New awards for Soul Tree!

We are pleased to announce two more International Wine Challenge awards for Soul Tree!

Soul Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – IWC 2017 Commended

Soul Tree Chenin Blanc 2016 – IWC 2017 Commended

awards_slimThis brings the total number of international awards that Soul Tree has won in the last 12 months to eight. Yipee!

Back after a long hiatus, but life’s been good!

I can’t believe it has been well over 2 years since we last posted on this blog! Have we been that busy? Perhaps yes (though I also believe that is not an excuse).

So what has happened in the last two years?

One, Soul Tree has gone on to establish itself firmly in the UK wine landscape. It has become the biggest selling Indian wine in the UK and, so people tell us, almost synonymous with Indian wine across the country.

Two, in early 2015 Soul Tree became one of a handful of wine producers in the world (maybe even wine companies, including in all facets of the industry) to be crowdfunded. We raised £364,000 from 218 investors in 18 countries around the world. Wowzer!

Three, Soul Tree has won 8 different international wine awards in the last 12 months, with our Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve winning five, one, and two medals each. Whoopee!

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Well, these are just the headlines. Naturally a lot more has transpired than we can do justice to in a few short paragraphs, but we will look to update you in greater detail over the coming few days and weeks.

There is a lot to talk about. Soon, peeps.

 

Check your business model

“If you’re in the wine business and you’re not making money today, it’s not the industry’s fault. Check your business model”, says this wine-industry-specialist US banker on Forbes. Sound advice, I would say, even if making money in the wine industry is generally regarded to be as elusive as quicksilver. As they often say, “the one way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a large one”.

Sound advice, I would also say, if the quote referred to any other industry too. After all, unless the circumstances are extraordinary, say as in a deep recession, the fault is rarely the industry’s. That said, there are far too many wine producers in distress as they cannot turn over the cash required to pay their bank’s interest repayments.

An emerging trend, it is quoted in this article, is for asset light transactions. “An asset-light transaction in the wine category means the entrepreneurs ‘don’t own anything but their inventories and a couple of computers. To make wine, they buy juice or grapes that are pressed in a custom-crush facility. It’s a good business model for a younger entrepreneur who doesn’t have a big bank roll” .

Soul Tree was founded on a similar principle a few years ago and continued on this model for a while before switching to own production. This is arguably why, though founded right in the middle of one of the worst recessionary periods of recent times, and though the business focuses on making a place for Indian wine in an enormously traditional and conservative industry in the UK* and elsewhere, Soul Tree managed to start from nowhere and yet achieve so much so quickly.

The business model is, no doubt, affected to an extent by a lower degree of control on quality or price and by a potentially reduced security of supply, but these are an easy price to pay for the advantage of requiring relatively little start-up capital, having a low interest-related cash flow burden (for businesses that are reasonably leveraged), and being nimble-footed and quick to adapt to changing conditions or operational strategies.

Bulk wine prices, the article goes on to say, is a strong indicator for the wine industry, as big harvests with more-than-ample supply open the doors to ‘undercapitalised’ entrepreneurs. Small or difficult harvests increases prices, makes it harder for quality wines to be available in bulk, and concentrates access to bigger, more established players.

The Indian wine industry is still not mature enough to follow these patterns faithfully, though the principle still applies. Prices are still based on cost and are only very loosely linked to quality. Essential economics applies, though, and availability of grapes and their cost do tend to fluctuate with the ebb and flow of demand from the larger players. An interesting case in point was the recent arrival of Moet Hennessy to India, and the sudden addition of an influential and rich player to a very small industry caused sudden upheaval in the vineyards in Nasik.

Soul Tree’s business still continues to straddle the asset-light model and the more traditional own-vineyard, own-winery model, as it moves increasingly towards the latter. Soul Tree’s grapes still come from vineyards that we do not own, and the wine is still produced by our winemaker in custom-crush facilities. The system is based on the strength of contracts, goodwill, and relationships and, when balanced with the obvious advantages of being asset-light, is highly efficient at the moment and allows for focus on the major marketing task at hand – that of putting Indian wines on the global map.

*I would be quick to add that the UK market for wine is arguably one of the most progressive and adventurous in the world

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WSET certification for Soul Tree personnel

Two of the Soul Tree team are now WSET qualified. Melvin D’Souza and Gorvinder Butter have passed their WSET Level 2 courses, having been tutored by the lovely and very capable Laura Clay of BYWine.

Congratulations, gentlemen! Two very talented guys now qualified to do even better in the wine trade.

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Four days and lots of love from Birmingham’s wine lovers

Soul Tree is very much a national (and budding international) brand, so why just Birmingham’s wine lovers you may ask. And ask quite justifiably, you will (do I sound just a little bit like Yoda there?).

It’s just two concurrent events in Birmingham over the weekend of 12th-15th June 2014 (yes, that’s 4 days – a tad longer than a weekend) where we were showered with so much love by the city and region’s wine lovers that, 5 days on, we are still purring with pleasure.

The BBC Good Food Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham needs no introduction. Over 4 days we had somewhere between 1500 and 2000 visitors to the Soul Tree stand (in partnership with India Tourism and Incredible India) and the vast, vast majority of people where not only intrigued by our fantastic Indian wines and the story behind them, but were very pleasantly surprised by what they tasted! It is fair to say that there were very few people (I could count them on one hand) who did not really like even one of the four wines, and the rest just kept us smiling through the four days.

The other event was the first ever Birmingham Wine Festival, hosted at  Hotel Hyatt Regency in Birmingham. The event saw Birmingham’s finest wine producers and suppliers, as well as around 400 – 500 wine lovers from around the city come together for 2 fabulous days of wine tasting. As it so often happens, Soul Tree quickly became the talk of the festival, creating a buzz that had more and more people come to the Soul Tree table keen to taste the wines; the icing on the cake was when the remaining exhibitors started coming to us too, eager to know why the visitors to their tables were still talking about us!

All in all these were two wonderful events for Soul Tree. Participating in two events simultaneously was tiring work but boy was it worth it! It makes our efforts worthwhile, and increases our resolve to continue to bring wonderful wines from India to the wine loving populations of the world.

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10 inventors who died by their own inventions

People often say that some people ‘kill’ themselves working, or for what they believe in. This, of course, is meant figuratively, but I guess there are occasions when this could quite literally be true!

This list of 10 inventors is probably a shortlist of people who actually died trying to prove that their inventions worked. Some examples could be what I would consider insane, yet others gave up their lives for inventions that would prove to be the precursors to incredibly useful and world-changing machines.

Entrepreneurs like us also often ‘kill’ themselves trying to prove their product or business idea works, though thankfully they only usually suffer the financial consequences (though there may be some real-life examples of people actually dying in the pursuit of entrepreneurship). The shared never-say-die attitude, though, certainly makes it easier for entrepreneurs to understand these crazy, careless, or plain unlucky inventors.

Full list of these 10 inventors can be found interestingengineering.com.

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Soul Tree aiming for expansion

Since Friday of last week many sections of the press have reported headlines like “Indian merchant to launch in UK shops” (The Drinks Business), “​India’s Soul Tree Wines targets UK retail” (Harpers Wine & Spirit), “Indian wine company Soul Tree to begin retail sale in UK” (Economic Times, India), “Indian wines slowly come of age” (IndiaIncorporated.com), and “Indian wine company to begin retail sale in UK” (Business Standard, India).

It has also been reported that Soul Tree is looking to exit the on-trade market in favour of supermarkets.

I think it is only right that I clarify that Soul Tree is definitely not looking to exit the on-trade. The on-trade has been the most fantastic route to market for Soul Tree, and the on-trade distributors and partner restaurants, bars, pubs, and hotels have been superb partners during Soul Tree’s first few years. We look to keep growing the on-trade segment, and it will remain an extremely important market segment for many years to come.

And yes, Soul Tree is in the process of creating a retail range and is working on retail distribution, but the emphasis is to focus on avenues that are a good fit in its growth strategy, without jeopardizing the on-trade side of the business. More, of course, will be revealed in due course. Watch this space.

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Moët Hennessy in India

It has now been some time since Moët Hennessy, arguably the best known Champagne House in the World, launched Domaine Chandon in India. But no, they are not just importing their wines into India – the sparkling wines are actually being produced there.

Their specific choice of location did not really come as a surprise as the Nasik region is claimed, by many, to be one of the finest for vineyards in all of Asia. Soul Tree, and many other Indian wines you may have heard of also come from the same region.

It is still too early to estimate how the Indian wine drinking populace is taking to Domaine Chandon but there seems to be no reason it will do anything but fantastically well. From early reports the Chenin Blanc sparkling is every bit as good as you would expect, but more importantly Indian wine drinkers are young, relatively affluent, and see wine increasingly as an aspirational drink and should gladly spend the cash to consume the Domaine Chandon brand. I am sure the world is watching closely.

What is interesting is that Moët Hennessy clearly trusts the local terroir and the workforce there to do justice to their much vaunted brand. This certainly bodes well for India as a wine producing region. India is steadily gaining visibility and credibility in the more mature wine consuming markets, and news like this is sure to be an excellent catalyst!

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“We must make wine less intimidating…”

Several industry leaders have echoed this incredibly important sentiment at Wine Vision today.

As relative newcomers to the industry we at Soul Tree have always thought that the wine industry must shake off its image of conservativeness if it is to compete on a level playing field in this rapidly evolving world. Recent decades have seen new trends come and go – alcopops were a rage not so long ago, and more recent years have seen a resurgence of craft beers and an advent of ciders and budget (read non-Champagne) sparkling wines like Prosecco.

Not that much, however, has changed where wine is concerned. The styles popularised by old world producers like France took a long, long time to shake after the new world producers became popular. Nothing has changed in terms of packaging either, and adventurous packaging options do not seem to work (in fact they are often frowned upon as the sign of a sub-par producer trying too hard). The one welcome change has been the rising popularity of the humble screw cap!

New wine producing regions struggle to make an impact because the industry and experts often deem the result of different terroirs and styles as ‘not good enough’ because they are compared to the taste benchmarks established by more established regions – which is where the tradespeople and experts were trained in the first place.

So where does this leave the consumer? It is as a result of an intimidating product and more intimidating marketing that consumers do not trust themselves to make the right choice and depend on the industry and the experts to tell them what is what.

Let me make it clear here, though, that this is not a judgement of the experts themselves, but of ‘systems’, ‘practices’, and expectations that have been established over a very long time.

It is time that the industry actively works towards making wine less intimidating, thus empowering the consumer to make their own way – which is how it is with almost any other product you can think of. In the long run this will ensure consumers get what they want and also the continued good health of the industry itself.

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Spam: the minor perils of the online world

As dangers of living in an increasingly online and connected world go this one perhaps deserves to be consigned to the back pages, but believe it or not, a relatively brief absence from the blog has resulted in…wait for it….45,969 spam messages!!!

A quick check from day to day has also revealed that new spam messages are flooding in at the rate of some 150 or so a day. Now will some of the more mathematically inclined of you help me with working out how many messages I need to delete each day to get rid of the 45,969 (wait, the number is now 45,981) messages within a reasonable time frame?

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that if I were to steal 10 minutes a day and skim through and delete 200 messages in that time (20 messages every minute, or one every 3 seconds) I would need approximately 920 days or over two and a half years just to get rid of the backlog!

Ok, ok…I can bulk delete but this new online world does bring things sharply into perspective doesn’t it?

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