In this, the first of our portraits’ series, we meet with Aurelien Fiardet, North America Brand Manager for “Terroirs Originels,” which is a group of Beaujolais and Maconnais producers. Aurelien tells The Vinifyed Post how he entered the wine game about ten years ago. He also shares his views on the Brand Manager job and the North American Market.
TVP: When did you first begin to get interested in wine?
AF: I was a student at that time, in a Business school in Grenoble, France. I enrolled with the Oenology Club of the school, and it was a revelation; I immediately fell in love with the world of wine. After a year, I became president of the club, and I had the opportunity to plan tastings and trips to wineries. We went to many different French wine regions such as the Rhone Valley, Burgundy, Savoy, and each month we set up tastings on a selected topic. It was at this moment I knew I wanted to work in the international wine trade after graduating. However, before doing so, I needed to improve my English, so I went to Canada for a year after getting my diploma.
TVP: How did you find your dream job?
AF: When I came back from Canada, I looked for French wineries hiring salespeople. I was mainly looking for smaller producers because I wanted to work for producers with a true artisanal philosophy. I did a couple of interviews in different regions, but it is the Beaujolais region that made everything happen. The Beaujolais is where my career started ten years ago with a group of Beaujolais winemakers and small estates called “Terroirs Originels.” These winemakers were well represented on the French market, but they were looking to expand on the international markets. They finally hired me as their global trade manager. The job, at that time, consisted of overlooking many markets such as Asia, Europe & North America. I was based in France for four years. After that, I relocated to the US, because my wife is American and because I wanted to focus on the North American market.
TVP: How would you describe your job?
AF: My job is to promote, to the North American market, the wines crafted by the producers from “Terroirs Originels.” This promoting involves many different skills and fields of competence including marketing, communication, customer prospection, sales, and management. At first, I started from scratch, as the business was sparse in North America for TO, so I focused on prospection. Then, I began to build a solid customer base and increased sales, so I switched more to customer management tasks. The American market is a very service oriented market, which means that your customers expect a significant level of attention. Being able to do staff training, and visit them often is fundamental to achieve your success for your brand. People here are willing to learn and love stories. They want to learn more from the winemaker, the region, the “terroir” and the technics.
TVP: What’s your favorite aspect of the job and what skills does it require?
AF: What I love is the human dimension of the job: customer relationships, exchanging with people, listening to their needs, and sharing experiences. To provoke interactions, you must not be shy and feel comfortable with your communication skills. Being sure of your interaction capabilities means not being afraid to pick up the phone and speak to strangers, feeling confident when addressing a large audience, and, being able to adapt to different situations. However, it also means being a great listener, a skill sometimes overlooked by salespeople.
On another hand, the marketing and speculative side of the job attracts me less.
TVP: I guess many communications are managed over the phone, but the customer relationship means much traveling too, right? How often are you on the road?
AF: Yes, that is right. Traveling is 70% of my time. I cover 25 states in US and seven states in Canada. I visit our main US customers with whom we have good turnover once every year, but I visit Canada, less often. Traveling is the pleasant part of the job. We discover new places, eat in great restaurants, meet new people, drink great wines and share our passion for wine and gastronomy. The less pleasant part is the management side. When everything is going well, this is fine, but when it gets complicated, it undeniably is less fun. However, that’s, unfortunately, part of the job too.
TVP: Speaking of management, of course, it is fun to eat in restaurants and drinking wines, I can get on board with that, but what about sales goals? How do you manage the pressure? How is the market reacting?
AF: Yes, of course, there are always sales’ goals and economic pressure. Furthermore, the American market is a competitive market. Every producer wants to be here. American consumers have continually been overwhelmed by choice and have a high consumption rate. So, it is as more comfortable to get people interested in your product as much as it is to have them walk away from it, for another product. So, nothing is ever set for good. That is why it is essential strategically speaking to diversify your customers. It is overall a mature market with some highly trained buyers in the key areas. Furthermore, people from the industry have the opportunity to taste a broad diversity of wines, both domestic and international, so the knowledge is continuously growing.
TVP: How does the American consumer perceive wine?
AF: Wine is positioned as a luxury product here, which, allow us to add value to our wines and sell for a better price compared to another market such as Europe and Asia. However, it is also a market that needs more service, time and attention.
TVP: A lot of Europeans often visit and ask why it is hard to find domestic wines in the US below $10, sometimes even below $15. What are your thoughts on this?
AF: I guess the main reason is the return on investment. The wine industry is pretty young here, and there is pressure from the investor. Return on investment explains why many wines fall in the $10-$15 range. Another reason is that US consumers don’t necessarily want to buy the less expensive product, which is more a European reflex. In contrary, the US consumer is less afraid of paying more than he can afford because of the cultural usage of the credit system.
TVP: You also have a passion for winemaking, can you tell us more about it?
AF: Yes that‘s right, besides sales I also have a passion for winemaking itself. I would have never pictured myself working in the industry without knowing how to make wine. There are lots of sommeliers in the US that are making wine on the side. Where I live, in Portland, Oregon, I make wine with some friends. We have an artisanal winery in a basement, and each year we buy grapes from Oregon or Washington. It is all about making wine for friends and family. Making wine for this purpose was the traditional reason to make wine at home many years ago, especially in Italy. Moreover, when the Italians arrived in California, they were all making wine at home. It is gratifying, as it creates a community phenomenon in the neighborhood, bringing people together, around their passion.
TVP: Would you like to be a professional winemaker one day and own a vineyard? Where?
AF: Yes, that would be awesome to live from both production and sales. Ideally, we would need to produce more to be able to sell it. When it comes to where we would make the wine, I think we would keep crafting wine in Oregon for now. Then when the time comes, I would probably invest in France and buy an estate there; perhaps when I retire.
TVP: Which French region do you think about most?
AF: I love the Jura. I know vineyards are affordable there and my family lives nearby. Then I also consider other areas like South West and Beaujolais.
TVP: If you had a message to address to people involved in the industry what would it be?
AF: I would like to say thank you to “Terroirs Originels.” They put their trust in me at a time when I had no experience. I did many interviews then, and it is hard in sales to get people’s approval when you have no experience. So, I owe a lot to Terroirs Originels.” It is thanks to them that I live in the US now and if I make a living doing what I love.