Where in France are you from and what brought you to Ireland?
My mother is from Normandy and my father from Ardeche. I was born in Reims in Champagne and I spent my childhood in Normandy picking apples from the orchard with my grandfather. We used to make home-made cider with juicy, delicious apples. I was fascinated by his savoir-faire and his passion. After finishing school, I worked in the agriculture sector for 20 years, first in France, then the Middle East and then back to Europe. In 2001, I decided to move to live in Ireland with Fionnuala, my wife.
When did you start being interested in wines?
My first wine experience was when I was 18 years old. I was working in the Nevers area, and I met a wine distributor based in Paris (Les Caves Chamard), who made me taste a Gewurztraminer from Alsace, vintage 1976. Unforgettable! I also spent time in my twenties planting vines in the upper Rhone Valley.
Tell me about your occupation and 'French Wines unlimited'.
When I first came to Ireland, in 1994, I realized how huge the potential was for a specialist French wine importer in this country. There were so many French appellations that were simply not present, such as Pineau des Charentes, wines from Alsace, Cahors, Jura, Gaillac... This is one of the reasons why I set up my company in 2001. In fact, although there are still some French wines that are not well-known or popular, we still reach our objective of providing innovative and original wines to Irish people, thanks to the sommeliers, our ambassadors in hotels and restaurants. I stock the wines in my warehouse in Dublin, and I sell them to restaurants, hotels and through my website, www.frenchwines.ie which was launched in 2008. I also believe that I am the ambassador for each of my wine producers, in Ireland, and I take my working relationship with them very seriously.
What are the most popular products you're selling at the moment?
Every single wine I import is a best-seller, otherwise that would mean that I made the wrong choice when I decided to represent a producer in Ireland. Our main philosophy is to provide quality instead of quantity: what makes the wines become best-sellers on a rotating basis is the difference between each vintage.
I love the wines from little-known appellations, such as a Vin Jaune from Chateau d’Arlay in Jura, a Gamay from Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve in Cahors, or an old Chenin Blanc 1999 called “Varenne de Combre” from Domaine des Grandes Vignes in the Loire Valley. In fact, the Chenin Blanc is a lovely grape that wonderfully pairs with a courgette soufflé for example. A complex wine does not necessarily require hours in the kitchen to be appreciated! To sum up, there is not only one interesting wine; there are lots of appellations and blends to discover, even after so many years of wine experience!
What do you love the most about your job?
Every single year, we participate in the Taste of Dublin in June. This food & wine show is a great opportunity to meet our customers, sample the wines and have them try something new. What I also love about my job is working with loyal restaurants that I have been supplying since the beginning and with whom I have a long-standing relationship. The most challenging part is to regularly meet them to discuss the best way to enhance their reputation by choosing the best food and wine pairing for the best price. We also assist them in exploring “Wines of the month” so that their customers can discover our wines with a great food menu.
Thank you Alain for answering my questions!
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