This month, just-drinks talks to Accolade Wines Paul Schaafsma

This month, just-drinks talks to Accolade Wines' Paul Schaafsma

Accolade Wines’ new GM for UK, Ireland & AMESCA - Americas, Middle East and Sub-Continent Africa - Paul Schaafsma, joined the global wine group last month after 14 years at Australian Vintage. just-drinks caught up with the 39 year-old late last month, and discussed the reason for his move, wine’s next emerging market and why he’s still positive about the UK wine sector.

just-drinks: What persuaded you to make the switch from Australian Vintage to Accolade?

Paul Schaafsma: When the opportunity arose, the thing that excited me was how appropriately placed Accolade is for the (wine) market moving forward. I think customers are looking for a global solution and we have the ability to source wine from most areas on the planet. The other thing that excites me is Accolade Park, in Bristol. We have a fantastic team there and state-of-the-art facilities.

For me personally, it was time for a change. I’ll always be grateful to (founder of AV) Brian McGuigan, who was a real mentor to me and almost like a father. I went with his blessing and we left on very good terms.

Accolade Wines' GM for UK, Ireland & AMESCA, Paul Schaafsma

j-d: In your experiences so far, what are the differences between working for Australian Vintage and Accolade? 

PS: The company has asked me to take the first 90 days to understand it and have a look, then put forward a three-year strategy. Companies will always be different from each other. But it’s too early to make a sweeping commentary. The other exciting thing for me is I’m also looking after Ireland and AMESCA - Africa, the sub-continent, South America - where I see some great opportunities for distribution growth. 

j-d: What are you thoughts on the splitting of Accolade's European business, announced in August?

I think (continental) Europe is a very different market. It’s predominantly distributor based and very intensive in terms of the work needed there. Having someone on the continent is right, because it takes a different team to run that business with a European focus. In terms of the UK, any tweaks or changes that I make will be to ensure that Accolade is appropriate for those customers and that our relationships are collaborative and we’re finding solutions, not trying to bring problems all the time. 

j-d: Has the fact Accolade is owned by a private equity group made a difference and are you confident that your owners - CHAMP - know what they’re doing with wine?

PS: My initial experience is they (CHAMP) have indicated what they’d like to see and they let us get on and operate the business. They are not into running the business day-to-day, they want people that are empowered to go and deliver the solutions they’re looking for. I’m very comfortable with the way CHAMP are handling it and obviously it’s transparent and nothing I’m concerned about.

j-d: What do you see as the biggest challenge in your new job? 

PS: You’re asking for a ‘sneak-peak’! I’m not going to make assumptions about what our plan will be. We’ll have to ensure we have the appropriate people with the appropriate structure, with the appropriate support for our brands, relevant to the market. So any kind of tweaks or changes will revolve around that. I’m spending as much time with the people internally, as well as externally, to understand what changes need to be made. 

j-d: Where will your main focus be, geographically? 

PS: The UK will be my primary focus. It’s the engine room of our entire business. If the UK’s not right, then the total Accolade business is not right, so we have to make sure that we have the UK functioning properly and we’re seizing every opportunity that we can.  

j-d: Do you think there’s too much negativity in talk around the UK wine market? 

PS: For a company like ours there’s more opportunity than ever (in the UK). We have consolidation occurring in the industry, people are looking for one-stop-shop solutions. From vine to glass, is what we say, essentially we can cover it all the way through. 

j-d: Where do you see opportunities globally? 

PS: Africa. We have a platform in South Africa and Africa is an emerging market. This is the next big opportunity, but we have to be realistic about the wines we’ll be able to sell, the flavour profile. As long as we create a relevant offer then I think there’s a real opportunity there.

j-d: Are you hoping to boost the presence of your South African brands in the UK? 

Absolutely. From a premium perspective, I’d like to use our Flagstone brand to create a ‘halo’ effect for our South African portfolio. We have an amazing winemaker, Bruce Jack, who’s a real personality. It’s not often you get someone who can communicate so well and has a true passion about their wine. Some of the stuff he’s doing is incredible. I’d also like to do more in communicating Kumala and Fish Hoek. I’m very excited that Morrisons just listed three new Fish Hoek products. 

j-d: How much focus is there on marketing? 

PS: I’m not sure if we’re spending enough above the line on South Africa yet, communicating the message. We need to talk more about the aspirational South Africa. If you picked everyone up in the UK and put them in South Africa for three or four days they’d probably be interested in drinking South African wine. I think WoSA (Wines of South Africa) has done a great job but I think we need to communicate a little bit more about what South Africa can offer. Let’s try and have our own style, there are varieties that are exclusive to this country that we should promote.

j-d: What do you see as future threats for the industry? 

PS: We’ve all been very vocal about the duty escalator (in the UK), that’s a real threat.

We also have to recognise that we need to change the way we communicate to people about wine. We must think more about the consumer and young people coming through and how we bring them into wine. How often do you hear about people not getting into wine until their first dinner party? We need to consider the social arenas where we can introduce wine. Otherwise, there’s the threat of people switching to spirits, or staying with beer and cider. We have to make wine more accessible.