Exclusive interview with Mr Argentina: Phil Crozier
In 2015, Phil made a brave move as the director of wine at London’s Gaucho restaurant: he turned the wine list exclusively Argentinian. His move led the wine sales to fly through the roof and there has been no turning back. His journey has been nothing short of inspiration so we contacted him to learn more about his experience.
How Argentinian wine is performing in the international market? How do you see that evolving during the last few years?
Argentina is performing very well, and in the UK, which is where I am based, outperforming all the other sectors in the market. We have grown market share for many years, and 2019 looks like its set to become another year of sterling growth. The UK is now the second-largest export market for Argentina, after the US. Brazil has now grown to be number 3 but is still much less than the UK. Those producers that came to the market first continue to work well, Catena, Zuccardi, Peñaflor, Trivento, etc, but the smaller producers which rely on place, for example, Salta, perform really well in the on-trade. Much of innovation and talk of a sense of place has been pioneered by the bigger wineries, which helps the smaller wineries to make more of their niche. I feel this works for everyone.
How do you feel Argentinian wine is perceived by a regular consumer out there? Is there a place for something more than Malbec when we talk about the average buyer?
Absolutely. I was up in Edinburgh for a consumer event this weekend, and what really struck me was the willingness to learn more and try different wines from Argentina. For years, we have struggled to sell more Torrontés, which we all know is a hand-sell. But we showed two torrontés and they were universally popular. Cabernet franc is another shining light for Argentina, although still a niche, which I am confident will become more of an Argentine standard as time moves on. We talk a lot, but it takes time for that talk to manifest itself in sales. Malbec took a long time but is now firmly established in the minds eye of the consumer. It is that trust in quality malbec which will ultimately grow the diversity of Argentina in terms of sales. I feel that we have an amazing asset in Bonarda too, which we need to do more to promote, especially as there is much interest in looking back further than 20 years into the history of Argentine wine. The Criollas will also provide a niche amongst the independent trade.
What are the growth opportunities for Argentinian wine? Type of wine, varieties, trends, clean wines, etc?
Regionality. This is our most important opportunity, but also our biggest challenge. Over time, I think varietals will take second place to the importance of sub-regions. We can start this with those consumers that love malbec, and introduce the diversity of terroirs through one grape. Argentina is very lucky in this respect. Altitude, latitude, soil profiles etc. provide an opportunity to teach what we have learned about diversity through IG’s. These IG’s are vital to the future success of Argentina. Organic and biodynamic wines will be important too, with low intervention and sustainability being important to decision making amongst new consumers.
What about price ranges?
I think we like stories. The connection between the producer and consumer is very important, which means we need to work harder to reach the consumer in person. I believe this is the most effective way to win loyalty. In terms of price, Argentina continues to offer amazing quality and price. Producers have done well to take the long-term view in exports, and it is really paying off now. In the UK, we enjoy the second-highest spend per bottle, which is led by malbec, so the consumer is happy to pay a premium for quality. In the independent sector, which is growing in the UK, Argentina is doing very well too, with other varietals doing better. The restaurant sector is very important to the super-premium sector, and Argentina sits amongst the best of the old world. Elegance and regionality are key in this sector.
What about terroir? Is a consumer in UK aware of the different wine regions that Argentina has?
Not yet, but it is improving. Patagonia and Salta enjoy their success in the market due to the extreme nature of their terroirs. Latitude and altitude are points of difference that are relatively easy to explain. Soils are more problematic, but I think this should hold equal value in educating the consumer. Just look at the success of the Adriana vineyard wines from Catena. By drilling down to specific terroirs, and accentuating these differences in both winemaking and marketing, wines like this will continue to wave the flag for Argentina’s diversity. Wineries will look further to capitalize on this. I think we have another story to tell too, and that is old vines. We are seeing this as a real point of difference, which of course is connected to regionality. Old vines in Luján de Cuyo and Maipú will be important to its future, and preserving these vineyards should be a priority. The east has a fantastic history and will feature more as the consumer seeks more authentic wines. Bonarda, for example, can tell this story well, and young winemakers will prove to be the keepers of Argentina’s patrimony. The same is true of Semillón. We have much to do, but a bewildering range of tools in which to tell the story of Argentina. Young consumers really identify with authenticity and craft, and I feel Argentina has a lot to offer in this segment of the market.
What would be the upcoming steps that you believe Argentinian wine as a brand has to follow?
Authenticity. The stories. A sense of place. A link with the landscape. The history of immigration. I think Argentina is now finding its own identity, and I find it very heartening that the new generation of winemakers is forging their futures with a strong respect to their past, whilst at the same time pioneering new styles that are not bound by convention. I believe we should show Argentina to be a nation of Artists, bound together by their diversity and pioneering spirit.
PHIL CROZIER BIO
He started working as wine buyer on a part-time basis in 1999 for Gaucho Grill. In the meanwhile, he was also a restaurant manager. He took the decision to produce an all Argentine list, with only 13 wineries from Argentina being available in the UK market at that time. In the same year, he visited Argentina and fell in love with the country and the wines.
Sales of the wines went through the roof, so he was then made full-time buyer, and then director of wine. When he left Gaucho, he was in charge of buying for both Gaucho and Cau, a sub-brand in the group with nearly 50 restaurants, selling over half a million bottles a year.
He left Gaucho in July 2018 and is now brand Ambassador to Wines of Argentina in the Uk and Europe.