Ever get that sinking feeling following an epiphany? Blood running cold for a moment as something momentous dawns on you? When you realise that the world has moved on and left you behind?
I picture the poor Defence Secretary on his summer break sitting by his Tuscan pool enjoying a biography when he gets a sudden adrenaline jolt as a (low energy) lightbulb illuminates above his head when it dawns on him that the exciting new weapon for which he has just been granted billions in funding is suitable only for fighting a 1980s battle and won’t be ready for deployment for another twenty years anyway.
In my job of wine importer and wholesaler and my role as member-of-society I regularly experience a lightbulb moment; a split-second of delicious clarity when something in the world briefly makes sense. And I had one of these recently – actually two as I am a bit slow on the uptake sometimes and it took two similar events to make the same point to me.
The first was earlier this year when I received a disturbing email from Clotilde our Chablis producer of many years. Her crop had been all but wiped out by frosts and the prices were going up. Dramatically. Of course my sympathies were extended and I genuinely do feel for Clotilde dealing with such a situation. However, do I buy at the higher price and pass it on to my customers? Do I buy and not pass it on? Do I source a new Chablis (a big undertaking because of the way we buy)? Or do I delist Chablis for now? Or for longer…..?
So I brought up our sale figures for these wines to see who buys ‘em? And guess what; nobody buys them. A tiny handful of bottles go out sporadically which, when one considers that twenty years ago Chablis was featured on every restaurant (and most pub) wine lists as essentially a “must stock brand”, this represents a significant turn around. And one that I hadn’t really registered.
And then, a couple of months later, I got an email from the Champagne producer from whom we have bought for many years announcing a new exclusive tie-up with a UK Champagne specialist; meaning they can no longer supply us directly. I will have to buy through the new partners. And I again looked at the stats and discovered that, despite the product quality and nature, we don’t sell any. And much of what we do sell is to pubs as essentially “house” Champagne and any alternative brand would probably do.
In the second case, I fear that burgeoning Prosecco sales along with availability of ten quid supermarket Champagne and the ever impressive pull of big ‘Grand Marque” brands like Clicquot, Ruinart and Laurent Perrier have squeezed out the lesser-recognisable “grower” producer; the kind we have always promoted.
So I made a deal with the devil in the shape of Moët Hennessy and we are now buying big-brand Champagne direct from the producer and we will see Paul Clouet and Bonnaire eventually disappear from our offer. Shame. Not sure if I’ll bother sourcing a low-end one; what’s the point in cheap Champagne anyway? An oxymoron surely?
And in the case of ChablisGate, other premium whites at much kinder prices are available. And to the small handful of trade customers who were not happy about it’s disappearance I say look at your actual sales; is your list fit for the contemporary customer? Or is it fighting the cold war still?