- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Laurent Givry is stocking up on French wine. The importer and salesman is concerned that an embargo of Gallic goods could shut off the supply of his best-selling product.
"If there is an embargo, I am probably out of business," Mr. Givry says.
Mr. Givry has been in the wine business for about eight years. He and his partners opened their company, Lorton-based Elite Wines, one year ago.
The company imports French and Spanish wines for wholesaling to local outlets. French vintages represent about 70 percent of his business and Spanish 30 percent.
But difficult diplomatic relations between Mr. Givry's native country and his adopted one, and the ongoing war in Iraq, have colored public perceptions and influenced political maneuvering.
There has been agitation in the United States for a consumer boycott of French products, and calls for formal trade measures to keep out France's water and wine. And some restaurants and taverns have publicly poured French wine into the gutter and dubbed deep-fried potatoes "freedom fries."
The rhetoric and actions are a cause of concern for the local businessman.
Mr. Givry just invested in some Argentine wines, in part because they offer good value, but also because he is diversifying his stock in the event that public opinion turns on Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and other well-known appellations.
But he also wants more French wine because he can't keep enough on hand to satisfy Washington-area demand. About 4,000 cases are on their way to his warehouse.
So far, his customers he sells about 1,500 cases of wine a month to 150 liquor stores, wine shops and restaurants in Virginia, the District and Maryland haven't stepped away from French products.
"We are doing good. Maybe the big guys feel an impact, but we have not," he says.
At least in and around Washington, people still want their French reds and whites.
Some wine buyers complain about the French government, and some have switched to other nations' products. But others, the anti-war set, seek out vintages from France.
"Three out of 300 [customers] say something," Mr. Givry says.
Personally, Mr. Givry is happy to talk about his native country he is from Toulouse in the south of France and also about the United States, where he has lived since 1991.
"I love the States," he says. "Here, everything is possible."
And as far as the war with Iraq, Mr. Givry says it had to be fought now or later and better now.
"I am pro-war," he says.
That is not the case with the majority of his countrymen in France. Only 31 percent of French people have a positive view of the United States and 75 percent oppose the war, according to a survey released this month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The resulting stress in relationships has taken a psychological toll, but so far hasn't hurt business.
"French wine seems to be going pretty steadily. We've not seeing anything yet," says Curtis Phillips, managing editor of Wine Business Monthly, a publication that tracks the industry.
The export is important to France's economy. The country's vintners sent $932 million worth of wine to the United States last year, up from $826 million in 2001, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
So to a large degree, it is business as usual for Elite Wines.
That means Mr. Givry drives about 200 miles a day to visit customers, uncork bottles and offer various wines for tasting.
"You need to be a salesman. You need to be on the street every day," he says.
That means a quick stop at his Lorton warehouse, where he selects a few bottles to shop around town. Then come visits to customers, occasional public wine tastings at stores, a constant stream of phone calls with his business partners and staff at the five-person company, more calls to customers, worries about cash flow and exchange rates, and administrative tasks.
At three Sutton Place Gourmet stores and a D.C. restaurant one day this week, Mr. Givry carried bottles of Spanish and French reds and whites.
Wine managers or owners took sips from each bottle and commented, haggled and sometimes ordered several cases.
The day included a stop at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, where all labels for imported wine have to be approved before they can be brought into the country.
And twice a year, Mr. Givry travels to France to meet with vintners, talk business and arrange purchases.
The wines he buys for the U.S. market are better fuller and richer than the wines people drink in France, he says.
"American people are much more knowledgeable than Europeans. We drink much better wine here," he says.
Despite his expertise and enthusiasm, wine is ultimately a business for Mr. Givry. So much so that he doesn't drink his products at home.
"I only drink at work," he says.

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