Talking to Aurelie Khoros of IXSIR

Aurelie 1

Aurelie Khoros, IXSIR’s brand manager

 

Located in Batroun in North Lebanon, Ixsir is one of Lebanon’s newest and most ambitious wine projects to date. The vision behind Ixsir is to work with the best Lebanese terroir from Batroun in the North to Jezzine in the south, taking in the slopes of the Bekaa, planted with international varieties and cultivated for sustainable development. The winemaking and aging take place in Ixsir’s award-winning winery under the careful eye of technical director, Gabriel Rivero.

Aurelie Khoros is the newly appointed brand manager. We spoke at the recent Vinifest in Beirut

IXSIR’s labels are clean and fresh and distinctive. How important is good packaging in wine and how can it sway the consumer? 

For us very important. As you know, IXSIR comes from the root of an Arabic word Al-Ikseer, a word that has been absorbed in to many languages including English with the word ‘elixir’, while Lebanese terroir produced some of the first ever wines and our ultra modern winery lies under a 400-year-old Lebanese house. IXSIR’s logo therefore is contemporary with a traditional twist, a blend that we believe will be very appealing to the modern consumer both in Lebanon and abroad.

IXSIR-logo

The IXSIR winery has been recognized internationally for its innovative “green” architecture. Did you expect this reaction and how much of a contribution to IXSIR’s initial success was down to this exposure?

Honestly, we didn’t really expect it for the simple reason that our winery was not built to win awards. It was built to produce great wine and to respect the region of Batroun which we love so much. I suppose we were recognized because of how we make our wine – from the free-fall fermentation to the constant year round temperature we maintain in the winery.

But at the end of the day, you cannot have a great wine without great grapes. We have wonderful terroir and a great winemaker, so the winery is here to respect these grapes, to pamper them, and make sure that they give us the best. But it goes without saying that having an award winning winery was a boost not only for us but for Lebanon and Lebanese wine as a whole.

Part of IXSIR’s unique selling point is that it uses grapes planted in various soils in various micro-climates at different altitudes across Lebanon? What has been the feedback locally? Has this opened the consumer’s eyes to Lebanon’s diverse terroir and at the end of the day, do they really care? 

As you know, people can visit our winery and have a guided tour –  and in the tunnel that leads from the house to the winery, we have pictures of our various terroir. You would be amazed how people react when they see that Lebanon has so much more diversity than just the skiing and swimming in the same day cliché. We can offer all this in a bottle!

But I have to say that what amazes visitors the most is our vineyards are planted at over 1,000m and the fact that we have the highest vineyard in the northern hemisphere at 1,800m.

It is all part of an education process, and when it is explained correctly and they know what it means in term taste and flavors they cannot but be enthused.

The Barrel room

The Barrel room

What are the challenges of selling a relatively new Lebanese wine?

We were new, and didn’t have the history of other producers but so far we have been fortunate. The reception, at home and abroad, has been very positive. Funnily enough, our main challenge was to meet the demand.

IXSIR is different from other wines in Lebanon, and should be marketed differently, and this is a priority. Maintaining brand equity is important to us. We don’t, for example, give Christmas gifts; we believe that consumers should be buying the wine for what’s in the bottle and not for the bottle openers, decanters or cheese boards. I know these offers are very popular and more often than not sway consumers, but we believe we have to set new benchmarks in how the public perceives wine, which must be elevated to more than just a supermarket product.

How would you define the typical Lebanese consumer and how, if at all is his/her profile changing?

Today, the market has evolved and is becoming bigger, with so many Lebanese wines to discover. This has triggered curiosity and the consumer wants to try more, and to travel with their senses. They are becoming more receptive, keen on trying something new and different.

For us this is a pleasure, as we have the chance to tell our story, and live an experience with our consumer. Every member of the IXSIR team, from the farmer to the shareholders, shares a bottle of wine with each of them and we hope that it will continue to evolve this way. Yes, there are still some traditionalists or foreign wine lovers who that would rather stick to what they know but Lebanon is the birthplace of wine, and Lebanese wines are now recognized as some of the best in the world. They’ll come round in the end.

Steel fermentation tanks

Steel fermentation tanks

How and why did you end up at IXSIR?

I am an economics graduate but I found myself drawn to marketing rather than banking and finance. And so I started my career as an account handler (“know your client more than they know themselves” ) at M&C Saatchi handling banking clients initially. This didn’t really work out, so I was switched to the agency’s alcohol portfolio.

This was where I met IXSIR. And when it came to learning about the wine industry, without realizing it, I was no longer reading because I had to, but because I wanted to and eventually I became hooked on wine.

I worked on the IXSIR account for two years. The rest is history.

What does a brand manager do? 

We manage the brand; it’s that simple. A brand has a personality, and this will determine what a consumer will or will not do.  We work to market the brand, and raise awareness, but always making sure that we are being consistent with what our brand stands for. There are different ways to market a brand – advertising, social media, promotion, PR, events sponsoring, CSR and so on. All these channels needs convert in the same direction, creating a holistic approach that will re-enforce the image of the brand, making it more and more human.

I say this because wine is more human than most products. It has a history and character and it sits well with art, music, books and nature. I am lucky enough to know IXSIR’s story inside out: how it was created, the people behind it, the passion that unites them and the mountains from where it comes. When you believe in the brand, managing that brand comes naturally.

Why is this important to a modern winery? 

Wine is can be an intimidating purchase. Consumers tend to stick to what they know for fear of trying something new. When someone wants to try a new wine they look for the validation from their friends even if this comes at the expense of actually enjoying the wine.  Therefore it is important to break this barrier of intimidation, to be approachable, and to work to educate the consumer, for him find it easier to take that leap of faith and try.

And unlike other products, wine comes with a story, the story of the terroir, the grapes, the harvest, the viticulture process, and the decision of the wine maker.

The ultra modern design of IXSIR's underground winery

The ultra modern design of IXSIR’s underground winery

What are the main challenges facing Lebanese wineries in the global market and how can a tightly managed brand make a difference?

Lebanese wines are fully equipped to compete on a global scale and as a “tightly managed brand” we don’t really look to make a difference on our own or by ourselves. I think that the best way to increase our competitively is to be able to market all the Lebanese wines as one brand, the same way it is done in the UK with the generic PR campaign. By taking all the Lebanese wines as one, we can educate the consumer, increase the Lebanese wine’s overall market share and eventually enhance the reputation of Lebanese wine and position where it should be, next to the biggest wine producing countries.

 

 

 

 

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Where is the childish excitement?

Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode

In a recent post from his Wine Anorak blog http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/from-the-road/on-the-road-in-tokaj-hungary, Jamie Goode writes about a trip to the Tokaji region of Hungary. “It fills me with a sense of childish excitement when I visit a new wine region. I’ve said it before, and likely I will say it again, that it is when you visit a region that the penny drops: all the book learning and knowledge of the wines falls into place, and you begin to understand the wines on another level.”

We need to capture the mystique of our terroir

We need to capture the mystique of our terroir

How lovely. I just wish the owners of some of Lebanon’s newer wineries would embrace his “childish excitement” and not just think in terms of making a product that they think will give them a bit of class. There are too many new producers springing up who don’t have a clue about making wine in relationship to their terroir, Lebanon’s identity and agricultural tradition. They just want to churn out bland, not to mention commercially unexciting, Cabs, Syrah’s and Chardonnays because that’s what they think they should do and it’s what the punters (don’t?) want. This is not the way to build an industry; Lebanon is too small for this attitude to take root. Maybe I’m being unfair, but I suspect not.

 

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Musar wines set to go for nearly $2k a bottle at auction

Bloomberg has run this very interesting story. Scandalously, still very few Lebanese know about Chateau Musar’s serious reputation in the world of fine wine.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-12/christie-s-is-selling-lebanese-wine-1-790-per-bottle.html

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Call for UK wine trade to support Lebanon (and other thoughts)

get_imageThe battle cry in an editorial from Harpers Wine and Spirit to support Lebanese wine producers http://www.harpers.co.uk/opinion/richard-siddle-lets-give-our-support-to-trade-colleagues-in-troubled-lebanon/349258.article during this period of increased regional tension, is a first by the international media and a reflection of the goodwill created between the increasingly dynamic Lebanese wine industry and UK buyers, sommeliers, the press and of course consumers.

It is also, if any more were needed, proof that the brave decision by the Union Vinicole du Liban (UVL) to self-fund a generic campaign in the UK is beginning to reap a modest harvest. It can claim some of the credit for the editorial because of the hard work it has put into convincing the UK industry that Lebanon is a fascinating, warm and generous country worthy of its attention in a highly competitive global wine marketplace.

If further proof were needed that the UVL’s money has not been wasted, the public sector has finally woken up to the undoubted quality and further potential of Lebanese wine. The ministry of agriculture has pledged significant funding from the state coffers to boost Lebanon’s export potential and launch a local campaign to encourage Lebanese consumers to support their local industry and bust the myth that foreign wines are automatically superior to our own.

Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent

Reserve du Couvent 2011

Château Ksara’s mid range red has in many ways become a victim of its own success. The Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc blend is arguably the best selling wine in Lebanon but this exposure has also created a sense of ennui among consumers eager to try other styles and labels.

There is not much one can do about that except reinforce the fact that RDC is a very good red, one that punches above its weight and which surprising aging potential for a wine essentially made for immediate consumption. In the last week I have drunk two bottles of the latest vintage (2011), a reminder just why is virtually a national treasure. Freshness, fruit, and structure. They were all there purring away nicely like well-tuned engine. A week earlier I dug out a 2007 and thought “why not? We’ll give it a whirl”. Lo and behold there was life on the old boy yet. The tannins had softened as had the fruit, and the wine was giving lovely secondary aromas. A vertical tasting would be interesting.

RDC is on sale in the UK (Oddbins has it) while, Clos St Alphonse, a variation of RDC, is stocked by Marks and Spencer in the UK, France and Holland.

CROPKaram Winery Syrah de Nicolas1Nicholas Habib Karam (1912-2013)

Nicholas Karam, the father of Habib Karam owner of the Karam winery, south Lebanon’s only producer, died last week at the ripe old age of 101. Born during Ottoman rule and old enough to vividly remember Palestine during the mandate period, Nicholas Karam was part of a generation whose formative memories were not shaped by the current boundaries that divide the region in more ways than one. Habib tells me that he still has to wait a few weeks to pick his last grapes, which grow at around 1300 meters. Here’s hoping for a wonderful vintage to honor a remarkable man.

 

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Harpers calls on UK trade to show support for Lebanon’s wine producers

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The Lebanese red and white debate

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Marsyas white 2012

Marsyas

Marsyas, the Kefraya-based winery, is holding a tasting of its White 2012 on Friday 26,18:00-20:00 at Caves Taillevent near Tabaris

I have been able to scrounge a bottle, a blend of Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc and, just for you dear readers, am drinking it right now. I can tell that it is utterly magnificent. Crisp and elegant, wonderfully layered and complex. The nose is grown up and restrained but fresh, while in the mouth the balance, acidity, precision and a voluptuous body with layers of pears and apples and never misses a beat from first sip to the finish. My friend Joe Wadsack might say “it’s tighter than the G string on a Les Paul guitar” and he’d be dead right.

The verdict: Without doubt one of, if not the, finest Lebanese white wine on the market today and a wine that has set a new standard in an industry where the whites are getting better and better by the year.

Say you heard it here first!

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