Keith Isaac, GM of the Leading UK Wine Import House
Keith Isaac is a GM at Castelnau Wine Agencies, serving for 31 years. In a Q&A with LWC, he spoke about Castelnau as well as shared insights on the UK wine market.
Castelnau Wine Agencies have been in the UK market since 1981, importing and selling wine led by their General Manager Keith Isaac since 1987. Much has changed in that time, so Keith’s insights help us gain perspective and context for the turbulent times that we live and trade in.
Tell us more about your business?
We are an established agency business/importer, specialising in champagne and owned by Castelnau in Reims, but shipping from around the world. We have a team of 11 of here.
What is your business’ target market?
On-trade focus through regional and national wholesalers, and traditionally strong in the duty-free sector as well.
How is the market currently?
Very competitive, but we are having our best year in terms of volume which is a paradox.
All the stats show premiumisation of the wine market – how is your business adapting to that?
Our portfolio is stronger than ever, and our average bottle price is well above that of the market; we are also investing in salespeople and our marketing team.
Supermarkets dominate the UK drinks market, will they be still as powerful in 5-10 years time?
In terms of volume, yes they will be, but at the lower end of the price range; and as they need to consolidate ranges the inherent interest in their ranges will be harder to maintain.
What are the specific trends that you are seeing emerge?
Sparkling continues to perform well for us; the trend to drinking less but better seems to be growing but this is yet to be reflected in growing average price per bottle in the market. Not drinking at all among some younger people is increasing (even if we personally know students trying selflessly to balance these figures.)
Organic and biodynamic are growing and being vegan and vegetarian-friendly is almost a given although in the past we have not thought to promote it we do now. The contradictions between biodynamic and vegan-friendly are interesting.
Should the UK market still be a priority for global producers?
Only if they can make money here; and if they can find the right partner. Worth adding that it highlights that the agency model isn’t dead.
How should the ambitious producer approach the UK Market?
- Find the right partner
- Listen to them
- Be prepared to invest for the long-term
The Millenial / Gen Z agenda of sustainable, environmentally friendly, natural, organic, biodynamic seems to be a growing force. Is the drinks market embracing it as quickly as they need to?
Yes. Routinely highlighting “sustainable”, vegan and vegetarian-friendly, organic/natural. Just need to ensure this is communicated clearly.
Will Alexa ever replace sommeliers?
Great question. There are already some similarities: our Alexa is always trying to sell us something or interrupt us, too. Amazon is also notoriously difficult to get hold of… so I can only hope not.
About the Author
The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.