Sunday 19 January 2020

Ballyhea wine buff's shops are now the toast of France

North Cork exile is one of Ireland’s modern ‘wine geese'

Ballyhea man Paddy O'Flynn exchanged the pastures of his native North Cork parish for the lush vineyards of the world famous Bordeaux region in France - and now his wine retail business is the toast of his adopted land.

Paddy, who follows in the long tradition of the 'wine geese', Irish exiles who made wine, has been living in Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, since 1988 when his then father-in-law Rene Baylet was voted the best winemaker in France for quality and price. And now three decades later, he himself has achieved the prestigious accolade of being named one of the top 10 wine retailers in France by Beverage Trade Network.

Having been immersed in wine culture since his arrival on the continent, Paddy managed 'La Tour des Vins' - a premium wine shop in the heart of Saint-Émilion.

He went on to found The Wine Buff, which also has 10 shops around Ireland, the first one opening in Limerick in 2000.

Living in the village with his wife Pilar and their two sons, Paddy said winning the award was a huge honour.

"It is an amazing achievement for a privately owned Irish company to be chosen as one of the top 10 wine retailers in France," he said. "To put this in perspective, the village where our premises is located - with a population of only 200 people - has over 50 wine shops and 1.5 million visitors a year and one of our competitors, who has over 500 shops, is not included in the top 10.

"It is a recognition of the passion, experience and knowledge The Wine Buff brings. And it is also a continuation of the influence the Irish have had on the industry in Bordeaux - after all we, the Irish, were the first to blend wines in the region."

But while the Corkman - who moved to Bordeaux after meeting his French wife in the US - has indeed gone native, it didn't happen overnight.

"The language barrier was the biggest challenge to setting up a new life in France," he said. "I didn't speak French but my new family and friends gave me great encouragement and I quickly grew to love the region.

"Of course, I also missed everyone in Ireland and that was hard at times."

O'Flynn's move not only facilitated the learning of a language, but also opened up the world of wine. "I took a job working in a wine shop and my colleague, who was a sommelier, taught me to taste wines correctly," he said.

"This was the beginning of my passion for wine which endures to this day. And marrying into a wine-making family was of huge benefit as it certainly opened a lot of important doors.

"I have been here now for 31 years and become part of the furniture of the village. And while I'm sure our competitors [the 50 other local wine shops] would probably prefer that we weren't there as we have a large customer base, overall the locals like that I am Irish and respect the professionalism which we bring to the industry."

The award-winning wine merchant says the genuine interest he has in both wine and his customers is why the shop is such a success today. "Our passion, experience and knowledge is exemplary within the wine industry," said Mr O'Flynn. "We absolutely love what we do, and we constantly strive to find the best deals for our customers."

And the Wine Buff focus is on discovering artisan wine producers who are committed to producing wines from sustainable viticulture.

"Our customers love the interaction and simplicity we offer.

"On top of that our customer reviews have elevated The Wine Buff to number one on TripAdvisor and Google for wine shopping in Saint-Émilion.

"We also treat everyone with the respect we believe they deserve, and we endeavour to make their experience in our premises memorable."

While most of the wines for sale in the Saint-Émilion shop are exclusive to The Wine Buff, they are also available in the 10 shops across Ireland.