Lee Dinsdale interviews Henrik Smith of Ibizkus Wines
Lee: Good afternoon this is the Logros Show and we are broadcasting live from Ibiza. Our guest this week is Henrik Smith, how are you Henrik? Just tell us a little bit about your background – where are you from?
Henrik: Hi, I am from Denmark originally but grew up in France and have spent many years living in the US and now in Ibiza since 2007.
Lee: We do meet a lot of international people in Ibiza how do you say, hello how are you in Denmark?
Henrik: Hej, hvordan gar det.
Lee: Great and we are here in Ibizkus which is one of the leading wineries in Ibiza. Tell us about your role here.
Henrik: I am co-administrator of the winery which means I am responsible for sales nationally as well as internationally, as well as marketing and communication.
Lee: How long have you been in this kind of business?
Henrik: I have been with Ibizkus since 2014 and full time with Ibizkus since 2017 but my background is not wines. I come from the internet software/hardware world. I was living in San Francisco and working in that industry until I was hired in 2014 by Ibizkus to develop a CRN which is customer relations management platform for them and little by little they kept asking me to do other tasks until finally in 2017 I pretty much handled the whole winery.
Lee: That’s a bit of an interesting story so can you cast your mind back to when you were 16, 17, 18, what were you doing before you went over to San Francisco?
Henrik: I arrived in 2007 and I still had a Swedish client and American client and a few clients abroad as well as locally, developing back end database software solutions and things that had really very little to do with wine and stumbled across them actually through a friend of a friend who knew one of the shareholders; typically in life that is how it happens, you end up meeting someone who knows someone and was involved in a very small project for Ibizkus which turned out to be very successful and was hired again and again and within a couple of years full time.
Lee: Okay so we do actually speak to a lot of people who change jobs or are looking to change. What was the trigger for you to move from software into the wine business? That is quite a bit of a change.
Henrik: I think the trigger was not so much a choice as much as it was moving to Ibiza and I don’t come from the tourism industry, I have never run a hotel, I am not a real estate agent; I wanted something where I was working full time all year and something challenging so something where I was running a company managing products, inventory, staff, different markets the sales aspect of it all and Ibizkus definitely has given me that challenge.
Lee: Let’s talk about the history of wine first of all in Ibiza. This going to be a very quick documentary style radio show.
Henrik: Actually it’s very interesting, they have discovered terracotta emperors in the sea that date back to seventh century BC so we know that there is at least 2700 years of wine making on the island and at that time the emperors that we discovered here were delivered to the Eastern part of Spain what is called Valencia region so during the time of the Phoenicians Ibiza was known as a wine maker that would export their wine to the Peninsula, so there is a lot of tradition of wine making here on the island. Of course this wine making has become commercial in the past 20 – 30 years prior to that it was just the necessity of life as we say.
Lee: We will get into the business of how wine is made because I came down here a few weeks ago and it was fascinating because I want too sure myself. Tell us about the company Ibizkus .
Henrik: Well the company was founded in 2007 actually as Totem Wines. We had acquired a small existing winery called Vintanit Mediteranis very typically an Ibicencan name that had been founded itself in 2001. They were producing around 5 -7000 bottles and 2 French men from Bourgogne were looking for a place on the Mediterrean – a French Rose like a Provence style rose and they came across Ibiza and they found a grape called Monastrell or Mourvedre in English that was extremely well adapted. It had the right acidity, the right sugar ph., the right history behind it to make a rose that had more volume and body than your typical supermarket rose let’s say and they ended up acquiring that winery in 2007, establishing Totem wines at the time under the name of Ibizkus. Since Ibizkus became so well-known Totem is our premium label for some of best single parcel ungrafted wines.
Lee: Ibizkus has been going for a while then and I know you a does it start?
Henrik: It starts where the previous harvest ends. We actually finished harvesting yesterday. We started harvesting 7th August, the climate on Ibiza is very hot, we get very little rain usually it’s not like it is today, its pouring rain which is unusual on the island but we typically don’t get rain from the end of March till harvest so we end up harvesting quite early. We also have quite sandy soils in Ibiza and the sand retains the heat which means that we end up harvesting a few weeks earlier here than we would on that specific grape variety anyway so the end to end cycle begins when the harvest ends which means we start pruning and labouring and taking care of the complicated process. Then the vines go into hibernation typically 2nd week in November and things are somewhat quiet until the first week of March as far as the vineyards are concerned. Here at the winery we will be fermenting, we will be bottling and preparing everything we need for the next vintage.
Lee: What is the most important part of that process then?
Henrik: I would love to answer that with a single aspect but there isn’t. The vines and the quality of the grapes are critical. You cannot make a good wine with bad grapes but you can easily make a bad wine with good grapes – the most important aspect are the grapes and the vineyard and how you prune and how you take care of them. We work only ecologically in the vineyard so we do not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizer. We believe in being as sustainable as possible without being a certified biodynamic winery but we just believe in doing as much as we can to do our little, as they say in Spanish grain of salt to help the environment and that includes the winemaking process.
Lee: Tell us a little bit more about who you are dealing with on the island in terms of where the wine comes from?
Henrik: We have 84 different vineyards on the island, 62 of those we took over from local farmers, local Ibicencan families and most of them had planted these vineyards between 1928 and 1988 for their own consumption so these were planted with the local grape variety which is movadre and malvasia and like I said for their own consumption so they never maximized the plants per hectare so the production is relatively low but the quality is very high. We took over those and of course in addition to that we planted some of our own vineyards and we do have some that are our property but most of them are belonging to Ibicencan families.
Lee: What is the main challenge with running a wine business here dealing with so many different people?
Henrik: Many challenges, I wouldn’t say it is such a different challenge to deal with the locals – it was in the beginning but as they show up here every year middle to late October for their cheque based on how many kilos of grapes we harvested, after a few years they knew that we were serious and they had met our wine maker, the team they had seen wine on the menus and they realised that Ibizkus was serious. So the challenge doesn’t even come so much from that end – it comes from making wine on a small island like Ibiza where everything needs to be brought to the island. When our bottling or labelling machine fails we have to find someone from the Peninsular who can fly out to Ibiza for the day and repair this. Whenever we need parts they are to come from the Peninsular so it is costly and time consuming and it is a little bit more stressful let’s say to produce wine on the island than it would be anywhere on the mainland.
Lee: Well you did change your career so what is that you like about working here at Ibizkus?
Henrik: More than anything I think I love the fact that I’m selling a tangible product. Like we briefly mentioned before I come from the internet software marketing and software hardware world where everything is binary and a cycled product that you cannot really touch. When I first started with Ibizkus and met the wine maker, the consultants, the team and we walked around the vineyards and touched the vines touched the grapes; smelt them, tasted them you realised that you are making an end product from just this one little grape that grows thanks to Mother Nature and this is something that is truly gratifying. The wine making is not just the grape part it has to do with fermentation, bottling and having all of the inventory of items that you need to create work in progress but all those challenges together and of course selling it; it’s easy to make wine – anyone can make wine but what matters is that you sell what you produce. So it’s kind of working from the vineyard to the end consumer typically for us it is the Horeca sector, the hotel restaurant cafe sector. We sell a lot more to them than we would to even specialty markets or gourmet stores.
Lee: Great and what would you say is the difference that makes the difference from a wine making perspective? I guess you can be very expensive or medium priced; in your opinion from working here and it is a difficult market and for everybody listening and the hospitality sector as well in that kind of business what do you think are some of the key components of a great wine business or making wine.
Henrik: I think it has to do with your price positioning. If you have a wine that is relatively economical then the value comes from that price point – you don’t expect necessarily a great wine. When you pay £15-£20 for a bottle that would be the price people do expect a lot more and it is a question of communicating not so much the intangibles but what the consumer wants to hear. If they know that this is a winery that works ecologically that handpicks 120 tonnes of grapes a year that creates their own starter yeasts and by that I mean we don’t use chemical yeasts to start the fermentation that is not industrial that has that side to it and then finally you end up with a wine that is high quality and that people enjoy then I think that price is justified. It’s like everything else in life it has value where it depends on the price and quality and the consumer based on that is willing or not willing to spend that money. I think the story behind it is interesting, it is real, the story is real and I think we don’t have a problem selling any product as long as you can justify the labour and the hard work and more than anything else the passion that goes on behind it.
Lee: Great so it is an authentic place here and a leading winemaker here in Ibiza. Let’s just talk about the hospitality – in your opinion what do you think makes a great hospitality business?
Henrik: I can only refer back to let’s say the island as a reference for me and the places that I have lived. Typically again it has to do with two things for me , one is passion- if you are passionate about what you do you will do it well and then two of course is the customer. It has to be very customer centric. We all have hard days, we all have difficult days; we all have sad days , we cannot communicate that to the customer, the customer is going out he is spending money – it’s about him about enjoying him or herself . We have to try to show that positive face, we have to make it a pleasurable experience. If the customer walks away from that and has fun has had a good meal , a great couple of beers, has had a good time with his friends he will come back so it’s really all about the experience that they have had in your establishment in my opinion.
Lee: That’s great so it’s all about the customer; it’s all about having passion and certainly in Ibizkus where you are gearing up for a wine tasting, is that right? I’ve just been told you are going to be delivering a wine tasting in French, Spanish and English is that correct?
Henrik: That is correct. We do try to limit wine tasting to specific languages but on a day like today, a rainy day it crosses anyone’s mind that it would be a great idea to go wine tasting so we end up with crowds from Holland Germany, UK of course, Ireland, France, Italy a and they don’t speak all the languages so we end up doing many multilingual tastings where we kind of explain the same thing in one, two, or three languages to customers. I speak poorly 5 or 6 but I do speak them.
Lee: Wow that’s great; I’m still getting along with my Spanish at the moment. Okay Thank you Henrik just one last thing as I mentioned we have a lot of international people here, the show is about Ibiza and in your view what do you think makes Ibiza for you?
Henrik: Ibiza is a melting pot as you mentioned and it is interesting to note that half the island is Ibicenco and the other half which is a huge percentage of the population is either from the Spanish mainland or anywhere in the world. There are Australians like there are Brits or Danes or Swedes or Americans or Canadians and these people have kind of learned to just get along so they don’t have the support group that we would have back home; at home we have our families our grandmothers our cousins our parents, here we kind of rely on each other to become that support group and I think that is what makes Ibiza unique is that we have learned to cohabitate with people who are from different cultures from ourselves who maybe don’t quite understand our needs the same way; we end up learning to share those and live happily so it makes Ibiza very unique, yes.
Lee: I suppose that is a metaphor for what’s going on in the world at the moment so that’s why it is a unique place here in Ibiza. Lastly what are the plans for the rest of the year for Ibizkus and yourself?
Henrik: For Ibizkus we are finishing the harvest , we go through various types of fermentations , the most well-known is alcoholic and then we do what is called the malolactic which we do on red wine but also on rose and white partially so that we do not lose all the aroma then we have a little bit of a break middle late October I will continue travelling going to Holland on Thursday; I will be in the UK in a couple of weeks because we have a new distributor there who is offering Ibizkus wines through Latinwinesonline.com in the UK so finally we have again a presence in the UK with Brexit and it’s been very difficult because of the customs declarations fees, the shipping, everything ended up being quite costly so my life continues with marketing and selling Ibizkus and the team that works in the winery finally get a break after nearly a year without one so last year was very difficult year for us.
Lee: Okay well I wish you all the best and I wish Ibizkus all the best for the rest of the year. Thank you very much for joining us and sharing what it is like to make wine here in Ibiza.
Henrik: Thank you very much and thanks to all your listeners and don’t regret it that you are not in Ibiza today as its pouring rain here!
Lee: Okay thank you Henrik and this is the Logros Show and this is Unity Radio and todays show is in association with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
What is this interview about?
Ibizkus – leading winery in Ibiza
How Ibizkus was founded
The process of wine making at Ibizkus from start to finish
Events at Ibizkus
Who may Be Interested in This Article?
Those travelling to Ibiza looking for interesting things to do during their stay
Anyone interested in the process of wine making without the use of chemicals
Those who want to know about the actual amount work that goes into producing a good wine
Making Ibiza is a series of Live FM radio shows broadcast from different locations in Ibiza with people who work in Ibiza from the world of Business, Culture and Wellbeing.
More interviews here: www.unityradio.fm/making-ibiza