Celebrating The Men In Wines & Spirits: Denzie Sinclair, A Journey Of Gratitude


Celebrating The Men In Wines & Spirits: Denzie Sinclair, A Journey Of Gratitude

Bar None

with Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, October 08, 2020

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Last year, about this time, we celebrated some influential women in wine. Well, we are flipping the script this year and will feature some astute men in wines and spirits, commencing with Denzie Sinclair.


Denzie Sinclair, business development manager of Harbour Wines & Spirits, a division of the Grace Kennedy Food Services operations, is an avid lover of all things wine. Sinclair's introduction to the world of wines and spirits began circa 1998 at J Wray & Nephew. Sinclair recounts that at that time, most if not all of the imported wines and spirits were distributed by the Wray & Nephew Group through its entities of Edwin Charley, Lascelles Wines & Spirits, Daniel Finzi, and Estate Distributors. Along with the brands being distributed, like Papillon, Cold Duck, and Rosemont were also the personalities who were champions of the burgeoning beverage subsector. Sinclair acknowledged the work of Janice Bagaloo, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Winston Bennett, William 'Billy' McConnell, Anthony Bell, Robert Polack, Vijay Matthews, Richard Stephenson and Derrick Dodd, who are described as some of the sector's pioneers. Sinclair also thanked several members of the press like Novia McDonald-Whyte, Christopher Reckord, Christene King and Chester Francis-Jackson, and contributors like Debra Taylor, Cecile Levee, Emma Sharp Dalton Brown, Marilyn Bennett, Leisha Chen-Young and Jacqui “Juicy Chef” Sinclair who were able to expand the discussion about the rise of the wine sector.

Naturally an acknowledgement too, to the Jamaica Observer that has, for over a decade, dedicated a weekly column to wines.

Sinclair further acknowledged the groups that played an integral role in the development of wine in Jamaica. These groups included the Chaine des Rotisseurs (Peter Fraser, Kermit Tucker, Larry Watson, Pierre Battaglia and Nancy McLean), restaurateurs like Norma Shirley, Mario Machado, Anil Sud and Neville Anderson, and game-changers like Cecile Levee, who opened the first wine bar in Jamaica. Why game-changer? Sinclair underpinned that Levee showed hoteliers and restaurateurs that if marketed and presented well, together with providing an experience, premium wines could be sold in Jamaica. Sinclair believes that because of this movement, hoteliers improved their wine offerings, which undoubtedly benefited the wine suppliers.

And, on the subject of hoteliers, while there are many who raised the wine bar, at that period of time, two names stand out — Stephen Ueker and Giorgio Rusconi of the Half Moon Hotel.

Other game-changing moments that revolutionised how wine purveyors did business included the rationalising of the tax structure to make wines more affordable and accessible. Even though Jamaica is considered a beer and spirits market, wine consumption has been embedded in our culture as evidenced by the number of wines retailed at the specialty store, supermarket and wholesale levels. In the next instance, Banks Channel via Treasury Wine Estates began to deliver direct to the Sandals chain of resorts. Normally, wines were distributed through a third-party distributor; however, that direct distribution from producer to customer/consumer established a new layer of complexity within the sector.

Sinclair has visited all the major wine regions of the world, except for New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. He reflected on the good times had with some of his key suppliers at that time, Gilles Veluzat from Moet-Hennessy and Marcel Andre Clement from CAD Distributors. Further, Sinclair acknowledged his colleagues of the time. Even though they had competing portfolios, the rivalry was used as a source of motivation. Even now, Sinclair acknowledges that despite working for competing companies, there is a certain level of camaraderie within the sector, as often when he travels within the market, his rum friends will offer to buy him a drink of rum while he in return will offer a glass of wine. This type of competitive camaraderie is rare but remains one of the things he loves about working in the sector.

Fast-forward to his appointment as brand manager of Wines & Spirits at Grace Kennedy in 2010. Sinclair describes his tenure as one of the major highlights in his career. When he joined the Grace Food Services team, there was a limited number of wines within the portfolio. However, his manager Tamara Garrel-Thompson had visualised the food service business as a one-stop shop; she insisted that customers be able to source everything from one place so that the task of managing a food service business became less complex. In 2010, Sinclair recalls having one major brand within the portfolio, Bliss Vineyards from Mendocino County in California. Today, he has managed to acquire leading wine houses such as Trivento, Vina Maipo, Menage et Trois, Villa Maria, Indaba, Chateau Ste Michelle, Roscato, Columbia Crest, Erath, Wolf Blass, Cavit, and the latest acquisition Château de Berne Provence wines.

Sinclair describes the challenging but rewarding experience working for Grace Kennedy/Harbour Wines & Spirits. “I love my job, I love the company I work for — their value system is in complete alignment with my own — that of integrity, trust, honesty, respect for self and respect for others, and most important, humility,” he said. “I remain thankful for the persons that moulded me: Gilroy Graham, Ryan Mack and Tamara Garel-Thompson.”

His future goals include further solidifying and expanding the Harbour Wines & Spirits portfolio in the market and he looks forward to times when he can once again execute experiential wine dinners and participate in wine events.

Sinclair reminds young aspirants within the industry to cultivate relationships with the trade. The chef community is an important one and must continue to innovate. Keep a close relationship with the food & beverage managers — never see a response of 'no' as an indicator of failure; rather, see the response as an opportunity to do some further work and revert to another viable solution.


Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. For October, we will focus on Argentina's hot Malbec varietal. Looking forward to your feedback and comments!


Readers' Feedback:

Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wine, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at debbiansm@gmail.com, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.


Dr Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

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