Vin2o: Wine to Change the World
As winelovers, what could be better news than to hear about a way we can enjoy wine and make a real difference while we’re at it? Well you need to know about Chris Coles and his Vin2o project.
Vin2o imports and sells two Bordeaux wines in its Beta range and donates all of the profits to water aid charity Frank Water. At least 25p of every bottle sale goes to the charity, regardless of profit.
It joins Forty Hall Vineyard London as one of the UK’s first social enterprises in the wine trade, and is the first ever to focus on foreign aid.
I caught up with Chris to find out more about this wonderful idea and to taste his two launch wines. We met up in the Enterprise Sparks office just a short walk from Bristol Temple Meads train station. The office is a coworking hub with a real mix of startups and growing businesses operating in the UK and abroad.
One of the real joys of getting into wine are the incredible stories behind some of the brands, so the first question niggling away on my mind was: why water? Was there a personal connection?
‘At first, no,’ says Chris. ‘I wanted to set up a business and I wanted it to be a social enterprise. I was really interested in the idea of going into business for other reasons than making money.’
Chris has had a successful career with experience in an eclectic choice of careers from firefighting to business consultancy. He wants to start giving something back and helping in a big way.
1 in 10 don’t have access to clean water. It’s shameful.
‘I’ve always been keen on food and drink and I wanted a product I love. Like a lot of people I adore wine, and water and wine is such a natural connection to make, so it came together like that. Look into it and you’ll see that around 663 million people, 1 in 10 around the world, don’t have access to clean water. It’s shameful, it really is.
‘To me it made perfect sense to get involved with it. The great thing is you don’t need a lot of money to make a real difference. A modest amount like £5,000 would put a well into a local community, managed by the community, and relieve the burden of having to go out and find water every day, water that is often unsafe to drink.
‘When you relieve that sort of pressure, children can go to school and women can turn their focus to building an enterprise of their own. So the difference you can make is incredible.
‘It works out that around every dollar you invest in these projects returns four dollars back. So it’s something I really wanted to get involved in personally and Vin2o allows me to do that, to create real change.’
Chris pours a generous sample of the first wine, the white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. This classic Bordeaux white is from the region of Entre-Deux-Mers, between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne. It is produced by Chateau Toutigeac, which is managed by the young Oriane Mazeau.
‘I wanted a wine that was approachable and easy to drink,’ Chris explains as we swirl the wine around the glass. ‘The more we can sell and the more people who enjoy and drink the wine, the bigger the difference we can make and the more we can support a good cause.’
The Vin2o Beta Sauvignon blend is aromatically delightful. Its touch of Muscadelle brings white blossom and citrus to your nose, while the palette is like a leaner warm climate Sauvignon as opposed to other Bordeaux. Delicious citrus fruit and a stony, crisp finish. Very drinkable wine.
The red wine, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the right bank of Bordeaux, is just as quaffable. Bright, juicy and lighter than a lot of French claret you find nowadays, coming in at 12.5% alcohol as well. The red is also sourced from Chateau Toutigeac.
Putting the “Vin” into Vin2o
‘Chateau Toutigeac is now in the fifth generation of family tradition. Oriane and her younger brother Xavier are award-winning independent vignerons and they are very cool people. They’re cooler than I am!
‘When I originally sourced the wines I had no preconceived ideas about what they should be, but as a single operation I focused on the Old World as import is easier in the lovely EU. So it was always going to be wine from France, Spain or Italy, but beyond that I didn’t know.
‘You couldn’t really write this but when I posted the tender for what I was looking for on the Global Wine and Spirits website, Chateau Toutigeac were the first people to come back to me. We had lots of merchants and negociants offering different things but Toutigeac were one of only three who shared Vin2o’s values. They spend a lot of time and money on waste water recycling and do a lot to promote a biodiverse approach to vineyard management. So we have an ethos that comes all the way from the vineyard to the point of sale.
‘It’s worked really well working with them and they have a huge amount of infectious passion for their project. Ultimately what I’ve ended up with is something very French. I’ve got two Bordeaux wines and Vin2o as a brand.
‘One of the issues of that is Bordeaux wine is very polarising for consumers in Britain. You have people who swear by it but you also have people who avoid it because of the bad reputation cheap Claret has gained over the years.
‘So we’ve made sure the branding is clean, we’ve listed the blend of grape varieties (which you won’t see on a lot of French wine), and we’ve made sure the wine is approachable and great quality so we don’t disappoint. Toutigeac also only exports modestly to the UK itself, so the wine we have is pretty exclusive.’
Where next for Vin2o?
As Chris clearly has two great wines and a fantastic cause, what’s stopping him from growing, expanding his range and selling to new customers?
‘The wine was called “Beta” because it’s very much an experiment. We put it out there into the world and I’m learning more as we go. I envisage the wine as an on-trade, by-the-glass bottle of wine. It can sell in a restaurant, bar or hotel at a similar price to house wine, so that makes it really attractive.
‘The main stumbling block is we need to sell a lot of it to make the difference I want to make, to help the most people. So I’m looking to get the wine into chain restaurants where sales and supply is more reliable and allows us to really make the most difference.’
Why not off-trade in supermarkets?
‘We work closely with Toutigeac to make a high quality wine, which means by the time you think about the margins retailers want to get from their wines and the profit we want to make to pass on to Frank Water, the off-trade price is pushed just over £10. The reality is it’s hard to sell a new product to a supermarket when you look at that sort of price.
‘Part of where I’d like to go next is to look into the biodynamic side of wine making and the niche market there. While the product is less stable, the winemakers and their stories are fascinating, and the wine itself would fit brilliantly with the brand.
‘I’ve also thought about expanding the range with a sparkling wine or a rosé. You can see the logic of going there next to tick the categories but rosé in particular is a seasonable product, especially in the UK, so it’s niche, meaning there’s pressure again to sell enough of it to make the difference I’d love to see.’
Social Enterprise: the key to winning back the cocktail generation?
One of the more exciting markets for Vin2o is the next generation of drinkers. The wine trade is struggling to entice the “cocktail generation”, but Chris thinks social innovation is part of the solution.
‘I think the excitement young people show when it comes to social enterprise is fantastic. People’s interest in the environment, in helping other people, is amazing. So I think innovations like mine, even if it might not be my own, will start winning young people back. Tapping into that is really exciting.’
I love Vin2o and it’s easily one of the most exciting wine projects I’ve discovered. If you’re keen to find out more about Vin2o or get involved, visit the website and #drinkbetter.
You can see more about the Vin2o project in the video below: