Fermenting personal relationships key to wine business growth
A couple of years ago I wrote a column about Kahurangi Liquor Distributors and the port wines they import and distribute.
Just over a week ago Greg and Amanda Day invited me to a luncheon with other wine writers to taste some of a new range they are importing from Chile.
As we talked I discovered there is a bigger story about how they grew their import and distribution business as well as some of the key brands they import.
It may surprise you to learn they are the New Zealand distributors for some of the world's finest wine producers, names like Rothschild, Louis Latour, Chateau Palmer from France along with Tahbilk and Tyrrell's from Australia, Krohn and Croft port wines from Portugal, Williams and Humbert sherries from Spain and Godet Cognac also from France.
These wines range in price from less than $20 on the shelf in your local supermarket to an eye-watering $1300 for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2013. So how did a Nelson business develop such an amazing portfolio of labels to distribute here.
Greg Day said to begin with he just noticed no-one was selling some of these wines so he emailed, wrote letters and picked up the phone to ask if they needed a New Zealand distributor.
"Sometimes you just need to ask," he says.
"We had a sales team on the road selling our wines so we thought we could offer outlets more choice without competing with our own brand by importing other brands. We thought we may as well give the sales guys plenty of things to sell".
The biggest range they import comes from Boutinot, a Manchester-based wine merchant that owns a range of vineyards and brands around the world.
"It was a bit of a learning curve for us when we first approached them, I very quickly realised that these producers really value having a personal relationship, not just another distributor wanting to sell their wines."
At the same time they were developing their import business the Days were also making wine under their Kahurangi Wines label and they employed a French winemaker to work a vintage here. It turns out Jean-Edouard Godet's family owned Godet Cognac and they were invited to his wedding.
Jean-Edouard married Florentine Mahler-Besse whose parents own Chateau Palmer so it was a wine family marrying a cognac family and the Days came home with both agencies for New Zealand.
At the wedding Greg sat next to a financial controller for Lafite Rothschild, the owner of an airport in a large eastern European country and a Swiss-based financier who speciliased in winery mergers and acquisitions.
"Jean-Jaques Godet, the groom's father. said to me we need a good agent in New Zealand and I said I am your man.
"Meeting at a wedding and sharing a few glasses of fine wine is how our personal relationship started and we ended up with three premium brands to distribute here so it just goes to show how important personal relationships are."
Earlier in his career Day was the national sales manager for Allied Liquor Distributors. At the time they were the agents for Mouton Cadet wines, the largest selling Bordeaux wine in the world, official wine sponsor of the recent America's Cup and a brand owned by Mouton Rothschild.
Day noticed their wines weren't being sold in New Zealand anymore "so, I sent them an email, as we would with others we deal with, and didn't get a response, I sent the same email another couple of times before I wrote them a "snail mail" letter."
It paid off with a call from the company's Asia-Pacific regional manager in Chile, and an exclusive relationship with Chateau Mouton Rothschild wines from Bordeaux.
Another coincidence was when Greg and Amanda were on a train in England heading to the head office of Boutinot.
"This guy was sitting opposite us and when you are in such close quarters you can't help but hear what others are saying when they are on the phone and we twigged he was in the wine industry.
" I told him we are in the industry too so he shouldn't talk about anything confidential, I was just being polite really and starting a conversation with another passenger.
"I noticed he had a diary labelled as Boutinot and asked if he worked for them, he said 'I am Boutinot', turns out he was Paul Boutinot the largest shareholder and managing director of the family business".
Boutinot is now their largest international supplier.
Of course he has also taken advantage of contacts he made in his years working for Allied Liquor.
For example, he had met Mike DeGaris who was the general manager of Cardmember Wines based in Auckland but who had been the winemaker at Tyrrell's in Australia before that.
So when Day made contact with him again many years later DeGaris introduced him to the Tyrrell family and he now sells their wines here while they sell Kahurangi Estate's Trout Valley wines in Australia.
When Day was a sales rep for Wrightson Wines and Spirits in Wellington he was asked "to look after this guy and his wife for two days, they are on honeymoon and he is the son of one of our suppliers. All we did was eat and drink, it was a great time for a 26 year old.
"He was the son of the owner of Tahbilk Wines from Australia, we met again last year and he is now the managing director". It goes without saying Day now distributes their wines here too.
Kahurangi Liquor sells ultra-premium wine brands from Marler Besse and Mouton Rothschild, mainly to wine shops.
"One of the biggest buyers is in Christchurch, not Auckland as most would assume, and he recently bought two magnums and five bottles of French wine with a trade price of $4000 for a client of his. People buy them to celebrate special events."
Day's special passion is port. The Krohn label that they distribute includes vintage and white ports as well as Colheita ports dated from 1982 to 2004. "These Colheitas are very popular in restaurants because of the way they are made, unlike ruby or vintage ports they can last for ages when they have been opened."
Godet are high quality producers of cognac but don't have the huge reputation of names like Hennessy, Remy Martin and others making them much more affordable but with quality that is right up there with the best.
The Godet XO (extra old or aged for more than 25 year) premium cognac retails for about $190, compared to $300-$350 from a big brand at duty free.
Greg and Amanda Day have built an exciting portfolio of international wines to distribute in New Zealand and they have developed long-lasting friendships as well as business relationships with the owners of many of the world's premium wine producers.
It shows just how important personal relationships are in any business, but especially the wine trade.