When Helén Ström took over wine importer Savino from Bengt Savérus two years ago, it didn’t take long for her and her backers to recognize the full potential of the small yet renowned stable of family producers now at her disposal. Started by Savérus back in 2004, the little company’s portfolio was bristling with outstanding quality from the likes of Comm. G.B Burlotto, Giuseppe Cortese and Aldo Rainoldi, among others.
“I have previously worked as a sales representative at the importer Johan Lidby Vinhandel. Before that, I worked in the restaurant business since 1995. I started as a 15-year.old behind the counter at Brända Bocken and O’Learys in Gävle, my hometown,” she says.
In 2000 Helén left Gävle to move to Stockholm, and she has since worked in several restaurants as both waitress and restaurant manager. Well-known spots such as Biblos, Café Opera, Operakällaren, Hotellet, Mondän and La Vecchia Signora have all been graced with her knowledge and enthusiasm. She qualified as a sommelier about ten years ago at Vinkällan, and the food and wine business have always had a great impact in her life.
During the past two hectic years, Helén has personally visited all her producers, to monitor the work in the vineyards and the wineries. She considers a close and personal relationship the highest ranking factor for her success. Having a close relationship both with producers and customers is of the highest importance at Savino.
“The first year and a half with Savino, I have pretty much pushed everything by myself, with purchasing, sales, supplies, trips to our producers, tastings and administration. Back in March we employed our first person, Mimmi Malm, who mainly is focused on sales.
“We focus mainly on restaurants and currently we have a selection that can be ordered from Systembolaget. Our strength is to work with and handpick small to medium-sized high quality producers, and we want to give a high level of service. From the beginning we had only Italian producers but last year we have started to work with two great Austrian producers, Salomon Undhof from Kremstal and Wenzel from Rust in Burgenland.”
There are also some French producers on the horizon and as Savino is growing steadily over time they already have plans to work with other wine-producing countries in the near future. The name Savino comes from the Italian ‘Sapere vino “- having knowledge of wine and Helén is a person with great knowledge and great passion.
As a small player on the extended scene that is the wine importers of Sweden, what do you bring to the table that makes a difference and what has made you successful?
First of all, I love my job and to work with great people, restaurants, wine, food – the culture becomes more like a lifestyle than a job, and I think that can be reflected in success. One of our biggest strengths is that we can be extremely flexible with fast deliveries, and be there for our customers 24/7 with high-quality wines. And I think that hard work and a good network after many years in the wine industry make us successful.
What would you say is your pride and joy with Savino?
I’d like to say that I’m very proud to have build up Savino and learned all about how to run a wine company, and the joy of working with small, passionate wine producers from fantastic wine regions.
When looking for producers, what are your main criteria for sourcing and selecting partners?
It’s really important to meet the producers at the estate, to create a close relationship and see how they work in the vineyards. I also want to try the wines several times to ensure quality.
Tell us what your everyday workday look like?
A working day for me usually starts out at the warehouse. I pick up the orders I received the day before and load them into the van. Our warehouse is at Liquid Services in Huddinge. When the van is full, I drive to the office located in Ingemarsgatan in Stockholm and print orders and answer some emails from the restaurants and producers. After lunch, I usually do some deliveries and I have one or more meetings, and possibly some wine-tastings with restaurants. At the end of the day I usually go back to the office and do paper work for a few more hours. Everything from purchasing, invoices, product sheets and so on, it’s a lot to take care of.
You are mainly focused on Italy but Austrian wines are also represented. Will you stay with these two countries or will you extend your catalogue with other origins?
When we took over Savino it was only Italian wines in the portfolio. As I mentioned earlier, we will expand the portfolio with some regions that we absolutely want to work with. Also, if there are good winemakers with high quality they can make the “new” wine regions on the list. We are mainly going to work with wines from Europe. But if there are some other good wines outside Europe we will also look to work with that.
When it comes to Italian wine, you are specialized in the most northern part and the furthest southern part – what is it with wines from those parts that brings out your passion?
I’m a big fan of the Piedmont area in the north. I love the people, the food and the wines there. I like the traditional style of the wine and the history behind these crafts. Etna wines from Sicily in the south have fascinated me more and more in recent years. My boyfriend and I drove around Sicily a year and a half ago. There we learned to understand the temperature changes and the different landscapes of Sicily. It is very hard to make good wines in Sicily. We visited our producer Al Cantàra, whose vineyard is located 600 meters above sea level with a soil of ash from the active volcano Mount Etna. The white wines there are reminiscent of premier cru Chablis. I always liked the mineral-rich Chablis. I guess I like wines with acid, minerality and with a certain rawness and traditional style.
You have an extended selection of grappa in your range too, does the average Swede really know much about grappa? Can you explain a little what grappa is and what is the pleasure you take in this liquor?
We have the advantage of working with the famous and high-quality distillery Sibona which is the oldest licensed distillery in the Piemonte region. Sibona’s distillery is situated in the Roero in Piobesi d’Alba, just a few kilometres from Alba and was founded over 100 years ago.
Many who had tasted or smelled grappa thinks of finkel. Sibona is quite the opposite. What really is unique about our grappa by Sibona is that the grappa is from single grapes and comes from top producers of Barbaresco and Barolo and such. In essence, they are very pure and clean grappas. The marc is sent straight to the distillery from the local wine growers just after they have compressed or crushed grapes for their wines.
The distillation process begins by steaming the fresh grapes immediately on arrival at the distillery. This allows the best exploitation of the unique flavours and aromas of the grapes. After distillation the grappa is aged in different barrels or steel tanks.
What made you take the step from one side of the wine business to the other, from buying and restaurants to import and sales?
After many years working in restaurants I started to study to become a sommelier, at the Vinkällan wine school. I think that was the main reason I got my first sales job at a wine importer. My interest in wine and the people behind the wine grew and my dream of running my own business grew along with it. After looking around for some time, my partners and I – who also have spent a long time in the restaurant business – started up this project to become a wine importer.
Savino has been around for a few years now, how does the future look like for you? Any new plans, ideas you want to share?
Yes, two years of the new Savino. We’re growing slowly and we will continue to maintain a high level of service, working with high-quality producers with good, close relationships.
For an amateur on wine here in Sweden, the products one can find at Systembolaget is what you have to choose from. However, there are more to find if you know where to look – what is your suggestion for the curious wine aficionado beyond the Systembolaget shelves?
Of course you can travel and find good wine shops abroad. There are also some good websites. The only thing that you don’t know so much about is how they have stored the wines, how the wines have developed. You can always import privately from the importers. But then it has to go through the monopoly nevertheless.
Please give some tips to our readers what to drink for the upcoming holidays.
For Christmas, I would drink the wines of Valtellina. A stunningly beautiful landscape and fine wines. I would start with an Inferno Riserva made from Nebbiolo (local name Chiavanesca) grapes from Aldo Rainoldi and then continue with a Sfursat di Valtellina, also from Aldo Rainoldi and made from the same grapes as the Inferno Riserva, but using dried grapes. For New Year’s, I eat lots of seafood. And then I would drink Undhof Kögl, Riesling from Salomon Undhof, a mineral-rich, elegant, stylish Riesling. Lovely acid that matches the savory shellfish.
Text: Pär Strömberg