Since I started Tech Tastes Wine in 2014 I met wine growers and producers who love working the land as much as they do introducing their wines to new markets. Julian Faulkner is one of them. He spends part of the year at the vineyard and part travelling the world selling his wines in the UK, US and the Asian market. He runs Le Grand Cros with his parents, the award-winning winery in the South of France. A born and bred entrepreneur he has also started his own label a few years back, sourcing the best wines and grapes in the region. His rose wines have won rave reviews from Jancis Robinson. We sat down for coffee at the Albion, in Shoreditch, and later met again to taste some of his beautiful wines. He has also developed a platform for producers and buyers worldwide, Trade Map. After a 360 of all his entrepreneurial activities I later sent him the interview questions via e-mail. He spoke candidly about what it takes to run a vineyard, produce, and distribute wines. This was a great way to discover the world of winemaking, and to get inside the mind of someone who cares deeply about well-crafted wines and someone who understands the consumer. Here is the interview.
Julian Faulkner – Nearly everything! I was 23 when I took over my family’s estate so I was clueless but with plenty of self-confidence which was a potentially dangerous combination. I was obviously aware of my lack of technical knowledge of wine and farming and I focused on learning and identifying the right people to advise us. On the business side it has been more of a process of learning from my mistakes. If there is one area where I thought I would be good and where I was surprised by the mistakes that I have made it is with people management. Entrepreneurs and investors always repeat the mantra about the team being the most important key to success and I think getting our team right and keeping it right as we grow has been my biggest and most important challenge. I didn’t realise at 23 just how important that would be.
JF – I like different parts for different reasons and I wouldn’t want to focus solely on one part. Living on a vineyard can become quite lonely so going out and selling can be a good relief however being on the road non-stop is very draining. Intellectually, I enjoy the pre-harvest meeting when we plan what we are going to do and after the harvest when we blend the wines. In terms of the wine-making, those are the 2 critical strategic decision making times. Actually, I get most excited when looking towards the future when we identify something new and innovative that we can implement or test, regardless of whether it concerns the wine making, the marketing or internal admin.
Le Grand Cros is the historical name of the estate. Cros is local dialect which we are told means a protected area where a shepherd can take his sheep. There are lots of micro-climates in our area of Provence – in the 25 years that we have been there, we have seen neighbouring vineyards devastated by hail and we have barely been touched, or we could be driving from a to the vineyard through torrential rain and find it to be sunny just as we approach it. I know that could sound a bit unbelievable or an exaggeration but it is true!My other brand is called Jules which I joke is my narcissism out of control (my name is Julian but friends call me Jules). However i did an online poll in 2003 with all our customers to chose a name for a new label and that is the one that got the most votes.
I have 2 brands and every wine that I produce has to fit with the values and story behind each brand. I plan to launch more brands in the future and the same will apply to them and I do private label (make the wine for other brands). There are more than 100k wine producers in the world, each with 1 or more brands so differentiating yourself from everyone else is incredibly challenging. Unless you are the oldest, smallest, biggest, highest altitude or something like that, your point of difference is going to be subtle and difficult to capture in an elevator pitch. I attempt to explain ours in our “about us” pages on our brand web sites: grandcros.com
JF – I think I learn a little with most wines that I try. I can’t remember ever having an aha moment, it is more like putting a puzzle together where your perception of the wine space becomes more complete or increases in definition. I think I am naturally an anti-snob when it comes to wine so I would never admit that the first time I had an expensive rare fine wine that my mind was blown away. I am particularly aware of how the price and aura of greatness around these wines influences us and I am usually disappointed. I think the only valuable aha moments I have had is with my realisation that my tolerance for alcohol has decreased with age.
JF – Probably doing the harvest with my friends while I was still a student before I took over the running of the vineyard from my mother. Hard work, lots of drinking in the evening, it was a lot of fun. In the first couple of years where I was essentially converting a hobby business into a real business, there were difficult moments due to lack of equipment, resources, knowledge or organisation and learning experiences that were memorable. The transition from student life to living alone in a big house in the middle of the country, coupled with a rat infestation my first winter – that was kind of memorable. Now that I split my time between London and the south of France, I am more aware of the beauty and peacefulness of the vineyard.