Meet Trevor and Judith from Pacta Connect in Brighton Open Market
Trevor Long and Judith Burns are wine importers specialising in the niche market of Central and Eastern Europe, including north-east Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. They find wines made with minimal intervention by small independent producers. Their first retail venture is their wine shop at Brighton Open Market.
What do you do and how do you describe your job?
We are both directors but our jobs differ daily and each covers the day-to- day running of the business, from marketing to sales, dealing with the consumer and trade, customs, imports, everything. Today one of us may be the delivery boy, tomorrow we may both be at a food and drink fair or trade tasting event, or on stage at the Ideal Home Show educating an audience about Croatian or Turkish wine for instance. We cover everything from the tasting, buying, importing, to the selling. A lot of our job relates to research, constant research. Discovering someone and something new is all part of it, and that’s one of the most exciting things!
What is the best thing about your job?
2 things. Number 1 is our priority: meeting the general public. After all, whilst the trade may want to buy our wines they aren’t the ones drinking them. So meeting our end user, the person who buys, takes home and drinks our wines, is of paramount importance. They are the adventurers and followers of unusual wines like ours that we want to cultivate more and more, to take on the journey with us around Central and Eastern Europe. That gives us the biggest kick, especially when they come back to the shop and say, Right, Ive tried that grape, it was great. Where are we going next? They want to come with us and discover with us. We love doing tasting events for that reason too, whether its for a wine society or association, or a gaggle of friends wanting to learn about something different, unusual and unique. Making wine fun is incredibly important, and we always aim to take the snobbery out of it.
The second best thing is travelling to new places to find new winemakers and new wines – and that needs no explanation!
What is the most important tool of your trade?
Probably the fact that we have never done a WSET course between us! So we don’t base our wine knowledge fundamentally on France; it has allowed us to have completely open minds when it comes to wine. We have each been in business for 25 to 30 years. A lot of people get their WSETs, then think that that’s all they need to run a wine business. It isn’t, it really isn’t! We hear it all the time, Oh I’ve got my Level 2, now I’m going for Level 3. Extensive knowledge of business is far more important and by far the most important tool of our trade. It’s a bit like the music industry, it might sound sexy but its just a job, and its really hard work.
What is your most recent discovery?
Our latest winemaker from Moldova. We found him at an incredibly boring and highly corporate food fair in London, were still not sure why he was there or why we were there, so perhaps it was just fate! We met him, talked for a few minutes, tasted his wines and were knocked out. We went back an hour later just to make sure we hadn’t had a mad moment. They were as good, if not better. We talked and talked. Apparently, after we left he said to his wife, If there was only one reason we came to London it was purely to meet them! It was a huge mutual respect from the beginning. We are going to be fascinated to watch him and his wines grow, to see how his creative flair develops because we think he will definitely be one to watch in the future. We were one of the first to bring orange wines into the UK, and most people still haven’t got a clue what were talking about! We are finding more younger winemakers turning back to the older ways of production, using longer maceration times and that is exciting us too.
What is your favourite drink?
Trevor: Franco Cattunar Teran Barrique 2007. Franco is one of the truly great winemakers of Croatia, not just Istria. Hes been making wine for over 40 years. I have the greatest respect for him. Open this red wine and smell the tarmac! Its like a hot melting road in 40 degree heat. Wonderful powerful aromas. Decant it and just let it open. The next day, even 2 or 3 days later, it is still completely stunning, often even better. Its the perfect big red wine to go with a roast or some game, or Christmas rib of beef. Im salivating thinking about it!
Judith: Piquentum Malvazija. Despite his young age, Dimitri is an amazingly expert winemaker, Joe Wadsack [of BBCs Food and Drink] said hell likely end up the greatest winemaker in Croatia. I dont doubt it. This white wine is completely natural with a tad of skin contact (about 36 hours), and it changes in the glass. Its slightly vegetal, like an Autumn walk in a mossy wood. I dont really need to taste it, just smelling it is enough! Enjoy it with white truffle pasta.
Both: Any of our orange wines, which are all stunning!
What are your ambitions for the future?
To open more shops. Its the right direction for us. Everyone said we were mad to open a shop specialising in Central and Eastern Europe, but why? There are French and Italian specialist wine shops. We were way ahead of the pack when we started; we identified the niche in early 2000s; people thought we were mental then. Our local wine merchant said to us Does Croatia make wine?! Yes, it makes fantastic wine! So we’ll carry on finding winemakers that we trust, that keep improving and don’t cut corners; we’ve met plenty of them who have fallen by the wayside. Quality must always shine over quantity. Anyone can deal in cheap wine, but you need a nose for quality and the winemakers ideology must match.
We visit the wineries, take our time, get under their skin, see what makes them tick.
We also love leading gastronomic tours especially around Slovenia, Croatia, the northern Adriatic. Its such an unusual part of Europe; people don’t think its a gastronomic destination. We’ve blown people away visiting out-of- the-way tavernas in hilltop villages. We know where to go, and we avoid the tourist traps. Wed love to do more.
Which is your favourite restaurant in Brighton, Hove or Sussex and why?
We don’t have one. We have become so accustomed to wines with very low sulphite and chemical content we can’t drink what we call normal wine anymore! We get pretty bad headaches from pub and bar wines. So it’s quite difficult for us to find a wine list we can enjoy nowadays and a lot of the local restaurants get their wines from the same merchants so we tend to see the same wines appearing. As we find it hard to find anything that suits us, we usually just drink tap water which annoys a few restaurants! So it’s quite tough for us to really enjoy the whole dining out experience.
We also love cooking, and to be honest we prefer to try a brand new wine at home with something cooked especially to pair with it. It helps us with our tasting notes and we get to know the wine much better. But we love a few of the BYO places in Brighton, because we can experiment with a perfect combination: our wines and their food! And certain sommeliers will invite us and ask us to bring something from our cellar, so then they get to taste it too!
How did you get your job?
We created our jobs in wine, we didn’t “get” them. Trevor was in the music industry for 30 years, as a tour manager and manager of top bands around the world. He ran crews on several continents, sometimes at the same time (and before mobile phones!). Judith ran her own business and marketing service in Kemptown for 25 years called “The Home Office”. We found a gap in the wine industry that had never been tapped into, we spent 6 years researching it and then filled it. Jobs like this aren’t really ‘got’. Again, you can have all the diplomas in the world that say you know about wine, but you need specialised business experience (and great tastebuds – that’s Trevor’s department!).
We’ve met so many people who have gone into wine because they went abroad somewhere, tried a wine and decided it would be simple to bring it into the UK. Those days are long gone. And we never wanted to be just a general wine merchant, there are more than enough of them.
To specialise you need to understand the why, who, what and where, and most importantly, how.
The pre-production in our jobs took years. That’s business.