Bradley Mitton brings a new level of sophistication to the world of wine for gastronomy on the French Riviera and in Monaco. Club Vivanova, his gourmet event club is fast becoming the most successful and fastest-growing social and business network on the Riviera. Real Riviera takes a moment to find out how this highly driven businessman has made such a reputation with his brands and what fuels his enthusiasm for success.
You have built quite a reputation on the French Riviera. Why did you start your wine company and was it challenging?
I opened Mitton International Wines and Club Vivanova in 2002 in Berlin. The city was fresh, there was little to no New World wine in the market and after moving from 12 years in Asia in the gastronomy business, I saw a great opportunity. After three months in Berlin, I decided I just had to go on my own, I’d had enough of working for people. So on a shoe-string budget, working out of our family bedroom, I opened Mitton International Wines and started knocking on doors in Berlin selling New World wines, delivering them myself in an old Ford Fiesta. It used to break down all the time, we had very little money with minimal stock and it is really tough to successfully sell New World wines in an Old World region, but I believed in what I was doing, I built some great relationships and over 15 years I developed the business into 7 countries. Yes, it was challenging but you have to rise to the occasion, dig deep and push forward.
As a start-up, did you have any doubts in the beginning or set-backs?
I never had any doubts about my capabilities as I had operated a number of diverse restaurants in Asia under duress and in tough circumstances and at a young age – and so I learnt as much as I could. I’d seen people make mistakes and I knew what I had to achieve. I could not accept or afford failure and so yes, there were the usual business set-backs of financial issues, bureaucracy, being an entrepreneur in a country where you are supposed to be part of a system and of course, just the daily mental issues and stress that you face. But like Winston Churchill once said, “When you are going through hell, keep going”. Setting up a serious business – I am not talking about a passion – is tough and hard and you have to make sacrifices to succeed. Determination and hard-work gets you through everything.
How do you select the wine? Did you have a lot of experience in the wine business before you opened your own?
We focus on family-owned, boutique wineries where all of the investment goes into the juice (wine). It doesn’t make any sense for us to buy from big commercial wineries. First of all, they push for volumes, they spend fortunes on labelling, bottle-shapes, marketing and over-bearing facilities and then what you pour in the glass is just out-priced. We work with the best sommeliers in the world and they want top-class, value-for-money wine in the glass for their clients. They don’t care what the bottle looks like, they want to make sure the wines are hand-made, balanced and effective at cost. And so we approach farmers, people who make wine and they work the farms, producing great grapes, they bottle and sell to us; these are salt-of-the-earth winemakers who really care about the juice they bottle. The sommeliers appreciate this.
Yes, I have experience and I have worked in this industry now for 28 years. I worked my way up the culinary ladder beginning as a plongeur (kitchen porter) in Surfer’s Paradise (Australia) at the age of 21 through to commis chef in Cairns to eventually becoming a restaurant manager in Hong Kong at 24 and then an Executive Chef in Boracay (Philippines) at 25. I opened my own Mediterranean fusion restaurant in Manila aged 26 and moved to Seoul (South Korea) aged 31 in 2000 to become operations director for a fine-dining restaurant group. I worked very hard, kitchen work is tough and pressured and it all happened very fast, I was head-hunted by a variety of restaurant owners across Asia who saw potential in my work-ethic and they gave me great opportunities to develop in a creative way. I used them all as stepping stones to build my career.
I had an opportunity in Seoul to operate a restaurant group and also develop a wine distribution channel for my employer and so I started developing wine promotional programs in Seoul at his restaurants. It was exciting as the region imported most of their wines from Australia at that time and the winemakers would visit and we could present and promote winemaker dinners and events. I then decided during this period and after ten years in Asia, that a return to Europe was possibly a good idea and I took a job offer in Berlin. And so that’s where it all started.
What makes your wines unique?
We only import from the New World. However, European restaurants mainly list European wines. Fifteen years ago, I noticed a trend where people wanted to drink something they understand, that tastes round and mouth-filling and is not too complicated. European wines can be difficult to understand and choosing a wine can be intimidating; the New World takes all of this fear away and offers what is on the label. It’s very simple and they’ve produced huge competition for the Old World.
We keep our costs low; overheads minimal. We ship everything direct from the winery and this is a seriously complicated job, bringing the wines in from the small farms, onto pallets for example in Melbourne, then by ship to Europe to four warehouses across Europe (Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and Monaco). We then ship direct to the clients; we have exclusivity on all the brands and we don’t have the wines in shops or online, the restaurants have exclusivity in the market. Private clients can buy from us but they have to call us direct. This is unique and the wines themselves are unique in the special and caring way that they are produced.
Where can we enjoy your wines?
Mainly in five star hotels and restaurants for example the Hyatt group, Ritz Carlton and Fairmont, private hotels with Michelin star restaurants, SBM in Monaco and we do lots of business with Asian restaurants in Germany that are open-minded when it comes to food and wine pairing. You can also buy direct from us and our Club Vivanova members receive a three-bottle pack of these wines when they join the club.
What is the philosophy behind Club Vivanova?
Club Vivanova hosts gourmet events in Monaco and across Europe targeting a niche group of international professionals and business leaders in the region. We bring these people together to network. The club builds relationships between gastronomy, international businesses and private clients and we have a great reputation of success and quality in Europe‘s luxury brand sector. The business philosophy for me is that I want to support loactions that list my wines and this is how I do it, I bring them clients and run great events. Current Club Vivanova event and promotional partners include the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Boucheron, Tiffany & Co., Sunseeker Yachts, SBM Monaco, Fairmont Hotels, Relais et Chateau Hotels, the Hyatt Hotel Group and over one hundred leading hotels in Central Europe (over thirty in Monaco and Cannes), international wealth management groups, artists, luxury and exotic car dealerships, fashion, art and alcohol brands.
If you were James Bond would you order wine or Martini?
If I was James Bond I would order a Martini, shaken not stirred, it’s classic, I am classic.
Photography: Ekaterina Kurilovich & Luxury Life International
Edited by Kay Hare