Wine: Word of mouth - Pressed for cash: Claudio Vannelli, olive oil salesman
Saturday 06 February 1999
An ingenious rather than slick salesman, Claudio is, nevertheless, no slouch at promotion, which he does by disarming with his life story. He met his girlfriend, a singer from Wales, when she performed at the opera festival at Batignano. Their romance survived his national service, distance and the demands of her career. Now they live in London, where Claudio is studying surveying, but needs to "do something on the side to make a living".
He began by dropping cards through the doors of some of the poshest streets in London - where people realise that pounds 10 a litre is not to be sniffed at for oil of this provenance. One of his first sales was to the restaurateur Jeremy King (J Sheekey, Le Caprice, and The Ivy), and he can also boast that a couple called Sainsbury responded to a leaflet drop he made in Chelsea.
Recommendations from his original customers mean he's already sold the first 1,200 litres he had stacked up in the spare bedroom of his fourth- floor flat - where there's no lift - and more of this season's oil has recently arrived from Italy to replace it.
I arranged to meet Claudio at my local north-London deli, Saponara, knowledgeably stocked by Marco Saponara. Here Tuscan olive oil sells for up to pounds 18.99 for a 75cl bottle. Marco concedes that Claudio's oil is "quite good", but, he shrugs, everyone's importing it.
Not everyone's selling it like this, though, nor with a minimum mark- up. Claudio's oil is green, grassy, peppery but not overpoweringly so. And it's probably the only one that can be dropped off at your door by a tall dark handsome Italian. Caroline Stacey Claudio Vannelli (0171-586 2184)
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