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Liberty pushes into new frontiers ahead of Brexit

Published:  16 January, 2019

An English winemaker, a French winemaker and an Italian winemaker walk into a winebar.

The punch line is that they will probably end up drinking Indian wine, specifically J’Noon and M/S, two projects focused on international varieties in high-altitude pockets of Maharashtra.

If it sounds like a bit of a crazy project, it is; and might easily might not have got off the ground if many years of trust and building relationships hadn’t gone into the mix.

The winemakers are of course a heavy-hitting trio of names: Steven Spurrier, Jean-Charles Boisset and Piero Masi.

The collaborations, which are both being produced under the auspices of Fratelli Wines, have been spoken about before at Harpers.

However, yesterday’s tasting at Liberty Wines’ usual Vauxhall haunt, The Oval, was the first time the wines have been featured at a UK event – and the inclusion is no laughing matter.

They are part of a push over the last year to keep up momentum in a challenging climate, in MD David Gleave’s words, to expand in both “breadth and depth”.

In terms of depth, delving further into categories in which Liberty already has a hand, “We’ve taken on 30 different producers since last year’s tasting – and 65% of those new accounts are French,” Gleave explained.

“Italy continues to grow. We’ve always led with Italy and it remains our number one. But France moved into number two in terms of sales, overtaking Australia, New Zealand and Spain.”

Over the past year this includes Piper Heidsieck, and Rare – formerly Piper’s prestige cuvée but now a house in its own right.

For breadth, they are pushing into several new markets: India with J’Noon and M/S, following a successful launch last year, China with Kanaan Winery and Israel with Segal.

With Brexit on the horizon, the company began stockpiling nine months ago, and Liberty went straight back into this as a priority in the New Year, (the new Israeli wines will hopefully slip in before all hell breaks loose on March 29).

Fratelli is certainly a fascinating exercise.

With only 150ml a year and no dormant period, pruning happens twice a year (once in March before the first monsoon season and again in September), and harvesting is more aligned with the Southern hemisphere in January and February.

Playing around with the vines and soil has been enormous fun, Fratelli co-owner Kapil Sekhri, told Harpers: “The first trip Jean-Charles Boisset made, he had three hours sleep. He was in his element, tweaking the blend by 1%.”

One such blend, the J’Noon Cabernet Sauvignon 38.5% Marselan/Petit Verdot and Sangiovese, got some mixed reviews at yesterday’s tasting, but it was a talking point, which is the point for Gleave. 

“It’s always good to be able to go to customers with something new,” said Gleave. “Young drinkers now are so much more adventurous. As long as it has a compelling story, good price and if the wine is good enough, I’m interested.”


The other, less new, feather in Liberty’s cap is the partnership with Sogrape.

This began in March 2017, when the Casa Ferreirinha and Sandeman owner upgraded its distribution arrangement with Liberty Wines to a stake of 25% in the company – and since then has been going well for all involved, Gleave says.

“Italy has the same problem as Portugal in that it doesn't have a hero varietal. But it has value, individuality and originality. Once people get into it, they don’t tire of it because it has so much to offer.

“Douro reds have done really well because of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. With Vino Verde, we’ve gone to single estate wines to push the quality up. Dão is also doing well. It’s high up, cooler and slightly less voluptuous than the Douro, with really good things coming from Alfrocheiro Preto. Styles are fresher overall. It’s exciting stuff,” he concluded.