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Published:  23 July, 2008

38-year-old former sommelier Danny Cameron describes himself as the junior partner' at Raymond Reynolds' eponymous Portuguese specialist, a position he has held for more than six years. He is also the chairman of the Association of Portuguese Wine Importers (APWI), formed last year, and the founder of the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting (SITT), to be held in London and Manchester this month.

You're the man behind the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting (SITT). What exactly is a specialist importer'?

One way of being a specialist is to engross yourself in one region and become known for that. But you can also define a specialist as someone who doesn't try to be all things to all people, and to me that's the more relevant definition. So there will be some exhibitors at SITT who thrive on one country or one region, and there will be others who have diversified but whose definition of what they're looking for hasn't changed. Their definition is the triumph of terroir over the chemistry set, and it's that, rather than being simply the Chablis specialist', for example, that we're looking for.

Do you think the specialist sector is in good working order?

I'm an optimist - I think that a love of wine can make good business sense, and that not every wine romantic has to go out of business! But the supply-chain end of wine has slipped behind a bit in the past few years. It has to adapt to the pace of consumer change.

In what way has it slipped behind?

I can only really use our experiences at Raymond Reynolds as an example. I would say that we spent a number of years promoting our wine through what I would call the marketing of boyish enthusiasm - basically finding something fantastic and running around the marketplace with these bottles shouting: This is great; we think you'll love it!' Well that's fine, and it supported our growth for a number of years, but as a company we've had to grow up a bit and get a bit more professional. That doesn't mean getting involved in big above-the-line spending and deep discounting. It means working much more in partnership with our client base. It's not a seismic shift, but it is a subtle shift nonetheless. It's about ensuring that your delivery matches up to your sourcing abilities.

How does the specialist fit in with a market dominated by the multiple grocers?

Hopefully buyers from the multiples may find the SITT an interesting event. We are certainly not in opposition to multiple retailers. The important thing is that we want more people to drink interesting, unformulaic wines.

The SITT suppliers' natural home is with the independents, though. Is that a healthy sector?

If you can provide a product that has got a lot of added value and distribute it in a professional way, there's no reason why you shouldn't find a market for it, no matter where you are in the chain - independent retailer, middleman or producer. There's no question that the national retailers perform a valuable function. But the fascination in anything in life is diversity. I don't see why the two can't exist together quite happily.

You have the SITT event. Will there be any other activity for this group?

We need to keep an open mind. In some ways what makes these 30 companies fascinating is that sense of each being a stand-alone organisation that can forge its own path. If you forge closer associations, some of that excitement can end up being depressed. But I do think that the specialist end of the market needs to maximise its creativity. There are so many fantastically creative minds, and we need to make use of them. And there are areas where I think we could work together.

Such as?

It's getting increasingly difficult for specialists to find their wines in the press, because editors want accessibility, and while they're happy to talk about stand-alone restaurants, for some reason they're not happy to feature stand-alone shops. So wouldn't it be great for specialists if we could have some kind of website on which, if a journalist mentions a wine, he can put down the website's address and, within 24 hours, every stockist of that wine would be listed there. It's just an idea.

Tell us a little about your day jobs. How is Portugal doing?

Last year, with Euro 2004, should have been a good one. Speaking as a business, our growth in unfortified Portuguese wines is out of proportion with the rest of the market. But I do think that Portugal is still at a point of opportunity, because it speaks to an audience that is capable of being fascinated. What we need is to get beyond the point where Portugal is only about sandy beaches and well-irrigated golf courses on the Algarve. You need to improve the cultural context, because selling wine is about selling the stuff that surrounds it, not just the bottles.

You've just added Nyetimber to your agency list. Not very Portuguese!

It was our first step out of Portugal, and more a case of me getting my geography misplaced, really - we were looking for a Champagne agency! It comes back to the argument about what a specialist is. Are we less of a Portuguese specialist because we have an English wine? I don't think so. To me, we're just spreading our wings.

Raymond Reynolds Station Road Furness Vale High Peak SK23 7SW Tel: 01663 742 230