[Interview] Febvre Wines Ireland
“The category is important and will become more important in the future”
Founded in 1963, Febvre Wines is one of the longest-established and larger wine importers in Ireland. Traditionally strong in the on-trade, it has transitioned towards the off-trade, both independents and supermarkets. Purchasing manager Mike Farrelly explains how significant sustainably produced wines are to the Irish market and what to expect in the future.
How important are organic and biodynamic wines to your portfolio?
They are very important. We have always been hugely involved in the category, despite the fact that after the crash of 2007, the market slightly changed and people started focusing more on cheaper wines. There are two sides to the market: the more specialised, boutique side and then the more mainstream where people just want, say, Pinot grigio or Sauvignon blanc. However, there is a big interest in organic and biodynamic wines and a lot of educated wine drinkers are now interested in them. As one of the larger wine companies in Ireland, we service the entire market, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On our list at the moment, maybe 20-25% of the wines are organic or biodynamic, but a lot of our suppliers have gone into conversion and some will come on-stream from the 2021 vintage. They were already very sustainable but are now going for certification. Conversely, some of our suppliers are leaving the certification system because they don’t feel the rules are strong enough. They want a point of difference and to emphasise the fact that they go a lot further than organic or biodynamic.
Does the category command a premium price?
Some of our suppliers, for example Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, are super premium. The better established regions like Piedmont, Sancerre or Chablis are already able to command premium prices, but super premium is a very small part of the market and involves educated consumers. For producers of organic and biodynamic wines in lesser-known regions charging super premium prices, they will find it challenging in our market. Ireland only has a population of around 5 million and we only drink around 21 litres per head, so you’re dealing with a small market. Normally, organic and biodynamic wines are in the mid-range in terms of pricing and less expensive wines are coming into the market. However, with the Covid crisis, everything has changed, so there’s a pre- and post- answer. Post-Covid, we have noticed that in specialist stores people have been willing to trade up a little because they had nothing else to spend their money on. We’re still learning. The on-trade only re-opened on June 29 so there have been a lot more wines sold in retail. People who would normally eat out are now eating in and spending a little more on wine. However, not everyone in Ireland is drinking premium wine, by any means.
How do you see the future for this category in your market?
I think they’re going to become a lot more important and sustainable. There is organic and biodynamic, but then there is sustainability too. Some regions are pushing their sustainable credentials through certification. One example is the Napa Valley with Napa Green. We have definitely noticed that increasingly consumers want to know how sustainable a winery is or whether they are ploughing chemicals into the ground. Suppliers and regulations in the different countries are moving away from the 1970s-style mindset and using less sulphites and more organic-type farming techniques. The younger generation coming through is more aware of the environment and what’s happening in the world. As people become more educated and read articles about organic and biodynamic wines they will be looking for them. Exciting wine regions are helping too. Georgia, for instance, has a lot of natural wines and is getting a lot of coverage, which in turn will attract standard wine drinkers who don’t normally venture outside Merlot or Sauvignon blanc. There will be more new areas around, that is the current fashion, and the more people are educated about wine, the more they will be willing to try things like organic and biodynamic. So, I do think the category is important and will become more important in the future, certainly sustainability.