My French Melbourne: DiscoverVin brings you the best of French wine
She lived the high life amongst the vineyards in decadent Bordeaux, and now she’s made her love of French wines into a family-run business of her own in regional Victoria.
Melbourne, meet Helen Underhill, one half of DiscoverVin, a favourite at MyFrenchMelbourne that’ll leave you yearning for France once more…
Tell us the story behind DiscoverVin. What inspired you to start a French wine business in Victoria?
We lived in Bordeaux for six months in 2009. My husband had a sabbatical, my kids went to the local school and I had time to soak up the French way of living.
It was during this time we helped the French winemakers out by drinking lots of wonderful wines from regions in the southwest of France. Wines that we knew little about or had previously never heard of. Regions such as Jurançon, Fronton, Gaillac, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh who were producing wines from grapes that we also didn’t know much about – gros and petit Manseng, Loin d’oeil and Négrette to name a few.
We also discovered lesser-known producers in the Bordeaux regions that were producing great wines right next door to the Grand Cru producers. These small, often family-run producers were selling similar wines at a fraction of their neighbours’ prices.
When we returned to Australia we tried to track down some of these wines and discovered that they were not available here. Having lived close to the Rutherglen wine region for many years and having always dreamt of growing grapes ourselves, we made a rather large side step and DiscoverVin was born. Our aim was, and still is, to import great value for money French wines.
Our website has information to help demystify the regions and grapes varieties of France – in particular from the southwest and Bordeaux. However, we are constantly on the look out for wines from other regions to showcase and we are gradually adding great value wines from regions such as Côtes du Rhone, Champagne and Provence.
What is a typical day like at DiscoverVin?
I am the main go-to person on the selling side: taking orders, packing small mixed orders and gift boxed orders, and liaising with our warehouse to dispatch larger orders takes up most of my day.
I also do a lot of the behind-the-scenes admin and prepare for large events such as the Paris to Provence Melbourne Festival, [and] the Melbourne and Brisbane Bastille Day events to name a few. We also do quite a few dinner events in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane where our wines are showcased with French fare. Each year we are involved with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and have done lunches/dinners at Bistro Vue, Comme and Stokehouse City.
Tell us more about your team. Is it mainly a French team or international? Why is this?
Our team consists of my husband who has a great knowledge of wine, an excellent palate and is our main wine purchaser. He also does a lot of the initial liaising with sommeliers in restaurants, wine bars and retail outlets regarding our wholesale wines, wine dinners and corporate events. My sister in New York does our advertising artwork and my teenage kids are often in the storeroom helping me pack Christmas gift packs, Mothers Day gifts, Tour de France packs and corporate gifts. And my brother-in-law is a sales agent for us in Brisbane, so it’s a real family affair.
We also have a German-born sales agent in Melbourne and we have our brilliant warehouse staff who keep our wines in great order.
We outsource specialist services where necessary to keep our team as small and as personal as possible and to keep our costs (and subsequently our prices) down.
We are currently mostly an Australian team, although at different times we have had French sales staff who have now returned to France.
More and more French people are moving to Melbourne. Why do you think this is happening?
Melbourne is such a cosmopolitan city and I think that French people are attracted to Australia because of this and our easygoing way of life. Like most French people, Australians and particularly Melburnians love food, wine, the arts and fashion.
Do you have many French clients?
We have seen an increase in the number of French clients over the last few years – both in restaurants and our retail customers. We love to catch up with many of our French and Australian clients at events such as the Paris to Provence French Festival each year.
What do you love most about Melbourne and Victoria?
I love Melbourne and rural Victoria (where I live) for all the same reasons that the recent influx of French people love it – great food, wine, fashion, arts.
What do you love about France and which part is your favourite?
I love France also because of the easy-going way of life. Even though we lived in a small apartment in Bordeaux and our day to day life was so different in so many ways, we loved that our local church square called Place Canteloup became our backyard, our kids’ playground, our dining room, our watering hole and our favourite place to shop. For these reasons and because Bordeaux is such an amazingly beautiful city, this is the place I most love to return to.
What are your specialties? Is there something that people really seem to come back for?
We were [recently] involved with the Brisbane French Festival in a wine tasting pavilion. We were showing wines from Bordeaux and the southwest of France and we were constantly told by customers that we had the best wines available and wines which were the best value for money. This is something that we have always hoped to achieve and it seems like we’ve managed that.
French wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be very good!
We have so many wines that people return for, but if I had to pick one that people come back and back for I would have to say it’s the Irrésistible Rosé from Provence. The name says it all really – it truly is irresistible!
What are your three most popular items?
Château de la Bouyere Bordeaux blanc, Achille Princier Grand Tradition non-vintage Grower Champagne, and a close call between Haut Monplaisir Prestige from Cahors (100% Malbec) 2006 and the Domaine de la Croix Irrésisitible Rosé from Provence.
What’s your favourite?
Champagne: Achille Princier Grand Tradition NV – this is a magnificent grower champagne with a beautiful balance, fine bubbles and a lovely clean finish.
Rosé: Château la Rayre Bergerac rosé is my favourite with a BBQ on a hot day. And, as an aperitif, I can’t go past Domaine de la Croix Irrésistible Provencal rosé for its elegance and supple fruit aromas.
White: Château Haut Peyrous, Peche au Carrelet Graves blanc 2010 – my idea of the perfect white wine; citrus and mineral notes and a touch of honey. So well balanced and the mouth feel is to be enjoyed.
Red: Château Rollan de By Médoc, 2008 – a really delicious claret!
Dessert wine: I can’t go past any of the sweet wines from Jurancon – favourites are Chateau Jolys Cuvée Jean and Domaine Bellegarde Cuvée Tradition – lovely full flavour in the mouth and finishes with a slight dryness that avoids a cloying sweetness.
We believe that we have proven that by focusing on sourcing wines from good vintages and from excellent producers – French wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be very good!
What is the biggest misconception about French wine?
I think the biggest misconception is that “French wine is too expensive”. However, we believe that we have proven that by focusing on sourcing wines from good vintages and from excellent producers – French wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be very good!
In Melbourne, do you have a favourite boulangerie, fromagerie, café, pâtisserie, boutique…?
My favourite restaurant in Melbourne, if I’m dining with a friend or alone, is Bistro d’Orsay – I walk in there and feel like I’ve magically appeared in Paris. I love the beautiful ceiling, the beautiful food, the great wine list with lots of half bottles and the lovely intimate atmosphere.
If I’m with a bigger group I love Bistro Vue – great vibe, food and wine list.
For a regional hit of French fare I can’t go past Jones Winery and Café at Rutherglen, 61 Jones Road. Owner and wine maker Mandy Jones worked as a winemaker in Bordeaux for 14 years and now has a gorgeously rustic restaurant attached to her cellar door where they serve a range of Australian and French food, served with her own wines and some DiscoverVin specialities such as the Amiral de Beychevelle Grand Bateau Bordeaux blanc.
When in Melbourne we go to Laurent Pâtisserie for convenience and for their lovely bread. But to be honest, when it comes to macarons and cakes, I have been very spoiled in my home region of Albury/Wodonga, with the fantastic gâteaux at Geoffrey Michael Pâtissier, 669 Dean Street, Albury. And I truly believe that the macarons at Patty’s Pâtisserie, 556 Olive Street, are some of the best I have tasted – anywhere!
Don’t miss your chance to score some divine wine from DiscoverVin – and much, much, much more Frenchness – as part of our #MyFrenchMelbourne competition! It’s free to enter, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it: bit.ly/winfrenchmelbourne
What is the best value for money French wine you’ve had? Let us know in the comments below!
All images courtesy of Helen Underhill.