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Published:  23 July, 2008

Angus Mitchell, Owner, Dodici Wines Limited. Interview: Josie Butchart

Dodici Wines Limited PO Box 428 Harpenden Herts AL5 3ZT Tel: 01582 713004

Angus Mitchell worked for Oddbins briefly in the late '80s before leaving the wine trade for 15 years to work in marketing for the telecommunications industry. He returned to wine three months ago to set up Dodici Wines Limited, a company selling premium Italian and Spanish wines by the case to private and corporate customers and offering a range of business services. The company supplies bespoke luxury wine gifts personalised by the producer, holds corporate wine tastings and arranges for clients to run their business meetings and events at wine estates in Italy and Spain.

Why did you leave the wine industry for 15 years to work in telecommunications? When I graduated I had a real passion for wine because I was always being dragged around vineyards by my dad while on family holidays in France. So I went to see various Masters of Wine - John Avery, Angela Muir and Julian Brind - for some advice on entering the wine trade. At that time, in the late '80s, Oddbins was just exploding onto the scene and introducing Australian wines to the UK. There was a real buzz around Oddbins, and they all recommended that I join its training programme, which seemed quite innovative. I joined as a shop manager for one of the Bristol shops and did that for about a year or so, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I was quite bored to be honest! As I had specialised in marketing at college, some friends who were living in London encouraged me to move up there and apply for a marketing job that was going in the international division of British Telecom. I could travel, do my marketing and get paid an awful lot more, so I decided to go for that and wine became just a hobby.

What's the idea behind Dodici? I worked abroad for four years with BT and O2, first in Madrid and then Milan, and, after coming back, I realised that people in the UK still don't know much about wine, although I could see there is a great latent interest in learning more about it. I wondered what I could bring to the game based on what I had learned while living abroad, and I wanted to use my background working in the corporate world, my knowledge of Italy and Spain, and my marketing skills to try to get people closer to wine. To me, that means finding ways to get people speaking to the producers so that they feel close to the person creating the wine.

How do you do that? Dodici organises events, such as strategy meetings for senior management, that take place in vineyards, rather than, for example, the Slough Moathouse. Clients can run the strategy meeting during the day, just as they would in Slough, but in much more beautiful and creative surroundings. Then they can look round the cellars and have dinner with the winemaker. The relationship is good both for the clients, because they learn a lot about the wines, and the wine producers, because they then have a customer for life.

What were the producers' reactions? Competition is a lot tougher at the moment, and Italy has had a couple of tough vintages, for various reasons, so producers are having to think about making better use of the assets that they have just sitting there. This is a way to make those assets work a lot harder.

Do you organise events in the UK? Yes, we also bring producers over to host winemaker dinners. For example, we're holding a wine dinner with Tuscan producer La Brancaia at Giorgio Locatelli's new restaurant Refettorio in September.

What is special about your wine dinners? I try and choose wine producers who can relate to consumers in a down-to-earth way, because what has put me off wine dinners in the past is that they can be a little bit snobby. La Brancaia is an estate that makes very good wines, but the producers are also very open and easy to chat to. People don't have to dress up at our dinners, although they can if they want to, and the seating arrangements are more relaxed to allow people to circulate and talk to the producers more easily. I like to keep the events very personal, and I would prefer to run more events of a small size than start making them bigger.

How important are wine sales to your turnover? They are less important than event management and our other activities, although one other thing we do is provide corporate gifts for our clients, with the wines accompanied by a personal letter from the producer. As well as the vineyard events and winemaker dinners, we also organise tastings for both private customers and companies to help people understand Italian wines. Most people really don't have a clue about Italian wines, and they get lost when you throw things like Aglianico and Fiano at them.

What are the common misconceptions of Italian wines? That the reds are all tannic and acidic. It really helps to show them some of the amazing wines that are coming out of southern Italy and also the wines from more traditional areas such as Tuscany where they are blending international varieties with the indigenous varieties.

Do you think that's a good thing? Yes, I do. What any business is trying to do is offer something of value to its customers, and the only way I can stay in business is to offer something that people are willing to pay for. It is very clear that people like red wines with some softness', so if producers can grow Merlot and improve the taste of their wine in that way, then they should do it.