Hungary has a bright future

Importer of the Week: Freddy Bulmer

Company: The Wine Society
Country: United Kingdom
Labels: Heumann, Hummel, Ostoros, Royal Tokaji, St. Andrea, Kolonics

– How about the beginning? How did you become a wine expert?

– I was working in a bar in the town where I grew up, in North Yorkshire, England, while I was at college. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career and was studying photography. I found that I liked working more than going to college so I dropped out and worked in the bar full-time. I heard about a new, very small, independent wine merchant which had just started in North Yorkshire, which was looking for an apprentice. I applied for the job because I thought working in wine sounded like fun. After working for a couple of independent merchants and a brief stint back in hospitality along the way, I ended up at The Wine Society.

– The Wine Society is probably the most renowned wine selling company in the UK. What would you tell our readers, what makes The Wine Society a special wine store?

– The ethos is what makes TWS special. The focus on genuine quality, excellent value and service. It sounds obvious but it’s rare I think. We don’t have to buy any wines that we don’t truly believe in as buyers, so as a wine lover myself it’s the ideal place to be. It’s the oldest wine club in the world and it’s entire focus is making sure that the members of TWS are satisfied and have the absolute best wines possible.

– We are a website to promote Hungarian wines, and of course we are the most curious about the acceptance of our wines in the UK. What are your experiences? Do your customers look for indigenous varieties?

– I’m very interested in focusing our range of Central and Eastern European wines on indigenous varieties because there are so many wonderful ones to explore. We sell to a large group of the UK’s most engaged wine drinkers and they love to discover something new. Anywhere can grow Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc but Juhfark is unique! So that’s where the exciting Hungarian stories are, for example. The younger generations of wine drinkers are more open-minded than ever and certainly my generation of wine lovers who are younger than mid-30s are too young to remember communism and the iron curtain etc don’t have the same troubled preconceptions of countries like Hungary that our older relatives might. This means that Hungary is gaining traction, especially with younger drinkers in the UK and will hopefully continue to gain momentum.

Get out of your local Bubble!

– Which Hungarian brands are the most successful and why do you think they are sold better than others?

– We only work with a select few Hungarian brands and they are all successful in their own way. I think the key thing to remember now though is that cheap is not good when quality is compromised as that is not good for the Hungarian brand as a whole. Brands like Ostoros work for us because they offer good-quality, very drinkable wines which are good value on our list, therefore they are able to become excellent wines for any-day drinking. At the other end of the scale, wines like those of Kolonics or St Andrea are also successful because they tell a story and serious wine lovers, who want to be challenged, can engage with them. I don’t know about supermarket brands but that’s not what interests us at The Wine Society.

–What would you suggest to a Hungarian winery, who would like to get into the UK market?

– Have a clear message, communicate it well and do your research. Different markets throughout the world have different tastes and different requirements. Just because something works well in your home market or in Asia or the USA doesn’t mean it will necessarily work well in the UK market. Take time to taste other wines made by your peers which are successful in the UK and try to decide what they are doing which makes them a success. Some of the best wine makers that I have met around the world are the ones who have taken the time to study abroad and make wine in other countries. Failing that, they at least make sure that they drink wines from other places aside their own country. The best wine makers make the effort to get out of their local Bubble and are aware of the wider world.

Listen to the market that you want to work with and ask them questions about what they want to achieve – collaboration is the best way to success but it takes a lot of dedication.

Don’t sell your soul for a quick win, stick to your guns and remember your message and point of difference, make quality the priority and tell your story. All of this is redundant though unless what’s in the glass tastes fantastic! Persevere and always question what you are doing.

– How do the UK winelovers choose wines? Are they influenced by magazines, wine contest results? If yes, which ones?

– It really depends. Some countries are still crazy about Parker points but I don’t think it’s quite as relevant in the UK. At The Wine Society people like to take suggestions from the Buyers and will often buy the wines which have an interesting story. The UK market is very competitive and so price is a big factor in people’s buying decisions. We sell to smart people and we can’t afford to take that for granted as a business. Our customers do not believe that a more expensive wine must be best, because this isn’t true. Some magazines make a difference but also so do some wine journalists who write in the big national newspapers. We often notice an effect on sales if someone influential has written favourably about one of our wines.

Watch this video made by Fabien Lainé about the above mentioned trip. You can see Freddy Bulmer and some other wine experts visiting Kovács Nimród Winery, Zsirai Winery, Tornai Winery, Gere Attila Winery and many others in Hungary this July.

Organic or not – not a deal-breaker

– I have read that UK winelovers prefer organic wines. Is it really an important preference now?

– No. While I believe that wines shouldn’t be messed around with any more than necessary, just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s a perfect wine. Try not to interfere with your wine but do focus primarily on quality. I will never buy a bad wine just because it’s organic and I will only buy an organic wine if it tastes good! While there are people who will look to ensure that the wine they buy is organic, it’s probably not a deal-breaker for most. As long as the wine tastes delicious and offers value, if its organic/biodynamic that’s a bonus.

– You have recently visited Hungary. I guess it is hard to pick up one highlight, but if you can, please, tell us!

– It was an amazing and eye-opening trip from start to finish but one particular highlight for me was the tasting of Kéknyelű. A selection of representatives from different wineries each brought one Kéknyelű wine to show us and it was fascinating. A delicious new discovery for me. But the whole trip was excellent and we met some inspiring people and tasted some excellent wine.

 – Was there any unusual or peculiar thing you came across in Hungary? Do not hesitate to tell us if there was something weird:)

– Oz Clark with his shirt off, on a boat on Lake Balaton…

Hungary has a bright future. The wine is excellent on the whole. So long as producers maintain a sense of reality and offer fair prices, I think things will be good. Keeping focus is key and that’s something Wines Of Hungary UK are doing a very good job of steering.

Freddy Bulmer with Zsuzsa Toronyi and Lilla O’Connor from Wines of Hungary UK

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