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The Warsaw Voice » Chair of the Year » March 31, 2011
Chair of the Year
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All for the Love of Wine
March 31, 2011   
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Mirosław Pawlina, owner of the M&P Alkohole i Wina ¦wiata company, talks toElżbieta Wrzecionkowska about his love of wine and his recipe for success.

In 2000, you were one of the first people in Poland to open a store selling quality wine. How did you come up with the idea?
Before starting my own business, I worked for companies which imported alcohol to Poland. I had some knowledge of how the market functioned and I had always been interested in wine. It upset me that in Poland this magical liquid was at the bottom of sales statistics. Before the democratic changes started in Poland in 1989, for many years Sofia [a cheap, sweet Bulgarian wine] reigned in Poland and became the epitome of wine in the minds of Polish people. Then Polish importers started bringing in poor quality yet expensive wines, which further convinced the public there was no point drinking wine. The ordinary person knew practically nothing about wine, its varieties, about storing or serving wine.

In that first store, I sold wine myself and talked to my customers who would often tell me about interesting wine varieties they had tasted on their private and business trips. I even imported some of the most intriguing wines especially for such customers. That kind of relationship cannot be recreated anymore. We had and still have many regular customers who come not just to buy but to talk, find out a little more about a given wine variety and learn what kind of wine to serve at dinner. Education has always been one of the main things at our wine stores. Besides, the stores are a meeting place for people who share an interest. Wine is more than an alcoholic drink to whet your appetite, enhance the flavor of dishes and stimulate your metabolism. Wine is about a certain lifestyle, an expertise and for many, it is a true passion.

Your stores sell over 1,000 kinds of alcohol from all over the world. What special finds have you imported to Poland?
Our collection includes wines from small, family-run vineyards which use recipes handed down from generation to generation. There are gems from Tuscany, exquisite wines from the Rhone Valley and Austrian villages such as Baumgarten am Wagram. Among the latter, the Heiderer Mayer vineyard makes white wine known as Gruner Veltliner. The location, the warm climate of the Pannonian Plain and chilly nights in the area lend an exceptionally mild acidity to the wine and a delicate, fruity flavor. It is definitely worth trying.

Of course we also import wines from the New World, that is from Chile, Argentina and Australia, but also selected varieties from France, Italy and Spain. It is probably not common knowledge that most New World wines are blends of a maximum of two grape varieties and as such, they are simpler and easier on the palate. French wines, on the other hand, are blends of three and more grape varieties, they are refined combinations which produce a wonderful effect when coupled with tradition and the experience of centuries. Good French wine will frequently change its flavor as you drink it, you can taste and relish it for hours. The aromas of French wines are more complex and such wines are gradually coming back into favor. I believe wines like those constitute a higher level of knowledge about wine.

Wine aside, we have managed to import very special kinds of Armagnac and vintage Cognac, such as the unique Cognac from “Little Champagne,” the Cognac Extra Carafe. It matures in kegs for 30 years. We naturally keep expanding our selection by searching for new and interesting alcohols at trade fairs and on trips. My customers frequently ask me if I taste every alcohol we sell. Yes, I do. I believe it would be insincere to sell something I am not familiar with.

Having succeeded with your first wine store, you went on to open more. You now have 11 stores in Warsaw and you are planning to expand further. What is your recipe for success and what plans do you have for the future?
Our success hinges on how we sell our goods. We are unable to compete with supermarkets on price. We offer our customers select products chosen by the best sommeliers—the Women’s Sommelier Champion of Poland, Magdalena Bednarek, works for us. In our stores, you get a pleasant atmosphere and assistance from advisors. That is something customers appreciate. Right from the beginning, I knew I had to run stores of my own. We are very meticulous when we choose locations and so you will not find our stores in shopping malls where rents are very high, which would force us to raise prices. We open stores in places which you can easily access by car, with convenient parking spaces. We are, of course, planning to enlarge our chain and even build a House of Wine. In 2006, we launched an import service specially for our stores, which allows us to bring in all kinds of alcohol from the most remote corners of the world. We are also planning to build a logistics center to deliver our stock to stores, restaurants, clubs, companies and private homes. Last year, we held the first Nationwide Wine and Alcohol Show for our regular customers and everybody else interested in the subject. There were lectures and meetings with sommeliers. The feedback we heard during the event reassured us that we should carry on with it. I hope the Wine and Alcohol Show will be a meeting place for wine lovers and people working in the industry.
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