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db meets: Olivier Gasselin of OenoTrade

Founded in 2016, fine wine investment firm Oeno is comprised of a number of operations, including its wine investment arm, OenoFuture, and OenoTrade, led by Olivier Gasselin, which connects wine investors with the private trade sector. The company has offices in London, Tuscany and Germany and is looking to expand into Spain, Portugal and Brazil.

How is business at the moment?

Business has been extremely busy over the last year. Last April was a bit so-so, but since May 2020 things have started to accelerate and are going from strength to strength. February 2021 was a record month for us and March wasn’t far off, which is extremely positive. Fine wine investment is the core of the business. Due to the pandemic, our on-trade sales have been slow in recent months. We’re focusing on the high-end on-trade and opened a few new accounts last year, including 67 Pall Mall. As soon as restrictions are lifted we’ll be working with more on-trade clients. For us, it’s the cherry on the cake.

Have you run any events or tastings recently?

This week we hosted a virtual trade portfolio tasting for the crème de la crème of the London restaurant scene, including a lot of Michelin-starred venues that we are hoping will become our clients. We’re a young company and have only been supplying the trade for a year-and-a-half. Our portfolio has grown a lot in the last year – we’re now working with 70 wineries and manage around 1,500 labels.

Can you tell me a bit about your wine consignment service?

The service allows small on-trade venues to only pay for the wines that they sell. We supply them with the fine wines they want to list at the restaurant and every month they only pay for the wines that they’ve sold. It’s working well at Indian restaurant Kahani in Sloane Square, which has taken on 45 of our wines.

I think consignment will become a popular practice when lockdown restrictions are lifted as it lessens the risk for restaurants wanting to list top-end wines. It’s a win-win as it allows us to showcase our producers and the invoices are quite small for the venues.

Having worked as a sommelier at Le Pont de La Tour and as head of UK wine operations for the Hakkasan group, I know the drill and how complicated it can be regarding budgets. Consignment is beneficial for small outlets with a limited stock facility. I’d rather do consignment and open an on-trade account than not.

We’ll be offering the service to Park Chinois over the next few months. If we see that a wine isn’t moving and there’s no chance of it moving, we can pick it up at any time – there is no obligation for the venue to pay for it. We picked up a Mouton 1982 from Heritage in Soho last year as the venue didn’t know when it was going to reopen.

Which countries / regions / producers are selling well for you right now?

Bordeaux is a bit flat, but Italy is huge, and Spain is doing really well. Both classic Tuscan estates and new stars are doing well, as are the likes of Giacomo Conterno and Bruno Giacosa from Piedmont. In Spain top-end Rioja producers like Benjamin Romeo and Artadi are performing well. We’re going to be shipping a lot of Spanish wines in the next few weeks.

One to watch that’s doing really well for us is Dominio de Es in Ribera del Duero, which is run by Frenchman Bertrand Sourdais, who owns a domaine in Chinon in the Loire Valley. He’s a superstar of the future working with ungrafted vines and making single vineyard wines of incredible quality. He only makes a tiny amount, so they are perfect wines to invest in. The wines are punchy but with a lot of finesse and elegance. Most of them are approachable young. His other Ribera project, Bodegas Antidoto, is also exciting and at more accessible prices. The estate’s top rosé – Le Rosé de Antidoto – reminds me of Château d’Esclans.

How are California wines doing with you?

We’ve had a really strong six months with California, Napa in particular. The likes of Harlan, Inglenook, Promontory and Screaming Eagle are doing really well. I’m really excited about an estate called Cervantes on the eastern slopes of St Helena. The chief winemaker is ex Harlan and Screaming Eagle. The wines are spectacular and still affordable, but I don’t think it will last. We started working with them in December and we’ll be the first to bring the wines into the UK.

We’ve just become the exclusive agent of Freemark Abbey in the UK and also bring in Zena Crown Vineyard Pinot from Oregon. There’s lot of interest in American wines in general at the moment in the UK.

Do you sell a lot of Champagne?

We started off working with Brimoncourt as we loved the consistency of its quality, and now we also work with boutique producer Boerl & Kroff. We recently sold a 30l bottle of the 1995 vintage to an American client for £173,000 two hours after the wine went on sale. The house only bottles its vintage releases in magnum or larger. The non-vintage costs around £350 a bottle. We sell the whole range and have had interest in the wines from Annabel’s and 67 Pall Mall, and we sell the Champagne in Monaco and St. Moritz. We sell a bit of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne too.

Is OenoHouse still on track to open at the Royal Exchange in June?

Yes! The design has been completed and we’re busy preparing the opening stock. It will be a place to showcase our clients’ wines. We want to make some noise when we open, and have built up a collection of top Burgundy from DRC, Henri Jeyer and Coche Duris of all the top crus from Richebourg to Echezeaux – the collection is the stuff of dreams for people that work in wine. The venue is due to open on 20 June but we may open before that. It will be a retail shop first and foremost, and a 35-cover pop-up outdoor wine bar in the summer.

The shop will have a Champagne fridge and a Eurocave for the DRC. It features a private dining room for special tastings and events for our private clients. If it goes well, we’ll look to replicate the concept in Venice and St Moritz, and in the US too.

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