Hallgarten & Novum Wines is one of the UK’s leading specialist wine merchants, named European Merchant of the Year in 2019 and 2018, and New World Merchant of the Year 2017 by the Sommelier Wine Awards as well as IWSC Wine Importer of the Year 2018. Understandably, we were very excited to hear that Hallgarten had introduced seven wines from the country’s largest wine producer, Vachnadziani, including two which are fermented in traditional qvevri.
We caught up with Hallgarten’s head of buying, Steve Daniel, to discuss why the time was right to include Georgian wines in their portfolio.
Georgia’s history as the ‘cradle of wine’ is integral to the identity of its winemaking community. Was this an important selling point for you when you decided to list Georgian wines?
Consumers are far more interested in stories and provenance these days. A wine from the cradle of the vine with a history of 8,000 years is far more intriguing than another bottle of Chardonnay, so we believe it is important. Equally important are the unique indigenous grapes which convey a flavour of the past but in a modern way. The varietals may be ancient but the wines still need to be well made and accessible to the UK consumer.
How are you pitching them to your customers? Do you see them as wines with appeal to natural wine lovers or experimental drinkers?
We are not pitching to the natural wine movement. We have introduced a couple of Qvevri wines but the big potential is the treasure trove of indigenous grapes, made in a modern way that offer real excitement and value for money. Georgia could cross over as it has a unique story, a developed gastronomy and Tbilisi, I believe, will become a prime destination for adventurous Brits seeking gastronomic experiences in years to come.
Steve once said: “I’m not looking at regions now. I look at people. Good people make good wine and I like to see people doing something that means something to them”. Georgia’s winemaking movement is certainly full of passionate people – what set Vachnadziani apart?
They have good investment, an excellent winemaker in Vladimer Kublasvili, they understand the needs of our market and they are very passionate about what they do. Very importantly, they have the scale to be able to provide the required amount of wine to the UK market. They are in this for the long term and are prepared to invest in vineyards, their winemaking skills and the market.
How do these Georgian wines fit into your portfolio overall?
They fit very nicely into our Eastern Med portfolio. They are a logical extension from our Greek wines. It’s an interesting region making some excellent wines that offer value for money. Thanks to the scale and expertise of the Vachnadziani team we are able to price the entire range of wines quite competitively for the UK market, which is vital to ensure they are at accessible price points for consumers to feel confident buying them.
With his famous tastebuds, the fact that Steve has taken a shine to Georgian wine is very exciting to us! As the man who introduced Greek wine to the UK, Chilean wines to the UK. can we read this listing as Steve’s hint that Georgian wine is to be the next ‘big thing’ in the UK trade?!
I would love it to be, but to do that they must continue to improve and also talk about something other than Qvevri and amber wines. These are great unique wines but they will only ever appeal to a limited number of people and there is a limited production. The key is to make exceptional modern wines from local grapes at sensible price points. I believe they can do this.
What has been the initial response to the wines from your customers?
It is really too early to say but initial tastings have been very positive, and we are confident that once our customers are able to communicate each wine’s unique characteristics the flavour of each indigenous grape will speak for itself.
What can these wines offer to your customers which they can’t get from another bottle?
History in a glass and a chance to taste some unique flavours from rare local grapes.