By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 9 May 2020
Wine businesses have been forced to adapt to the ‘new normal’, but it must be particularly challenging for a new wine importer.
Just six months ago, 42 year old Severine Sloboda left her job as head sommelier of one of Glasgow’s leading restaurants to set up her own small wine importing business selling to restaurants, shops and bars across Scotland, with plans to open her own wine shop and café. She had gathered an interesting list of unusual wines from small independent winemakers from her native France, when the Covid-19 crisis put a stop to her plans.
“It is a tough situation, but I have had to adapt quickly”, says Sloboda. “Whilst working as a sommelier I had plenty of experience of adapting to situations with last minute cancellations and awkward customer requests”.
Her solution was to offer us fantastic wholesale prices during Lockdown on her range of wines which would usually have been sold to restaurants and try to expand to a new clientele with youtube videos. With warehouses full of wine to shift, other wine importers, such as Alexander Wines & Berkmanns Wine Cellars, have also started doing the same.
Sevslo Wine is named after her first and second names. On both her mother and father’s side, her great grandparents had emigrated from Slovakia and Czech Republic looking for a better life in France. Sloboda was born in the small wine growing region of Jasnieres in Loire, a little-known area which she plans to put on the map soon with a new Chenin Blanc imported from here, but it was her early years in Paris where Sloboda first developed her passion for wine.
“My mother was the first woman in France to run one of the Nicolas wine shops”, says Sloboda. “It was still very unusual at that time to have a young woman working alone in a Parisian wine shop. My mother used to let me taste different styles, starting with Champagne, to see which I preferred: my favourites were Billecart Salmon and Ruinart. When I was with friends in restaurants they always asked me what to drink”, says Sloboda.
After working in various Parisian shops and training with George Lepre, head sommelier at the Ritz and Grand Vefour – she became bored of Paris. She headed to London – where she got her first sommelier job at the opulent Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly Circus pouring Champagne for movie stars and English footballers. “I felt that I was not learning enough about wine, just about service, so I quickly moved on”, she says.
She gained sommelier experience at Bleeding Heart with John Hancock, in chef Richard Corrigan's restaurant in Mayfair, Adam Byatt's Trinity restaurant in Clapham and at Angelus with Thierry Tomasin, before heading to Scotland to work at La Garrigue in Edinburgh, Old Course Hotel in St Andrews and finally at The Gannet in Glasgow - before setting up her own importing business.
“I started with half a pallet of 300 bottles. My focus was initially on the Loire where I had grown up – and then to Burgundy, Beaujolais and Rhone – and my plan is now to expand my list further to Jura and even Mosel in Germany”.
Her focus is to work only with small independent non-industrial producers. “It is important to have consideration for the land. All the vignerons I work with take a responsible approach to their terroirs – from sustainable to natural non-interventionist agriculture – wines with a story to tell”, she says.
From the Loire she works with artisanal eco-friendly producers such as the young La Grange aux Belles domaine,in Coteaux de l’Aubance appellation, offering two very pure examples of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Her latest arrivals from Loire are an exciting range of ‘natural’ organic wines, including a trendy ‘Pet Nat’ from Sylvain Martinez, a tiny grower with just four hectares of vines in Thoureil in Anjou.
From Burgundy she imports Chardonnays from Jean Pascal in Puligny Montrachet and Domaine de Chamilly in Buxy – and Pinot Noir from Capitain Gagnerot in Ladoix. From Beaujolais she imports from Vins des Broyers, in Bordeaux Chateau La Roncheraie and in the southern Rhone, Le Clos du Caillou near Chateauneuf du Pape.
Sloboda loves “a proper terroir wine” – a wine that really represents the exact place it was grown. “I like to almost feel the soil and stone in the wine”, she says.
One of her favourite grapes is the Loire’s unusual Pineau d’Aunis, which she is looking forward to introducing soon to her customers. “I love the grape’s high acid, saltiness, pepperiness and mineral notes”.
Despite growing up in a classic wine producing region, she has no plans to return to live in her native France: “It is a privilege to be in Scotland with its space, easy-going people, natural beauty and its fantastic larder - and I feel so free here”.
Chalonnaise, Burgundy: GIVRY BLANC ‘EN CHOUE’ 2018 Domaine de Chamilly (13%)
£17.70 Sevslo Wine www.sevslowine.com
Pure citric fruit, honey and melon bouquet, initially steely and muscular on the palate, finishing with ripe sweet creamy undertones and a lovely long finish. Very classic unoaked Chardonnay made from 30 year old vines grown on calcareous clay. It should age well for another 4 years – ideal for serving with fish with light sauce, veal or pork.
Anjou, Loire: FRAGILE CHENIN BLANC 2018 La Grange aux Belles (13.5%)
£19 Sevslo Wine www.sevslowine.com
Honey & apricot bouquet with waxy undertones, tangy green apple fruit flavours, ripe mouthfilling fruit, deliciously creamy & textural from old barrel maturation. Good balance between minerality and pronounced acid on finish – perfect with spicy Asian laksa lemak, poultry or goats cheese.
Join Rose Murray Brown’s Interactive Virtual Tastings in the comfort of your own home: www.rosemurraybrown.com
In late June, Rose will be hosting two further virtual wine tastings on Small Grower Wines in association with Severine at Sevslo Wine.