Taking wine to the remotest pub on mainland Britain is wine merchant, Philippe Larue’s most challenging delivery. With no road leading to The Old Forge at Knoydart, access is by boat from Mallaig. ‘It’s like a military expedition,’ laughs Philippe of L’Art du Vin, Charlestown, Fife.
As France’s wine consumption continues to freefall it’s down to two Frenchmen, Philippe and his colleague Richard Bouglet, to meet the increasing demand from the Scots. Fortunately for Philippe he loves his adopted country: ‘Scotland has given me everything I could have wanted.’ He arrived here in 1996, after completing his marketing degree, and has gone from being a van driver for wine merchant Justerini & Brooks to founding his own company, L’Art du Vin.
None of this would have been possibile without the loyalty of friends and clients, says Philippe. Alex Bruce, whom he met while he was van driving offered him a job at wine merchant, Friarwood. Much later, in 2011, he invited him to escape the frazzled streets of Leith and share premises in Charlestown. There was a natural fit anyway – Alex Bruce bottles Adelphi whisky in Charlestown for export all over the world. The warehouse is on the estate of Alex Bruce’s father, Lord Elgin, who now doesn’t even need to leave the estate to buy wine and is a regular customer.
Another client and friend who has helped is David Austin, founder of Reubens Deli and brewer of de Brus Beer in Dunfermline. After Philippe’s wines won a blind tasting at Rocco Forte, David, who was their wine buyer at the time, added him to the Rocco Forte wine list.
Customers of L’Art du Vin read like a ‘best of Scottish food’ list and include The Seafood Restaurant in St Andrews (above), The Peat Inn, Andrew Fairlie, The Ship on the Shore, The Three Chimneys and Cafe Gandolfi (below). Philippe believes Charlestown is a great location for reaching restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh and he doesn’t miss the daily road rage that came with his Leith premises. In any case some of his clients are close by – The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry, The Unicorn in Kincardine, The Grouse & Claret in Kinross and, of course, Reubens.
Somewhat optimistically all his clients are currently changing to their summer wine lists, even though, as Philippe says with a wry smile, ‘It must be because the temperature has risen above 5 degrees’. While he may not be a fan of the Scottish weather there are other compensations – the ‘wonderful restaurants’ and golf – he is a member at Aberdour Golf Club – ‘I love golf but it doesn’t love me’.
Philippe’s big mission is to ‘persuade people to discover the “natural” taste of wine. It should taste of where it is from. Many of the large producers make wine to a recipe in a winery instead of making the wine in the vineyard close to where the grapes are grown.’
Philippe is also a big fan of screwcap over cork. ‘At the very start it was mediocre wines that had screwcaps but not in recent years. Wine is the only product you will buy without a guarantee of quality because it could be corked. And that seems mad when you think of all the hard work that has gone into making that bottle. Most of the time you don’t know where the tree bark has come from and it could have too much air in the cork. And when you already have a shortage of wine because 2012 was a terrible vintage then screwcap at least gives some guarantee of consistency.’
L’Art du Vin blend some wine themselves – Cannonberg from South Africa – and they make a financial contribution directly to a local creche (below) near the vineyard to support the costs of the teacher and the building.
Once a year L’Art du Vin hosts a large tasting event called ‘Meet the Producers’ for their private rather than trade customers. Held at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh the event has included cooking demonstrations by well-known chefs. In the past Tom Kitchin and Paul Wedgwood (below at the 2012 tasting) participated. Prices are £20 and £15 for an early bird ticket. The 2013 event will be on Sunday 24 November form 12 till 7pm.
If you can’t wait till November, you can go along to Charlestown where Valerie, who works with Philippe, will happily help you choose some red, white or rose.