Our Elkhart County, Indiana, community is truly entrepreneurial driven. With a population of around 200,000 people, it boasts more than 1,000 manufacturing companies and 100s of service and retail related operations. Quite often these entrepreneurs have started with one business focus and along the way branch out into others.
So is the case with Todd Allen and Todd Allen Design. From experience I can tell you that when Todd started his ad agency business he never imagined he would be in the wine importing business some 25 years later…much like Tiedemann Wines.
Todd’s business model has always been to take his clients complex marketing and advertising problems and find simple and effective solutions. Such was the case with Bernard Van Doren, owner of Vandoren Paris, one of Todd Allen Design’s international clients. Bernard Van Doren also owns a small boutique winery in the south of France. The problem was Van Doren’s Domaine de l’Anglade wines were not available in the Americas. Todd’s simple solution was Par La Mer Imports, a company Todd and his wife Laury started to import Van Doren’s wines, and others, to the U.S.
Not long ago Laury, Todd and I had the opportunity to share a bottle of wine and discuss their new venture. What follows is an edited version of that conversation:
Q: How long has Todd Allen Design been in business?
Todd Allen (TA): It has been 28 years now.
Q: What is your client base and what types of companies do you like to work with?
TA: We have Indiana University Health, Vandoren Paris (French maker of woodwind reeds and accessories,) DANŜR, Inc. in Chicago and First State Bank here in Elkhart. We specialize in branding, design, integrated campaigns with a mix of traditional and digital.
Q: How did you become associated with Vandoren?
TA: They saw the work we had previously done for Selmer, Bach and Ludwig drums and they sought us out. We have had a relationship with them for about five years.
Q: How did the wine relationship start?
Laury Allen (LA): I had been a high school teacher for years, and stepped away from that once we married in order to spend more time at home. During that time, I accompanied Todd on several business trips to France, and was able to meet Bernard Van Doren (the owner of both Vandoren and Domaine de l’Anglade wines…both companies have been around for more than 100 years). In April of 2011, we took a business trip to both Paris and the South of France. During one dinner with Bernard, as we were enjoying bottles of his wine, he told several stories about his family and the vineyard. When Bernard speaks about his wine, he speaks with great passion, and his eyes absolutely sparkle. During this conversation, he said he wanted to have his wine imported into the United States. In fact, his winemaker would be attending the world wine convention in Chicago later this same month. So we talked some more about getting his wines into the United States and I said, ‘I can do that. I know I can do that.’ He told me that when we came back in June I was to bring him my business plan.
TA: In the meantime Bernard had decided to re-label and redesign all his bottles to be more musically targeted to tie into his other business with woodwind instruments.
LA: “Here’s this very important man, and me this Liberal Arts major. I never took a business class in my life. Anyway, later in the month we hooked up with Armeline Audibert (Domaine de l’Anglade’s winemaker) in Chicago. They were looking for distributors at the Chicago show. Domaine de l’Anglade is truly a boutique winery, as they only bottle 60,000 bottles a year (25,000 of those bottles are Rosé, because they are located right on the coast of the Mediterranean, and that is the preferred wine of the area).
When we made the trip to France in June, I had a 12-page business plan that was killer! My goal was to start slowly: locally, then go regionally, and move on from there. We took our oldest daughter along on that trip (Addie). Todd was supposed to go with me to meet Bernard, but had gone out on a video shoot in the helicopter with the videographer and photographer, and they were delayed. So, that meant I had to meet with Bernard on my own. He is a very intimidating man. I would say he is larger than life. So I have this little folder that I give to him and then I went to sit down by the winemaker; our daughter was across the table from me. I was very nervous. He’s reading and reading. After about 10 minutes he looks up and says: “this is an excellent business plan. In fact this business plan is better than anything Michael (one of his business partners at DANŜR) has given us.” And then he says “10,000 bottles. That’s it. 10,000 bottles.” And I am thinking “where is Todd?” He was banging his fist on the table. Armeline is looking scared to death. Addie is looking at me, and I’m sitting there working the numbers in my head. Finally, Todd came in and sat down, and Bernard said to Todd, “you and I will talk numbers later.” French men, I guess, don’t like to do business with women. I was cut out at that point. So we got home and we just kept thinking, based on the numbers, there was no way we could do it. So we gave up the idea and walked away.
TA: But then they contacted us and wanted to negotiate something. They were willing to drop the minimum number so we could get our feet wet and really see if it was something we would want to do. We loved the wines and we thought it would be a nice connection with Todd Allen Design.
LA: Along the way we thought: we really like this wine. We had had it in Paris and we had had it in the south of France. But DANŜR could import the wine for promotional events (not to sell) so we had some shipped to us from there because I wanted to make sure I liked it. You get swept away in those beautiful places, and I wanted to make sure that I loved it as much here. Turns out, we definitely loved the wine, and thought it was a good idea to proceed.
Q: Where is the vineyard and tell us about the wine and winemaker.
LA: The vineyard is in le Lavandou France. They produce two different rosés, a white blend, a Cabernet, a Merlot and a red blend (a Grenache/Syrah blend). We carry just three: the Rosé, the Cabernet and the White. Their winemaker is Armeline Audibert. She is 32 years old, very well educated, down-to-earth young woman. The vineyard is 100 years old, and has been in the Vandoren family for generations. Her father Claude, who speaks very little English, has worked at the estate most of his life. In fact, Armeline was raised on the estate. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she stayed with her dad right there on the estate. So she has really been around the wine making her whole life. She went on to University to study chemistry and then on to Oenology school. She has been the winemaker there for eight years. Her dad is now retired from winemaking, but still works and stays at the estate. The wines are not distributed anywhere else. Their wines are in several really amazing restaurants in Paris and along the French Riviera.
Q: Tell me about the wines you handle.
LA: I wasn’t a huge wine drinker before this venture, except for wine at the holidays and an occasional dinner. But, when we started going to Paris and the South of France it all changed for me. We carry the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The French cab is much different than a California cab. The French oak is very different. It is much less tannic. The California cab can be much more robust, and the French cab is much more smooth and subtle. I think a lot of the French wines tend to be much more subtle than what we typically have here in the States.
LA: We have a 2012 white blend. It’s a nice crisp, not-acidic nice wine. The Rosé is my favorite. It is sort of my passion to get people turned on to Rosé. Here, in America, many people just don’t understand. They look at the beautiful pink color, and they think it is going to be sweet like a white zinfandel or Moscato, and it’s not. So, it’s my mission to get people to try our Rosé. It is a lovely wine that goes with so many things. You don’t stop drinking it in the fall. It is wonderful with your turkey or your chicken. It also pairs perfectly with fish and seafood. It’s lovely with ham, turkey, pork, goose – whatever you are having. They also have a wonderful, Merlot, but we just aren’t ready to market that here just yet. Merlots have had some trouble in the last few years.
LA: Going back to that same first meeting with Bernard where I presented him with my business plan. He said ‘There are 50 states in America. You can sell it in all 50 states.’ What people don’t understand, those who aren’t in this business, is that while there are 50 states, ever since prohibition it might as well be 50 different countries when you are selling an alcohol product. It’s a very hard thing to sell. You have all your taxes, all the rules and regulations of each separate state government (in some states, even each county is different, especially in the South). This is all on top of the many Federal laws, restrictions, and regulations. This is a tough business. Of course, our goal is to get it sold nationwide and we are looking at internet sales as the way to go for that. We do have a relationship with the U.S. distributor of Vandoren reeds, and they will help push out information to their database of musicians. Those musicians know the quality of the reeds and, therefore, understand the quality of the wine. So we are excited to share the message of the wine with those musicians. Right now, we can only sell wine in Indiana. We are, however, working with an online distributor based in Los Angeles. Locally we are in St. Joseph County, Elkhart County, Kosciusko County, and one restaurant in Indianapolis.
LA: Because it’s a boutique wine, we are already at a price point that is not going to appeal to a certain group. It’s a different market that we are trying to reach. I think that when we have a tasting, it has gone over very well. But whether or those people will turn around and buy it, that’s another story. When a customer goes to a liquor store and sees our Domaine de l’Anglade Rosé priced at $26.99, sitting by other foreign and domestic rosés which may cost less, why would they buy ours? They don’t know why they would buy ours until they taste it. Taste is very, very important. Wine is about enjoyment. I hope everyone reading this story will go out and buy the wine and try it. That is the true test. I would never advise anyone to buy a bottle of wine simply because it is less expensive!
Ultimately we want to increase our portfolio and offer other Old World wines at a lower price point, but we never will sacrifice quality. We love Old World wines, and we have also found some wonderful wines from South America that we may be offering in the future.
Watch a video on the vineyard here:
During and after the interview I had the good fortune to taste the wines that Todd and Laury are importing from the French vineyard Domaine de l’Anglade. Here are my comments on the wines:
This dry white table wine is a blend of 41% Rolle (Rolle is a synonym for the Vermentino white Italian grape. In France the grape is primarily found in Provence and around Nice), 37% Semillon and 27% Ugni-Blanc (a white grape used for freshness). The nose was open and has hints of citrus and herbs with a lemony edge. On the palate it was dry, but fresh and had tastes of citrus and some tropical fruit. The finish was fruity and a good length.
2012 Rosé Wine
The wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 12% Cinsault and 28% Syrah. The wine color was a light pink and the nose revealed notes of floral and fresh fruits. On the palate the wine was dry (a characteristic of old world rosés), full-bodied and it exhibited fruit and a touch of citrus.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Reserve
There was a good depth of color and hue with a tinge of purple. The nose was dominated by cherry and spices with hints of smoke. On the palate the wine offered a concentration of fruit and was quite natural in the mouth with structured tannins. The finish was complete while offering some oak and vanilla flavors; it was of adequate length.
These wines are moderately priced and are available throughout Northern Indiana or they can be ordered through the Par La Mer website at www.parlamerimports.com.
We welcome your opinion on these wines. If you have tasted them, please share your experience.