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Sun 1 Apr 2007 05:53 PM

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Wine talk

Sommeliers from across Dubai meet up to discuss what is affecting them, and how the wine industry in the emirate can change for the better.

What are your thoughts on the Dubai wine market?

Luca Gagliardi:

I have been here for four years and looking at what we get today and what we got four years ago, there is a difference. In the past there were only generic wines and the quality wines were not here, so it is getting better. But you cannot compare it to London or New York; it is a closed market, a duopoly, and so there is no way you can have all the products.

Stéphane Soret:

For me, I have been here for the past nine months and my main concern is that Dubai is a very immature market in terms of wine, and that goes for all actors; the guest, the supplier and the staff.

Do you think special imports are a good way of getting wines into your hotel?

Luca Gagliardi:

My issue is why some hotels get priority. Is it because they are bigger, or because the supplier is closer to them and allowing them to have the exclusivity? This impacts on the single location restaurant as they cannot reach the supplier. I do not see any other country in the world with this kind of exclusivity.

Julien Pagliuchi:

This is quite worrying. Our property will have 24 rooms, so it is very small. How am I going to get certain wines if the bigger hotels have priority?

Caroline Furstoss:

When it comes to special imports just a few hotels care about the quality and have a very technical wine list in terms of vintage, and I am happy to be part of a hotel that does this. We don't want to take wines that everyone else has; we want to offer more wines, so we work with the suppliers to get special imports.

Julien Pagliuchi:

That's true, it is boring to see wine lists that all look the same, so having special imports is a way of being different. For me, I would like to have a greater variety of wines on my list.

Luca Gagliardi:

But what has happened in the past is that a hotel will place an order for a special import, and then the sommelier or food and beverage manager changes; so the next person to come along is left with a wine they may not want on their list.

Caroline Furstoss:

But again, this shows the immaturity of the market. There should always be a sommelier there to sell the wine, even if management changes.

Stéphane Soret:

If you decide to opt for special imports you have to be sure that you can sell it. At the Grand Hyatt I am now ordering special imports and storing it on-site. But you have to purchase wines that make business sense.

Around 60% of our sales are for wines under AED200 (US $55), so I prefer to get wines that I can sell at this price, but still as a special import.

Do allocations affect the wine you have in your restaurant?

Julien Pagliuchi:

I worked in the Maldives before I came here and there the market is quite open, so I was buying direct for some wines. You had to make your own network and find a way to grab the wine and get it into the country. Here you don't have the choice, you have to go through MMI, a+e or EFW.

Luca Gagliardi:

To be honest, in the suppliers defence, Dubai is a new market so allocation is not quite there. Sometimes they have to go to the UK market so there is no guarantee, and inevitably the prices will be higher. Also, we all know that vintages are a problem, but as there is no allocation this cannot be solved. It is a new market, so we have to consider this.


Do you have any concerns with the wines being offered?

Julien Pagliuchi:

I have put some suppliers in touch with people from Australia that I used to work with in the Maldives. The company specialises in boutique wines from Australia. I gave the suppliers the list, the quantities and the amounts I wanted, but my contact cannot enter the Dubai market. When you look at the current Australian wine list, I am sorry, but Jacobs Creek is not only Australia, Penfolds is not only Australia; there is a big range of wines out there.

Luca Gagliardi:

I agree, we do not need 200 references of Australian wine. What we need is specific wines. When it comes to Penfolds for example, you buy one and they try and give you this mega offer to buy more. I do not want them all.

Stéphane Soret:

This is why we potentially have a lot of opportunity in Dubai. We have the expertise and we should be able to find value for money. I don't want to have Jacobs Creek or all those branded wines, I want to find a producer in Austria or in France, for example, and give the discount to the guest.

Are diners happy with the price of wine in Dubai?

Stéphane Soret:

Well there is a 30% liquor tax, 10% service charge and 10% Municipality fee, plus 50% for it to be imported, so there is a large mark up to cover costs.

Luca Gagliardi:

But don't forget if you go to Sharm El Sheikh you pay around 400-500% tax. The price is there because the market is a duopoly. The margin for the supplier is unbelievable, and for us, we work on an average 30-35% beverage cost. You cannot add on much more.

Caroline Furstoss:

For Europeans coming here on vacation yes, they think it is expensive compared to back home, but again they are in the Middle East, it is expected.

Do price changes from one hotel to the other surprise you?

Stéphane Soret:

It is interesting to see how much some hotels charge. If you head to the beach resorts a Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc will be around 30-40% more expensive than at the Grand Hyatt. That is taking advantage and I do not agree with this. I run at a 60% beverage cost with my Premier Cru Bordeaux because I want to have enticing prices.

Luca Gagliardi:

It depends on the hotel. The Grand Hyatt is very food and beverage orientated, so if I wanted to spend good money on wine I would go there. But it is the hotel that gives you a list of things to do and a goal to achieve. In this respect, the Hilton has a very financial point of view.

Stéphane Soret:

I think the hotel that will be more successful at selling wines is the one that has attractive prices. I think it is wrong to overcharge, and in the long term I think the diner will go back to the place where the wine costs less but is of a good quality. I like to look at the long term.

Luca Gagliardi:

But it is the same the world over, in hotels the decision on price comes from the top and there is nothing we can do. If the general manager tells me to put the price up, that is what I do.

Caroline Furstoss:

It is the hotel that dictates the price, but it is the variety and choice that we (sommeliers) can dictate.

What are you thoughts on supplier and hotel relations?

Stéphane Soret:

Sometimes I feel like the suppliers are all-powerful and they decide what goes on the wine list, instead of us who are the wine experts. I think we need to shift the role a little.

I have faced a lot of sales people who have no experience in wine and they are selling it as if it was a normal drink product; they are delivering vintages that are not accurate, and they do not understand the concept of service.

We are the clients and in the end, my goal as a sommelier is to give fantastic wines at great value.

Luca Gagliardi:

I agree. I don't want to talk to the sales person because I know she only sees the budget on my account and she wants to increase that. They offer you dinner invites, and give you tickets to sporting events, and while this is nice, they are missing the point. I want to talk to people with knowledge of wines, but these people are focusing on the new openings and the big accounts instead of us.

What other concerns do you have with suppliers?

Julien Pagliuchi:

How many hotels are there in Dubai, and how many suppliers are there? The number of sommeliers in the market is increasing but the customers are being restricted with the wines we can offer, as there are not enough suppliers.

Luca Gagliardi:

A lot of the time the people who work for the suppliers do not know about the product, but at the moment it cannot change, so case closed.

Stéphane Soret:

The problem is that there is too much competition within the hotels and not enough with the suppliers.

Recently, logistics has been a major problem. If the wine is not available then I will take it off my list. I am constantly reprinting my wine list because if I do not get the service from them fine, I take it off. Unfortunately, more often than not there is no follow up from the supplier, so it really does come down to a lack of competition.

What does the future hold?

Luca Gagliardi:

Look at Hong Kong and Singapore, 10 years ago they were like Dubai, so it will come and the market will open. One day though it will be uncontrollable; two suppliers cannot handle the market and already it is too big and the cracks are beginning to show. But it is the sommeliers that can make the market better, it won't come from the suppliers.

Stéphane Soret:

I was puzzled when I first got here. There is so much more to be done and people need to see wine as a different entity. We are part of the history of Dubai though and that is a good thing.

Caterer Middle East would like to thank The Grand Hyatt Dubai for hosting this month's roundtable in the Manhattan Grill. Thanks also needs to be given to Cindy and the team at Emirates Fine Wine for providing wine for the event.

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