Luca Dusi, Passione Vino – Part 212th November 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Luca Dusi, Founder of Passione Vino, about wine, branding, design, trends, dogs, Italians and…too much for a single interview. Part 2 of 2.
Wine branding. How important is it and how good a job are people doing?
It’s extremely important. I argue with my producers regularly that the wine bottle is their business card; their label is like a handshake.
Wine packaging doesn’t need to be eye-catching though. It just needs to tell the story and share a link with the wine and the producer. Winemakers, in general, aren’t doing enough.
Craft beer seems to be influencing wine packaging. Where does that sit with you?
Beer is a recipe. You can make the same beer anywhere if you carry the recipe across; only the water changes. Wine can’t be as flash as a beer – winemakers are making the same wine in the same place for years, whereas a beer producer might change their recipe or work on a new style tomorrow.
And wine is just one harvest per year. Wine takes a long time to make and a long time to drink. That’s not the case with beer.
Who’s doing a great job at educating people on wine?
P Franco in this corner of town. They’re super clever with their rotating list of resident chefs. New recipes, new chefs, new stories, but to a similar style. It’s refreshing. I’m a bit jealous.
Luca has a great list. I love the Marksman. The team at Noble Rot are so clever – finding less popular vintages from top producers in order to give people a chance to try celebrated wines. You can’t drink a bad bottle of wine at Noble Rot and that is so rarely true of a place.
Fera in Mayfair has an incredible list, very selective and not for everyone, but I love it. Helene Darroze at the Connaught. They have one of the greatest cellars I’ve ever seen before Hide, a museum. And they have no budget, they just buy what they like.
Guest question here from Izzy at Polpo: If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I can’t make that decision. I’ll make enemies with this! I get asked this question a lot and I always answer – whatever wine you’re drinking next.
Are you looking for wines that reset your thinking?
I’m dying for that. I want to learn. I want to challenge what I know and be shocked. But it’s very rare.
How many times has that happened?
...twice? Not often.
What are we going to be drinking in 20 years that we don’t drink today? Georgia, China, New York State...
Wow. I can’t predict the future, but...I mean Georgia has ghettoised itself. Everything is brown and tannic and brutal – some are fantastic, but the style is difficult. It’s trendy here in East London to drink Seperari, but I don’t think that will convince other people.
Someone will make China relevant. A consultancy maybe. but they’d need to change the culture and turn it away from buying wine as a luxury item and start developing a style of terroir. I’d struggle to see it happening that soon.
Verona’s at the centre of one of the best wine growing regions in the world. Is it up there with Burgundy, Bordeaux, Mosel and Napa and the like?
Yeah, totally. Verona is split between 3 different blocks, each different: White wines to the east, like Soave. Red wines to the west, like Valpolicella. Then Bianco de Custoza, Lugana and Bardolino on the other side of the mountains. That’s the great strength of Italian wine: Myriad varieties and microclimates, especially around Verona.
Other regions, like Napa, have less diversity. One or two varietals, similar climates across the region. That’s it.
The design of Passione Vino, what was the thinking?
I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there. I wanted a wow factor, somewhere bold, somewhere that would attract attention.
The design took many bottles of wine, as you can imagine. It was myself and Toby Sanders, a Scottish friend of mine – a product designer, he helped me. We did weeks of research, Monday to Friday, finding anything that just attracted our attention. Anything. Then we’d meet at the end of the week over bottles of cloudy Prosecco and go through it all.
‘No, no, no, yes! Why yes? Ok, keep it there.’ Every week.
One day, I think it was the third week, Toby came in with a magazine – Elle Décor – and there was an advert about this guy, a fabric merchant, and his office was unbelievably beautiful.
His armchair was made from one fabric, his walls with another fabric and I just thought, wow. We gave that our spin, by using wallpaper – different mosaics to create this impression.
And on the next page, there was an advert for the wallpaper that we now have upstairs, made by this small producer called Ellie Cashman. She specialises in big, floral patterns. And when we saw it, we knew exactly what we were going to do: A mesh of flowers, wallpaper, big and bold colours. It’s provocative. It attracts people as they come past, even before they see the wines.
It speaks to the artisanal, agricultural side of winemaking. It ticked all the boxes for me.
That was important for you, in the same vein as we discussed with the design of the bottles; that it all ties together.
Exactly. The bottle is an extension of the producer. The wallpaper is an extension of me. If you come into Passione Vino and feel comfortable and the designs make you want to explore, then you’re in the right place.
We have pictures of all our winemakers on the wall. Opposite, these are some of the hats that the winemakers wore during their most recent harvest. Some of them are really sweaty – we had to leave them outside for about 10 days!
One evening, we had 4 ladies from the city in that had heard about us – we don’t advertise ourselves, so it’s a bit like a speakeasy in that you have to discover us, discover that we’re more than a wine shop – and I was explaining who the producers are. We ended up with the whole bar choosing wine based on the picture of the winemaker.
I don’t follow any trends. I don’t follow any fashion. I just react to the wine. In my brain, there’s a triangle of strong elements: The wine, the winemaker and the territory-winery m. The sum of the 3 has to make 100%, but none of them can outperform the others by more than 10-15% if that makes sense. Let me give you an example:
I can fall in love with a wine, maybe the producer is so-so, but the area is amazing, then boom. Done. But if the winemaker is a bit of an idiot and the wine is just OK, then it doesn’t matter how great the setting is.
Mind you, when I say an idiot, I just mean that we simply are going into different directions, and arguments would be inevitable…I don’t want to work with people that are one style today and different tomorrow. Being a winemaker It’s a way of life. And it all goes into the wine.
How does that translate to travelling winemakers? Are they at a disadvantage?
It’s not a disadvantage if you try to learn about the culture. The more you understand the territory, the better you can express it.
It’s not about someone from Trentino going to Napa and bringing back how to make barrique Chardonnay. It’s not about that. It’s about understanding the terroir and bringing back that knowledge to then enable enrich your understanding of your own terroir.
There are two types of winemaker, really: Those that make wine the way they know, and those that make wine for the market demand. Chefs are the same.
Why is it, in a city as grand and drunken as London, that nobody can buy a good bottle of wine after 10pm?
It’s a good question.
We’re supermarket driven I guess. That can’t help.
I think it’s more of a policy issue, not a cultural factor. London is so big and hard to navigate that people tend to finish work, and go straight into their evening out or straight back home.
It’s simply time and stress consuming people. London’s public transport is the most efficient in the world, yet stressful to deal with; rush hour, signal failure, overcrowded platforms, it all adds up.
Everything is so fast and so far.
Italian politics. Do we dare?
Oh fucking hell. To understand Italian politics, you have to understand the Italian mentality. Sometimes we say something and mean something else; it’s not straightforward.
It doesn’t matter which party or which ideology people have. Everyone is playing a game. The same games are played here, but there is no unity or loyalty in Italian politics.
Italy’s only 100-odd year’s old. That must play some part. It certainly does in the affection for regionality in food and drink it seems.
152 I think, but yes, absolutely. When people look at Italy, too often they just look at the headlines – Berlusconi for example. It’s like judging the royal family by looking at the achievements of Princess Margaret! You have to have lived there to understand it, truly.
How do you think Brexit will affect wine drinking in this company? A few more enemies at least huh? The 51.9% at least..
Leaving all the politics aside, the greatest difficulty would come if the pound sunk further against the Euro. Then we might be back to 2008. That was a real struggle. We were buying at £10 per bottle, for example, selling at £14 and then, by the time we had to pay the producer – which happens long after the initial commitment – we were paying £16.
That could be the most imminent, fierce effect. I don’t think the duty will change much, that’s a UK tax, beyond the regular increases.