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Q&A: Julie Fernandez, Raphaël Michel

As the World Bulk Wine show prepares to take up residence in Amsterdam, Julie Fernandez, head of exports at French-based bulk wine producer Raphaël Michel, speaks to the drinks business about the current state of the market.

Raphaël Michel’s CEO, Guillaume Ryckwaert, bought the company in 2002 at the age of 25 describing it as a “classic” bulk wine merchant. Today the company exports 800,000 hectolitres a year from its cellar in Piolenc working with some of the most important French wine houses.

More recently the company expanded its remit as a blender and wine merchant to grape growing, building upon its portfolio of vineyards by investing in four regions. The company currently owns 200 hectares in the Côtes du Rhône, 50 hectares in Chile and 20 hectares in Provence and recently acquired Claude Nicolas, a family wine merchant in south west of France, along with its 70,000 hectolitre capacity cellar.

Which markets do you believe are currently the most buoyant for bulk wine exports?

Northern Europe is the most important market for bulk wine with Germany first followed by the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Many big German distributors developed famous French brands which are today very popular and bought by the majority of German people. Germany is also an important platform from which bulk wine is bottled and distributed to Northern Europe. We have been exporting our wines outsIde of France for only the last year. Before that, we were working on the French wine market only.

Consumer demand for cheaper, bulk wine exports is unlikely to wane, but how do you reconcile this lower cost with perceptions of quality?

Indeed, cheap wine still represents a big part of the market, but it doesn’t necessarily match with bad quality wines for us. The selection of our grapes and wine suppliers is very important. For this market, we stay realistic on what the consumer wants; readable wine, easy drinking, fresh and well-balanced.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the bulk wine industry?

Today, we can provide good quality wines in big volumes at interesting prices and from different regions in France and abroad. The first challenge is to secure the supplies. From where our wish to invest in wineries, this investment permits us also to control the quality from the vines; this is another challenge! Our policy is to propose an “a la carte” blend. For that, we have to be able to produce wines with more technical profiles, as well as “classic” blends. But our job doesn’t stop here. We also have to propose a perfect service during the year and deliver constant quality from the start of the campaign to the end. To prove our investment in hygiene, quality, traceability, wine selection we are for the second year IFS and BRC certified. These certifications are the reflection of our quality work during the year from the vine, to bottling plants and our customers.

What is Raphaël Michel doing to reduce its carbon footprint?

The only factor on which we can measure our carbon footprint is shipping. Shipping bulk wine reduces the carbon footprint on the environment, so is better than shipping bottles. This criterion is very important for us but also for many importers decisions when they hesitate between importing bulk wine and bottles. Moreover, our investments in different production regions allow us to deliver our customers directly from these places and so avoid useless transports. Except during shipping, we can’t say that Raphaël Michel has a real important carbon footprint. Concerning impact on the environment, our cellar is built in order to have the minimum of waste rejections, from the waste water dedicated tanks to the soil orientation which avoid every liquid rejection in the nature. At Raphaël Michel, we have a specific Quality Department and an independent consultant company follow us all along the year to fulfils highest quality, hygiene and ecologic standards.

How important is the upcoming Bulk wine show in Amsterdam to your industry?

This is the only bulk wine fair in the world and it is an opportunity for us to show visitors we can provide many different kind of wines from many different regions. We will present wines from the Rhône Valley, Languedoc, Roussillon, South West, Provence, Chile. With more than 60 references, our visitors could taste different profiles of wines, from different regions in order to have a global vision of what Raphaël Michel can provide them. It is also an occasion to meet our customers and to talk about trends with bulk wine players.

What are your company’s priorities for 2015?

For 2015, we will also focus on export markets and continue to work with our long-term customers in France. We will be present on the most important events in the year and improve our presence in every region through our investments. Even if the situation is  not in Languedoc, where we can see an important price increase especially on grapes like Chardonnay and Merlot, we can now secure our supplies thanks to our financial partnership with a cooperative cellar. In Rhône Valley, the situation is more comfortable, even if we observe a slight increase. In South West, we can now propose from our last acquisition beautiful fresh white wines with Colombard or Ugni Blanc, but also Malbec and Gamay in red.

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