Friday, 15 February 2008

Kevin Griffin Interview Harpers Weekly June 2006

The following interview with Kevin Griffin, Proprietor of Maison du Vin and The Wine Word first appeared in Harpers Weekly.

What possessed you to buy a shop on a really busy 'A' road between the two parts of a Kent village?

We were looking for a property. We wanted to add some asset to the company. John Toogood and I were looking for a farm or a building with some land where we could have maybe a wine warehouse and storage. We went up many fruitless dead ends, then this property came up. It was an old hairdresser's, with a gym in the cellar and a three-bedroomed apartment upstairs.

It was in a terrible state so it was on the market for a cheap price.

But you guys are former salesmen. I thought you did not want to open a shop?

I had always said I would never, ever run a shop. Forget it, impossible, non-starter – shoot me if I even think of it. But this property happened to come with a shop window, so we thought we'd put stock in the window and if someone comes in and buys a bottle, that's a bonus.

You obviously haven't got any hypermarkets or superstores close by.

There is a Budgens at the top of Moor Hill, but otherwise the nearest Sainsbury's are in Tunbridge Wells and Hastings, both about 15 miles away, and there's a Waitrose in Tenterden. Also, what you have to bear in mind is that this is a rural community and, by definition, they do not like supermarkets.

How did you and John meet and come to work together?

We were both regional sales managers for Pieroth, the company that owns Hallgarten. John left in 1995 and I did not get on with the new German sales director, so I left in 1997. I had not seen John for two years, so I rang him and he said: 'Come and join me.'

We both had loyal customers so we just continued buying wine from the likes of Enotria, Alliance and Wine Services, and picking up bin ends from the likes of Corney & Barrow and Bibendum, and then selling them on. John has customers predominately in Surrey and London, whereas mine are in Kent and Sussex.

We do visits to homes and offices, and John still does a fair amount of selling over the phone.

That's all very well, but you're still in the middle of nowhere.

We're actually in the middle of a huge, moneyed area. All of the villages around here still have a butcher, a baker, a local store, a hairdresser and a post office.

A housewife will ask the butcher to recommend what she should cook and then she asks us what wine she should buy. A man came in and asked if we had Louis Roederer Cristal. I said: 'Yes, the 1997, at £130.' He said: 'Great, I'll take two.' We also do Dom Pérignon 1986 in a gift box for £79.99.

I see you have Penfolds Grange at £150, but what would you say is your speciality?

We are 75% French. I have a hugely wealthy stockbroker who rings me up and says: 'I have no wine and we're having a dinner party.' He orders four or five cases of claret at £40/£45 a bottle and two half-bottles of Y'Quem at £89.99 each. There aren't many shops that have magnums of Mouton (Rothschild) out in the shop.

That's all well and good, but how do you get word around?

We have visiting winemakers – Marion Giribalbi from Piedmont, Florence Guy of Château Coujan in St Chinian and Rueben Uribe Echevevria of Virgen Blanca in Navarre, Spain – who do business lunches and tutored tastings. We get 15 people to lunches and 20 or 30 people to evening tastings. We make about £500/£1,000. We also do wine safaris. Last year, we went to Beaune, the year before Bordeaux and this year the Rhône. We have a luxury coach, and we charge about £750 per person all inclusive. We also have two fine wine auctions a year.

So life seems pretty good. What gets your goat?

What p***** me off is the likes of Sainsbury's and Thresher selling things at cost or 40% off. We are one of the few independents that import our wines direct – we source about 50% direct. Unlike some, that wait and see who the medal winners are and then order them in. We are prepared to take the risk and try different things.

We may have only one Sancerre, but it is a good one.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Maison du Vin Wine Safari to Italy

Once again What’s On Magazine was delighted to accompany Maison du Vin and ten other lucky couples on their latest ‘Wine Safari’ to Piemonte in North West Italy.

The region is home to red wine legends such as Barbera, Barbaresco and the mighty Barolo. There are also some delightful white wines such as Gavi, Arnies and Favorita.

It’s true to say that the area does not get it fair share of tourists as it tends to get bypassed in favour of Tuscany. But we can assure you that the whole region is stunningly beautiful. Made up of a mass of rolling hills and steep vine-covered slopes. Many of the hills are topped with gorgeous ancient villages, like Sinio where we stayed in the luxurious five star Hotel Castello di Sinio.

The Northwest Italians love their food with Saturday and Sunday lunch being particularly important family gatherings. Indeed, one of the many highlights was Saturday Lunch at the ‘Nettle Vigne Trattoria.’ Now many restaurants claim to be set in a vineyard but this is literarily built on a terrace right in the middle of the vine-covered slopes. The views were amazing as was the ten-course lunch!

Every year during the first weekend in October the culinary world descends upon the town of Alba to indulge in the heady delights of its world famous ‘white truffle’ festival. These highly prized and very rare subterranean fungi were changing hands for thousand’s of euros! Needless to say we resisted the temptation. But we were treated to some white truffle shavings as part of our sumptuous eight-course dinner that evening.

The two main wineries we visited were, the internationally renowned ‘Fontanafredda’ and the legendary ‘Mario Giribaldi.’Maison du Vin is the UK’s sole shipper of Giribaldi wines. Mario and his family treated us to a superb eight-course Sunday lunch complete with a wine tasting led by Mario himself.

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. Another triumph for Maison du Vin!

Piemonte is a magical, seductive part of Italy. Majestic hills, deep valleys and gentle swirling mists, a fairy tale land of plenty, with a strong sense of ‘La Dolce Vita’. Simply wonderful!

Next year … Tuscany………can’t wait!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Wine Safari to the Rhone Valley

This article first appeared in What's On Magazine in November 2006 and is a short account of our Wine Safari to the Rhone Valley in Oct 2006.

We have just returned from another wonderful Wine Safari to the Rhone Valley. Organised by Maison du Vin of Hawkhurst.

Yet again we were very warmly welcomed by all the wine growing families we visited. One of the many high lights was being taken to see a Mobile distillery in action. It was set up in a village car park in Hermitage. It is used to make Eau de vie from the left over grape skins.

The amazing thing is that local people bring their joints of meat to be poached in the hot vats of steaming alcohol and yes we were watching our own lunch being cooked!

A big thank you must go to Jean Pierre Mucyn and his lovely wife Helene of Domaine Mucyn at Tain-Hermitage for their hospitality; to take such a huge chunk out of their very long and busy day would not have been easy at such a critical time of year, yet they chose to share their lunch with 22 strangers! Memories of the few hours we spent with Jean-Pierre & Helen Mucyn and their entire family will stay with us forever.

Their generosity and the way they organised 22 people descending on their home was outstanding special mention must go to Fabrice at Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateau Neuf du Pape.

His enthusiasm commitment eloquence knowledge and delivery were fantastic. Yes, of course he had done it many times before but remember it was'nt just a sales pitch, they don't sell from the Chateau and he is not performing to groups of tourists on the hour every hour.

Again it was an absolute privilege to be there and one not available to the average touring punter! French wine is having a tough time right now so thank goodness for people like Eric Chauvin of Domaine Souverain Sablet (another great lunch by the way)! Fabrice and Jean-Pierre Mucyn. They are at the very vanguard of what still makes French wine so unique and interesting. They deserve our support for they are at the very heart of that one word so uniquely French, one small word that means almost everything. Terroir.

The hopes, dreams, ambitions, disasters, triumphs, history traditions of one place and its people translated through a product captured in a glass of wine, an expression of place. Hand in glove with everything we stand for Real wine Real places Real people.

So ends another wonderful trip. Looking back it seems like the sort of thing that only happens to travel writers, journalists and TV personalities, but it happened to us our happy little band one glorious sunny day in early Autumn, lost somewhere beneath the vine covered slopes of the Northern Rhone - How wonderful!

Special thanks to Kevin and Beverley Griffin of Maison du Vin for organising such a superb weekend and we can't wait for next years Wine Safaris to Italy!

Monday, 11 February 2008

How much would you pay for your wine?

OK - so you can buy a bottle of wine for under £3.00 per bottle, but you can pay a whole lot more!

Take these beauties for instance:

Chateau Margaux 1787 £112.500
Chateau Lafite 1787 £80.000
Chateau d'yquem 1784 £28,294
Massandra Sherry 1775 £21,750
Domiane de Rommane Conti 1985 £14,055
Le Montrachet 1978 £11,964
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 £8,187
Screaming Eagle 1994 £1,916

Would that be one case or two sir!

Saturday, 2 February 2008

The One Hundred and Fifty Two Grape Variety Wine

Announcing the 'One hundred and fifty two grape variety wine!'

Master Italian Wine Maker Mario Giribaldi has, after ten years work, released his 'Cento Uve' - and the wine is made from 152 different grape varieties!

As you can imagine such a feat is very rarely attempted let alone perfected.

The wine is powerfully built yet has tremendous finesse with lashings of fruit and a wonderful seductive inky black colour. This will reward the patient few for at least the next ten years!

This 2004 vintage is now available in the UK exclusively from Maison du Vin at a price of £29.99 per bottle.