Argentina's special agents

Agents are the unsung heroes of Argentina's recent success in the UK.

What do they do, and what can they offer to retailers?

How are sales going - and what's selling best?

Solano: We as a company have grown 50 per cent in the last two years and it's mainly driven by Argentina. The proportion of sales at the beginning was more Spanish. It's now 70 to 75 per cent Argentine. Looking at the year's sales in the UK, they've all grown quite dramatically. Tapiz is up 110 per cent, NQN is new and coming from a small base but it's 500 per cent up. Even the boutique wines like Finca La Anita are up 100 per cent on last year.

Des: It's been in the last year that Malbec has really taken off. I would like to think that partly through ourselves there has started to become a critical mass of wines of good quality from Argentina being brought into the UK. Before, the press has been talking about Argentine wines that weren't available. These are now in the market and Malbec has become a very fashionable grape - in the past year we've seen really dramatic growth.

Richard: The thing that caught my eye is the growth in white and rosé. Argentina historically has been characterised more on reds than whites, but white is growing and our results reflect that. Pinot Grigio has been a barnstormer for us. Mendocino Chardonnay is something that other parts of the world really find quite hard to achieve. It seems to be that mix of old world acidity and minerality but with a riper dollop of fruit than you get with Chablis, for example. California and Australia can't do it so there's something unique here.

Erin: There are some interesting varieties coming through like Torrontes, which is slightly different to what other countries can do. Obviously Malbec as well:

Malbec Made For Meat is a very strong campaign.

What's so special about Argentina - why should retailers take it seriously?

Richard: It's simply price/quality. Around the world for given brands at a given

price there has generally been an erosion of quality. It's one of the parts of the

world that really can challenge that perception.

Des: Malbec is going to be what makes the big difference. The larger retailers are also starting to discover Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Nicky: I'm really excited about Argentine wines myself. I think they deliver really excellent quality and excellent value.

Are attitudes to Argentina changing?

Solano: Absolutely. I have had a mixed reaction for selling Argentine wines and I've been frustrated many times. But over the last two years it's been definitely more sought-after, driven by Malbec of course. The facts that Wines of Argentina has opened has definitely helped.

Nicky: I started to look around the market last year and you could see people were beginning to get interested, but there were very few products that were exclusive to independents. We would ask why retailers didn't have Argentine wines and they would say 'they don't sell'. But they didn't have any - that's why they weren't selling! It was a little bit of a hard sell at first but it's been the success story for us of the last 12 months. It's just absolutely exploded. Now everybody is talking about Argentina - there's a great buzz. I think independents are starting to see for themselves what Argentine wines can deliver.

Erin: There definitely is a lot more interest that there was a year ago. I see it continuing even more this year. Obviously the prices of European wines are going up with the euro being bad at the moment, and prices are also going up in Australia. I think people will turn to South America and Argentina will benefit.

Richard: There are some factors this year that are unique. If you look at the Argentine peso versus the pound, the rates have been advantageous, and relative to Australia there has been a significant exchange rate gain. Looking purely at the cost of goods versus Australia and California, Argentina has the ability to provide good quality wine in 08.

Also it's been around just that little bit longer now, and it's established. It's not seen as totally new to the consumer. It's becoming more established. We're up 31 per cent in Argentina this year and that's despite taking Argento over £5.

How do the Argentines regard the UK?

Solano: They all want to be here. I haven't come across a winery that doesn't want to be present in the UK market. The main problem is that many of them are doing well in the US and that's really driving the growth, but it's such a different market. So you really have to make a case and help them, explain that things work very differently. Once they see that, they're very pleased with the work they're doing. But it takes a lot of time and effort. The role of an agent is to bring the producer to the marketplace, to travel to the winery, and explain as much as you can about the UK market.

Des: It comes down to some quite simple things really. Just keep putting wines in front of people. Promote brands by being at as many shows as you can. Also it's important to protect your brands, stop them being devalued - that's a very easy trap to fall into. You need to make sure wineries are getting honest feedback on what is happening in the market, and a lot of feedback. They like to know exactly what is going on and to feel involved.

Nicky: La Chamiza are absolutely thrilled to be here and I think it's a key focus market for them. I might not be the most profitable market but it's certainly the shop window for the world and it's great profile for them. It's about matching we can achieve with the aspirations of the winery.

Our panel

Des Cross

Las Bodegas (Crios, Gouguenheim, BenMarco)

Solano Pena-Lenzi

HispaMerchants (Tapiz, Lurton, Finca Flichman)

Nicky Burston

World Wine Agencies (La Chamiza)

Erin Robson

Hallgarten (Michel Torino, Antucura, Telteca)

Richard Cochrane

Bibendum (Argento, Catena, Alamos)

Retailer tip

When developing your Argentine range, it's worth bearing in mind some regional specialities. Very broadly, these are: Patagonia - Pinot; Mendocino - Malbec; Salta - Torrontés; and San Juan - Syrah.