Throughout the wine industry supply chain there are businesses that specialise in ensuring that your favourite bottle is available in the wine bar on the corner, the Michelin starred restaurant you love, the beach bar in Ibiza or the hotel you went on your honeymoon in the Caribbean. These range from the more hands on side of the business; the producers who toil year round in the vineyards and winery, to the practical; the shipping companies who arrange for wine to cross continents and seas to land in the cellars of importers and wine merchants who are the gate keepers between the producer and you, the consumer. There are hundreds of wine merchants to choose from, with some specialising in Italian or French wine, some fine & rare bottles, some organic and natural producers - the list goes on. There are those that pride themselves on working closely with restaurants, others with shops filled with bottles to die for and others who focus on filling private cellars for clients. So, how do you go about selecting which merchant to use when it comes to provisioning for a yacht?
Firstly, it is clear that the yachting industry is unique. Is there any other industry that is so fast paced, where demands and preferences can change overnight and the delivery point can change several times after placing an order? Depending on the guests and boat, wine can play an integral part of the experience and not having the correct wines onboard on time is simply not an option. So, for me, the most important criteria in choosing a wine merchant or provisioner is to select one with the expertise to fully understand the yachting industry and the importance in meeting guests expectations. Who better really then, than ex-crew themselves? Working with a wine provisioner who has a team that fully understands the time pressures, demands, ins and outs of how charters work, preference sheets, crew responsibilities and roles onboard, whilst also having key contacts in all the major ports and customs agents simply cannot be rivalled by a wine merchant in London who has never experienced time below deck.
THE EXTRA MILE
This knowledge of life onboard is vital in understanding the flexibility required in order to service the yachting industry. With incredibly tight turn arounds being the norm rather than the exception, having someone on the ground who is able to pull together orders, source fine and rare wine and even tack on unique requests such as fancy dress means you will never let your guests down. Offering a flexible delivery service, responding to changes in delivery times and ports and being able to meet tenders at 10pm with top up orders when the guests have run out of Champagne puts a specialist wine provisioner leagues ahead of merchants relying on the limitations of using DHL or another third party delivery company. If you are a chief stew reading this then you will understand the need to constantly go the extra mile for your guests. So why then should your suppliers not do the same? Choosing a merchant who works around the clock and is willing to drop everything in order to make sure that your needs are met should be high on your supplier’s priority list when provisioning wine. There should be no responses of ‘Sorry we can’t get that for you’, ‘I can’t find that vintage’, ‘It is impossible to get those wines to you in that timeframe’. The right provisioner will always go the extra mile for you - flying staff around Europe to pick up rare and collectable bottles to ensure that they are back and on the boat on time or getting friends on holiday to drive to a restaurant to pick up more bottles of a wine enjoyed at lunch.
Having worked for many years in the London wine trade before moving to the South of France to work in yachting I was firmly put in my place by the demands and pace of the industry. This was not the wine trade as I knew it! Fine and rare wines were put onboard more often than the trading teams I used to work with would dream of. There were no long wine trade lunches (sadly) due to the fact it was all hands on deck from 7am - 7pm, 7 days a week from May to September. I remember trying to explain it to old colleagues who would sit there staring at me with disbelieving ears. Having a passion for wine and extensive wine knowledge was of course an advantage, but what was clear from the outset was that this is an industry that thrives on outstanding customer service, the ability to work incredibly well under pressure and over-deliver at every stage throughout the wine ordering process. Being on the provisioning side certainly has similarities to life onboard in that respect. For me, the most important criteria when choosing a wine provisioner are; hands-on expertise in yachting, flexibility, going the extra mile and of course doing it all with a smile. Naturally, Onshore Cellars is the obvious choice with Ed and Jess heading up a team of seasoned professionals who fully understand the business.