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Fisher fishing for more business for LGC de France

Posted: Wednesday, 03 July 2013 11:16

Passing By: Fisher fishing for more business for LGC de France

July 03: William Fisher, Export Director Pacific/Indochina/India, for the nearing billion dollar wine company, Les Grands Chais de France was in India last week to meet his distributors including Sula when Subhash Arora met him for an exclusive chat at Hotel Sheraton to discuss the company plans of market expansion in India

Click For Large ViewWhen you meet the Export Director of almost a billion-euro family-owned French wine company, you expect him to speak English, but with a French accent. But William Fisher who came to India last week spoke in a typically British accent. That is because he is a Britisher who fell in love with France after his first visit in 1975, working in vineyards of Bordeaux. Back and forth, and married to a French lady, he made France his home and joined Alexis Lichine which was taken over through a circuitous route by one of the French giants-Les Grands Chais de France (LGCF). 

I knew vaguely that I had met William (Bill) Fisher earlier when I got a call from Sula telling me that one of their principals was visiting Gurgaon and asking if I would like to meet him and taste the Demi-sec sparkling wine they are importing from LGC. Unable to go to Gurgaon due to a previous commitment, I agreed to meet him for breakfast at Hotel Sheraton in Saket instead.

It turns out that I was right. I had met him at a wine show in Delhi a couple of years ago. When I had told him that I had in fact interviewed his boss Joseph Helfrich, king of the €785 million wine empire in September 2010, he exclaimed,’ so you are the guy who did the interview! Our Chairman liked it so much that he had circulated a copy to all the top managers of the company.’

I was really impressed by the man who owned a €785 million company, a man who was opening the sparkling Rose bottles himself for the guests so they didn’t have to wait. Despite not knowing anything about me, he had agreed for an interview during the evening, I told Fisher. Bill corrected me by saying that the sales were now €850 million; despite the economic slowed down. Making 428 million bottles a year, including about 20 million bottles of the high quality wines, it translated to an average of around €1.80 a bottle, it was obvious that the man who started business in 1979 with practically no capital, was a true visionary and there was nothing wrong with Indians to be part of a market of that size that was looking for inexpensive quaffable wines.  

In 2001 Fisher was made directly responsible for South East Asia, Australia & the Pacific where these developing markets have an enormous potential for growth. During 2005 he took over directly the Indian subcontinent which is an area considered to be of great potential in the near future. No better example of perseverance and patience required to do business in India can be found anywhere as in the case of Fisher who started wooing Sula who showed no interest initially in 2005. Knowing that there could be a good fit since he was looking for a long term partner with a pan India distribution network, he kept on talking to Rajeev (Samant) at every visit he could meet him.

‘It was in late 2011 that I was able to break the ground and the first container was ordered by them.  Repeat orders have been forthcoming regularly since then,' he says. But the Cruse Blanc de Blanc Demi-Sec sparkling wine is the only label in Sula’s portfolio right now.

Cruse was owned by Pernod Ricard from 1985 to 2004 when it was bought by LGCF. It is one of the 13,000 labels owned by the mega conglomerate. Only one label is like a needle in the haystack, I exclaim. ‘I would like to see sparkling wine established in as many states in India as possible. Then, we can expand our range with Sula’, he says. That would make sense to Rajeev Samant who would perhaps use this opportunity to test the market and be ready to make a splash with other products when the time is right. But why a Demi-Sec, I ask in surprise? ‘Besides Sula asking for it, I also believe people have more European type tastes in India. We sell a lot of those bottles in Nepal,’ he assures me. Perhaps the bubbly also complements in style the Sula Brut and Sula Brut Rose already in their stock.

Cruse is not the first wine exported to India by LGCF which entered the market 12 years ago in 2001 through United Breweries. The newly formed wine division of Vijay Mallya’s UB was unable to continue the imports business beyond 2005 when its Mumbai distributors S.V. Enterprises took over the imports of J P Chenet, the biggest selling brand for the company selling 80 million bottles a year out of the total sale of 482 million bottles (40 million cases). In fact, 3 of their labels, J P Chenet, Baron d’Arignac and Grand Sud together have the maximum global presence.

The presence in India is considered essential and Les Grands Chais has the intention of being a major player. ‘The situation in India is difficult but this does not mean that there is not a great future once the political questions and duty problems have been redressed’, says Bill. He is currently looking for someone interested in being the distributor for Bordeaux wines; they own five chateaux in Bordeaux – Cruise, Alexis Lichine, Click For Large ViewCalvet, Louis Eschenauer and Dulong, as part of the 20 properties they own and manage.

Alexis Lichine is being distributed through Hema Connoisseurs. In fact, Bill who has had 35 years of experience in the wine trade was working for Alexis Lichine and came to LGCF like a dowry when the company’s bottling facility was bought by Joseph Helfrich. Bill is looking after 16 of the 170 countries the LGCF wines are exported to. Bill is gearing himself to come to India more often, even once in two months, he says, as the market grows for their products. The company portfolio is huge and he would need to service various distributors during his visits. He also understands there could be minor conflicts and he would need to do the fire-fighting and keep all the partners happy.

As a parting shot, Bill Fisher, who has done the WSET diploma and even registered for MW and appeared for the exam but gave up because the papers were too hard for him says, ‘I came to France in 1975 to drink red wines, eat good food and play rugby. Now I eat good food, drink red wine and watch rugby on TV!'

I wonder if he opens a bottle of Cruse Blanc de Blanc Demi Sec bubbly often enough to go with slightly spicy hot snacks!

Subhash Arora

Tags: William Fisher, France, Bordeaux, Les Grands Chais de France, Joseph Helfrich, Sula, Rajeev Samant, Bill Fisher


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