The Belgians love Hungarian grapes!
Importer of the Week: Guillaume Wijnen
Nicolas Van den Bogaert runs a paradise with his partner, Karine. The wine shop has a stunning green terrace, indeed a little piece of paradise where Belgians can taste as many as 15 different Furmint wines. And not only those, many more. For those, who are not friends with sweet wines, he created “on ice” – late harvest Tokaji sweet wines in a different format. Desecration? Not at all, if it works – and it worked. Guillaume Wijnen sells French and Hungarian wines: and guess which sells better?
Labels so far: Balassa (Tokaj), Barta (Tokaj), Bolyki (Eger), Gere Attila (Villány), MAD Wines (Tokaj), Pannonhalmi Apátsági Winery (Pannonhalma), St. Andrea (Eger), Szeremley (Badacsony), Takler (Szekszárd), Thummerer (Eger), Vylyan (Villány), Zsirai (Tokaj)
Nicolas Van den Bogaert
Lochtstraat, 2 te 3272 Testelt
Marketing career is nice, but there is something nicer
– It is easy to spot on your website that you have a great French wine selection, and there is this peculiar country besides those great regions like Burgundy, Loire or Bordeaux. How come? How did you start to get to be interested in Hungarian wines?
– The real start was during a visit to Budapest a few years ago. This fantastic city also provided us with an interesting wine experience and opened our interest forever. My parents had a beer and wine business and as a young boy I could always enjoy good wines on Sundays. My father did not hesitate to introduce us to wines from renowned houses. I liked to describe the wines and that’s how I contributed to their sales.
– What did you do before?
– After a career in marketing communication that offered beautiful, fun and sometimes hard experiences for 35 years, it was time to think about something new. In 2016, together with my partner Karine, who still teaches science but is also a great lover of good wines, I started the wine trade, shop, bar, webshop project.
We were well aware that the wine market in Belgium is already strongly developed. That is why we have chosen to look for an original proposition, a USP, in addition to the French wines, in order to stay outside the trodden paths of Italian, Spanish, South African and world wines. We had not forgotten our experience with Hungarian wines, on the contrary.
It would therefore become Hungarian wines in addition to French wines. Together we also obtained the diploma of sommelier.
– Who are your customers?
We mainly sell quality wines to private wine enthusiasts. In addition, we focus to a limited extent on the restaurants. In non-Covid times, we offer the customer a glass on our terrace or in our garden. A plus that is greatly appreciated. Of course, our webshop had a nice jump because of the Covid 19 lockdown.
The Belgians are open for Hungarian grapes!
– How do you select the wineries you work with? A lovely and complex selection indeed!
– We were able to put together our first range of Hungarian wines with a Hungarian–Belgian who helped us nicely. We also visit various wine fairs and festivals. VinCE, Budapest Wine Festival are two that we visit every year. Finally, we have also travelled a lot through different wine regions in Hungary. Our taste, appreciation for certain houses and wines has been shaped like this. Now we are constantly buying samples and choosing interesting wines that suit our taste.
We prefer to work with the native Hungarian grape varieties. Furmint, Hárslevelű, Juhfark, Kéknyelű, are fantastic grapes that offer unparalleled wines and flavors here in Belgium. Ditto with the red wines, although there is a nuance there.
– Your wine store functions as a wine bar as well. When your team offers Hungarian wine, how do the guests react?
– Our customers can discover our wines in the bar. The bar is also extended outside, allowing customers to taste Hungarian wines on a beautiful terrace and in a green intimate garden and gain specific information about Hungarian wines and its indigenous grape varieties. Customers are always surprised by the freshness and mineral character of Furmint, the complexity of Kéknyelű, the beautiful fullness and depth of Juhfark. Yes, there is a good response. Hungarian wines, for example, make up just over half of my sales.
15 different Furmint wines – what a playground!
– How about Tokaj? Does the average Belgian wine drinker have any knowledge about Tokaj?
– If customers already know anything about Hungarian wine, it is the sweet Tokaj wine. Some have heard of it or know it from previous experience. But, with an exception, knowledge of Hungarian wines does not go much further. But Tokaj has much more to offer. Since I am a big fan of Furmint and have a total of 15 Furmint wines from different wineries, I can taste the nuances. Customers find that exciting.
– The usual question: what about Tokaji Aszú? Can you sell it?
– Tokaji Aszú is fantastic, but remains an outsider. Sweet wines are less to the taste of the customers. Some customers obviously know the Aszú, but most say they are not fond of sweet wines. Very slowly I try to draw attention to it and if someone ever takes an Aszú, they think it is very good. But demand remains modest. This summer we served sweet Tokaji on ice. This was a success, both for the youth and for the older audience.
The universal warmth
– Do you have events?
– In the summer we organize a number of small musical evenings. This is much appreciated and attracts a lot of people to the wine bar. The music that is played is very varied every evening.
I must also emphasize that I experience the same universal warmth with the Hungarian winegrower as with French winegrowers. The warmth of the reception is as beautiful in Hungary as elsewhere. Wine brings out the good in man, that is universal.