Francois Lurton set to refocus on UK market

François Lurton is eying up wider distribution of its global wine brands as he celebrates twenty years making wine in South America.

François Lurton

François Lurton

Around 60 – 70% of the company’s wines are sold in the UK regionally or nationally, primarily in the on-trade and independents, but export area manager Arnaud Irigaray said it would be stepping up activity in the UK.

“We want to focus again on the UK market and develop our distribution,” he told db. “The potential is great but we only want to work with independent retailers, which is a very small part of the market and extremely competitive so difficult to imagine we will take a big part of the market soon. It will be a long fight,” he said.

“It is a difficult market because it is very price sensitive,” md François Lurton added.

The company, which works with Roberson Wines, Tanners, BBR and a handful of independents, including South American specialist Condor, used to have substantial sales of Pinot Grigio in the UK, but Irigaray said sales tailed of as the company focused on the higher end.

“For many years we have been focusing on quality mid-premium wines to avoid the battle on pricing and volume at the bottom part, but the market in the UK is primarily focused the entry-level price points,” he said. “But many consumers have lost their interests in the category of Pinot-Gris at around £9-10. Our Pinot Gris is unique: organic, coming from Alta Uco Valley in Argentina, coming from only one property: Bodega Piedra Negra and made by only one wine maker. This wine is rich, complex and we can’t afford offering it with an entry price.”

The company has Pinot Grigio sales in the USA – much of it as rosé, which is booming in the States –  as well as Canada, and Scandinavia. It is looking to launch it’s an organic Rosado with North South Wines this summer, which comes from the same vineyards. “It is the same variety, with very pale colour, fresh, rounded and quite aromatic, from the latest vintage,” he said.

It is also looking to add new wines from Toro and Rueda to the UK market, as Lurton is determined to see great things from  the Bodega El Albar Lurton in Rueda, notably from his Campo Elviso Rueda brand has been in production since the 2014 vintage. “Not only is it an easy drinking white, we want to prove it has got potential to produce great quality wines,” he told db.

Around 40% is sold on the domestic market, with only a tiny proportion making it to the UK, but Lurton is determined to see this increase.

It is also hoping to relaunch its most successful wine brand, The Fumées Blanches into the UK, which supplements the ‘mosaic’ of properties in the Languedoc, Spain, Chile and the Alta Uco Valley in Argentina. “We are still looking for the right distributor to launch this wines properly,” Irigaray added.

Twenty years of South American winemaking

Lurton, who was in London to celebrate twenty years of winemaking in South America started off his winemaking in Chile as a consultant for Vin San Pedro, but later established his own – now organic and biodynamic – winery in Lolol  in the Colchagua Valley, close to the sea, which has a cool climate and northern exposure. “It is an interesting terroir, we were one of the first to plant on the slopes, and we tried to develop local varieties, as well as some French varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc, but we wanted to get away from the green minty flavour and go for something full-bodied with more fruit expression,” he said. “My wine is not very ‘Chilean’, but we also didn’t want to make a copy of a Pessac-Leognan wine.”

This ethos came about after he and his brother Jacques were experimenting in the McLaren Vale and made a Semillon-Sauvignon blend that was such a copy of what they could do in Bordeaux, they decided to add chardonnay. “It is not interesting to makes wines too like those we could make in Bordeaux,” he said.

As a result, he mixes up the different techniques in each country he works in, for example in Lolol, the Cabernet Franc and Syrah are foot-stamped before fermentation, which he said aids extraction of the juice and makes a smoother wine and allows them to remove the seeds more effectively, before the grapes are refreshed in a cool room before extractions.

In Spain, he is working on a new project, with a new underground winery in Rueda and using new vinification techniques including ‘Alsace vats’ which help press without de-stemming the grapes, as they do in Champagne, he notes.

Around 40% of his grapes are bought in, depending on the country and the vintage, but Lurton’s previous incarnation as a flying winemaker appears hard to shake – he will often go into another winery with his team to pick which grapes they want and make wine to his own specifications, rather than ship them to his own facilities. (“In Argentina you can’t bring grapes from the North to the South to avoid disease, so it is easier to vinify them in situ. But in the Languedoc and Gasgony I make wines in around ten different wineries.

“It is like cooking in someone else’s kitchen, it is not easy, but we’ve learnt how to, and there is an exchange of savoir faire. But it takes a few for them to give me a key to the door of the winery!”

He also prefers to use winemakers that are not native to that particular country – so South American or South African in the South of France, or Frenchmen in Argentinas as it helps keeps the process fresh.

When it comes to aging, Lurton admits however that his attitude is “too French”.

“I push too much on the aging of a wine, but in South Africa, they are keen to try the crop when they are just done, and they don’t even age the wines. So they think I’m bonkers!’

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