How a focus on hospitality could shape this Provence wine brand’s future

Sebastien Latz, the chief executive of the recently formed Provence winery group MDCV, tells db why oenotourism has become a key focus for one of its brands.

Last month, rosé wine label Ultimate Provence opened the doors to a 70-hectare wine estate and hotel, hoping to attract a keen crowd of affluent millennials with live DJs, electro brunches, and some wine tasting thrown in for good measure.

Guests at the 36-room site will be able to take winery tours, which is housed within an estate dating back to the 12th century, as well as dine in a 45-seater restaurant with a menu curated by chef Didier Bocquet, all focusing on local produce and made to pair with the wine produced on-site. The menu was created on collaboration with Benjamin Collombat, who heads up the kitchen at the hotel for Château de Berne, another wine estate within the MDCV stable. Collombat trained at the Nice School of Catering, and was second in command to Guy Martin at the Grand Véfour, before opening his own restaurant in Draguignan.

“Our ambition is that when people leave to make them feel a bit smarter, in terms of everything from wine to architecture,” he told db.

The estate recruited Monaco-based interior design team Humbert & Poyet to bring the winery, restaurant and hotel to life and create a “refined urban atmosphere” within an hour’s drive from St Tropez.

But the winery boss added, although the aim is to “elevate” guests’ knowledge, there is no desire to mimic the in-depth education often found at estates in Bordeaux and Bourgogne.

Instead, the aim is to deliver the kind of high-specification on-trade experience one could find in Paris or London, but in the heart of Provence’s wine country.

Ultimate Provence, he said, is “aimed at people bored with the Bordeaux chateau story. It is just the opposite of what the French usually tell you about wine.”

“All the staff and people working there have the purpose to make people see they are in a vineyard, but there is more to that.” MDCV’s Sebastien Latz says the wine group is innovating with Provence oenotourism.

Ultimate Provence’s striking flagship rosé bottles have secured listings at high-end in from London to the US, most recently supplying the wine for an event at private member’s club in Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire.

But consumers are increasingly drawn to experiences over material products, and tourism has become more important to winery owners. The United Nations World Tourism Organization held its first Global Conference on Wine Tourism in Georgia in 2016. Research published at the conference found that revenue from wine tourism in the US increased by 10-15% between 2013 and 2016, for a total of $22 billion.

In France, there was a 61% increase in visitors in Bordeaux between 2002 and 2016. Meanwhile, two British oenotourism agencies, Grape Escapes and Smooth Red, estimated that their revenues would rise 30% in 2018.

Attaching a tourist destination to the UP brand, Latz said, allows MDCV to expand what it can offer to affluent consumers with Soho House memberships, so they “don’t have to go to London or Paris to have that experience.”

Rather than treat the end product of a winery as an academic study, the aim at Ultimate Provence is to enable wine-loving guests “not to take it seriously, but to learn in a different atmosphere.”

The winery is also teaming up with international artists to draw in a new clientele. DJs, live sets, and electro-lounge brunches are being scheduled for hotel guests throughout the summer.

“All the staff and people working there have the purpose to make people see they are in a vineyard,” he said, “but there is more to that.”

Latz, who became the chief executive of MDCV at the end of 2017, said despite being raised among vines in Provence, his relative freshness to the wine business has allowed him to take greater risks.

“Sometimes when people have been in an industry for a long time they think something that hasn’t been done is not possible,” Latz told db in an interview last month.

The wine group boss had previously worked in consulting and shipping in Paris before being headhunted for the top role at MDCV.

The newly-formed group, he said, “wanted someone who knew a bit about wine but was not transformed by the industry.

MDCV, he said, wanted someone “untainted by the industry because [the company is] quite different, because we mix wine and tourism.”

“That’s what happened in my case. We are now clear on the vision.”

As a result, Latz told db the new group has been able to “move quickly” when it comes to refreshing its winery brands and providing extra incentives for consumers to invest, hence the unveiling of UP’s new hospitality offering.

“I think we have been able to move quickly,” he said, “and in terms of Provence we are quite innovative.”

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