Interview with Nicholas Corfe: Go Brazil Wines

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Nicholas’ wine business, Go Brazil Wines, was established in 2010 and is still the only company in the UK to import and distribute exclusively Brazilian wines.

Despite the many challenges that have been faced, he is determined that one day Brazilian wine will become as widely recognised and accepted as those from neighbouring Chile and Argentina.

According to Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade (MDIC), there were a growth of 83,7% in the value of Brazilian wine exported in 2014. It’s a respectful market that has The United Kingdom as the main destination to these products.

Midlands Trade: First of all, I’d like to know how did start your interest about wine.

Nicholas Corfe:  I’ve been wine tasting for at least 25 years. Drinking wine was a traditional thing in my family and as my father was a member of the well known Wine Society, a respected non-profit cooperative. We tasted different wines on a regular basis. That was pretty much the beginning of my interest in wines.

In addition, when I was living in London, I had a friend from South Africa who was studying to become a Master of Wine, the highest qualification available to those in the wine trade.  She introduced me to many different types of wine at that time, as well as teaching the discipline of tasting and evaluating wine correctly.

Together with a group of friends, we used to travel to some of the most important wine-producing countries but I knew it wasn’t enough reason to become involved in the wine business because I had another job at the time and the salaries being paid in the trade were only modest.

But I guess the turning point was when I was invited to a Cachaça tasting event at the Consulate of Brazil in London. I met a person involved in the Brazilian wine trade who subsequently became my business partner for some years.

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Midlands Trade: Talk about your company, Go Brazil Wines.

Nicholas Corfe: We’re the only British company specialised in importing Brazilian wines. There are a few other companies with Brazilian wine in their portfolio, but we are the only ones that work exclusively with Brazilian wines.

We also work with cachaça, but the demand for this is much smaller. Our supplier,  the cachaçaria Weber Haus, is a multi-award winning family producer from the Rio Grande do Sul region, the same state from where the majority of our wines are sourced.

We have over 60 different labels in our portfolio, including red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. They are sourced from twelve of Brazil´s best vineyards – but we continue to expand our portfolio with new products. I usually look for small scale, family-run producers that have an interesting heritage with some unusual points of differentiation.

A good example is the Sanjo cooperative, from the city of São Joaquim in Santa Catarina. They’re a Brazilian-Japanese supplier that produces wine in the coldest region of Brazil. Some people might think it couldn’t exist in Brazil. But yes, although apple production is their main business. They also produce some very interesting wines too. And theirs are the kind of products I like to present to my customers at Go Brazil Wines.

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Midlands Trade: Do you work with wine from which regions in Brazil?

Nicholas Corfe: Nearly all are from the South of Brazil. Mainly Rio Grande do Sul because it’s where 85% of fine wine is produced in Brazil. Also from the south, we offer wines from Santa Catarina.

The only exception is the Rio Sol brand that comes from an area which borders the states of Pernambuco and Bahia in the northeast of Brazil. This vineyard is situated in the Rio São Francisco river valley and is owned by a large Portuguese company.

Unusually, their wine is transported in tanks, leaving the port of Recife and arriving near Lisbon in Portugal, where it is bottled. This is an exception to the rule, because all the others wines which we import from Brazil are bottled at source.
We normally use the ports of Santos, Itajaí and Rio Grande, with an average journey time to the UK taking 19 days.

Of course, we still have to deal with all documentation afterwards (laugh). So in reality the complete journey time including delivery into our warehouse, is usually at least a week longer.

Midlands Trade: What are the challenges in the wine exporting business?

Nicholas Corfe: I haven´t yet mentioned it, but together with Go Brazil Wines, I am the director of another business, Varega Ltd., which provides consultancy for businesses that want to expand into European markets. Among other clients, we work with a Brazilian supplier of premium chocolates.

I would say that communication is everything in the importing business. You have to achieve certain outstanding communication skills to deal with your suppliers.

Also, cash flow is another important issue. It usually takes at least eight weeks between placing an order and receiving your goods. In the case of Brazil, where there are plenty of public holidays such as Carnival, it can take longer, so it’s important to plan your cash flow well in advance.

And last but not least, import taxes, duties on alcohol and all the associated regulations can be difficult to understand. Although complicated, you do however really need to master these if you plan to get involved with this type of business.

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Midlands Trade: Is the language knowledge also helpful? 

Nicholas Corfe: In my case, I can write and speak Portuguese, something that certainly facilitates my business transactions with Brazil – and of course it helps to opens doors as well. My wife (who is Brazilian) also helps me with documentation, for example.

Midlands Trade: And how is Brazilian wine seen here?

Nicholas Corfe: Its acceptance is almost always positive, even though expectations are perhaps not always very high. That’s exactly when I surprise my clients. They know about wine from Chile or Argentina, but I present Brazil to them as a highly industrialised country, with a highly productive agro sector and of course, a growing reputation for fine wines.
It`s a different view of Brazil that many of them will have. So certainly, the level of acceptance has high, even among professionals within the wine trade.
At Go Brazil we aim to challenge these pre-conceptions and demonstrate to a UK and European audience that not only does Brazil produce wine ( it has done so since the late 19th century ), but also that it can be rather good.

So, we encourage you to try and forget the stereotypes of tropical beaches, sun and samba. While they do of course exist, it is important to remember that Brazil’s huge landmass (which is 35 times bigger than the UK) accounts for 50% of South America, and boasts a multitude of climates and regional variations.

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Midlands Trade:  What would be your advice for those who want to start making business with Brazil?

Nicholas Corfe: Try to understand your supplier before starting to import (or export) from Brazil because if something goes wrong, it’s pretty complicated to renegotiate. There are always ups and downs in the business, so it`s imperative to be prepared, especially because we are dealing with a totally different culture.

Life in Brazil is very different from life in the UK. The best thing to do is be patient and try to accept the many differences, and at the same time always show a willingness to be flexible.

Midlands Trade: What about the plans and projects this year. Is there anything new that Go Brazil Wines would share with us?

Nicholas Corfe: Besides launching a new selection of Malbec and other wines, we are also investing more in social media to keep the public informed about our products.

In addition, we will be promoting our wine tours to the vineyards of southern Brazil. These Go Brazil tours are offered in partnership with Bespoke Brazil, a UK specialist in travel to Brazil.

About Nicholas Corfe:
gobrazil4After graduating in Spanish and Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, (Nicholas) worked initially in the City of London before venturing into the world of industry and commerce.

He was subsequently employed in a number of export roles, working with products as diverse as jewellery, Aberdeen Angus beef and ammunition.

It was at the imaging division of ICI plc  – previously the UK’s largest company, sadly now no longer in existence – that he met his now business partner Alexis, a Frenchman from Bordeaux.

For the last ten years they have together run a successful consultancy business, Varega Ltd., that advises and represents companies wishing to launch their products into European markets. Among their current clients is a Brazilian exporter of fine dark chocolate, branded ‘Q’, whose products can be found on the shelves of Selfridges and Fortnum and Masons.

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I'm a Brazilian journalist based in West Midlands. In Brazil, I have worked with International Trade and Logistics publications. Now in the UK, I keep writing and I dedicate myself to a new project : Midlands Trade - a blog focused on business in Europe and Brazil. It's also supporting small businesses throughout the #MeetTheBusiness.

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