Importer of the Month: Qwine, Belgium
Our customers want the “full picture” – Thomas Kü, owner
Redinnestraat 6, 8460 Oudenburg, Belgium
Labels so far
Balla Géza (Transylvania), Bodri Winery (Szekszárd), Bujdosó Winery (South Balaton), Chapel Hill (South Balaton), Chateau Megyer (Tokaj), Dubicz Winery (Mátra), Dúzsi Family Winery (Szekszárd), Gere A Winery (Villány), Heumann Winery (Villány), Hétszőlő Vineyard (Tokaj), Holdvölgy Winery (Tokaj), Jackfall Winery (Villány), Juhász Winery (Eger), Kristinus Wine Estate (South Balaton), Pannonhalmi Arch Abbey Winery (Pannonhalma), Sabar Wine House (Badacsony), St. Andrea (Eger), St. Tamás (Tokaj), Syrys Wines (Balaton), Thummerer Winery (Eger), Tokaj Classic (Tokaj), Törley Winery (Etyek–Buda), Vesztergombi Cellar (Szekszárd), Vida Winery (Szekszárd), Vylyan Vineyard and Winery (Villány), Zsirai Winery (Tokaj),
– From your name I can guess that you have Hungarian origin, but what is the exact relation? Were you born in Hungary?
– Well, actually I have Hungarian roots! But it’s even a bit more complex than that. So, my father is Hungarian, and my mother is Belgian, Flemish even. Therefore, I was raised with a “Father Language” which was Hungarian, and with a “Mother Language” Dutch (Flemish). This has been such a great and wonderful gift, that gave me the capability to speak Hungarian and Dutch. And then about my birth place, which is not Hungary and not Belgium… It’s Austria, Eisenstadt (in Hungarian it’s “Kismarton”). My Father was a professional soccer (Football) player, and at that time he was playing in Austria. (Just for the record: before that he was playing in FC Brugge, he has played in the USA, and also for the national team of Hungary, and Ferencváros…) At that time my mother also spoke to me in German. But after a year, we moved back to Belgium, where I still live. Unfortunately, I have never lived in “Magyarország”. But I’ve been to Hungary more than 100 times… We love it!
– Your surname is unusual even in Hungarian, and I like the pun, the name of your company derived from your surname meaning something totally relevant: quality wines from Hungary.
– Correct! My family name is “Kü” which is indeed not really common even in Hungary. Here in Belgium, it’s even more difficult, often I have to spell it 3 times, even if it’s only 2 letters. So my wine company has the name “Qwine” which comes indeed from my family name KÜ (= Q). And next to that it also means QUALITY wines. Because, my main goal is to import real quality wines from Hungary into Belgium. I want to make Hungarian quality wines more popular and known here in Belgium.
A broad range of affordable, yet high quality wines
– You select all the wines yourself, and indeed, it can be seen from the range of wines available at Qwine. I like your attitude: not to stick rigorously to anything, because you might miss a pearl. Many importers deal with organic wines only, and doing so they miss some really genuine wines. Do I see it correctly?
– Absolutely! The main starting point, and which I find very important, is that I select all the wines myself. I hear or read about them, or I taste them in Hungary during holidays, or I see them at wine events or of course at the winery itself. Then I taste, sometimes multiple times (important!) and then we decide whether to import or not. Indeed, I don’t stick to specific rules or types of wines…
Also, I have a good friend (Belgian) who lives in Hungary, Michael, and a couple of wines/wineries were suggested by him. Then we go to the winery, get to know each other, and taste the wines. I’m open for most of the wines, and all the regions. I don’t have any plans to only work with organic wines for example, but I do offer them in my assortment. The wines from Kristinus, for example. I certainly want to offer a broad range of different wines, and show my customers what Hungary can offer. In any case here in Belgium, for the moment, 90% of the people are looking for regular wines that are just really good, and affordable, and of course of high quality. Sabar, for example, is not organic at the moment, but offers wonderful treasures of wines with great personality indeed, people even start knowing the brand (winery) name over here… Sabar, Kristinus, Zsirai and the others as well…
My range goes from a standard good Sauvignon Blanc, an organic Chardonnay, over the real Hungarian Bikavér (Bull’s Blood,) then Villányi Franc or a real 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú…
We are in a very ‘difficult’ country, since Belgium offers millions of French, Spanish and Italian wines. All can be found here, almost in every street. A real “French wine drinker” often asks for a good Bordeaux blend for example, which Hungary can offer as well!
The key factors: passion and reliability
– Following the previous thought, I guess passion is more important for you than any “viticultural religion”. Kristinus, Zsirai, Holdvölgy – all run by passionate people who make characteristic and great quality wines with their passion. How did you pick these particular wineries?
– Fully correct. It’s more and more important for me to work with passionate wineries, like Sabar, Zsirai, Balla Géza, Kristinus – and many more of course. To be honest it’s a totally different experience of working with passionate people than working with big companies, with multiple layers of employees. In the beginning of my “Qwine adventure”, I was working also with a bigger Hungarian company that was selling wines from multiple wineries. After a certain period, I had to stop this, as it’s totally different than working with the real passionate people of the wineries. I will not go into detail, but it’s a different world… How did I pick them? Some of them, like Sabar and Kristinus for example, were introduced by my friend, Michael, who has a ‘Hungarian Wine Blog’. I met the winemakers, saw their passion and tasted their wonderful wines, and since then we have seen each other regularly and I still work with their wines. Zsirai is another example – I got introduced to them by another Belgian friend, who studied together with the husband of one of the Zsirai sisters! Also great passion, great wines and collaboration. Holdvölgy then, is located next to Zsirai in Mád and I discovered them that way, and then tasted the wines later at Budapest Wine Festival, and got in contact with them myself, and for almost 2 years now I have been selling some of their wines.
Besides, what is also important to me, is that the collaboration/partnership is professional. Meaning, if we promise something, we stick to it. And that we can count on each other in both directions. Also replying to each other as soon as possible, and so on… By “professionaI” I don’t mean that we can’t be friends or so, because with several winemakers we are good friends in the meantime, which is great!
Blown away by Tokaji Aszú
– You learnt to become a sommelier. In what way does it help you selling more wines in your recent venture? Have you ever worked as a sommelier?
– Indeed, I studied for being a wine sommelier here in Belgium, and I have plans to take WSET courses as well in the near future. The main reason is that I’m really interested in learning more about wines, the winemaking methods and different wine regions… It’s like a passion. And it certainly does help my Qwine activities. I often have to give presentations, wine tastings or workshops about Hungary and its wines – some knowledge is really needed and a nice advantage. But also, at the very beginning of Qwine, my idea was that you must know really well the product that you are selling! You have to be able to explain the customer about the wine, the region, the terroir, how it’s made, the winemaker…. Of course, not all customers need all this info, but you must know it in my opinion. I have never really worked as a ‘sommelier’, but I do have some ‘little’ experience as my parents here in Belgium always had a restaurant and hotel, where I helped serving the customers frequently. Maybe my passion for wines started there…
– Somewhere you mention that selling Hungarian wines is your second profession. Am I correct? Does it mean that at the moment you have to do something else for living?
– Yes, my main profession is in the IT/IOT world, something totally different. I work as a scrum master/project manager at a telecom company in Brussels.
– You organize tastings, workshops frequently. Who are your guests and what are the best memories from a recent tasting?
– In the first years I organized a lot of tastings. I also attended wine-clubs, organisations, events frequently to give wine tastings and presentations. Now I do this much less due to timing constraints. With the combination of my main job + Qwine + family it’s not so easy anymore to organize a lot of these events. But I certainly do my best whenever possible, because the appreciation that we get back is worth it. Our guests are really very mixed, from sommeliers and wine club members to people just starting to appreciate wine. But let’s say the bigger part of the people at these tastings are people who have an interest in wines and want to learn something new. A lot of them have not really heard about Hungarian wines yet, and want to discover them. Certainly, the majority of them are returning customer, which I am very happy about.
Best memories from a recent tasting: I gave a private tasting to a family that organized this as a birthday present for their father. They have a company in Hungary and in Belgium. They enjoyed the Hungarian wines so much, and discovered new great red wines as well. Also, they were blown away from some top Tokaji Aszú wines. We had a great afternoon, and I was very happy that it was received so well.
Customers want the “full picture”
– I have been to Belgium for many times, I always had great times tasting the incredible selection of Belgian beers… The competition must be hard, I guess the smaller group of wine drinkers choose French wines first or the cheaper new world wines. What can Hungary offer to win the Belgian winelovers? What are your top selling wine styles?
– True, the competition is crazy hard. If I exaggerate, I could say that you can buy French wines almost in every street of Belgium, and beers as well, of course. So, to be honest, the Hungarian wines will never win this battle against the French wines, but it’s also not needed. Lots of people here really search for something new, something different and good quality. I can’t compete with the prices of wines in the supermarket either, it is just impossible. However, my customers in general are not looking for that, they search for the “full picture”, a wine with a story, something special. I truly believe that Hungary can offer great wines, with unique stories, passionate winemakers and something different from the mainstream here in Belgium.
After the communism in Hungary, the wine industry is getting back from high quantity/low quality to really high quality wines, newest technologies, and passion! It’s great to see this evolution.
Difficult to say what my top selling wines are, but in summer the Hungarian rosés (like Sabar) do very well! The nice, full bodied complex red wines from Villány, Szekszárd (etc) are also amongst the top selling wines.
Tokaji wines are still a bit more difficult to convince people, but with a certain group of people they do very well, and they are also successful in gastronomy. Good to know, that some more famous wineries like GERE also sell very well here! Kopár, Solus – people taste them first in a top restaurant or during a holiday.
– You are visiting Budapest Wine Festival this week. Any concrete wines you are looking for?
– We have been regular visitors of Budapest Wine Festival for years, and we really love it. The atmosphere, the wonderful location, great people, great wines… Mainly I go there to meet the wineries I work with, to talk with them, taste their newest wines. Of course, it is similarly important to discover new wineries/wines. I’m not looking for any specific wine at the moment. But I am always open for new, interesting, good wines. Well, maybe one thing I am indeed looking for – it’s very difficult for me to find a really nice and full bodied red wine under 9 euro (selling price here in Belgium). Let’s say it’s not mandatory to have that, but it always comes in handy for events and restaurants. So, the search for that type of wine is still going on, but remains hard. Sometimes we must keep in mind that good Hungarian wines are not always “cheap”. That’s a misunderstanding here, people easily think “Oh, Hungarian wine will probably be good and cheap”. Well, the quality part is correct, but it certainly isn’t cheap in most cases. And that makes it sometime more difficult to sell to a certain part of our customers – most Belgian people don’t know the Hungarian wineries (yet) and then quickly choose a well known French name instead…
– If you imagine yourself in 5 years, what do you think Qwine will be like?
– Well, not easy to answer. Qwine is growing every year, for which I’m very grateful. I love doing it and it’s really a passion. In 5 years for example, I would love to have a bigger storing place for all my wines. Qwine started in my private garage at home, soon I had to rent a cellar, then it was too small as well and now I rent a nice place to store and sell the wines, where I can also meet the customers and show/explain the wines. But it is also getting too small now…
I would love to be – let’s say – “The” reference for Hungarian wines in Belgium. But I have a good relation with other importers as well, of course, which I think is also important. A good solution for transporting wines across Belgium is urgently needed – then I could work with more restaurants than I do now.