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Trade’s thirst for physical tastings returns

Published:  23 February, 2022

The trade is returning with increasing gusto to trade tastings, as evidenced in London yesterday (22 February) at two of the calendar’s most compelling annual events.

On the Embankment the big guns of Fells, whose portfolio includes such a host of iconic producers and estates, drove many superlative tasting notes, perhaps best summed up in a succinct but punchy ‘AWESOME!’, glimpsed in the fortified notes of pundit Joe Wadsack.

A little to the north, in Chinatown, Indigo Wines was also in full flow, with exciting new listings from the cooler corners of Spain, Greece, France and Italy, delivering much to excite for the on-trend on-trade attendees.

Two very different importers, certainly, and both with very different USPs. But the message (and vibe) at both was reassuring for both suppliers and the resurgent restaurant sector they supply. Not only is the trade coming out to play, it also appears to be prepared to refresh portfolios – and with quality wines – despite all the challenges still faced by the industry.

MDs Steve Moody and Ben Henshaw, respectively, told Harpers that registration had mirrored pre-Covid numbers, with levels of actual attendees on the day holding up well – despite both admitting to worries about drop-out rates in a still uncertain climate.

Moreover, both said that the quality of attendees was high, as evidenced by the tasters present as Harpers sniffed, sipped and spat its way around the tables.

“The reaction from the trade has been good, we’ve had 370 acceptances and quite a few walk-ins as well,” said Moody. “There’s really good interest and we’re anticipating low fall out, partly because of the novelty of people being able to go out and taste at the moment.”

As the tasting circuit picks up again, this was important feedback for the wider trade, because there is still an element of dipping toes in the water as the pandemic recedes. And, as Henshaw quipped, peering at his own offering and new agencies, “I’ve got a hell of a lot of wines to sell”.

Moody acknowledged that the on-trade is still experiencing “a lot of troubles”, including supply and staffing issues, along with financial headaches for many.

“Hospitality is still under the cosh and we are seeing some well-known businesses not functioning at the optimum level, so that is affecting us, but overall it’s a positive picture, with trade picking up.”

If the mood at Fells was more reverent, then Indigo by contrast was a noisy affair, with new agencies brought on over the past two years again suggesting an optimistic outlook.

“Spain is obviously a big thing for us, but we’ve been doing quite a bit of work with France, with producers like Paul Gadenne in Savoie, a really good producer… and a small project, Clement Bartschi, one of the technical directors at Chapoutier, but doing his own project north of Savoie.”

Other notable additions on show were from regions as diverse as Greece, California, Languedoc, Maipo and Stellenbosch.

With 500 sign-ups for the tasting, and around 300 through the door by mid-afternoon, Henshaw said he was particularly pleased with the “very good quality” of the visitors, given that many are possibly still “freaked out” by the idea of being able to go and taste again in a communal space.

In terms of business being done, Henshaw said that any trade tasting was “an investment in the future”, but added that “restaurants are slowly getting there, with central London becoming busier”.

“We’re pretty positive, there are other challenges to deal with which aren’t necessarily to do with sales demand, [such as] logistics, staff and price rises, but we are pretty positive.”

“It’s always a bit of a worry trying to sell wines in the mid-to-upper price ranges, but that’s why tastings like this are good, people can understand the work that goes into [the wines], and hopefully translate that to the customers in a restaurant or shop.”