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New tricks as pair start out in wine trade

Can simple enthusiasm, but a lack of experience, prevent you from joining the drinks industry? Proving that it is never too late to contemplate a change of career, two individuals with no professional background in wine have leveraged life-time interests in viniculture to set up an agency to import exclusive, quality French wines into the UK. James Graham reports

Chix Chandaria, a former Bollywood dancer, and Dan Roebuck, a former mining engineer, have formed Hix & Buck to “to import exclusive, quality wines from undiscovered vineyards in France.”

As a business start-up, they immediately scored a significant success when one of their exclusive sparkling wines, Brut Bosé Methode Traditionelle direct from the cellars of J & L Charlemagne in Angoulême, was chosen to be served to celebrities and diners from mid October 2009 on the fifth series of world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsey’s F Word television programme.

Chandaria, Hix & Buck’s commercial director, says: “As a start-up, being selected for the programme was a great achievement when the wine we put forward was selected.”

This dark salmon pink coloured wine is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay is a well-balanced sparkling Rosé, with hints of roasted hazelnut plum and sells for £10.99.

Her passion for wine had led her to study for her WSET (Wine & Spirit Educational Trust) qualifications and undertake several trips to France’s wine producing regions.

She was introduced to Mas d’Intras, a small, centuries-old, family-run estate in the Ardeche. The cousins who run the vineyard were keen to expand the business and export to the British market but faced a bureaucratic nightmare of regulatory and commercial red tape. She eventually struck an exclusive export deal with the family.

Hix & Buck is targeted at serving both the on- and off-trade as well as direct retail sales to individuals.

She says: “We are aiming our wines at the ‘sub-tenner’ market (under £10) as we are aware of the vital price points of consumers.” The agency’s main listings are below this figure: however, sparkling wines (Brut Rose method traditionelle and Sparkling XO method traditionelle) as well as a dessert wine (Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2001 50cl) are more expensive.

Digging deepLooking for business assistance, she approached successful businessmen Dan Roebuck to apply business skills to turn her passion into a viable enterprise.  Roebuck, a qualified mining engineer and Hix & Buck’s commercial manager, had already diverted his attentions to the wine business and had had advanced discussions with a Spanish wine company before Chandaria’s approach.

Their business model is to source wines from boutique French producers: “The company's ambition is [supply] unknown wines whilst offering great value,” she said.

Currently the company leases storage in a third-party bonded store. Since starting, the company has imported around 12 pallets of wine, each pallet accounting for around 50 to 60 cases: “In 2010 we hope to double our pallet volumes,” says Chandaria.

The company is looking to trade on Chandaria’s theatrical background and develop e revenue stream supplying niche theatrical and art world events as well as tackling the lucrative wedding venue circuit in the south east of England.

1 December 2009 - Felicity Murray