributed to the success of the company she sites this type of strategic growth which she has applied to Jordan’s exports and channel strategy.

“It’s very important for a winery to have your wines available in the market where they are produced. If you export too much, people who tried your wines at your estate can’t find them nearby and then look for something else.”
Gary and Kathy Jordan, Jordan Wine Estates

Gary and Kathy Jordan, Jordan Wine Estates

Kathy emphasised the importance of having visibility on a restaurant list and staff recommendations in a very competitive market. They remain adamant that their wines are available on restaurants lists close to home –around 50% of their wine is still purchasable in South Africa and its neighbouring countries. This point in the evening provided a great opportunity for questions about building a brand and personal growth vs business growth. 

Kathy also highlighted the importance of tourism to the South African wine industry and their efforts in this vein: a premium restaurant, bakery and luxury guesthouses on their Stellenbosch estate, as well as co-owning High Timber restaurant in London with their good friend, Neleen Strauss. Their success in diversifying their business is also due to the fact that they’ve remained focussed on wine. As Kathy says, “We’ve grown in many ways in different aspects. All of them are complimentary to winemaking, which is our main function.”

Kathy also spoke passionately about the evolution of the Jordan Women in Wine Initiative, a two-fold mentoring programmed dedicated to giving women from all over the globe with no prior experience in winemaking the opportunity to work a vintage, and supporting wine education and mentorship for disadvantaged women working in wine and hospitality in South Africa.

The programme has been an incredible success, and has expanded to other members of the PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa) group in 2013, a collective of like-minded, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. As of now, the Women in Wine in South Africa has had 15 women in the international scheme and over 30 women in the South Africa one.

It was a great privilege to hear Kathy speak about her amazing experience in not only making Jordan Wine Estate at the forefront of producing and promoting quality wines in the region but also furthering women working in the wine industry globally as well.

Members of the WIWL group enjoying a glass of Jordan Wine Estate Chenin Blanc on the River Thames outside High Timber restaurant.

Members of the WIWL group enjoying a glass of Jordan Wine Estate Chenin Blanc on the River Thames outside High Timber restaurant.

Winemaker Kathy Jordan and WIWL's Regine Lee taking questions from the group in the cellars at High Timber restaurant.

Winemaker Kathy Jordan and WIWL's Regine Lee taking questions from the group in the cellars at High Timber restaurant.

Message in a bottle: How do we create, educate and communicate about wine?

Thanks so much to those of you were able to join us for Women in Wine LDN panel discussion: ‘Message in a Bottle.’ We were really pleased to have so many of you there and thought that the panelists offered great insight into communications from industry to consumer. 

For those of you who missed it, we went to Liberty Wines on Tuesday evening, where our panel of speakers Nicky Forrest (Managing Director of Phipps PR), Abigail Barlow (Director, BD Creative) and Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW (Educator and international Wine Judge) discussed effective communication in the wine trade; they highlighted obstacles faced when developing a style of language, design and platforms for engagement that are relevant to the consumer and key to success. We include their bios at the bottom of the page.

From left: Regine Lee, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal, Nicky Forrest and Abigail Barlow

From left: Regine Lee, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal, Nicky Forrest and Abigail Barlow

The evening highlighted the cross pollination of education, visual design and public relations; it was clear that each sector faces similar challenges in navigating between under or over communicating wine to the consumer. Among discussion points were the power of the on-trade in communicating and hand-selling wines, and the importance of telling a story.

Forrest spoke in depth about the changing landscape of public relations in the wine industry, the growing necessity of community management (focusing on social media channels) and the influence of large, multiple retailers. The sentiment was echoed by Cherutti-Kowal who believes that the power of creating opportunities for consumers to taste different styles of wine especially through by-the-glass listings in the on-trade, is huge. She commented that it’s key for waitstaff to be engaged and trained, as they're the gatekeepers to effective sales.

Barlow led the discussion on story-telling, commenting on the influence of label design and the importance of winemakers themselves understanding the end consumer in order to sell the wine at the end of the day. She also provided key insights in to how design affects shopper buying habits and the generational and cultural differences she takes in to account when designing labels for clients.

Special thanks… to Liberty Wines for hosting Women in Wine LDN, to Charles Heidsick for donating their NV to our Champagne hour and to our panelists. Cheers!

Up Next... We have a social organised for Monday 15th August so make sure to get it in your diary. Location details will follow shortly. Please also watch this space for autumn events that are currently in the pipeline. 

What are we now...  In just a few short months we 135 women strong representing over 50 companies within the industry. Please do extend invitations to your colleagues, contacts and friends; it has been incredible to see this community take shape and we want it to continue to grow. 

Go on and… Follow us on Twitter.

Michelle Cherutti MW
Wine Lecturer
 
Italian-Canadian
Michelle is a Master of Wine and highly-respected wine lecturer, having taught at the WSET since 2004. She is a chair judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) and a frequent wine expert at major wine shows including Vinitaly, The London Wine Fair, The France Show and Taste of London.
@MicheleCherutti

Nicky Forrest
PR strategist

Nicky is one of the leading wine communicators in the UK and lectures at the WSET on PR and social media.  Her agency Phipps Relations is Drinks International agency of the Year 2015 and 2016 and has been Drinks Business PR agency of the Year twice in the last four years.  She has just planted her own micro vineyard in Kent.
@nicky_forrest

Abigail Barlow
Creative

As Director of the award-winning creative agency, BD Creative, Abigail's portfolio includes a 2015 Drinks Business Award in Best Design and Packaging in Wine for 'The Wine Atlas' for ASDA. With 25 years experience, including brand management for Blossom Hill, retail for Oddbins and various buying roles, she really does know her way around a wine list. @BDCreativeUK