Posted on April 17th, 2010
1. Colly, you set up retrovino last year. An interesting time to start a wine business. Why?
I’ve been interested in the imbibing aspect of wine for many years but felt a draw towards the business side of it. The reason for setting up a wine business was not because there was or wasn’t a recession, it was because an opportunity presented itself and I gladly grasped it with both hands. So, in essense the timing was irrelevant as I was unaware of what the wine business was like in the good times, that people keep banging on about. I’m really enjoying being in the wine business because it gives me a legitimate excuse to talk sh*te about wine to anyone who will listen!
2. It’s not a full time thing, at least noy yet. What are the advantages to starting a part-time business?
This affords one a little bit more flexibility in terms of cash flow. I am fully intent on becoming a full-time participant in the wine trade as soon as the time is right. Its difficult to find the required hours to run a business outside of business hours (if you know what I mean?).
3. Do you see that as something we’ll see more of, small importers, focused on quality artisan wines rather than the bigger importers?
I guess the main advantage of a part-time business is that you still have a steady income regardless of whether you are selling wine or not.
Big importers will always have a certain degree of clout with respect to the market because of economies of scale. Purchasing wine from producers in large quantities drives down the price, and those savings are ultimately passed on to the consumer. This is a positive situation until the consumer expects every bottle of wine they purchase in the shop to cost half nothing. But consumers are smart in Ireland, and we as a nation have begun to understand and appreciate quality with the expectation that you get what you pay for.
A lot of smaller importers have come online in the recent past and in many cases have a keener focus on quality and the much sought after, price-quality ratio. There will always be small importers who’s goal it is to promote artisan wines and further develop the public’s understanding of their wines and where it has come from. I think we will see more partnerships amongst smaller businesses, and not just with other wine businesses, but with artisan food and independent travel companies as well. Assuming and hoping that they will all survive. I have spoken to many retailers, independent wines and restaurants who are happier to deal with small importers because its gives them a level of exclusivety.
4. What’s been the most challenging aspect of setting up the business and where did go for support?
Setting up in business was not a difficult as I thought it would be. I hired an accountant and he advised me exactly what I would need. I had to register with the CRO (Company Registrations Office), with Revenue for VAT and with Customs and Excise for Excise Trader status. Before undertaking any of this I spoke to friends and people I knew who owned their own business. They were very forthcoming and frank with their advice! There are tonnes of documents about setting up a business on www.revenue.ie as well
5. You have a focus wines from Italy, why there in particular?
I fell in love with Italian wine whilst on holiday there a few years ago and go back many times each year in search of more. I have lots of Italian friends who have introduced me to different varieties and regions that I had never heard of before and that wouldn’t be very well known here, like Molise for example. There are some amazing tiny producers in that region, who’s products never get past the Molisan border.
Last year I got married in my friends vineyard in Tuscany. I import his wine into Ireland. I have recently beefed up my portfolio with Italian classics like Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Barbaresco which are at the more expensive end of the scale. Surprisingly enough they are selling quite well. Clearly everyone in Ireland isn’t broke!
5. What are your favourite Italian varieties?
Falanghina, which is a gorgeous mineraly white variety from Campania. Vermentino in it’s native Sardinian form, and also Cannonau from the same island. In terms of reds, I love all the kickass stuff like Barolo, Brunello and some of the Super-Tuscan wines which are generally Sangiovese blended with a “foreign” grape like Cabernet Sauvignon.
6. When you’re not selling your wines, where’s your favourite place in Dublin for a glass?
I really like the wine cellar in Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer St. Lots of interesting wine to choose from, by the glass or bottle and the best value deli food in Dublin which you can enjoy with your wine.
However, my favourite place in Dublin would have to be Pinocchio in Ranelagh which always has a great vibe and true Italian authenticity! They have recently renovated the restuarant so that part of the room has more of a winebar feel to it.
I really enjoy Trade Tastings where it is possible to sample a multitude of different wines, occassionly something quite rare and with the possibility to directly compare different vintages of the same wine. The only downside at the end of the day is black teeth! I would actively encourage consumers to attend consumer tastings where possible. They can be very informative and educational, as well of giving an opportunity to find something else that you might like to drink instead of sticking with the same old reliables. Be adventerous!
Most of all I like to drink wine at home with friends and family.
7. Any unusual or new wines coming in which your customers are responding well to?
I am bringing in some exceptional wines from Puglia like Primitivo and Salice Salentino from a producer called Leone de Castris. They were the first company in Italy to bottle Rosé and have one of the world’s finest examples in “Five Roses” which has been in production since 1943. The wines of Pieve de Pitti from Tuscany have been a great success since I started importing them in the Summer of 2009. The “Cerretello” (Chianti Superiore DOCG) is fine example of Tuscany Sangiovese at an excellent pruice, and the white by the name of “Tribiana” is a wine lover’s wine – to die for!
I am hoping to trial some Brazilian wine in Ireland this summer. I found a Pinot Noir while I was there in January which is phenomenal! Could be a difficult sell but I relish a challenge.
8. What changes would you like to see in the wine world?
In Ireland I would like to see excise further reduced. We still pay a high price for wine compared to our neighbours across the border.
9. Anything else you’d like to add?
We are lucky enough to have wine from every corner of the globe here in Ireland. It gives us a great opportunity to attain a broad wine knowledge because we have something that wine producing countries tend not to have, i.e. big exposure to wine from other countries. Let’s embrace that fact and get our wine education moving in the right direction. Its great to see more wine schools coming online, so long may that continue.
Contact: Colly Murray
Tel: +353 (0)86 817 0200