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Bibendum takes the ‘art of (selling) wine’ in a new direction

Published:  27 January, 2023

Bibendum has just closed the cap on its first tasting concept of 2023, with a roster of likeminded events lined up for the year ahead as the company diversifies its annual tasting format.

The on-trade specialist gathered 350 of its wines within the creative space of London's Battersea Arts Centre on Wednesday (25 January) for its inaugural ‘The Art of Wine’ tasting.

With a scaled back number of producers, the tasting instead made room for a number of interactive and artistically led elements. Visitors were variously invited to try their hand at bottle painting (pictured) and blending via Ridgeview winemaker Simon Roberts’ workshop, alongside an optional blind tasting. Visitors were asked to test their palates alongside a ‘New Wines’ section, while also tasting through the usual showing of Old and New World wines.

By now, Bibendum regulars will be familiar with an ever-changing line up of interesting locations.

One of the more memorable in recent years was its “Not another bl**dy tasting” event in September 2019, when the trade poured into the arches of restored Victorian railway site turned music venue, The Steel Yard.

This year however, Bibendum’s diary is becoming more diversified. Aided by the backing of owners C&C, the distributor is now placing the focus on more, but smaller, curated events.

“We’ve always aimed to do things a bit differently,” CEO Michael Saunders told Harpers. “Back in 2009, we sent out invitations via tea towels with post-it notes on the back saying, ‘please bring back with a drawing’. We thought nobody was going to do it… and holy lord! We had such great response. Now, we’re really aiming not to try and do everything at once.

“At previous tastings, we’ve showed nearly a thousand wines in a huge venue which verged on being counterproductive as it was just too crowded and too big. Within the C&C architecture, Bibendum is all about quality. We want to do things well and do them consistently well.”

Wednesday’s event also follows on from another, even more focused tasting, which launched last September.

Post a Covid-forced delay, Bibendum’s Bordeaux Collection finally had its first outing at Spencer House in 2022, where it placed the spotlight on top chateaux such as Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite-Rothschild, Carruades de Lafite, Duhart- Milon & Evangile), Figeac and Montrose.

The idea had been long-ruminating, Saunders said. The idea sprang from an eagerness to reconnect hospitality with wines of top Bordeaux chateaux and improve their visibility on lists.

“Hospitality has fallen out of sync with Bordeaux: the region now mostly focuses on en primeur and selling direct, which means the wines go into private cellars and disappear. This is really about reconnecting… the wines are of course still listed in restaurants, but not as many as there used to be and not as in depth,” he said.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild was the first to come on board. Since then, the collection has grown. Currently, a total of 40 chateaux make up the collection, with Saunders convincing chateaux to sell to the UK on-trade at the market price, minus the usual significant premium.

“It’s not asking for a discount; it’s about marketing and visibility, which has been lacking. It also means a continuity of supply for the on-trade, so businesses don’t have to go into the market every time they want few extra bottles. We’ve managed to bridge that gap,” he said.

Bibendum’s next focus will be an ‘everything but Bordeaux’ fine wine tasting in March. More will be announced soon, with the ever-expanding Bordeaux Collection review set to return – in a different location, no doubt – this September.