Archive for August, 2006

Interview with Julian Alubaidy from Bubble Brothers

Monday, August 7th, 2006

Below is an email interview I did with Julian from and of the Bubble Brothers Blog.

Bubble Brothers

How did Bubble Brothers start? Where did the name come from?

When the current MD, Billy Forrester, was in France getting married, he and his best man thought that they should share the pleasure of the fine champagne they were drinking, and bring a few cases into Ireland. The name came out of a brainstorming session. It certainly gets us noticed.

Who are your clients? Are they mostly wine experts or complete novices? Do you forsee your client base changing as Irish people now spend more time on treating themselves and taking chances outside of stout and bacon and spuds?

Much of our business is with trade customers, and that’s a slightly different game from dealing with the public. But where our retail customers are concerned, I’d say we encounter the whole spectrum of knowledge and confidence about wine. Nonetheless, even since I’ve been involved – just a few years – it’s obvious that many people are “getting into” wine as an enjoyable alternative to other drinks. Of course the wider changes in social habits, and the evolution, to avoid a more emotive term, of what it is to be Irish, go hand in hand with the move to wine.

You have a walk-in store in the English Market, you have the Wine Depot in the Marina Commercial Park and you have the online business for Bubble Brothers. Where do you get most business from? I noticed when I was in the shop that restaurants like the Ivory Tower order from you as well. Does that make up a significant portion of business?

Most of our business is with the trade, but word of mouth recommendations by our retail customers are invaluable, though immeasurable, and I think the real motor of our reputation. People are beginning to realize how easy it is to buy from us – and park! – at the Wine Depot, especially for bigger purchases, while the English Market shop is perfectly placed when you’re putting together a meal from scratch and need just the right bottle to go with it.

The website is very convenient, and delivery is free on a dozen bottles or more. I have some good regular online customers.
As far as I’m concerned, courteous and genuine customer service and real enthusiasm for the wines we sell is what sets us apart from many other similar companies. The public is quicker to react to those aspects than the trade, who nearly always have the bottom line first in mind.

I remember (I think) Austin mentioning that you were discontinuing some wine because they were selling to other suppliers in Ireland now. Do you have a policy of having the exclusive rights to the champagne and wine you sell?

We always try to get exclusivity with our suppliers as a matter of course. Ireland is a small country, and there’s more than enough wine for everyone.

How do you advertise?

The truth is that we don’t, much. Word of mouth, or the wines speaking for themselves, means that people come to us. From time to time we place an ad or run a promotion with our e-mail newsletter rtc. rtc., but what really spreads the word is people enjoying our wines. The two liveried delivery vans tend to catch the eye all right.

You don’t do the main big name champagne brands. Any reason? What are the different types of champagne out there? Are there cheaper equivalents to Cristal et al? What are the champagnes you stock and what differentiates them? What makes them special?

There wouldn’t be much interest in it for anyone if we were to try selling the very famous names, which in any case we’d have to buy from their Irish importers. The champagnes we carry don’t have a middleman – we import direct – so the price is as low as we can afford, and the quality is terrific. Though, with the present rate of duty: €4.10 per bottle, most people in Ireland don’t get the chance to drink enough champagne to have a considered view. From time to time a customer insists on one of the very big brands, and so we might buy in a few bottles of Krug or such, but it’s not really what we’re about.

Most champagne sold is “non-vintage”, ie blended from grapes grown in different years. This allows expert assemblers to produce a consistent, recognizable house style no matter how good or bad the vintage in a given year. Exceptionally good years may permit the making of “vintage” champagne, which contains grapes from only one harvest, and where the characteristics of the year may well predominate over the house style.

The grape varieties permitted by French wine law for the production of champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. We stock champagnes made, like most of the famous non-vintage brands, from a blend of varieties; but we also offer Blanc de Blancs (all Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (all ‘black’, ie Pinot, grapes) champagnes. We also stock a choice of vintage champagnes from different suppliers as well as some prestige bottles, which for varying reasons, other than vintage, command a high price. Of course Cristal is as unique, as inimitable, as any other champagne – so I wouldn’t suggest a substitute if nothing else will do for whatever reason, but it’s certainly possible to enjoy the exhilaration of a really excellent champagne for very much less money. You can have quite a lot of fun with sparkling wine, made by what we must euphemistically call ‘the traditional method’ to keep the lawyers of Champagne happy, from all kinds of other places, too.

What’s the taste test for a wine becoming a Bubble Brothers wine? There must be a lot of choice in the market, what factors are there so that a wine meets the cut or does not?

I learnt some hard lessons about what to stock when I was a bookseller. No matter how much you love a book, how good it is, how necessary it is that everyone read it – if it’s not selling, it’s got to go. The same thing applies to wine. When we decide we need a new line, or if something interesting is sent to us unsolicited, we organize a tasting with as many similar products as necessary – how many depends on the importance of the wine in our portfolio. For a big decision, we might line up twenty or
thirty competing samples.

We have to consider price versus quality, the appearance of the bottle, and the ease of importing.

  • Price is fairly straightforward: we tend to know what we need to pay for a given wine to make it acceptable to our customers.
  • Quality is obviously more subjective, and, as with the book trade, it’s important to keep the customer’s tastes – in as much as we can generalize about that – very much in mind beside your own. We look for the wine that distinguishes itself immediately from the competition and from our expectations, and has a style that we can sell.
  • The appearance of the bottle is also hugely important. If the label is not appealing, the chances of the bottle’s contents being enjoyed and talked about are reduced, that’s clear; but exactly what makes a winning label is another matter. I get the impression the whole business of wine labelling and how it affects the success of a wine has not been sufficiently researched. Add to the question of design the various wine laws that limit what can be put on a label and you have a real puzzle for the buyer, whether it’s us or the ‘end consumer’.
  • By ‘ease of importing’ I mean another complex of factors such as transport costs, whether the supplier has more than one product that interests us, so that we can easily make up new orders as needed, and even whether the supplier can meet our anticipated quantity requirements. There’s also the question of exclusivity again.

There’s probably a lot of misconceptions about wine and champagne. Any that you’d like to see cleared up?

(Forgive the soapbox) I think that the attitude to wine of many Irish people bears all the scars of Ireland’s subjugation by Empire and religion: many of our customers are reluctant to trust, value or voice their own judgments in aesthetic matters, and prefer to believe that there are arcane mysteries above and beyond the understanding of the ordinary person. This is good for maintaining a united front against a common, alien enemy during hard times. It’s hopeless with regard to wine. Whether you like a wine or not is up to you. No one’s forcing you to buy or drink it – I hope. At the same time there is an enormous amount you can learn that will help you to get more pleasure out of the wines you do drink, and of course your tastes will change with your understanding. Being pompous about it is entirely optional.

Misconceptions? Chablis is made from the Chardonnay grape. Not everyone realizes this. It would be great if people who profess to despise the grape didn’t in the same breath request the wine. But I understand what they mean, and it’s usually possible to explain the contradiction tactfully. Anyway, I rarely get through the week without making some atrocious howler myself. That’s how you learn.

Which are the Irish restaurants with some good wine lists?

It’s a very dynamic trade, so I’d prefer not to name names. Any restaurant that employs a specialist wine waiter probably has a cellar to justify the appointment. There’s really no excuse these days for horrid wine at any level on a list.

You see many industries have their bad boys and the experimentalists. Are there such things in the wine business, a business that seems quite traditional?

There certainly are – look at Stormhoek, a small South African winery that has gone a very long way indeed by doing things differently. Blogging doubled their sales in less than twelve months.

How experimental you are in terms of the wine you make, though, is slightly determined by context. If you are operating, say, under the restrictions of French wine law, the tiniest departure from conventional practice can represent a very significant gamble, whereas if you are making wine under a much more liberal regime – Australia, say, it’s clearly harder to be a rebel. But winemaking has very colourful personalities at both the conservative and the innovative end, so there’s always something “controversial” going on.

Bad boys, for many people, might be the huge corporations who may be seen to be homogenizing global tastes at the expense of diversity and small winemakers.

Some of the experimentation is born out of desperation. Harvey’s have just launched a sherry “designed to appeal to women aged 35 and over… a blend of Bristol Cream with ‘natural orange aromas'” Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose.

Finally, pimp your goods. What are your fav wines for this summer season?

The latest vintage – 2006! – of our delicious South African Shiraz rosé from Goedverwacht – just in (€11.90 two whites: Cyril Marès’s Mas des Bressades Tradition Blanc (€12.50) and Brightwater’s Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson, New Zealand (€17.90) – both clean, crisp and fruity. (Or any of our three Spanish whites made from Verdejo) a soft and easy red from Spain, Novobazan (€10.90) and for fizz, either Mas Codina’s cava (€17.90) or Bernard Depoivre’s champagne (€37.90).

Ask me again in ten minutes and the answer will be different. But these are all lipsmackers.

Thanks to Julian for the interview. Keep looking at their blog for an upcoming announcement about beer.

Sexist idea of the week – Revenue Generators for Petrol Stations

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I met Treasa for coffee on Saturday and as I walked home past the Shell petrol station nearish to my house an idea sprang to mind. The station always seems to get new management or owners every two or three years, possibly due to lack of business. While walking past, there was this very cute girl in an enhancing top pouring petrol into a car for a guy who I guess was her father. Anyway it got me thinking that the petrol station could actually increase business if they had girls like that working at all the pumps. Ramp up the petrol prices by 15 cents a litre or more and away you go. Pay the girls just above minimum wage but allow and encourage tipping. Hooters for the filling station industry. The thing is we all bitch and moan about prices, but it’s only a rare few who will actually drive to the cheapest station.

Oh and don’t get me started on the carwash idea…

Oh and yeah I’m sure there can be stations that appeal to heterosexual women and gay men.

“Why do you write?” “Revenge” – Before Night Falls

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I finally got around to seeing Before Night Falls this weekend. It’s a lovely story about the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas and also gives another view to life under Castro. What really kept my attention was the voice of Javier Bardem reciting the poetic words of Arenas. The imagery from the words and not the cinematography itself had greater effect for me. Lines such as:

Cubans are defined by noise, it’s their nature, they need to bother others, they can neither enjoy or suffer in silence

did more to introduce me to the Cubans than any Lonely Planet guide. Still, I’m not knocking some of the beautiful cinematography, such as the prison scene with hundreds of balls of soap, tied with long strings, spinning from the cages that the prisoners were kept in. It seems Arenas survived in there by writing letters for the prisoners in return for soap and cigarettes. In the film a transvestite played by Johnny Depp (with all the usual Depp flare) smuggled a novel he wrote out but apparently that did not happen in realitywhere seems they caught him trying to smuggle out his writings.

Shame I took 6 years to get round to seeing this movie as it is well worth a view and I’m annoyed now that I recently returned “The Sea Inside” without watching it. Anyway, I recommend.


01:24:44 Yes, it’s my book, now it’s yours.

01:24:50 Thanks.

01:25:20 Why do you write?

01:25:25 Revenge.

01:25:35 Could you teach me how to write?

Brian Kinney is in Deadwood

Monday, August 7th, 2006

Just so you know. Although Gale Harold is playing Wyatt Earp in this.

Wyatt Earp

Email issues

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Like Tom I seem to be having email issues. If you’ve sent me email in the pastt week, can you send it again or send it to Damien.Mulley < at > Gmail. Also for whoever reads this, can you send a test mail to Damien < at > mulley < dot > net and if it gets sent back can you post the error message in the comments? Thanks.

Sunday Papers: Some bits

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Business Post on Lieberman’s fight for survival:

The Connecticut contest is also widely regarded as a test of the strength of the so-called ‘blogosphere’. The term refers to the politically orientated web logs – or blogs – that have proliferated in recent years. On the liberal side, the blogs have provided a new forum for activists dissatisfied with the moderate Democratic leadership. Many of the blogs have campaigned vigorously for Lamont – a victory for the challenger would therefore be seen as a feather in their cap.

‘‘There are a lot of elements in this race,� Doug Muzzio, a public affairs professor at the City University of New York told The Sunday Business Post. ‘‘The most obvious is Lieberman’s position on the war and his closeness to Republicans. “But the deeper element is the role of bloggers. The way the opposition is organised and the way it communicates is different to how it was before.� Tuesday’s vote should provide more evidence on the question of how effective the bloggers really are.

Expect a slight increase in journalists interested in Irish political blogs if Lieberman crashes out. Are you listening Cian and Simon?

Both Mark Tighe in the Sunday Times and Kathleen Barrington in the Business Post cover the fact that the new owners of eircom have said in typical Aussie fashion that the network is shit. Something IrelandOffline have been saying for years, because it’s true. When the Oireachtas Committee on Broadband asked Isolde Goggin the head of ComReg about it, she instead decided to answer a different question.

Durkan asked the question: “I draw her attention to line failure in broadband. We were not able to get information on the extent of that line failure because it is supposed to be commercially sensitive. Is ComReg aware of the extent of line failure resulting in an inability to provide broadband services?”

Goggin said to question:
“We get information from Eircom about the rate of line failure and the time to repair, and issues regarding repeat faults and so on. Our experience of the number of lines connected to a broadband-enabled exchange that will fail the test appears to be in line with that in other countries. The experience in Northern Ireland, for example, bears that out.

Let me be quite clear on this. The line failure rate on exchanges in the Republic of Ireland is around 20%. In Northern Ireland it is 0.84%. Our regulator knows this but told an official Oireachtas Committee:

the number of lines connected to a broadband-enabled exchange that will fail the test appears to be in line with that in other countries. The experience in Northern Ireland, for example, bears that out.

Anyone recommend a book from Amazon on how to count?

Total Eclipse of the Heart – Percussion using dishwashers and a cooker

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Watch out for one guys builders cleavage though. Not nice first thing in the morning.

Freefall University – Skydiving in good weather

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

While waiting (and saving) for my Antarctica trip I’ve been looking at other things to do. This Freefall University in Madrid looks like a fun thing to do for a week. Cheap enough too.

Update: I was just chatting to one of the staff from FreeFall University who called me after seeing this blog post. He answered all my questions and gave lots more information as well as some tips about Skydiving in Ireland. Now that’s customer service. He also pointed out that Aer Lingus are starting their Cork to Madrid service very soon. I might just go for my birthday now.

Million Political Questions Website

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

Ido Kenan mentions the idea an Israeli political party had:

Israeli right-wing party National Union launched a Million Orange Dots site, where surfers can add an orange dot with their name and political message.

Nice variation of the Million Dollar Pixel idea. I wonder could we do the same over here for questions we want canvassers at the next election to answer. For example Treasa has one this evening on party policies on property crashes. People can log in, and ask a non-party specific question, fill in their contact details, and they’ll be emailed a direct url to their question. All parties can be forwarded a database of questions they can answer if they wish and answers will be put online. Anyone want to build a “Million Political Questions” website?

Studio 60 – New show from the amazing Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

Attention West Wing fans. Studio 60 is the new show created by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. It airs September 18th in the States and we’ll no doubt get to see it a few week or months after. It’s an inside view of how the TV industry works from the viewpoint of a show like Saturday night live. The West Wing but in Hollywood. It stars Bradley Whitford, Matthew and a very hot Amanda Peet. The pilot has been leaked online and I watched it there. DAMN. It’s like watching a Sorkin episode of West Wing. I’m hooked and sold on this. The leaked pilot is also on YouTube, the first part is below. Bound to get removed unless it was a cool marketing ploy. Watch as a guy loses it live on air. This is going to be great. Matthew Perry is already going to win an Emmy. And Sorkin.