It’s usually Jesus who gets all the credit for turning water into wine, but what about doing things in reverse? For my second Wine Chat I met up with the inspiring Chris Coles who’s trying to do just that for a very good cause. Chris’ UK-based company Vin2o sells two Bordeaux blends to the on-trade and supports efforts to bring clean water to vulnerable people around the world with the profits. Consumers benefit from a delicious 50% Merlot, 35% Cab Franc, 15% Cab Sauvignon red and a Sauvignon Blanc-dominant white, while the some of the world’s poorest get safe drinking water. I call that win, win!
Wine Culturist: What would be your desert island wine?
Chris Coles: This is a tough question. I drink all kind of wines and pick them to suit my mood and the occasion. This is part of the magic of wine for me. I guess that on a desert island I would be looking for a wine with utility. Something quaffable but also a great match with meaty fish, wild boar and, on a bad day, worms and grubs. I’m going to go with a well-structured rosé. I like Mas Amor by Franck Massard which would fit the bill.
Wine Culturist: Who/what inspires you?
Chris Coles: I really had to think about this which probably means that there isn’t a particular person. It’s fair to say there are all kinds of Social Enterprise businesses that inspired me to start Vin2o. Everything from Tom’s shoes, to the Big Issue to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. I genuinely think that thriving social businesses are good for society.
Wine Culturist: Tell me about a typical day in your life. (And when you have that all-important first glass of the day!)
Chris Coles: There is no typical day in my life, and that is why I love what I do. A good day would start with some exercise (an ambition I fail at more often than I succeed!) and end with supper and a glass of wine with my wife (again not the easiest thing to achieve with a business and young family). I would add that I really don’t like doing tastings in the morning, there are times when the first glass of the day is decidedly unwelcome!
Wine Culturist: Were you a big wine fan before you started Vin2o?
Chris Coles: I was a wine fan before starting Vin2o and I would only ever describe myself as a wine fan. I think that wine needs more fans and less experts. (Wine Culturist: Here, here!)
Wine Culturist: What were you doing pre-Vin2o?
Chris Coles: I think the polite description is portfolio career. I went to university, worked in advertising, and then was an Army officer for a few years. Following that I did a range of things from working as a peace monitor for the Red Cross to dull corporate jobs. I am very curious and a little too restless for my own good. It does mean that I have some good stories to tell, like the time I was a bouncer on Celebrity Big Brother! I think a lot of people think that they have a business inside them, and I decided the time was right to act on that impulse.
Wine Culturist: Where did the idea of mixing wine and water come from?
Chris Coles: I think that often ideas just kind of form and make sense, and this is what happened with Vin2o. There is the biblical story of “turning water into wine” and a lot of people make that link when they hear what we’re doing, but it wasn’t consciously part of the process of bringing the idea together.
Wine Culturist: How does Vin2o work?
Chris Coles: We sell wine and help to fund clean water projects. We believe in wine from smaller producers who really care about the craft of winemaking and who look after the environment. 100% of the profit of the business goes to fund clean water projects, and while we’re new and not making a profit we guarantee that at least 25p supports clean water. At the moment the projects we support are run by Frank Water, an award-winning water charity from Bristol which works with communities in India.
Wine Culturist: Does being a good corporate citizen affect the way you do business?
Chris Coles: Absolutely, funding clean water projects is the North star for the business. It guides what we do and informs a lot of decisions. The more successful the business is the more people we can help. Probably most important is that when I feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the challenge I have something to focus on and drive me forward.
Wine Culturist: You recently attended the London Wine Fair. Tell me about the stand-out moment/s.
Chris Coles: The London Wine Fair is a microcosm of the wine trade. There are small, passionate producers who make incredible wine, huge drinks businesses who want to create “fusion drinks” to capture “market-share”, and everything in between. I met some really great winemakers in the Wine Unearthed section. I also really enjoyed meeting Klaas Gort of Chateau Tulipe fame. (Wine Culturist: Read about his eccentric father who insured his nose for 5 million euros here) The Gorts are famous in Europe but virtually unknown in the UK. They were at the show, manning a stand, being humble and doing the “hard yards”. I was also really liked Nyetimber’s double decker bus. In terms of marketing execution it was pitch perfect and put every other stand, literally and figuratively, in the shade.
Wine Culturist: What’s been the biggest challenge on the Vin2o journey?
Chris Coles: The biggest challenge is finding your customers and getting your message out. There’s an idea that in the age of social media it’s simple to spread the word about what you’re up to, but it’s really not a simple as posting on Facebook and waiting for the world to come to you. That said, if you get it right, David can beat Goliath. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be David.
Wine Culturist: How did you choose the wines for Vin2o?
Chris Coles: When we started the project we didn’t have any fixed ideas about grape varietal or area. The criteria were that we had to work with real wine makers, who care about the craft of winemaking and look after the environment. We had an idea that the wine needed to approachable and easy to drink, and that it need to be at an accessible price point. We went out and found some producers and then did a tasting. If you’d have told me at the start of the process we’d end up with a Bordeaux producer I may not have believed you. (Wine Culturist: Vin2o sources their wines from the family-run Vignobles Toutigeac)
Wine Culturist: What is the future for Vin2o? Will you add more wines?
Chris Coles: Without a doubt. I have actually identified a couple of wines that I could move forward on, but I’ve put these on hold. Our first wine is called Beta because it’s a beta test and I am learning all the time. For example I am really proud of our packaging but it’s very on-trade focused and will require a tweak for retail. At this stage I think I need to live with the wine, and operate inside my market a little longer before I make my next move.
Wine Culturist:(fake German accent) Sounds Vinderful! So where can we buy Vin2o wines?
Chris Coles: They’re available in selected restaurants in Bristol or online from www.vin2o.co.uk.
Big thanks to the lovely Chris Coles for agreeing to Wine Chat with me, and what a fantastic business. It’s not everyday you get to see a reverse miracle in action!