Posted on July 24th, 2010
Photo courtesy of willowireland.com
On my recent staycation in Kerry, I made it to the picturesque town of Kenmare. While there I met up with Alain Bras, proprietor of Vanilla Grape on Kenmare’s Henry Street.
I’ve been in plenty of wine shops. In Kenmare, nestled amongst galleries, craft shops and cafés the term “wine shop”, doesn’t quite do Alain Bras’s premises justice. It’s a treasure trove of wines from all over the world with Rhône Syrahs, Shiraz from Victoria’s little known Heathcote, and everywhere in between. There’s literally something for everyone.
Below, a few words from the man himself.
1. Alain, you originally hail from France. Has wine always been in your blood?
I was born in the Midi in rural wine area between Cahors and Marcillac in North Aveyron. With no wine wine connection apart from the fact that my grandfather made wine for himself, like many farmers in “polyculture” France. I later went to catering college and studied wine as part of the program.
2. What took you to Ireland and what have you been doing since you arrived?
I met an Irish girl on a placement trip to London, she brought me to Ireland in 1980. In Dublin I worked in the restaurant trade, involved in wine purchasing, then head waiter / wine buyer at Whites on the Green from 1984. I moved on to Limerick where I started a wine club – Le Chapeau – from then I lectured on wine and moved to full time Sommelier for Adare Manor, then Sheen Falls Lodge. In 2002, I tried my hand at full time teaching in Shannon College, but rapidly moved back to the trade.
In 2004 we created Vanilla Grape, and subsequently opened our shop – being the window to our wine business of wine purveyor, school of wine and online sales – which to this day is our main trade.
3. Tell me about the wines you stock
The selection is very eclectic in terms of regions (35 regions from around the world), styles (light to powerfully rich), and types (dry to sweet or sparkling) and price range – about 600 wines at present from €9 to €300 for a bottle.
Our selection is evolving and shifting all the time – and right now, very price conscious. It’s around 50:50 Europe to other regions of the world. There’s also a much stronger demand in our store for small producers and biodynamic practice in vineyard management. My selection is influenced by that right now.
Also, the season has a great effect with lighter wines in summer.
4. Do you have a particular focus on one country or style and what goes best with the local Kerry dish?
As a sommelier I like to help with the choice of purchase. A lot of locals now come with a full description of the event and budget and want me to come up with the perfect wine.
With Kerry Lamb I like to suggest a mature St Emilion or an earthy Rioja or even a Chianti Classico again depending of the request.
5. What new wine discoveries excite you?
Limari and San Antonio of Chile for Chardonnay, central and southern Rhone for red and white, Saumur and Chinon (Loire valley) for Cabernet Franc, Rheingau and Rheinhessen for dry Riesling, Shiraz from Heathcote Victoria. The list is long for my favourite wines.
6. What’s your all time favourite wine?
My all time favourite was Champagne Charlie from Charles Heidsieck 1979, but again another dozen could pop up just the same.
7. Tell me about moving online, and what you offer from your website?
Our website, vgwines.com, is the natural follow through to increase our repeat customer base, and continued sales away from Kenmare, especially during festive times and special occasions.