Where are you from? Can you please tell us about your arrival in Seattle?
I am originally from the city of Tours, a region of castles; It is famous for its goat cheese and wines from the Loire river. I discovered the world of wine as a young man, when I was visiting wine estates.
I arrived in the USA in 2003 to study for an MBA. I then worked in San Francisco and moved to Seattle for Microsoft in 2007.
When did you jump into the wine industry? Could you please tell us about Cépaé?
In 2015, just for fun, I launched H Wines and J Wines, one company for wine importation and distribution, and the other for online sale. I could not find here the wines I wanted (or at a rather expensive price) and I also wanted to reduce the number of intermediates between the wine producer and the end customer. I started this project with a circle of friends and acquaintances. The idea at first was not to make a business out of it.
The project did work well, we quickly found consumers and restaurants that were interested in our wines and we decided to go to the next step.
I left Microsoft in 2016 to develop a business in wine importation and distribution with the opening of a retail space/wine bar, Cépaé. We signed the lease in September 2017 and the boutique opened in July 2018.
As a rule, Americans like to drink a bottle of wine 24 to 48h after they purchase it and they usually don’t age their bottles. At Cepae, we want to make sure consumers can taste any of our bottles of wine (among more than 150 different kinds) before buying one.
How do you select the wines that Cépaé will then represent?
In the beginning, I was distributing mostly French wines and a few foreign wines. Today, 75% of our wines come from foreign countries (70% French, 30% Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Japanese, Chilean, Argentinean, Uruguayan, and others).
Whenever time allows, I travel with my backpack to discover wines from South America, Australia, New-Zealand. I usually travel to France or to Europe 3 times a year to meet wine producers. I meet many of them, then I decide whether or not to represent them depending on the quality of their wines and also depending on the story behind. It works mostly with recommendations and people we meet during small wine fairs.
Today, we represent around 45 producers (exclusive of the prestigious Bordeaux grands crus classés). It is very important for my team and me to be able to communicate about the wines we have selected and that we represent.
We also offer a French beer, La Boisse, from Bordeaux, to meet the demands of our beer-drinking customers.
What do you think about organic wines?
Most of our wines are bio, certified or not. We are not allowed to put the European bio label on our bottles but it fits in with our values. There is a current trend for cleaner wines in the industry.
Could you please tell us about l’Expérience Paris?
Cépaé brings together all the wine activities, and the retail store is in Bellevue.
L’Expérience Paris handles all the gastronomic operations (viennoiserie, pastry) including luxury fine store products (eg: jamsand juices by Alain Milliat, Mariage Frères tea). We work with qualitative organic products. L’Expérience Paris has 2 locations, one in Bellevue and one on Mercer Island (which will also include a Cépaé corner).
The idea is to offer an experience that will last all day long, from morning coffee to evening dinner.
We are developing a wide range of events the objective of which is to share an experience with our customers and to educate them: wine tastings, theme dinners, winemaker dinners, Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners, luxury events (Pierre Hermé macaroons event).
We are also developing a catering activity under Cépaé.
Who is behind L’Expérience Paris and Cépaé?
L’Expérience Paris includes: :
- An executive chef, who trained at the Plaza Athénée hotel in Paris, and has developed Mademoiselle Colette French cafe chain in the Silicon Valley
- A maître tourrier (who produces viennoiseries)
- A pastry chef ( previously working at Canlis restaurant)
Cépaé has a team of sommeliers.
January is the month for galette des rois (King cake). We would love to know more about the different kinds of galettes you have in L’Expérience Paris.
This year, we have 4 galettes:
- The traditional one with frangipane, with a little twist of pecan and hazelnut
- Pistachio & Amarena black cherries
- Chocolate & Pear
- Brioche of the Kings (with candied fruit) – Famous in the south of France
And now, a more personal question: you have five minutes left to live, what wine would you choose?
Having lived in the Loire Valley, I would choose a Chinon or a Bourgueil.
And what are your favorite restaurants?
I really enjoy the following restaurants:
Copine, contemporary American restaurant with French influences.
Iconiq, French cuisine with Japanese inspiration.
Thank you very much Julien!
Interviewed by Ariane Ogier