Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Value Importer of the Year 2011 - Eurocentric

Over the past year I have been tasting a large range of wines from a variety of importers which got me thinking which of these offers the best value wines. The criteria for offering the best value is that they must offer good to great quality with prices well below other wines in that category. One importers range stood out above the rest.

I first met the man behind Eurocentric Wine, Neville Yates, a few years ago at a tasting he was hosting.  He came across as very honest and intelligent, who must have one of the best palates in the importing business. The story that I was told goes something like this. Neville and Danny 'Baby Chickpea' were with Tim Kirk of Clonikilla doing some barrel tastings.  Tim was concerned that a barrel of his Shiraz, that would normally make it into his top wine, didn't fit with the flavour profile that he was after.  Neville and Danny offered to buy the whole barrel right then and there. After much deliberation, Tim decided to keep the barrel and work out what to do with it later.  Clonikilla released this wine for the first time from the 07 vintage under the name Syrah.  All the reviews for this wine, that I have seen, say spectacular wine or wine of the year.  So this palate that tried to procure the barrel from Tim Kirk, selects the wines for Eurocentric Wine.  The Beaujolais wines from Eurocentric’s stable are sublime and unbelievable value, whilst anything from the German end of town is about 1/2 the price for the same quality as other importers. While the value that is delivered for these types of wines is extraordinary, the jewel in the crown is the selection of quality Champagnes. From what I've tasted they offer sophistication with length and personality galore. 

Even though Eurocentric's wines are great value, it is really refreshing to see the style of marketing that is utilised to sell the wines. In general people try to talk up their wines with a hyped up personality but Neville is totally honest and rather subdued compared.  I guess he is letting his wines do the talking. The concept of letting the wines talk is just brilliant, as you can ask questions, if you want, which allows you to walk away with a greater understanding of the wines.

I have had a few chats with Neville over the years and here is our most recent discussion. 

(Josh) Why did you become an importer?

(Neville) ‘ Apart from hating my old job as a journalist, I just wanted to travel and see parts of France and Germany that I hadn’t seen since I first Visited in 1987. I went with the intention of sourcing some wine for a major retailer but had so much fun and made such great contacts that I wanted to be involved somehow. I presented with four producers to the retailer and he was going to take it from there but I said I wanted to stay involved.  He said if that was the case I had to do everything.  I guess it was thrust on me, even though I had talked with friends in the past about importing wine together to save ourselves some money.  My initial reaction to the retailer’s challenge was that it would be too difficult and I should decline, but I had been wanting to get out of my comfort zone, to take some risks, and something my entrepreneurial grandfather told me stuck in my mind.  If you don’t know how to do something, he would say find people who did, and learn from them.  So I started asking around, did lots of research and organised my first shipment.  I was fortunate that the retailer stuck by me and provided a large chunk of money up front for his first order.  Other incentives came from learning that some importers didn’t use temperature-controlled containers or warehouses. As a wine lover, that made me mad and I stopped buying some of my long-time favourites. Mind you, I had to sell my cellar to get the business going, because I had no money and now, after three and a half years of strong growth, I still haven’t been able to get a cent of bank support.’

(Josh) How did you first get into wine?

(Neville) ‘My first experience was becoming friends with a guy whose family were (and still are) grape harvesters in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Paul and I used to drink way too much Muller Thurgau (embarrassingly). Mind you, I think that gave me digestive problems for years, and maybe even a glass of Muller is too much! Then in 1987 I went to Europe and a French friend’s father set me on a path of discovery through Chablis and Beaujolias mostly. I dragged a bag full of wine around Europe for seven weeks, smuggling it through various Eastern bloc countries, eventually got it home and then cellared it beyond its intended lifespan.  It seemed too important to ever have the occasion to drink, then when I did crack one they were all disappointing! Fast forward a couple of years and I was buying a bottle of Rouge Homme Coonawarra Cabernet 1990 from North Bondi Cellars every couple of nights. I was stunned when they ran out! I eventually became intrigued enough to start learning…asking friends what was worth cellaring, cutting lists out of every paper and magazine I could find, going to winemaker dinners. I went to visit friends in McLaren Vale and we did the wine route…I would only drink reds—wouldn’t even try whites!—until a sticky at Woodstock blew my mind.  Back home in Sydney, I bought a 72-bottle wine rack and installed it in a cool, enclosed spot under the stairs of my apartment.  It was soon full so I bought another one and filled that. I remember telling a friend, “Well, that’s it, I’ve finished buying.” He replied, “ You’re not done by a long shot”, and to this day I blame him for my compulsion to hunt down and buy great wine wherever I can! My marriage ended soon after that (no, it wasn’t related), and to distract myself I buried myself in work and my passion for wine. People at wok were worried when 10 cases would turn up after a weekend in the Barossa, but I was collecting wine, not drinking it all. The key to building a cellar is to buy way more than you can drink! The home cellar was soon overflowing, and then came professional temperature-controlled storage.  Out of sight, out of mind – it felt like I didn’t have any wine, and my share of funds from my unit sale when I got divorced quickly went on wine. Before I knew it I had 600 dozen, and 99% of it was Australian. So much for not liking white either—I had masses of Riesling and Chardonnay! In 2001 I moved to New Zealand to pursue a girl and landed a part-time job as the cellar door of Morton Estate winery, where I learned more from the winemaker and from the insanely educated cellar door manager (he had a doctorate in theology and Latin!). he had an amazing cellar and introduced me to the wonders of German Riesling when he cracked a 1990 auslese and I couldn’t get it out of my head how delicate and featherlight this wine had been, yet how intense and persistent the flavour was. I could taste it years later and was largely to thank for me gathering an amazing collection of German Riesling producers to import.’

This year will be a huge year for Neville as he is expecting his first child, which will be another journey that he will have to tackle. If you haven’t tried any of the wines from Eurocentric I would recommend making a priority in obtaining some in 2012. 

1 comment:

  1. Neville: great story about perseverance and passion. Keep spreading the knowledge around.