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Delhi Wine Club
Albert Bichot and the New ‘Bride’

Posted: Monday, 24 January 2011 17:03

Albert Bichot and the New ‘Bride’

After spending seven years together, Beaune based Maison Albert Bichot and Brindco developed the seven-year itch that ended up in separation with Bichot choosing Aspri as their new partner for the Indian market. Alberic Bichot, the CEO owner was in India on his first visit after the change, last week when Subhash Arora met him for a chat. 

‘This is my fifth visit to India,’ says Alberic whose first visit was in 2002 when he came here for his honeymoon. ‘This was well before we started doing business in India.’ He corrects himself by saying that they used to export to India through an English company in the 1950s directly to hotels-his grandfather had visited India in 1954.

Reminiscing about his grandfather he says that he was a well respected Burgundy négociant and a man of vision who believed in not putting all his eggs in one basket. No wonder Albert Bichot today exports to 102 countries in the world, the main market being Quebec in Canada, Japan, US and UK.

What about their business relationship with Brindco who had introduced them to the Indian market during the recent times? ‘We were very happy with Brindco in the initial years. But we switched to Aspri a couple of months ago.’ When asked the reasons for the change he was elusive and did not wish to comment.

Arun Kumar, Director of Aspri says he met Alberic years before Albert Bichot entered India. ‘We used to meet as friends and never discussed business’- he had entered the wine business much later in 2004-05 . Confirming it, Alberic says, ‘Arun met me in 1997 when he was with Rothman’s Cigarettes, in Cannes at a Duty-free Show. His stand was next to ours and we became friends over a glass of wine which we later shared occasionally.’

Sumedh Singh Mandla who accompanied Alberic to Delhi for the two day trip after the first couple of days in Mumbai where they had organised an interesting dinner for 50 at the Fratelli Restaurant at Hotel Renaissance, apart from training sommeliers and waiters, is quite pleased with the addition to their portfolio. ‘We are always trying to upgrade and expand our portfolio selectively and Albert Bichot fits our image rather well.’

Stung by a couple of wineries which left them for greener pastures, he said, ‘whatever happened with Brindco is in the past. People keep on changing. We are concentrating with rebuilding their image and have been visiting extensively hotels across India.’

Quite satisfied with the present status Alberic says, ‘earlier, we had 18 labels in the Indian market. We have discontinued with our Vin du Payees range and even the Cotes du Rhone which had Albert Bichot label now carry the label of Chateau d’Orsan and are of superior quality, AOC wines.’ Adds Sumedh, ‘since we did not have too much time to sell this fiscal year, we have selected only 11 labels. We shall consider adding more during the next financial year- the generic Bourgogne and a couple of its derivatives being high on their wish list.’

The négociant wine maker

‘Albert Bichot is known more as a négociant than a wine producer’, I cannot resist needling Alberic. ‘We are proud to be négociants like many others in Burgundy,’ he says. ‘But the new generation that we represent, is completely different from thirty years ago when they bought bulk wine, claiming to select the best of the best whereas the producers sniggered that they were giving them worse of the worst.’

‘Today we have 102 hAs of vineyards only in Burgundy- Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Challonaise. We own Domaine Long De-Paquit in Chablis with 65hAs of vineyards, Domaine du Clos Frantin in Nuits Saint Georges,  Domaine du Pavillon in Pommard and recently we bought Domaine Adélie-that’s my daughter’s name, incidentally, in Mercurey ’ with a shade of pride in his voice.

‘All our grape supply is roughly equivalent of 300 hAs including regional appellation,’ he adds. ‘We control the supply-sometime we help the grower even harvest the crops or  give him some small aids like the baskets etc. In Beaune, we have developed a new winery dedicated to the regional level wine, with a capacity of 6000 hL of white wine and 2000hL of red wine-that we vinify ourselves.’

He also clarified that all their Gran Cru and Premier Cru wines were made from 100% grapes from their own vineyards. ‘At Village level 60% are ours while for the Bourgogne level, 40% is our own and we buy 60% from outside.’ In Burgundy the Appellation pyramid starts from Generic (basic) Bourgogne to Village level like Gevrey Chambertin, Pommard etc.; Premier Cru and Grand Cru is the highest and most prized appellation.

Effect of Recession

‘Recession in 2009 hit Burgundy in general with 17% fall in export. But we suffered only 8% decrease. We are so well spread in 102 countries, that we could handle the impact better,’ he says. ‘The official figures have just come out for 2010. Burgundy was up by  10%- we were 12% up in value. I believe 2011 should bring us to the 2008 level,’ he hopes.

And how was the pressure on prices? ‘In the US and UK people went for lower appellations-for instance, many of those drinking premier Cru came down to the Bourgogne level. But surprising in Brazil and China better quality was in demand,’ he says.

Alberic says that they are very optimistic about this year. Besides china and other markets, he is excited about the Indian market. During the last 3-4 days wherever we went, we got a good response from the hotels, despite a break for a while. I am particularly impressed with cities like Bangalore and Pune where the demand has been pleasantly good.’

Wine at Duty Free Shops

Photo By:: Adil Arora

I remind him that a few years ago, I had seen a range of their wines at the Delhi Airport when it had been revamped. If my memory does not fail me, the Chablis was under $25. ‘Yes, we had a direct agreement with Alpha at that time. I am sure we would love to see our wines at duty-free shops in India again, and at very competitive prices. Hopefully, one will be able to buy them again soon.’ 

<Albert Bichot Cotes du Rhone retails for Rs.1799 whereas the Macon Village is Rs.2585. The Chablis at Rs. 3255 and Pouilly Fuisse at Rs.3885 may be slightly expensive for most people but as Alberic says, ‘these wines represent high quality and the terroir and are quite reasonable, considering the high taxes and duties that are included in the prices.’>

Subhash Arora


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