Mr Guillaume Pace
Eiffel Markets Pte. Ltd.
【Put ‘culture’ back into ‘agriculture’】
Respect Nature, I think has become the 21st-century priority. There is no doubt that we are at a turning point in History and the decisions we make today will have a huge impact on future generations.
We can no longer ignore the environmental impact of our way of life and resume business as usual. There is definitely something more meaningful to do with our lifetime.
Why have you started Wine industry business?
I have been drinking wine for 20 years but learned the professional side of it only when I joined a wine business in 2012 in Singapore.
A year later, I met a French couple, who had very much aligned vision and understanding of what a good wine should be. They had good relationships with winemakers in France and wanted to import and distribute their products in Singapore, prioritising small winegrowers who respect the environment and the consumers.
I already had an existing network of Food and Beverage professionals here, so I joined them to develop their new business. 5 years later, we are still around, just the three of us.
The first time was in 2002, and the 2nd time I started to live here from 2010. However, I remember even around 2010 drink wine was not so typical for all. Top of that, no many Singaporeans were drinkings alcohol.
I believe that in the early 2000s more expats came to Singapore and the demand for wine rose consequently. Today, they are not only drinking Wine but also Beer, Whisky, Spirits and Sake from Japan. There is a lot more offer and new things are happening in the Singapore market, almost daily, even compared to a few years ago, it is changing fast.
Overall consumption of alcohol is growing, we estimate 1 million people are buying wine regularly and Singapore market should reach 300 million dollars annually.
Yes, a lot of people started to enjoy alcohol in here. However, I still felt “Organic wine" is not much known.
Yes, it is funny, you know because people have been making organic wine for 10,000 years actually. It’s only after World War II, that farmers started using pesticides, weedkiller, NPK fertilisers, all sort of agrochemical products, what we called “The Green Revolution” at that time. No need to work so hard anymore, we could just use machines and chemicals to raise productivity.
3 generations later, we have seen the shortcomings of rationalization and standardization, unfortunately, the ecosystems in Western Europe are on the verge of collapse, the soils are destroyed, the rivers are polluted, the bugs and birds are disappearing, there is no biodiversity. Monoculture has killed it.
Now people realised that nature cannot be controlled, small farmers are going back to sustainable practices, and consumers are seeking organic, natural products.
It is a very recent phenomenon since 2010 maybe? Now in France, the organic wine market is growing 17% year-on-year. More people are willing to buy and drink organic wine than organic winemakers produce in a year. There is more demand than supply actually.
When we started “EIFFEL MARKETS” in 2013, only a few people knew what organic wine is. So we dedicated a lot of time and effort to educate the market, organize wine tasting and wine dinner regularly. We chose to focus on organic wine since day 1, most of our portfolio is certified organic or biodynamic. 5 years later, we see a lot more choices available and natural wine bars and wine lists in restaurants, which was unthinkable before.
There is definitely more competition today, which is good for consumers but tough for importers, quality goes up, and prices go down, margins are shrinking and it is a bit difficult for us to be honest... anyway, it is a healthy trend. The market is going in the right direction. I believe there is no future for agriculture outside organic farming.
Is there more place to serve organic wine?
1 or 2 years ago, natural wine bar like "Wine RVLT" and " Le Bon Funk" opened in Singapore. There is a dedicated organic wine market which entrepreneurs could not consider or imagine ten years ago. Many wine importers have organic, biodynamic and natural wines available now.
Since many people had not recognised so far, I imagined it was hard to start your wine business here.
When we started in 2013, you know what surprised me the most? Lots of customers worry about organic products. They couldn’t believe it was good wine and thought it would have flaws, like being fizzy, murky, smell like barnyards or have volatile acidity like vinegar. They were so accustomed to industrial wine which is pasteurized, filtered, stabilized, and contain usually a lot of additives that their taste buds were probably numbed.
For me, "organic" was intuitively something better. Good grapes make good wines. No need to add cosmetic products. It is true that organic wine is more fragile and less stable than standardized one, it is a living product and it continues to evolve over time, but is also fruitier, more vibrant, rich and complex. It truly expresses the grapes, soil and climate where it is from. That is real, authentic wine.
The overwhelming response when a customer tries organic wine, they like it. Organic wine is easier to drink, and as long as you drink with moderation, there is no headache, no gastric burns, no hangover the day after. It is just a better quality.
From the beginning, we keep having positive feedback. We know we are on the right path and doing the right thing because people keep telling us that “our wines are better quality price” than what they had in the past.
I heard that you have many individual customers, as well. Could you please tell me how did you set up that opportunity?
The best way to find new customers is to organize wine tastings. We are not selling brands and don’t really care about mass media. We spend all our marketing efforts into opening bottles of wine and putting them in front of potential customers.
Direct marketing is quite simple actually. I can talk for one hour and try to convince you why you should buy this or that, but a glass of wine is worth a thousand words. I can only explain where the wine is from and how it is made. Eventually, you will have to open a bottle, pour wine in a glass, enjoy its color and aromas, taste it, and decide whether you like it or not.
Usually, they do like it. Organic wine tastes better because organic fruits taste better. Take the opposite case, for example, GMO, seedless grapes, full of pesticides and fertilizers, squeeze them to extract the juice and let it ferment, how good can it be?
You said that 'sustainable' is essential. I guess the same in business. Usually, when People starts a business, often invest much money on advertisements. However, it seems you are business style is the opposite way. What do you think about this?
We are a small company with only three people. We only import wine from France to supply restaurants and private clients in Singapore. We are facing multinational companies that produce millions of bottles and generate multimillion-dollar sales around the world. The wine industry is a big business. We are not fighting in the same category as those heavyweights. Big companies do business with big corporations, they are in supermarkets and DFS shops all around the world, they supply airlines and big Hotels and Restaurants chains, they sign exclusivity contracts in exchange for wine fridges, wine glasses, coasters, corkscrews, buckets, bottles free of charge, cash incentives, etc... We are a small business working with small producers and supplying wine to small businesses. It is a different job scope entirely.
To give you an example, we have an excellent sparkling wine, “ Clos des Quarterons Cremant de Loire” they make only 5,000 bottles a year...
It is very limited.
It's microscopic. Not everyone can try this wine, it is not available around the world. It's impossible to find unless you go to visit the winery and talk to the winemaker directly, convince him that you understand his product, that you will deal with it carefully and send it to people who understand and appreciate its quality.
Meanwhile, the largest sparkling winemaker produces maybe 60 million bottles of sparkling wine a year? That is 12,000 times bigger.
Imagine me walking around, knocking at the door of restaurants in Singapore and opening 1 or 2 bottles of sparkling wine for tasting with the Sommelier. In the same time, this multinational company has an entire sales team working here, that will give away 100 bottles for sampling in the same time. And they will do the same in every other country.
The irony is that they spend a lot of money to convince people that their products are rare and limited, almost like a luxury item, something high quality, exclusive, reserved for the elite and the most discerning buyers, but in reality, it is everywhere, in supermarkets, restaurants and wine shops all around the world, it is a prestige product for the mass markets, what advertisers call “masstige”. The more marketing they do, the more expensive it gets, the more marketing they need to do, and as all the marketing costs are included into their pricing, you end up paying at least 50% more than what is in the bottle. You are not paying for wine anymore, you are buying prestige, dream, luxury, etc...
I don't even try to compete with these guys, we focus on sourcing high-quality wines, which are really hard to find and very limited, often underrated and undervalued, and we navigate under the radar, which enables us to offer better value for money. The best quality at the best price, that is our differentiation factor. Very simple yet effective, down to earth marketing strategy.
Even in that sense, I think your business philosophy is real "organic". I believe that it is fascinating.
Yes, we are not only selling wine, we are also looking at the environmental impact of our activity. The wine must be good but it must also help to mitigate climate change, preserve the soil fertility and water reserves. It must encourage wildlife and biodiversity in the vineyards. Planting more trees, building stone walls, or digging ponds will attract birds, bats, frogs, lizards and rodents for example.
Once you have organic grapes, the way you turn the grapes into wine must be clean as well. Winemaking must be as natural as possible, without technology or additives. There is a big difference between industrial and artisanal winemaking. Again, like everything else, quantity and quality usually go in the opposite direction. Hence, our focus on small, artisanal producers. A supermarket chain is looking for volume and consistency, they will overlook a small wine producer because they don’t want to risk running out of stock. For us, it is the opposite, we want to give more visibility to those artisans. And let people have a chance to try their wines.
Thus said, the transportation is still an unresolved issue.
When you are carrying goods around the world, you have to wonder what's the carbon footprint of these trucks, ships and aircraft. There is an organic certification in Switzerland that prohibits the use of airfreight for example. So do we. But, it is practically complicated. I don't see people changing their way of life radically in the near future. I hope that engineers will find a way to improve the efficiency of transporting goods sooner than later.
This kind of education we need more. However, I think Singapore is shifting to Organic, not only the wine but also Lifestyle.
A little bit yes. I don’t think Singapore is going to promote organic wines anytime soon, because of the health implications of drinking alcohol, however, you can already see now, they are limiting the number of cars in circulation; there are more organic fruits and vegetables in supermarkets, and modern buildings design are environmentally friendly.
Everyone understands now that we need to do something for the environment. We have had the “COP21” in Paris recently, and the “World Summit Council” where decisions makers get together to think about the future sustainably.
I try to do my part; even if it is on a tiny scale. I try to educate the market, not only push wine. I take every opportunity to explain how wine can be made, either with a machine and agrochemicals or with cow manure and horsepower. How these processes will affect the environment, the people living and working on the farms, and the consumer’s health of course.
This is one of the reasons I created the “Organic Wine Community” on Facebook, a group to share information and knowledge, not advertising.
Through the wine, we can know that far. Many people like wine. So it would be helpful to all of us to have such knowledge.
I didn’t know much about agriculture when I began, so I had to learn about plant nutrition, soil microbiology, farming methods and sustainability. We live in a fantastic era with so many resources available online, I keep learning new things every day. I think that education is a big part of what I do. Most of the people I talk to have no idea of what is going on in a farm and how the plants and animals they are eating every day are raised or produced. To me, this is really, basic, fundamental knowledge that we should teach every child in school.
I began to be conscious of organic, and found Japanese "Kimura’s methods (natural farming method)". Mr Akinori Kimura became the first modern farmer who cultivated apples without using pesticides and fertilisers. "Natural farming is similar biodynamics. The name of Mr Masanobu Fukuoka may be better known in the world. Thanks to their achievements, sustainable agriculture is being reviewed in Japan as well. I hope to expand more.
Yes! “Nothing added, nothing taken, let Nature do its thing. Or let’s promote biodiversity." Encourage bacterias, fungus, earthworms, bugs and birds to come and leave, seasonally. It's very different from conventional farming which means industrial in polite terms.
“The Green Revolution” has done a lot of damage, weedkiller leads to naked soil and erosion, fertilizers and irrigation lead to mineralisation, while pesticides are poisoning the animals and the people living on and around the farm. In less than 3 generations, we have transformed fertile agricultural lands into deserts. It's a catastrophe.
When you look at mother nature, on the other hand, forests have been growing for millions of years. Nobody is around to cut the trees or pick up leaves. Nobody put fertiliser in the forest but trees are still growing up. When the trees or leaves fall on the ground, they are broken down into small pieces by crawling insects that can digest the hard fibres in wood, their excrements and the leftover small pieces of fibres are then feeding a fungus, the mycorrhiza, which is going to provide nutrients for bacteria to grow, bacteria that will help the plants absorb minerals available in the soil, and the cycle will repeat itself and continue forever. We can see through this symbiotic relationship the complexity of life. I maybe not the right person to talk about soil chemistry, as I am not a scientist, but I reckon it is about time we put ‘culture’ back into ‘agriculture’. Nature is like a book, we need to read it if we want to live on this planet.
We are also in this natural cycle.
The former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon famously said: “There is no plan B for climate change because there is no planet B.” We are in a dead end now and it doesn’t matter if we slow down, we are still going to hit the wall, in 20, 50 or 100 years. We need to reverse and change drastically our direction, our way of living.
What makes so curious about these things?
I have always been curious. I went to Sorbonne University in France and learned how to learn. If you do not understand something, raise your hand. Never assume, always ask. People are easily shy and afraid to ask, especially adults. However, even if you ask a silly question, you only look foolish 30 seconds. If you don't ask, you will look stupid all your life.
Since childhood, were you such a feeling?
Yes of course. When I am curious about something, I start digging. The more you know about something, the more interesting it gets. It is like a circle. Imagine you are at the centre and the frontier with the unknown is small, to begin with. As you know more, the perimeter with the unknown grows bigger. The more you know, the more you don’t know, haha!
It is applicable not only to wine but also to any subject — philosophy, History, Geography, Science, Sports, Nutrition, Arts, and so on. We should be more interested in the living world.
I agree with you. We are not just selling goods. The goods have made with many people involved. Moreover, those people have many knowledge and philosophy of each people lives.
Those people have “ Passion” for what they do. Similarly, I am passionate about wine.
Wine is amazing, it is a civilization product spanning over 10,000 years. The world of wine is broad and deep, it has a rich and long history, it requires some geological and meteorological understanding, it requires both the knowledge of viticulture and winemaking, it is a lifelong journey, a never-ending story. One keeps learning new things every day. It can be intimidating, but it is never boring! I remember when I was in high school, History class was boring, but when I read about Wine History and Geography I learned a lot more about my own country, it is much more fun and practical this way. Plus I am getting paid for it. Perhaps we need to revise our Education System?
Now looking back on life, why you think you are doing this in here now?
I spent the first 25 years of my life in Paris. I got bored. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in France. There are so many countries I want to visit, so many places I want to see.
When we were on holidays, we usually went to the countryside, and I just travelled inside France with my family. It is beautiful but limited.
After 25 years, I become an adult, I could do my own thing, I wanted to decide and take responsibility for myself. So I decided to leave my country and go overseas, to see the world.
I left Paris in 2006 for a 3 months internship with the Alliance Française in Bangkok. I liked it so much I actually stayed 4 years in Thailand. I started to travel around South East Asia, and those experiences made my eyes wide open.
So your first trip outside Europe was in Thailand?
Yes, I sent job application on every continent and received a few offers from Australia, Vanuatu and Thailand. I was just 25 years old, I didn’t have much money, obviously, and the cost of living was much cheaper in Thailand. So here I come!
Then after few years spend in Thailand. However, you didn't back to France and came to Singapore?
After four years, I decided to move on and found a better job opportunity in Singapore. Eight years later, I am still here and never went back to France actually; I never looked back. I don't want to go back where I come from. It would feel like a regression, I can clearly imagine the same people hanging around the same places. France doesn’t really change, it's like frozen in time for me. People are gloomy and cling to their past, they are not moving forward like people in Asia. Here everything's happening so fast. Time flies.
Yes, I can understand that feeling.
There is definitely more energy in Asia, people are younger and optimistic. It is the right place to be now for a career. Especially in Singapore.
I want to ask about your business management again. It's a bit old and new. I think people reading this interview may be interested — especially people who want to start a business.
Just to clarify, Eiffel Markets was established in April 2013 by Delphine and Frederic, a French couple living in Singapore, and I joined them in July of the same year. I already had experience selling wine here, while they had good relationships with winemakers in France. So we helped each other.
There were already plenty of wine importers in Singapore. Usually, French wine importers focus on Fine and Rare wines, collectables, super expensive Bordeaux and Burgundies, where they earn high margins, but very often, people complain about the price of French wines in Singapore. On the other hand, you find all the supermarkets and wholesalers who focus on volume instead, commodity wines, low price and low quality. It doesn’t really matter where it is from or how it is made, as long as you save 2 or 3 dollars per bottle... Obviously, we needed to do things differently, and our personal convictions led us to import only boutique French wines elaborated by small family wineries who respect the environment, it is a win-win situation because they usually propose high-quality wines at low prices. Everybody is happy.
I see. How small are these wineries?
They are independent and family owned. They don’t do as much marketing as the big groups, so we don’t ask them for samples or marketing materials, we only need good wines at good prices.
In France, and probably the rest of the world, you can divide the wine producers into three categories:
a) Winegrowers, who own the land and produce wines only from the grapes growing on their property. b) Cooperatives, an organization of small growers who get together to share the cost of all the equipment to elaborate wine and split the benefits. c) Negociants who grow their own grapes but also buy grapes or wines already made from their village, region, or an entire country, to market under their brands.
We chose to work only with Winegrowers, the first category. “Typicity & Diversity” are two keywords behind what we call “Terroir” in French, a sense of place. This unique combination of grape, soil, and climate, that you can’t find anywhere else. We are not marketing generic grapes varieties like Sauvignon blanc or Syrah, for example, because depending on where it is from, the wines will be very different. French wine is labelled according to its geographic origin, Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire Valley, Rhone Valley, South West... it is more representative of the wine style than the grapes.
For instance, the most expensive wines in the world, come from the village of Vosne-Romanee in Burgundy. If I remember correctly, one bottle of Romanee Conti 1945 hit a record-smashing 558,000 US dollars at an auction held at Sotheby’s in New York in October 2018.
All Burgundy reds are made with Pinot Noir and whites with Chardonnay, but depending on the Village of origin, the topography of the vineyard, if it is located on this side of the road, on top of the hill or mid-slope, depending on the soil composition, the amount of water and sunshine it receives in a year, the vines will produce very different grapes and command very different prices. When you have the right combination of soil, climate, water, sun, and good viticultural practice, you can produce the most exquisite wine and will certainly not blend it with others. For this reason, wine is difficult to understand. A good way to start is to look at a map in fact.
France has various climates, North, South, East and West, cool and warm, dry and wet, so it is possible to make every kind of wine. Sparkling, Dry, Sweet, White, Red, Light Bodied, Full
Bodied... We have the benchmark for quality for every wine style and, still today, people come from all around the world to meet our winemakers and learn from the masters.
Good in three directions (Benefit the buyer, the seller also society as a whole) in Japan call “Sanpo-Yoshi”. So I would like more question regarding this, What makes you believe and do this manner?
I believe most people choose to work in the Food and Beverage industry because of personal interest, a passion. It is not for the money. If your priority is to earn big bucks, it is a much better idea to work in Finance, Oil and Gas, or IT.
Personally, I try to do what I believe is "Right". Right for the environment, right for the people working on the vineyards and right for the consumers. If I can make a living out of it, that’s even better.
If we have a seed that makes one fruit in own life. What do you think is growing up what you are?
There must be a reason why we are on this planet. I am still trying to figure it out. Keeping an open mind and being curious about the world around us. In the future, I will probably go beyond the wine business and do something more for the environment. Respect Nature, I think has become the 21st-century priority. There is no doubt that we are at a turning point in History and the decisions we make today will have a huge impact on future generations. We can no longer ignore the environmental impact of our way of life and resume business as usual. There is definitely something more meaningful to do with our lifetime.
Your curiosity has continued to expand your world. So even more, will open a bigger door. If you give a message to the next generation, who want to a challenge and discover something, What would you like to give for advice?
“Vote with your wallet.”
We decide today the world we want to live in tomorrow. You can’t trust the lawmakers or the big business to change by themselves. We need to tell them. If you have $10 in your pocket, you decide whether you are going to buy heavily processed food, full of artificial flavours and chemicals residues, plastic wrapped, or if, on the contrary, you choose to buy wholefood, natural and organic with biodegradable packaging. Maybe it costs $2 or $3 dollars more, but as long as it doesn’t cost 2 or 3 times more, I am ok with that. In the long term, if we do nothing, it will cost us a lot more.
The industrials are not stupid. If their products stay on the shelves because nobody wants to buy it, while the eco-friendly, sustainable products are selling well, what do you think they will do tomorrow? Convert everything to organic farming. We can altogether drive the market and change the world. Stop blaming others. Take your responsibility. It is your choice.
I know that I am not perfect. But I am trying to get better every day. Step by Step. I am getting closer to my goal and render service to others people in the process.
Very much Indeed and It is a powerful message. Now, this is the last question. Are there any plans to expand the business in other countries, such as Japan?
My wife is Japanese. I wish I had more time to visit her beautiful country and see “KOYO” (Autumn Leaves). Unfortunately, it is not going to happen this year. I love Singapore but is a small country, if we want to have a bigger impact on society, we need to scale it up, Japan would be a good place to start. Perhaps in 2019?