At a cafe in Melbourne's North Fitzroy, French wine importer Ludovic Deloche orders a pot of English breakfast tea. It’s only midday and, he says in a thick French accent, glancing at the menu from behind fashionable thick-rimmed specs, he has already consumed too much coffee that morning. There’s no wine list to peruse at this bakery and that’s a pity because Deloche’s knowledge of wines, French or otherwise, is surely something to be observed.
In 2007, Deloche, who now calls Australia home, started Halle aux Vins – a Melbourne-based business that imports premium French wines. And although you may not have heard of the company, there’s a good chance you’ve sampled a glass or a bottle of the boutique wine Deloche sources. Wines imported by Halle aux Vins can be found on the drinks lists of many of Melbourne and Sydney's best restaurants, including MoVida, Cutler & Co, Saint Crispin and Rockpool.
Francophiles would have come across Halle aux Vins wines at Melbourne's annual So Frenchy So Chic festival, which is debuting in Sydney this year. Deloche partnered with festival founder Jean-François Ponthieux when So Frenchy So Chic began, supplying the festival with a selection of French wine from a number of different provinces. This year, however, his wine offering will be very different, Deloche says.
“The whole idea for 2014 is to represent just one region from France and I wanted to connect people with Saint Mont, which is in the countryside of south west France,” he says. “It is a region where people embrace food, wine and joie de vivre.”
This well-worn French phrase also describes So Frenchy So Chic’s milieu. Featuring musicians Babylon Circus, Lilly Wood & The Prick and Féfé, fantastic French food and Deloche’s well-chosen wines – two whites, a rosé and a red rarely found in Australia – the one-day festival, held at St John's College in Camperdown, offers Sydneysiders a little slice of the best bits of France.
“I knew Jean-François wanted one day to set up this festival,” says Deloche. “I really wanted us to create this kind event – a nice French picnic with great music, food and wine.”
Deloche says the festival, with its focus on artisan produce and French music, is “perfect” for his business.
“I’m a tiny business, I don’t want to be everywhere, I just want to make sure the wine has a presence and is in a place were people can learn about French wine.”
Deloche’s knowledge comes from years of working with the French wine industry. More than 10 years ago, Deloche left his home in the Rhône Valley in France for London where he spent the next five years working for a French wine company.
But London’s fast pace eventually wore thin and the Australian friends Deloche met in London urged him to check out Melbourne.
“Everyone told me with my passion for wine and my passion for food – I would love Melbourne,” says Deloche. “I fell in love with this city.”
After moving here he quickly found work at Gertrude Street Enoteca, where he worked with James Broadway, wine connoisseur and Australia’s first representative of the slow food movement, and much-loved Australian chef Brigitte Hafner.
“It was a great experience for me because I learnt so much about Australian wine,” says Deloche. “We were doing wine dinners upstairs with lots of wine makers. It was a real experience when I arrived here, they pretty much became my family.”
A year later he started Halle aux Vins with Francoise and Lester Levinson. After spending six years managing the business, Deloche took it over entirely in mid-2013.
“It was a big challenge from the start to build up this portfolio,” he says. “My focus was introducing small wineries, small appellations to Melbourne, that was my first challenge. We started selling in Melbourne, Sydney and now we distribute to other parts of Australia.”
Deloche, who is now officially an Australian, travels back to France annually to meet with vintners, tour vineyards and sample the wares of wine producers large and small.
“I wanted to keep a connection with Europe and my culture, and this is the best way for me to live here – to go back to France for work and to see my friends and family,” he says. “I’m very close to the people I work with, so I love spending time with them in their vineyards, trying their wines.”
He spends the rest of his time travelling across Australia, introducing restaurateurs, sommeliers and select retailers to lesser-known wine producers from France. Deloche says wine drinkers in Melbourne and Sydney are always keen to try something new.
“What I love about Melbourne, and now more and more about Sydney, is the depth of knowledge about wine,” he says. “It’s what I love about Australia, the diversity of the wine people can have on the wine list. Australians love drinking European wine.”
So Frenchy So Chic is on Saturday January 18 from noon at St John's College, Camperdown.
The So Frenchy So Chic wine selection can be purchased online after the event.