Wine import debate revs up

Sommeliers in the region are in two minds about exclusive wine imports

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By  Laura Barnes Published  November 1, 2006

The beverage industry could soon see a shake up due to the increasing demand for special wine imports. With the number of new hotels increasing at a rapid rate, food and beverage managers and sommeliers are now facing increasing pressure to offer guests exclusive drinks, but the industry is divided about any forthcoming changes. Working in London for the past 10 years, Peter Huy, chef sommelier at the Burj Al Arab, is eager to introduce new wines into the UAE, but realises that it is a long process. “Overall it takes about a year to get a new wine. This includes getting it here for tasting, approving it and placing the order. However, there are some wines that I just cannot get here as the suppliers do not have the right connections,” commented Huy. “What we are trying to do is source the wine through the UK, and then work with the supplier here. But because we are the Burj we can get special imports, so it does make it a lot easier,” he added. However, not everyone in the industry is eager to see special imports, not only due to increased costs incurred, but also because it restricts an already limited marketplace. “In an open market everyone should be able to get the wine they want. For me, it is a shame that there is this exclusivity mentality, because why should one hotel have one wine over others?” said Luca Gagliardi, chef sommelier, Verre by Gordon Ramsay, Hilton Dubai Creek. “When I first came to Dubai I looked into special imports, but there were a lot of additional costs involved. However, the need for special imports four years ago was only because there were not a lot of fine wines available, but now the market has grown, with the creation of Emirates Fine Wine, a+e boosting its own web site, and MMI also offering more fine wines,” added Gagliardi. Boasting more than 650 references, Emirates Fine Wine does not have one specific policy when it comes to special imports. In principal, it is happy to offer its services, but the company does see potential problems with importing wines specifically for one hotel. “Because of high staff turnover, if you had a deal with one sommelier and he leaves, the newly appointed sommelier may not want that wine, so we are left holding the load,” warned Jean Marc Vettesi, sales manager, Emirates Fine Wine. “To combat this, we ask the hotel to make a 50% down payment, and then pay the remaining 50% upon delivery. In return, we offer to store the wine because unlike the rest of the world, hotels do not have large cellars in the UAE. In the future this may change, but I don’t think it will happen soon” he added.

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