I have often said that every market needs a strong leader. One who offers quality service levels and top class products. Back before Diageo came to these fair lands Gilbey's of Ireland was (arguably) that leader in our wine market. Gilbey's of Ireland wine distribution will now soon become part of the Gleeson Group's business operating out of Ballyfermot.
They employed people we could relate to and they made damn sure the relationship worked. Remember Paul Harvey anyone? The best ambassador any company could have. I can remember Vincent Egan storing empty wooden boxes in his office so that I could collect them for a window display. No questions asked. He just did it.
That sort of heart and soul dropped out of the company many years ago. Many argue that demands on modern and large distribution companies to supply margin to the multiple grocers have turned these companies 'grey'. I complimented Gilbey's two years ago on their magnificent portfolio tasting. I opened a blog, on John Duval and David Fatches' Songlines and Bylines in June of 2009, with the lines 'At a truly excellent Gilbeys portfolio tasting earlier this year I tasted a Songlines Shiraz'. Shortly after I was asked by a Gilbey's person to write a short piece on how important I felt portfolio tastings are as senior management at the company felt they were just a big waste of money!
Current thinking in the trade is that Gleeson's haven't a hope of holding the agencies together. Just think of the following making their way up to the beer and water distribution warehousing in Ballyfermot: Louis Fabrice Latour, Jonathan Maltus, Laurenz Moser, Jane Hunter and others. Clearly Yellow Tail, Piat d'Or, Santa Rita and even Molini won't have to bother. All they need to do is monitor exports.
For a few years now the Gilbey's portfolio has run out of control both in depth and length. It has probably come as a relief to many senior Diageo Ireland managers that they are getting out of this messy end of the wine trade. (Mind you with Diageo selling Barton and Guestier in France to Castel it was going to get messier and messier!) Nevertheless it was a fine portfolio and set beside Edward Dillon's contraction, and the Findlater Wine and Spirits Groups' apparent inability to relate to anyone, Gilbeys' of Ireland was beginning to adopt the mantle of leader once again. Dash it all but its gone again.
Opportunity beckons. Anyone for an agency. Take your pick and make your pitch . Roll up, roll up. Within a year there will be scores of disappointed overseas sales managers from the current portfolio looking for a new home. Indeed there will likely be quite a few refugees long before then!
I wish the Gleeson Group well into the future and I look forward to telling the story of their success. I do however reserve the right to mourn the passing of one of the cornerstones of the Irish wine trade. Let's hope someone has a plan for the hole left behind.