Meet The Tastemakers is our November column featuring four industry mavens as they share what drives their passion and how they enhance and even transform our lifestyle through their unique areas of expertise.
When Linda Chan first ventured into the world of wines in 2004, she had zero experience and had to start from scratch. Working at a wine importer back then, she quickly found herself enjoying the dynamic pace of the job and the vibrant epicurean lifestyle that comes with it. As her passion for wines and the business grew over the years, she made every effort to develop her understanding and deepen her knowledge of the industry across its full spectrum from procurement to logistics, sales and marketing and more.
Today, 16 years later, Linda is the assistant general manager of Grand Vin, a distributor of some of the finest wines in the world. She heads the entire operations and also co-owns the business with two partners. Despite the challenges, she says, “Wines are really not that hard to love.”
These wines in question are from prestigious names like Champagne Louis Roederer, Domaine Faiveley, Chateau Petrus, Château Lafite Rothschild, E.Guigal SAS and Hundred Acre – all and more of which Grand Vin is the appointed distributor here. “We take on the best representation of the region simply because we are wine lovers ourselves. We do not believe in promoting products we do not adore,” explains Chan. “Even for glassware, we distribute Zalto, one of the best stemware available in the market.”
Most of Grand Vin’s clients are four- and five- star hotels like Raffles Singapore and The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, as well as top restaurants like CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Jade Palace Restaurant. It also caters to individual private clients, who are largely wine connoisseurs. Linda recalls how early in her career, she enthusiastically recommended a “Champagne” from Cremant de Bourgogne to a private client, not knowing that the term only refers to sparkling wines specifically from the French region of Champagne.
“Many of our local wine buyers are extremely sophisticated and this gentleman was no exception,” she shares. “He proceeded to correct me rather matter-of-factly, which caused me enough embarrassment to spur me into pursuing better wine knowledge.”
Now armed with a Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 (WSET) certification, she counts Champagne as her choice of poison and Louis Roederer one of her favourite Champagne houses. She also enjoys the robust reds of Châteauneuf-du-Pape: “I was exposed to many Rhone beauties when I first started my career. It is a well-known fact that Rhone wines are undervalued. I always encourage friends and clients to pick up more Rhones!”
Currently, Grand Vin has about 30 labels in its portfolio – a number kept deliberately modest in order to focus on the truly exceptional. In fact, when the company was founded in 1996 by the late Derek Lee, a wine industry pioneer, it represented only about 20 brands. Grand Vin has since continued to retain a good 90 per cent of them. That is no mean feat, given the competitive environment and higher cost of fine wines.
Linda shares that 16 years ago, a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild retailed at about $300-$400. “And these bottles were probably shoved into the corner of a shop as demand was low,” she say. “Today, a bottle from the renowned winery can go for well over $1,000 and is often on the front shelves of retailers or featured prominently on the wine lists of any decent restaurant.” But Grand Vin continues to hold its own, and for that Chan credits its strong reputation for having a long-term vision and a talented team who have earned the trust of suppliers and clients.
Old is Gold
In thinking long-term, Chan is careful not to jump on trends too quickly. The natural wine movement has been gaining popularity but while she believes in it, it is not a segment she wants Grand Vin is diving into yet although it carries some sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines. Most of its portfolio comprises Old World wines from France and Italy. “Some consumers have the perception that natural wines are automatically better, which is not the case. Natural wines just have a very different wine profile from traditional wines.”
The business is also keeping up with the times and rolling out new initiatives such as a monthly subscription service called DISCOVERY by GV. Launching this month, it caters to budding wine aficionados as well as the experts by offering packages at three price points. Each allows customers to enjoy two bottles carefully selected by an in-house oenologist and delivered right to their doorstep. Grand Vin also recently launched its e-store to widen its reach, having previously operated via mail order.
“As customers grow more savvy, their thirst for good wines become more insatiable. We are pleased that our products continue to meet their growing demand, which in turn leads to greater enjoyment,” she says, adding that consumers also appreciate Grand Vin’s strict standards and professionalism in shipping, handling and storing of wines. “We ship in refrigerated containers and pride ourselves on these temperature-controlled conditions and cold-chain handling all the way from the wineries to your home. They are evident in the wines when they are opened.”
Another value she constantly strives to uphold is integrity. “People rely on us for wine recommendations. I will never recommend a bottle that I don’t believe will benefit the end-consumer. If I won’t drink it, I don’t expect you to,” she says. To best do this, she continues to constantly educate herself by reading up on the latest releases and trending topics like climate change and its impact on viticulture. “There is so much to cover and so much to share,” she enthuses. “The beauty of this business is that you will never be bored. It is impossible to tire of wines. I am always excited to discuss, debate and uncover new knowledge with fellow wine lovers.”