Ever wondered what it's like supplying wine in Vietnam? Billy Gray catches up with Jeremie Courivault, one of the best known faces in the local wine industry. Photos by Julie Vola
Jeremie Courivault of The Warehouse in Hanoi is among the growing list of wine suppliers in Vietnam. Working in the industry for well over a decade he has a good idea about what it’s like supplying wine in a country that’s still developing a palate for the good stuff.
Moving to Vietnam when he was just 20, the goal was to set up a restaurant with a friend from back in France.
“He was doing seasonal work,” recalls Jeremie. “So I left three months earlier than him and waited for him to finish the season and come out to join me. It’s been almost 20 years and I’m still waiting for that season to finish.”
Sowing the Seeds
Once settled, he didn’t waste time getting involved with the local service industry, working in restaurants and bars and learning English and Vietnamese as he went along. Jeremie soon began supplying wine, but back in the early 2000s, as he says: “All you could get was fake 1997 Bordeaux, but that’s changed — we’re fortunate in Vietnam that the market is now very legitimate.”
Still, the wine industry in Vietnam is certainly in its development stages, and often customers want the biggest, boldest and most expensive bottle available just to make a statement. This is something that Jeremie is determined to change.
“There’s so much out there,” he says. “I do try to suggest other wines, but there’s a fine line. I want to advise my clients, but at the same time, if they like a heavy red every time, then that’s what they like.”
Since 2000, Warehouse has expanded across Vietnam and beyond, with bases in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang and a strong presence in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. They have regular wine tastings in their shops and hold wine dinners in some of the most exclusive venues in Vietnam.
Pairing the right wine with different cuisine is one of the fundamentals of the industry, and something that Jeremie has been practising for years, and with some quite exotic dishes — think rat, turtle, scorpions and larvae.
“Some of the food matching I’ve done has been crazy,” he says. “Once I was eating at a restaurant and they brought out a hotpot and there was this rattling sound going on — you assume that the hotpot is already boiling so I opened the lid to see what was inside. ‘No!’ the staff were yelling, but it was too late, the lid was open and these prawns were leaping out for their lives all over the table.”
No Sour Grapes
Jeremie’s clientele has grown over the years to include a diverse bunch from some of the best hotels and restaurants in town, to ambassadors, businessmen, the occasional Vietnamese pop star and just about any wine lover in Vietnam who knows how to read a map.
In the wine industry, Jeremie points out, you have to know more than just a lot about wine, you need to know your customers and their tastes. Jeremie has built personal relationships with his over the years, sharing his passion and his knowledge for everyone’s favourite grape juice.
He cites an incident with some high-profile dignitaries.
“A friend of mine was hosting a dinner for some very important guests and of course she wanted everything to be of the highest standard. She’d prepared a nine-course meal and called me asking for some of my best wines; everything was set to perfection.
“The guests arrived, already drunk, and wanted all the food served in three courses. When the wine was offered they passed it up and got their driver to go and pick up two bottles of whisky instead. She was on the phone crying afterwards. But the lesson is that you have to know your customer, and what they want.”
It’s clear that Jeremie has learnt a lot over the years from being not just a survivor of, but also a pioneer of Vietnam’s wine supplying industry. “We want people to learn about wine, we want people to explore what’s out there.”
In the business of supplying wine, you meet all kinds of characters. Some are more memorable than others, some make more of a mess, and some push the boundaries just when you thought you’d seen it all.
“I’ll never forget, these two guys once bought a very nice, and very expensive bottle of red wine from me,” he laughs. “They poured a glass each and then cracked an egg, separated the white from the yoke and mixed it into the wine.”
He adds: “In this business the customer is always right, so I just sat back and smiled.”
A little taken aback by this innovation I ask him, have you tried it yourself?
“God no… I love wine too much!”
For more info on The Warehouse, click on warehouse-asia.com
To see all the stories in this collection, please click on the following links:
Confessions of a Wine Supplier
The Al Fresco's Story
The Pho Restaurant that Harboured an Uprising
The Tofu Widow
Alexis melgrani Wednesday, 18 May 2016 13:40 Comment Link
Jeremy is a great person with a strong knowledge in wine great guy to spend time with around a nice glass of wine.
We had the pleasure to meet with him back in Saigon at our Bouchon.
Take care Jeremy with lots of love from Florida.