Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Julien Miquel, Founder of Social Vignerons, On Wine Apps and E-Commerce

I recently had the opportunity to interview Julien Miquel, the founder of internationally acclaimed wine blog Social Vignerons. Here he gives us some insight and his point of view on the fascinating world of wine apps and e-commerce in the wine industry.

Julien Miquel

Q- When did you first get the idea of starting Social Vignerons and how did it change since its creation?

A-Early 2014. While living in New Zealand in a job that was getting too narrow for me, I needed an outlet to share my passion for wine and knowledge with the rest of the world. So I started to build the website and launched Social Vignerons in December 2014. From a blogging hobby, it’s become a lifestyle, sharing wine content and passion every day on social media and other digital platforms. It’s also on its way to become a viable business, helping wine producers share their story through digital marketing and quality content.

The Wine Blog

Q-Do you think that in the following years e-commerce will challenge the traditional way of buying wines in a shop or supermarket? 

A-Of course. Online wine sales have been growing for nearly twenty years now, and everyone can see how e-commerce is disrupting many industries, one after the other. It is happening now for wine too, slowly but surely. All sorts of products are being bought online nowadays. It is simply a more convenient way of shopping and saves everyone’s number 1 asset in life: time. So virtually, and practically, the web is the best place to select your next bottle of wine. The only downside is that you cannot try it beforehand. But most places that sell wine do not offer you to taste the wine before you’ve paid for it either!

Q-What do you think could be the reasons behind the recent boom in on-line sales of wines? 

A- The online platforms that make the effort of offering a good wine selection and give useful information about the wines (such as good online wine merchants, or wine apps with a solid community of tasters) provide more value to the consumer that most wine shops. Prices are often competitive as well because online wine merchants sometimes have the advantage of volume AND they carefully observe the markets with tools such as wine-searcher, making sure to be competitive. Better service + good price = growth.

Wine E-Commerce

Photo Credit: WineNews.

Q- Is there more consumers' confidence now towards shipping of wines and on-line purchasing? 

A- Of course, as consumers are getting used to ordering more online with quality customer service, buying wine through the web becomes more and more natural. This has also gone together with the wine’s quality getting very significantly more consistent over the past 20 years since Google has changed our lives. Hardly do you ever pick a bottle of wine today only to find out that it is very badly made and tastes awful! Shipping is most generally not a problem, outside of hot summer periods. Serious online wine merchants don’t ship in the heart of summer without taking the appropriate precautions.

Q- Do you see the expansion of platforms as Ebay and Amazon in the wine trade as a positive development for the wine industry? 

A- For the industry as a whole, I am not sure! Disruptivity means a few middle-man’s jobs will be lost, in distribution, sales, and retail. But more direct-to-consumer sales would mean that producers would get a better margin on their sales, which would in turn allow them to invest more and quicker in their production methods, therefore improve further the quality of their wines. Eventually, consumers would get better wines. If consumers AND producers are happier, I would consider this as “a positive development for the wine industry’. That said, Ebay and Amazon specifically are here to help and serve consumers access products at better prices, but they will not necessarily help producers as well in the process! What they do allow though, is the development of more niche markets. And a big part of the wine industry is a market of niches.

Amazon Wine Commercial 

Photo credit: CNET.

Q- What sort of changes might they bring to the wine trade? 

A-They may allow more wine producers to sell more wine themselves, directly to consumers. The wineries that will combine these new platforms of distribution with good digital marketing strategies may win markets.

Q- Can Ebay and Amazon correctly inform the consumers about the complexity of the wines and terroir? 

A- Honestly, I don’t think they can. Many other platforms such as quality websites that have accumulated information and data for many years, or some good wine apps, are much more advanced in this process. Ebay and Amazon specifically will never catch up, and it would be too costly for them to do so. I don’t think it will make much business sense for them to invest in building wine content in the short term. As we know, a big part of their model relies on affiliation rather.

Ebay Wine Shop

Photo credit: Business Insider.

Q- Do you think that apps as Vivino could play a major role in influencing consumers’ decisions when purchasing wines? 

A-Yes, absolutely. My feeling is that we are only starting to see this. I think Vivino has just very recently started to have accumulated enough quality data, a big-enough user base, and enough consumer reviews about enough wines for everyone to start seeing the value it can bring to consumers. The amount of consumer review data available in Vivino is truly outstanding. As more and more people realize you can actually rely reasonably safely on a large community’s opinion to select your wine, more and more consumers will do. But making this information visible and standout on a crowded market takes time. SEO (Search Engine Optimization --Ed.) will play a big part in it. And SEO takes time. Not many wine apps will win at this game.

Vivino: The Leading App on Tracking Wines

Photo credit: Xda Developers.

Q- Do you think that apps improve the overall wine lovers' experience?  

A-The good ones do. Being able to easily record your rating and reviews by simply taking a picture of the label is clearly useful. We’ve seen the success this functionality has brought to wine apps. Beyond that, wine apps with a real wine community behind them also allow us to share the experience with other wine lovers that are not physically with us as we’re tasting. In addition, most wine drinkers are happy to inform others about a particular bottle. They want to let others know when a wine is a good buy, and they are happy to help avoiding bad-tasting plonks. All of this only works for wine apps that can correctly and reliably identify an enormous amount of different wines, and match all wine reviews related to a specific product to the correct item, and this for everyone, wherever they scan a label. This is a very hard thing to do.

Q- Are they useful for informing consumers about the wine and share info with other wine lovers? 

A- I think they are. That said, no wine app will ever contain all useful information about all wines. There will always be informative technical facts and stories on producer’s websites, more detailed reviews on blogs, news on online magazines, pricing info at merchants, etc. So an app, a browser and a good search engine is what you need. Luckily, this is all available on our phones.

This interview was made for the Wine App Research Project, led by Gerard Spatafora and undertaken by the international MBA team at Bordeaux's Wine Institute of INSEEC Business School. This study aims at creating a white paper on wine apps and e-commerce in the wine industry.
For details see the website of the project.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cool Wines At VinoVision: The First Wine Fair of Its Kind

A wine fair about cool climate wines in Paris. Cool idea right? Just think that 80% of the white and sparkling wines of French AOPs are from from cool regions, so there is the potential to explore these regions further for the wine trade. That's why from the 12th to the 14th of February around 400 producers from Burgndy, Champagne, Jura, Lorraine, Savoie and Loire Valley reunited at Paris expo Porte De Versailles to participate in VinoVision, the first wine trade fair devoted to cool climate wines.

First edition means it's hard to get everyone interested. However, the fact that around 3.300 visitors from around the world were present means there is definitely an interest in this sector. The fair was pretty well organised, with several masterclasses and also an area, called the "Tasting Avenue", where one could freely sample the wines and then check on an app the price and location of the stand. Quite useful for the wine trade, indeed.

I met some excellent producers, including Domaine Taille Au Loup Jacky Blot, which I later visited during the wine tour of the Loire. I had the chance to meet the owners and really appreciate their philosophy. They are organic but they do not market that, rather focus on their own brand. That's I think the way to go because these days many producers are using the "organic wave" more as marketing tool than actual sign of distinction.What I loved about Jacky Blot was also their passion and true interest in terroir. Tasting so many different vintages, I could really appreciate the influence of the soil and the vintages. Their Chenin Blancs are really refreshing and I guess the real examples of cool climate wines.

Other producers that stand out include Bouvet, an excellent sparkling wine producer from Saumur. I really enjoyed their Rosé, fresh with strawberry notes, and the Rubis Excellence, lightly sweet red bubbles with red fruits notes, complexity and a perfect pairing for fruity desserts. Their whole portfolio is very interesting and provides great quality/price.

Other domaines that got my attention were:

1- Henri Bourgeois, Loire producer in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé who also makes great sauvignon blanc wine in New Zealand under the name Clos Henri.

2- The small family-run Champagne domaine Naudet et Fils, which makes an excellent limited edition Blanc De Blanc aged in oak and made from soils in Nogent L'Abbesse called "Extra-Terroir" that is fresh and mineral.

3- Famille Lieubeau, which makes a fine Muscadet called Voyage Extraordinaire which features unique labels referring to the novels written by French writer Jules Vernes. Finally some different and exciting labels!

4- Gamay/Pinot Noir Villa Burgundia was refreshing with red cherry notes and differed itself with a characteristic label.

Hopefully next edition we will also see new additions from other cool parts of the world!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Memories of A Wine Trip: Tasting Loire With Friends

It's time to reflect upon the amazing three days spent in the Loire with friends from my class.

1- The overall quality of the wines is very high and many wineries are eco-friendly. We visited all organic or biodynamic producers that really believe in making quality before making quantity, as well strongly believe in making wines that have low impact on the environment.

2- Terroir is key in the Loire. In particular, I was impressed by Taille Au Loup Jacky Blot, which we visited on the third day. Their focus on terroir is so strong that you will find differences between chenin blancs made from a few plots away. Soil composition, sun exposure and age of the vines all play a role in the creation of a huge diversity in their portfolio. I was impressed by their Cabernet Franc Mid-Pente, which shows aromas of red fruits, spices and herbaceous notes. Very complex and with a long finish.  We tried all of their 2015 range for the whites. All of the whites share a mouthwatering acidity. So fresh and zesty that made me feel like squeezing a lemon. Perfect examples of Chenin Blanc.

3. Hospitality is a virtue. All the producers that we visited welcomed us warmly to their wineries and we really felt like home. On the third day, Johan, the commercial manager of biodynamic producer Domaine Huet, made us feel like home though we were very late and he was quite sick. He made us try very old vintages and was really knowledgable about the export management. I would never thought that even an importer based in Rome, my hometown, would feature their wines. It was great to go through some great examples of terroir-driven wines with such a knowledgeable and friendly person as Johan.

4. Less winery visits is better than many. I realised that in order to fully appreciate the philosophy and quality of the wines it is best to visit no more than 4 wineries per day. Though we managed to do 5, I think it is best to spend several time at each winery and engage in conversations with the producers.

5. Tasting wine is more fun with friends. Sharing opinions about the wines and visiting the towns around the Loire was a lot of fun. Though professional tastings are more accurate, tastings made at the wineries with friends can lead to interesting conversations and exchanges on the styles of the wines and discussions, for example on whether organic and biodynamic are the future of wine of wine making. In this regard, I totally agree with Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke, owner of Domaine de Juchepie, who believes that making high-quality wine is the number one priority, and making it sustainably is a great and important added value!

6- The landscape is stunningThough it rained for the whole 3 days, I really enjoyed the landscape and also the city of Saumur, where we stayed. While going for a run in the late afternoon in the area of the castle, I had the chance to admire the traditional landscape. A stunning view and one to remember, just like a postcard.

7- You can find very good foodIn particular, on the first day I was surprised to know that there were restaurants under caves that make great food and bread using a wood-fired oven. A must-try experience! Check out the review of my report on day 1 for details.

8- There were unexpected discoveries. On the third day it was great to see the connection with nature established by Thierry Germain, who is using horses at the vineyards at the Domaine Des Roches Neuves. The Franc De Pied 2015 made from ungrafted vines has high minerality and presents aromas of red cherries. A must try if you visit the winery, which also features an amazing underground cellar with very old vintages!


Monday, February 27, 2017

Loire Valley Trip Day #2

We left early morning from Saumur, direction Savannieres. It's rainy but our 5-chateaux plan day is awesome. Interesting fact: all of the wineries we booked were organic or biodynamic.

First stop: We started with the legendary chateau of Nicolas Joly, one of the true promoters of biodynamic wines in the world. Vineyard of the Coulée De Serrant is a must visit and its wines struck me for their complexity. You can find them worldwide now and even in famous restaurants. One of the things that our host (the accountant, unfortunately Nicolas Joly was not there) is that the wines have to open a lot before tasting. Indeed, the ones we tried had been open for several days! Top-choice for me is the Vieux Clos 2012, with aromas of quince and honey.

Second stop: Domaine De Closel. We are we in a beautiful scenario, with a chateau surrounded by a nice park. We walk around, besides being such a rainy day, and get to see some vines. We feel like home in the tasting room. Really nice service and knowledge from our host! Lovely whites with good acidity and complexity. The volcanic soil parcels give it also an extra minerality to the Clos De Papillon, my favourite wine of the day displaying aromas as citrus peel, honey and floral notes as acacia.

Third chateau for the morning: Clos De L'élu, which is managed by a French couple. The winemaker, Thomas, let us try the wines from the barrels and it's a lot of fun. We tried some really great reds and whites. In particular I enjoyed the 100% Cabernet Franc "L'Aigleire". Smooth, with ripe red cherry and truffle notes. Great concentration and roundness.

For lunch, we found a small bistro, Loeic et Nicole, only frequented by locals. Fixed menu for 13 euros. Rustic and unpretentious. Local wine and desserts included along with the entrée and dessert. Good selection of cheese at the end. No time to rest, though. A couple of matches of game football there and we head off to other wineries.

First chateau of the afternoon is Chateau De Passavant. A biodynamic estate that impressed me also for its investment on wines without sulphites added. It has a huge range of wines, including some sparkling. The must-try here is the Cuvée Montchenin, a chenin blanc aged in barrel. Perfect with smoked seafood and white meats.

Final tasting is at Domaine de Juchepie. I had an interesting conversation with the owner, Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke, from Belgium. He is practising biodynamic agriculture because he truly believes in the potential of biodynamic vines in making higher quality fruits. The sustainability part for him is of second importance. The wines have great complexity, length and are a pure joy to the palate. What a discovery was the sweet wine, a 2005 made with noble rot grapes. Notes of caramel, dried figs, nuts and chestnut honey.

A full and intense full day which ended in a nice dinner at a Moroccan restaurant in Saumur.

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Loire Valley Trip Day #1

I am in the beautiful area of Loire, more precisely in the city of Saumur. My friends and I are staying in apartment in the city centre. We arrived in the afternoon, and Sundays most chateaux are closed. So we chill out and visit the city.

The town is beautiful and very quiet. There is a antique market going on today and very few tourists. What's more, the chateau of the city closed at 5,30pm, so are not able to visit it. From the outside though, one can also admire this building which was originally designed as a castle in the 10th century. We walk around and notice that Sundays are extremely quite days here. Few shops are open and even the tourist centre is closed. We were not even able to find a wine shop to get some wine for lunch. So we thought we would definitely try something typical to eat in the evening.

For dinner, we chose a special place called "Les Pieds Bleus", 15 minutes away from the city. It's actually situated in a cave and is one of the so-called "troglodyte" (what a funny name!) restaurant. Think of a cave where there is a restaurant and where they grow mushrooms and escargots, as well as make wine tastings! Yes, sounds weird but it exists!

The food is great and the quality/price value is exceptional. Their speciality is the fouée, a little bread cooked with wood-fired oven, which is garnished with local products as rilette, sausage, beans and cheese. They are quite filling and the server and the baker keep serving you till you are full! Starting from 20 euros, the fixed menu is quite a bargain. It also includes some pretty good wine (we had a rose d'anjou, pretty good but with a little too much residual sugar for my own taste, and a red Anjou rouge, cabernet franc based, with predominant red fruits notes and smooth tannins). The apple cake, also make in the oven, was also very nice and a good way to end the meal. A unique experience was to see the plantings of mushrooms and escargots, which definitely are worth a visit.

It has been a promising start of the trip and I am really looking forward to tomorrow, when we will visit many chateaux in Savannieres and Anjou.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Nomade 2014: Tasting the Terroir of Saint Joseph

I love wines that are full expressions of terroir, and I am fan of the Saint Joseph appellation, in the Northern Rhone. I enjoy their rich structure, high quality, complexity and potential to age. So when it came down to choose a Syrah at the wine bar Vins Urbains, in Bordeaux, the Domaine Christophe Curtat Nomade 2014 got my attention.

Cristophe Curtat is a young vigneron in Saint Joseph who owns a small domaine that makes whites from Roussane and Marsanne, and Syrah grown in a granite soil. The Nomade takes its name from the different detached parcels of vines used to make this wine. Indeed, the wine grower has to constantly move from one parcel to the other. Thus, in a way, he is a wanderer just like nomads.

The wine gives pure joy to the palate. Notes of mulberries and blackberry, accompanied by violet (typical of Saint Joseph), lavender, dark chocolate and black pepper. Very smooth and easy to drink. One can feel also the vintage: despite some rain, the summer 2014 led to a very good maturation of the grapes, reflected in the concentration and roundness of the wine.

It can be drunk now or can age for 5-10 years. With regards to food pairing, it can adapt to many dishes. I had it with charcuterie and cheese, but can pair well with rich dishes as lamb tajine and sirloin steak. For 33 euros to drink in the wine bar, this is a must if you enjoy full-bodied reds that are complex and round.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chateau Beauregard: Good Value from the Right Bank

I am in Pomerol, surrounded by a terroir of clay, gravel and sandy soil, with Merlot as the main grape and wines that are rich and supple. Among the most famous producers there are the legendary Petrus and Le Pin. There are also a few lesser known wineries producing excellent wines. One of the oldest estates is Chateau Beauregard, an organic winery that makes use of large cement vats and French barriques for the ageing. They have around 17,5 hectares, made roughly of 70% of Merlot and 30% of Cabernet Franc. Besides their main wine, they produce also a second wine called "Le Benjamin", which is from the same terroir as the first, but comes from younger vines and is aged less time in oak.

The Cements Vats and French Barriques

Roxane, our guide, shows me around the beautiful ancient chateau, which also has a terrace with a nice view on the vineyards, and let me try two wines: Le Benjamin 2012 and the 2006 Chateau Beauregard (first wine). The 2012 was a relatively difficult year, though early picked merlot did pretty well. The wine shows aromas of red fruits (red cherry and strawberry), liquorice, dark chocolate and sweet spices as cinnamon. Smooth and round. Ready to drink, though can be aged for a few more years. Good quality-price: in the chateau it is sold for 23 euros.

The 2006 was also not an easy vintage in Pomerol because of rain and rot at harvest. However, even for this vintage, earlier harvests led to very good, concentrated and age-worthy wines. This wine has primary notes of ripe black berry and raspberry. Tertiary aromas include tobacco and coffee, with earthy and truffle hints. It pairs very well with grilled meats, such as an entrecote with mushroom sauce. At 38 euros, it offers good value and can evolve for many years, developing more the tertiary aromas.

In a nutshell, this winery is definitely worth a visit. You will find very good organic wines for a good price, which in Bordeaux cannot always be found easily!


Monday, January 30, 2017

Gulfi 2013 Valcanzjria Sicilia DOP: The White With Endless Food Pairing Options

Gulfi has always been one of my favourite producers as it makes organic wines that are full expressions of terroir. While in London, I have tried their Cerasauolo di Vittoria - an easy drinking aperitif red with lots of red fruits notes - and the Carjcanti, made with Carricante and Albanello grapes, very unique white with herbal and oxidative notes.

In Bordeaux, at the wine bar Aux Quatre Coins Du Vin, I was delighted to to find the Valcanzjria: a complex white that combines the creaminess and roundness of a slightly oaky Chardonnay with the acidity and freshness of Carricante. Made with grapes harvested at 400 metres high, in Southeastern Sicily, it takes its name from Val Canzeria, the valley where the vines are located and whose name derives from an Arab term which means "place of the wild boars". It is a single vineyard called "Vigna Muti" and the terroir is a mix of clay and limestone.

In the nose, it offers notes of torrone, hazelnut, marzipan and white chocolate. In the mouth, you will find primary aromas as citrus and lemon peel, along with nutty notes of hazelnut, as well as lemon yogurt, whipped cream and white pepper. It has a creamy and round long finish. It can pair extremely well with medium-aged cheese, creamy chicken, risotto agli scampi, spaghetti with clams and seafood in general.

Offered at the wine bar at 38 euros to drink in or 32 euros to take away, this an absolutely must for any wine lover.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Calling All Wine Lovers: It's Time to Vote!

Last week I received the great news that my post on the wines from Canary Islands has been included among the finalists for the Wine Blog Awards by Millesima, in the category "wine travel". This is a great honour because, although I write about food as well, wine has lately become the main focus of this blog. I hope to reach more and more wine lovers in the future and share my passion for wines that are true expressions of terroir, like the ones I have tried during my trip in the Canary Islands. To try to win the Millesima blog contest, I need your support! So, if you guys have a minute, please check out this link below and share it with your friends! You will find the article and the possibility of voting for it. Just make sure to press on "submit" at the end to validate the vote, like outlined in the picture below. Hurry up, though. The voting period ends on Friday!