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Star Interview : Ten Million Pound-Valued Buds

The UK wine consultant Angela Mount, one of the judges for the recently held India Wine Challenge at the Taste-Expo Mumbai had her taste buds insured for £ 10 millions when she was the head of the wine buying at the department stores chain, Somerfield. She was in Mumbai recently where Subhash Arora had an exclusive chat with her.

‘We should be asking her for an autograph’, said Robert Joseph while introducing  Angela Mount as one of the international judges at the award ceremony during the cocktails after the first day of the wine show, ‘because with the insured amount of £ 10 million she has been the highest insured lady in the business.’

Angela who has been known to be a buyer who approached the wine market from the buyer’s perspective, almost blushes when I ask her about how that happened.

‘I had switched from Safeway to Somerfield in 1993 when wine was but a tiny part of their portfolio and worked towards bringing the annual sales of around 6 million cases by 2006. I was known to pick out the brands that would always over-deliver. At that time the company was doing re-valuation of assets-virtually unknown in the industry. The company therefore decided to insure my tasting assets, as it were, properly and legally with Lloyd’s of London for this amount.’

So how was this evaluation done by the insurance company? ‘Complete medical tests were conducted thoroughly including a test for smell. I was given 50 pieces of different type of cards emitting different smells when rubbed or scratched and I was asked to select the correct answer. 50% of such smells were questions with a multiple choice, like cinnamon, cardamom and similar spices. My whole olfactory system was thoroughly mapped for the sense of smell,’ she explains.

And when did the passion for wine arise in her?

‘I was excited about wine from my college days in Oxford where I was studying languages. I was an avid member of the Oxford Wine Society where I used to taste and tried to combine the tastings with languages; I knew English, French and Spanish. I talked very early on with Serena Sutcliffe MW who encouraged me to pursue wine as a career.’ Angela joined Graduate Training Scheme and did her WSET diploma. She won Rouyer Guillet Cup-now known as Vintner Cup which was the top recognition in the marketing diploma in the world for that year,’ she tells me.

Passionate Wine Buyer

‘During my early days I had decided I wanted to get into the area of wine buying. But I chose to work for a vodka marketing company after initialing selling wine for a year, to get FMCG experience. As head of wine buying at Somerfield, it was my job to buy wines for retail. From initial negligible share of wine as a percentage of the total sales, I brought them to outperform the grocery sales’, she says. ‘I was fortunate enough to bring the level of cases sold to 6 million- giving us a market share of just under 6% of the market. To get the right perspective Tesco had around 32% market share.

From Buyer to Consultant

Angela left her job three years ago. ‘I felt I had achieved what I had aimed for. My inquisitive mind wanted me to extend my horizons. My world had been retail so far.
I wanted to experience media and work as a journalist. I also wanted to help the distributors in branding.’

Now she works as a consultant. She speaks at a lot of conferences. She also writes a column for Harpers on Wine Retail.

Lindemans gave her an assignment to work with them on sourcing South African and Chilean wines. She also selected the blends for them. With her expertise she helped Lindemans South Africa sell several hundred thousand cases in the first year of its launch and secured top position for them. She also joined Gondola.com started by Peter Jones 2months ago where she writes a blog of her own.

Her core consultancy is to help the overseas producers who want to enter the UK market. She has been working with New Zealand, Slovenia and Croatia where she first works to get the blends right Then she works with the right strategy to put them in touch with right people.

Straight shooter

Angela is known in UK for straight talking. She has the reputation of being a tough negotiator and straight shooter, but a fair one. She gets invited to several conferences for this reason only. She likes to work as the Brand Ambassador for wineries and helps them in marketing and their PR strategy.

She also works for the UK distributors who are looking for right type of producers for selling in the UK which is a very tough and saturated market. ‘That’s why I tell my clients that there has to be a point of difference for them to succeed.’

Taste the intrigue of India 

This was the second time that Angela Mount came to India; to Mumbai. On both visits she was invited to be a part of the conference focusing on retail wine marketing in India. What was her experience like? ‘I am always fascinated by new things and challenges. Indian market intrigues me both in terms developments of Indian wines internationally and development of the distribution setup in India.’

What about her experience with Indian wines in UK?
‘There are some very good Indian wines in UK, for instance -Sula. But their marketing has not being handled well’, says Angela who does food and wine paring on live shows and has appeared with Gordon Ramsay, Atul Kocher (of Benares Restaurant). She has also been uncorking wines to match Indian food and has been recently doing a lot of research on spices in the Indian foods and wine in Cinnamon kitchen. ‘Do you know that wine that goes with yellow dal is different than that with black dal?she exclaims.

Change the Taste

UK has over 40,000 restaurants that serve Indian food, she says. It is a fact that not only Indians but even the British drink beer and not wine with the food. ‘I want to help develop that sector. I also believe that if correctly handled Indian wine can find a big niche in the international market. After all, if Cobra can do it for beer, why can’t the Indians do it to the Indian wine-it may take longer,’ she says.

Challenge of India Wine

Angela, who visited Nashik last year but has stuck to the conference and the judging at the India Wine Challenge this year, says there is a lot of potential for Indian wines. The straight shooter minces no words when she says that a lot needs to be done in the vineyard management and wineries though. ‘During judging I picked up dirty drains character in several Indian wines, that shows that winery hygiene is lacking and needs to improve. I realize that industry is too tiny and challenges are huge but a start has to be made and now.’

Traditionally, hotels –and we are talking about making wine available there, have been the important source of availability for the wine to the wine drinker. Wine has to be more affordable and accessible. I was shocked by the list prices at the hotels here.’ (Who isn’t, lady?) ‘Until it becomes more affordable, wine can never become progressive and move from its embryonic state,’ she says.

From retail perspective- everyone talks about it, but there is going to be a huge amount that needs to be done in a simple and accessible way and also in terms of education.-from merchandising and visual impact.

About India Wine Challenge

IWC was very interesting competition for me to judge. I feel it was fair to judge the Indian section with international section. I strongly believe that if the Indian wine producers want to make their mark internationally and enter newer markets, they have to be able to compete with international wines. I can assure you that in my judging I was not making any concessions towards them, as Robert had instructed.
 
Taste offered a great opportunity to importers looking for distributors. But an event like this also helps developing relationships. We learn from each other a lot in this business. I like to describe myself as a communicator-with producer to distributor, to the store and retailer in the subject –the whole chain being very important.

Mumbai fascinates and beckons
                                                               
‘I found Mumbai very fascinating, intrigued by the Paradox known as Mumbai. I believe there is a potential to help the embryonic industry with the retail knowledge.’

She hopes to work with top London restaurants with food and wine pairing.
‘Also, I am trying to work with London wholesalers to development of retail and also the Indian wedding market in UK.’
                   
‘I would love to teach people in UK to appreciate wine with Indian food as I am very
fascinated by food culture in India. Even at the lowest denominator people here are so passionate about food, right down to the street foods.’

Hoping to come to India soon to help industry in the garnering of retail business her using years of experience through the taste buds that were worth insuring for  £10 million, Angela is  all set to conquer India.

Angela is available at angela@angelamount.com

Subhash Arora

 

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