All the photos in this article are ones that I took, which is not always the case. This one makes me think of Claude Monet.
Paris, the city in which I live most of the time, boasts many specialist wine & spirit shops, both as members of chains (Nicolas and the more up-market Repaire de Bacchus and their excellent selection, for example) and as independents with just one or sometimes 2 stores. Quite a few of these also offer other services, such as light food at meal times, of the wine bar or tapas kind. I started my career in wine back in 1983/86 working for three years in two different wine shops in this city, and it was an excellent experience. As a result, at least partially, I have great sympathy for this profession and the way it operates on the whole.
I have chosen for this article to visit and write about a recently opened shop, called Dis Vins, rather than select a well-established institution, of which this city naturally has a few. This is because this shop can be said to be part of an current upward trend that consists of people who previously worked in other fields or professions are converting to the wine trade and, in some cases, opening wine shops. I have encountered a number of such people in the WSET courses that I teach as part of my professional activities. In this case, the owner is not one of my pupils, but a young man called Thomas Bravo Mazza (see photo above) who worked for 13 years as a wine journalist for France’s number one wine magazine, and also as a maker of documentary films before deciding to open this shop in the centre of Paris in 2017.
Dis Vins, 25 Rue Herold, 75001 Paris founder/owner : Thomas Bravo Mazza founded 2017 employees : 1 plus himself (and his wife who designed the shop) listings : 250, 90% French wine colours : about 50/5O white to red (and just 4 rosés) wine types : 25 sparklings few of them from Champagne, not too many Bordeaux either. 20 sweet or fortifieds, 40 spirits, no "craft" beers yet but this will change soon. other produce : some carefully selected foodstuffs (canned and bottled, plus the shop is a depot for a local fresh produce operation called Comptoir Urbain) other services : simple food (charcuterie and cheese mainly) at meal times, themed tastings with producers, reading area with books.
But beyond bare facts, which only tell a small part of the story (let’s call this the skeleton of a body), we need to know more about the spirit of the place and the person behind it (we can call this the tissue, the sinews and the blood of the the same body). The shop is quite small but seems spacious, not over-cluttered but well organized. It is narrow and deep, with a reading and relaxing space at the back where Thomas holds some of his tasting sessions, and where customers can also just relax, read and share a bottle. One feels at ease here and encourage to browse the shelves. I alsoI especially liked the way he presents some of his wines with little cards that say things like » 3 wines for making love », or « 3 wines that Miles Davis would have liked ».
Questions and answers
What prompted you to start this shop Thomas?
A series of un-calculated events, but essentially the desire to share my love of wine directly with people. There is also a sort of continuum from my previous life as a wine journalist who specialized in wine tourism.
What has changed in the wines available for you and your customers over recent years?
There is far more diversity out there now and this goes with a more open-minded approach on behalf of customers. New generations of wine producers have travelled, are not afraid to experiment, and also quality has improved all across the board.
What is the overall profile of your clientèle?
50/50 male/female in this shop. I cannot say whether this has changed over the years as I only opened one year ago!
Do consumers need advice when they come to you?
Yes, mostly. I think of myself rather as a mountain guide who shows a path up the mountain and ties on ropes when necessary. Also as a doctor, as listening to the « patient » is an essential part of my job.
And about what do they ask you most often?
About the taste, and also about what kinds of food go best with the wines they are considering.
Do you suffer from competition from supermarkets and the like?
Not at all. For a start the clientele is not the same and the offer from supermarkets in this area is minimal and not very interesting. And I also sell wines which are both inexpensive and good!
Thomas shows us one of his current best-selling wines: a Pinot Noir from the French part of the Moselle.
So, tell us which wines sell best in your shop and why?
It comes and goes with the listings that change and with the seasons but, at the moment, my best sellers are three very different wines: Jacky Blot’s Triple Zero (a sparkling wine from Montlouis in the Loire), Les Hautes Bassières, a wine from the French Moselle region, and N vers le Nord from Mas Amiel, in the Roussillon. They sell on their merits, as well as because I like them and they fit different profiles.
And another top seller, this wonderful red from Mas Amiel in the Roussillon. Prices are clearly marked on each bottle (in euros naturally).
As for sparkling wines have you seen an increase in sales with the inroads made by Cavas and Proseccos into this market?
Well, I have just mentioned that one of by best sales comes from a sparkling wine, so yes, this general type sells well. For example Crémants (traditional method wines made in other parts of France than Champagne) sell well, and so do « grower » Champagnes, but many people are tired of major brand Champagnes although I always have a couple of good ones in stock in case needed. As to Cavas, I could be interested but not in the big brands. I do not have a clientèle for Prosecco however. In any event, all my wines have to be of top quality and deliver at their price point. Selling a wine on the collective reputation of the category and just because it is fashionable does not interest me.
So what is your opinion on the fashion for organic wines, and do you plan to increase the numbers of these in your selection ?
I do not think in terms of cliques or categories, just in terms of producers who work well, cleanly and respectfully : respect for nature, for their own ethic and for the consumer. They can carry an organic label or not, it does not matter to me. There is a groundswell that is moving towards this way of thinking and one can see it even in some big companies like Roederer in Champagne.
And what about so-called « natural » wines ?
A fashion, and, like all fashions, it will pass. I am especially on my guard with this category, as with anything that seems to be a fad. There are both excellent and terrible wines sold under this ill-defined label, so one should not think by categories, real or imagined, just by the quality of the wine and the coherence of the winemaker’s approach.
Do you allow customers to taste before they buy and how do you organize this activity?
Of course this is possible with the by-the-glass service that we operate at meal times, but we also have themed tasting every Friday around special bottles, and also master-classes with producers on Tuesdays. So yes, there are plenty of opportunities for customers to taste.
How do you see the future of your business and the field of independent wine shops in general ?
Well, as I said before, I am young in the business. I am told that independent wine shops in France have increased in numbers by 18% recently, but I am unsure about the profile of all these shops. What is very clear to me is that customers need human contact, especially in a field like wine. They need exchanges and re-assurance, as well as information about the products. They also are curious and want to discover new tastes, and for this they need ideas and guidance. So I am optimistic.
And, by way of a conclusion here is a translation from this carton in Thomas’ shop that quotes from Francis Ponge, a French poet and essayist of the 20th century:
« As with all things, wine has its secret. But it is a secret to be shared, and wine will share it with you. All you have to do is to enjoy it, to drink it, to put it inside of yourself. Then it will talk to you. »