THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 32, January 2015
The magazine that has 100 words for “late invoice”
Independent numbers hit new high for 2015
The number of independent specialist wine shops operating in the UK has hit a new high. 753 stores, operated by 550 businesses, By the end of 2014 the figure had reached Twenty new shops appeared last year, a epitomise the diverse nature of modern drinks retailing. Several of the new shops are basing their offer around refillable bottles, their centrepiece. A number of the new entrants have while others are making dispense machines factored in food sales, but the classic wine Wine Merchant editor Graham Holter
The MP, the crowd-funding and the mystery of the labels
4 comings & GOINGS
according to research by The Wine Merchant. slight decrease on the 25 recorded in 2013. But the number of stores that opened as up from five in 2013 to eight in 2014.
About time London had some more wine shops
6 tried & TESTED
extensions of existing retail businesses went their first shops last year are located in London. The stores that appeared in 2014 Ten of the 20 independents that opened
shop model endures in the majority of cases. says: “There has been a net increase in the past two years. In fact there has only been numbers dipped. “It’s a remarkably vibrant and resilient number of independents every month for the one month over the past five years in which sector and we expect more growth.”
“I like this wine because it is very nice and it is smooth”
9 merchant profile
the south east of England – six of them in
Great Grog: where students learn about wine (and beer)
14 david williams
Pretentious? Moi? Let’s give shelf talkers more personality
16 bottle of the sexes
Yes, there are differences between men and women
18 know your enemy
How scary is Wine Rack on a scale of one to 10?
28 NZ round table
Independents look for life beyond Sauvignon Blanc
37 make a date
This is what Tuscany looks like in the sun. Sadly, the eight independents who ventured to Arezzo in November saw only clouds – but they experienced some terrific hospitality and tasted some superb wines. See pages 19 to 21.
Let the February mayhem commence!
individuals a quick route to market to
attract seed capital and angel investment. hit its target of £356,000 with some ease. the cash would be used to evolve the from boutique wineries, selling to corporate events. Managing director James Dawson says
plan to raise £1 million and Humble Grape
Chapel Down quickly exceeded its initial
Remember your member
With the General Election less than four months away, the benefit of inviting your MP down to the shop to see the value of what you do has never been greater. Co received a visit from local Conservative Damian Hands at its Petersfield store on and managing director Alan Snudden has pertinent local issues in more detail. Hampshire independent General Wine
business from its core business importing
restaurants and private clients and running
Sound of the crowd-funding
Crowd-funded investment could be a way for wine merchants to raise cash to expand their businesses. one of the highest-profile internet appeals for investment last autumn when it used the Seedrs crowd-funding site to raise warehousing. new winery, brewery, visitor centre and £4 million to plant new vines and build a FCA-regulated Seedrs was also used by English wine producer Chapel Down had
the company raised £175,00 from two venture capital sources. “Seedrs was very successful for us,”
In addition to the crowd-funding offer,
Small Business Saturday in early December, secured another meeting to discuss some in the county, said: “He came in at about fair bit of publicity for us.
says Dawson. “We need to raise money to process. We started making the business in June.”
expand the business. It was quite a lengthy live in April 2014, and we closed the offer using crowd-funding not to enter into the venture without solid preparation. Dawson warns others thinking about “I think about 20% of the investment
plan in September 2013, it eventually went
9.30am and we had a little taste-up, and
Snudden, who also has a shop in Liphook
because the local press came down it got a
London-based importer Humble Grape to fund its expansion plans which include a wine bar and wine club. Italiani is also planning to use Seedrs to early 2015. Specialist Italian wine merchant Vini
came from people who were in our existing network, and it really helps to have that in place first. up on the website and expect loads of people to want to invest in you. “But if you have a few people to get Dawson says Humble Grape would “You can’t just to expect to stick the offer
Hands selling in Hampshire
invest in rolling out its hybrid shop/wine Seedrs – and other sites such as
bar concept, but has delayed its offer until Kickstarter – allows companies and
the ball rolling, others will see it and get excited and want to invest themselves.” consider crowd-funding again. “It was definitely a good experience,” he says.
good conversation with him about several local issues, particularly around planning and licensing, and we’re meeting again to discuss those. “I felt it was very worthwhile. I got the
“But I also managed to have a really
Wine Merchant reader survey 2015
Take part in the largest annual study of the UK specialist independent wine trade in the third annual Wine Merchant reader survey. Since 2012 this survey has provided unparalleled insights into the state of play in our market, producing invaluable data to help indies benchmark their own performances and to make it simpler for suppliers to understand their needs. This year’s survey, sponsored by Enotria, can be accessed at winemerchantmag.com.
feeling he was really looking for things he could put his name to. I’ve had dealings with the MPs in the past and never got quite the same response.” The pre-election run-in also gives
wine merchants an opportunity to bend their MP’s ear about wine duty with the in March.
Chancellor scheduled to deliver his Budget
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 2
Off-trade options for wholesaling
Many independents have created a profitable revenue stream by wholesaling wines to other retailers, which are then sold under their name. and importer in Twyford, Hampshire, Stone, Vine & Sun, the wine shop
might not get elsewhere. They can order a few cases and make them up with two bottles of this and two bottles of that if they want.”
started supplying village shop and post office Chilbolton Stores and a Londis in new accounts joined a list that already shops in Ropley and West Meon.
Hambledon at the back end of 2014. The
“Our Man with the Facts”
• Paul Masson California Rare Cream Sherry was intended to be the first
Tapping into a growing market
included Selborne Post Office and village
slightly different tack. It has linked up with Cullenders, a deli in Reigate – where the package on Thursday-Saturday nights. specialists through their websites. Both Chilbolton and Cullenders are wine merchant has two shops of its own – to create a wine bar and pop-up dining advertising their links with the respective says the high proportion of the wine makes the model viable. Francois Dupont of Stone, Vine & Sun
Over in Surrey, The Vineking has taken a
wine consumed in space. NASA abandoned plans to supply the outcry from the American public
More and more independents are selling wine in refillable bottles, but the legal position on such activity seems strangely unclear. the same labelling information as other wines,” insists the WSTA. But does that sold to the customer would need to be appropriately labelled,” is the reply. a slightly different take. “The labelling required to be visible to the customer would be a product name, certain The Trading Standards Institute has “Wine sold in a cask would have to have
Skylab space station following an
about the idea of astronauts drinking alcohol – and after tests found that odours released by the wine made the crew feel sick. • Gin became popular with the
merchant’s wines that are direct-shipped retailer a good price to make it work,” he says. “The way it works with each shop is slightly different but most of them straight to us. charge about 5% more than if people came shops that are the social focus for the whole village. They’re not places that people to come just for the wine. “It also works because they are village “Obviously, you have to offer the other
English during the Thirty Years War with Holland in the 17th century. courage”. It’s the origin of the phrase “Dutch
apply to the cask itself, or each individual
bottle that is filled? “Whichever was being
• Majestic’s average selling price for a bottle of still wine is £8.02. • The word “Meritage”, which
of their wines from Londis but wanted to
stock some better quality wines which we and we don’t use a bonded warehouse so we are shipping without those costs. “We can also offer them flexibility they
“At Hambledon, they buy the majority
allergenic ingredients such as sulphites Corinne Lowe, lead officer for food and
describes a Bordeaux-style blend, by the Meritage Alliance, which should rhyme with “heritage”.
and if any ingredient had been irradiated, this would also need to be declared,” says nutrition. But she adds: “No labelling would be required for the customer’s own vessel.” not much different to sales of other loose foods at delis,” an officer advises. The Food Standards Agency agrees. “It is
can only be used on a label if licensed charges producers $1 per case. The Alliance stipulates that the word
can do. We ship 90% of what we sell so the
wines we can offer them are exclusive to us
• There are 86 specialist independent wine merchants in London. Together they operate just over 100 shops.
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 3
Good Wine Shop opens in Esher
Esher’s unwanted status as an affluent town without an independent wine merchant has been ended. the town centre shortly before Christmas, the third store in its estate. The company had a very pleasing welcome – above also operates shops in Kew and Chiswick. The Good Wine Shop opened a branch in
expectations. Esher has been on my target list for maybe two years now as there are nearby. There is a Majestic that opened a five or six miles around.” couple of years ago and a Waitrose but in
Owner Mark Wrigglesworth says: “We’ve
Site is “certainly in play”, says Applejack
not any other independent wine merchants terms of independents there’s nothing for on a former fashion store in a location near the post office and Odeon cinema. The conditioning, lighting and security. allocated spaces to the rear. unit has required minimal investment as it was already fitted with high-quality air The company has taken a 15-year lease
Three is the magic number for Mark Wrigglesworth
in on-premise sales. “It’s not really on
the agenda at the moment. We’re pretty
comfortable that the model we’ve got as a purely retail-focused business is working for us. While I know it’s been successful for others, my worry is that by diversifying you start to become a Jack of all trades and master of none. You’re also getting into a drinking on the premises, with all that entails.” very different operation: you’re open later at night and have more staff on and people Wrigglesworth does not rule out further
can’t open a shop with that narrow a range. So we have wines from all over the world – and Italy. “I was born and raised in Dulwich so I we import direct from Bordeaux, Burgundy always had the ambition to set up a shop in Dulwich Village. It’s very competitive round here – shops don’t come up very the right place. Here we have plenty of space and plenty of light.” often so it’s taken four years for us to find
and a public car park nearby, as well as two is running the store. “I did start with The former manager of the Kew branch
There is free parking in front of the shop
the intention of recruiting somebody
completely new but I’ve learned from Wrigglesworth says.
experience that you need a tried and tested experienced person anchoring things,” “I don’t think there’s anything that’s
openings. “Certainly I’m minded to do one after. If the right opportunity was to come up then there could even be two more.”
Birmingham has a new independent with the arrival of The Drinks Emporium, near the Aston Expressway and half a mile from the city centre. Champagne Company, a business owned online sales and corporate trade. Enomatic machines. The 1,600 sq ft retail space includes a The store has been opened by The
more,” he says. “We’ve got our eye on a few
areas but we’re very firm about what we’re
massively different – we’ve pretty much Kew and Chiswick and effectively taken
taken the blueprint of what we’ve got in
Dulwich Vintners, the online wine retailer, has opened a shop in Dulwich Village. will change to match the shop. I set up Owner Robin Eadon says: “The website
our top 500 to 600 lines out of the 800 or 900 we carry across the business. We’re to drink.”
by Simon Ranson-Tester that specialises in climate-controlled Fine & Rare room and open, fitted with a bar, which will be used to host tastings and cocktail classes. In the spring a new upstairs room will
starting with the base stock and we need to learn more about what people in Esher like straight wine retailing rather than dabble Wrigglesworth says he wants to stick to
specialising in south west France, Cahors Malbec in particular, but obviously you
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 4
Age of Vinarius
East London’s latest independent is Vinarius, the new retail arm of the Dago Wines import business. street market, the venture is a combination of wine shop and wine bar, and offers food such as charcuterie and cheese. Frenchman Philippe Polleux and Italians last three years from Italy and we have a background of working in various wine IWC,” says Polleux. “We want to showcase our wines and bars and restaurants, and judging at the “We’ve been importing wine for the The business is owned jointly by Based in Roman Road, adjacent to the
independents are in west London but in east London there aren’t as many.” The business works with small producers, directly sourcing 90% of its Italian wine. The shop also sells wine
still and £7.50 for sparkling, from taps in is also available, with an emphasis on Piedmont wines and English sparklers. Kenrick Bush, who manages the shop. has closed. The company thanked
a wall. A range of bottled wines and beers The business is owned by a consortium
sourced from UK suppliers from France,
Spain, Portugal and Greece, but some direct shipping of French wine will start this year. wholesale division being scaled back? “No, the opposite,” insists Polleux. “It’s great to have a venue where people from bars and restaurants can see our wines.” Will the new retail business result in the
of five Italian investors and Frenchman
• Charlie Crown, the Bath independent, “a real shame it hasn’t worked out”.
Eugenio Ciccarelli and Joseppe Pollifrone.
customers for their support, adding it was • Philip Morgan & Son has closed its last
BoB can fill it
The trend towards refillable bottles continues in Sydenham, south London, with the opening of BoB Wines. a range of house wines, priced £6.50 for The store (“Bring Our Bottles”) dispenses
remaining shop, in Cardiff, after 85 years of trading, blaming intensifying competition. • Philglas & Swiggot has been bought business has three London branches. from founders Mike and Karen Rogers by
can see that there’s a gap for independent retailers. Oddbins and Majestic don’t have many interesting wines. Lots of
a consortium led by Justin Knock MW. The
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tried & Tested
Finca Flichman Misterio Malbec 2013
At this price you’re primed to expect some kind of flavours and a warm whiff of tobacco entwine in a good honest Mendoza red with a countering dark chocolate bitterness on the finish. RRP: £8.49 ABV: 13% stevensgarnier.co.uk Stevens Garnier (01865 263300) flaw to detract from the drinking experience, yet here we find very little to gripe about. Juicy black cherry
Dreissigacker Wunderwerk Spätburgunder 2011
Jochen Dreissigacker aims for the most natural winemaking possible at his Rheinhessen estate, which is biodynamic without being certified as such. The red fruit flavours and an appealing brightness. RRP: £32.99 ABV: 13% Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350) libertywines.co.uk vines here are only between five and 10 years old, yet have produced an earthy, complex wine with abundant
Bodegas Valdemar Inspiración Tempranillo Blanco 2013
The winery itself describes “very personal aromas” in this intriguing white Rioja, a detail best not to dwell certainly produces an arresting wine, with a grapey, rich, dry and full of contours. RRP: £15.99 berkmann.co.uk ABV: 13% upon. The fruit is hand-harvested from micro plots and winery-at-vintage-time kind of nose. In the mouth it’s Berkmann Wine Cellars (020 7670 0972)
Pietradolce Etna Rosso 2013
Despite their relatively high alcohol, Etna’s reds live up 11ha patchwork of old Nerello Mascalese vines is in its combination of light, pure raspberry and RRP: £17.99 ABV: 14% pitched somewhere between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo strawberry fruit, vigorous acidity and fine, sandpaper tannins, with an earthy herbal streak all its own. Armit Wines (020 7908 0690) armitwines.co.uk to their billing: this elegant example from Pietradolce’s
Eden Road The Long Road Pinot Gris 2013
There’s a pleasing friction to this Canberra wine, which it owes in part to old-oak fermentation. The vintage at 630 metres above sea level, you’d imagine) so pepper on the finish. RRP: £22 ABV: 13.5% there’s also a tangy citrus zip, and a nice sprinkle of Hallowed Ground (07799 414374) hallowed-ground.co.uk was characterised by superb natural acidity (especially
Lavradores de Feitoria Branco 2013
This refreshing Douro delight is underpinned by a gently metallic mineral edge and is as clean as a kazoo. Yet there’s also a warmth, a spicy undercurrent, and a different for an exceptional price. RRP: £9 ABV: 12.5% winesfromportugal.com
surprising length, that you wouldn’t necessarily expect
in a wine so light in the alcohol department. Something Raymond Reynolds (01663 742230)
Farnese Fantini Sangiovese 2013
Oak is, of course, a condiment to be used sparingly. But just as there’s a thrill to eating chips that are almost white with salt, or pasta gritted mercilessly with black an illicit buzz. This Abruzzo red is already propped up by chunky tannins; the sweet oak combines with the red fruit to create a strawberries and cream effect. RRP: £9.99 ABV: 13% Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350) libertywines.co.uk pepper, the occasional oaky blast in a wine can provide
Villa Huesgen Alte Reben Riesling Trocken 2013
“Wow” is not a particularly professional term to deploy at the start of a tasting note, yet it’s what we excitable and mostly illegible scribble. A rich and keeps the acidity nicely in check. Superb stuff. RRP: £30 ABV: 13% The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999) winetreasury.com opulent Riesling from century-old Mosel vines, that find in our Dirty Dozen booklet, alongside some more
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 6
Enotria enters 2015 with independent wine merchants right at the centre of our plans. Our independent customers, old and new, can expect a fresh focus on their part of the market and a bespoke wine range that reflects the excitement and innovation that we see in the independent sector. We are putting together a compelling offer that will help independents create a striking point of difference in their local area. This will be backed up with dedicated marketing support, tailored to the needs of of our customers. We’re keen to do whatever it takes to help you get the full potential out of the Enotria range, with winemaker events wherever possible. Our experience in the independent channel, coupled with our category knowledge, insights and an understanding of
consumer trends mean we can work in partnership with independents to deliver profitable growth. It’s shaping up to be a big year for us at Enotria. We’re excited by the arrival of Jon Pepper MW as our new buying and retail director and we’re also moving to a new, bigger base in north west London. As you may know, we don’t outsource our supply chain, so we control the movement of our wine from the winery all the way to your shop, and we’re flexible enough to cope with the needs of small specialist retailers. We’re proud to be supporting The Wine Merchant’s annual survey of independent wine shops and have some fantastic prizes on offer for respondents selected at random. Watch this space for more details. Meanwhile, here’s to a successful 2015 for all independents!
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 7
bits & BOBs FAVOURITE Up to 20% of
Angela Stratford Old Butchers Wine Cellar Cookham
Favourite wine on my list Tempranillo. Paul and I found it recently Favourite food and wine match some friends and opened a bottle of Welsh Black rib eye steak from my word – AMAZING! Recently we had Sunday lunch with from a small producer in Toledo. This has to be Finca Loranque Syrah
wine ‘is dodgy’
The scale of wine fraud has become so great that a new investigative unit of the Food Standards Agency will work on how to tackle it. Food Crime Unit, set up after last year’s horsemeat scandal, coincides with growing fears within the industry that imported illegally. as much as 20% of the 1 billion litres of The launch of the agency’s £2 million
came with proposals to provide a joint catering service, and it was eventually thrown out because the Lords feared that the quality of Champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service,” Sir committee. Malcolm Jack, former clerk of the House of Decanter, December 8
Commons told a Parliamentary governance
wine consumed annually is either fake or
Gulf airline Emirates has spent US$500 million in “long-term investment” in its fine wine programme over the last decade. en primeur and keeping them for up consumed. The Drinks Business, December 3 The carrier has been buying wines
Centre for Counter Fraud Studies described drink fraud as “the crime in our baskets”, adding an average 28p to the cost of a bottle of wine. The Independent, December 7
Jim Gee of the University of Portsmouth’s
Marco Zunino Malbec to match some brother’s butchers on Anglesey. One Favourite wine trip I will never forget my first trip to hospitable. I tasted a vast amount of my career. Everyone was so welcoming and Australia, visiting 20+ wineries.
to a decade before they are ready to be
Red means richer
Red wine drinkers tend to be older and earn an average salary of £27,702,
“The corks usually land about here”
was one of the biggest learning curves of Favourite wine trade person There are so many lovely people in the appreciate the help and support of some of our old friends notably Nick Hillman, whose help and advice has always been appreciated over some difficult times. Favourite wine shop Nigel Logan’s Wine in Cornwall. He is great wine selection. David Courtney-Clack and Mark Lynton trade and it is so hard to pick out any particular person. However, I really
wines in a very short period of time. It
compared to the £25,375 annual wage of white wine drinkers, says research commissioned by French Wines With Style. salary of £22,682, while those who drink sparkling earn £22,479. less thoughtful, being more likely to just minutes to choose a gift. The Telegraph, December 12 The study also found red wine fans are Rosé fans earn less again with an average
The quality of Champagne served in the House of Lords bar is beyond reproach, according to disclosures made during a Parliamentary hearing. they should save money by merging their catering facilities with MPs. “The person in charge of the catering Lords were angered at the idea that
“buy the first thing they see” or take just
The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 753 independent wine by Graham Holter. Printed by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2015 England: No 6441762 shops. Except one, and that’s deliberate. Edited Registered in VAT 943 8771 82
so down to earth and friendly and has a
www.winemerchantmag.com 01323 370451 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag email@example.com
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 8
merchant profile: GREAT GROG
Meadows (right) with Dalkeith Road “The industry is crap for online retail. Everything that you can manager John Blair possibly imagine can be wrong is wrong.”
South side story
Great Grog still operates a wine warehouse in Edinburgh, almost 17 years after Richard Meadows started the business. In that time, a wine bar has come and gone, a thriving shop has been established, and the company has branched out into – what else? – cycle repairs
ichard Meadows has an uncanny knack for remembering figures. “I left Oddbins 16 and a half
a sizeable clientele of friends and family. “I bought a second-hand van. I moved
years ago,” he says when we meet at his Edinburgh, in November.
Dalkeith Road store, on the south side of west side, 1,000 sq ft. I took 500 quid in that. I then took someone on part-time Great Grog’s first customers were
out after four years maybe to somewhere somewhere else for another five years. and a half years.”
a delight: a magnet for the local student classics and off-piste diversions, and a huge beer selection. to what you had?
two and a half times the size on the south side and was there for five years. I moved We’ve been in our current place for two
population packed with a mixture of indie
Why did you need the shop, in addition Because people love to buy by the bottle and get put off by case purchases: they we moved down to the north side of the
Continues page 10
the first week and was quite pleased with after about three or four months, maybe.” “anyone who’d buy from me”, including
“I moved into an industrial estate on the
and a half years ago”, bought with a 10-year mortgage that will soon be off the accounts spreadsheet. In all honesty, it doesn’t look much from the outside. But internally, it’s
The Dalkeith Road shop came along “nine
think it’s an economic barrier. Also when
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 9
merchant profile: GREAT GROG
From page 9
town I thought this would be the presence in the south side. My original warehouse was half a mile away. I’d always been looking for a wee shop, and this is the closest to the student halls of residence. cheapskates? They are hedging that they’re not going to have to repay their fees. Statistically 50% out. It’ll all get written off.
Beer is kind of like wine used to be: small-batch processed, more interesting and variable
What are they gravitating towards? It varies weekly, I think. It’s a strange mix case. of stuff. In fact a lot of the sales are by the Craft beers have exploded. Is that in this shop, or across the business? Mainly in the shop, because you can’t get say “can we have a case of whatever”, we continuity of supply for wholesaling. If the restaurants we’re supplying phone up and another three months”. They go crackers! In a way, that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? craftspeople? It’s kind of like wine used to be: smallbatch processed, more interesting, more variable, sometimes better, sometimes worse. Beer is sometimes the new wine. and making their own beer. John [Blair, the store manager] made a little bit of beer for a beer fair: five cases of an oatmeal pale ale. It was quite delicate. More acidity next time. It just needed a went for the soft style. citrus burst to make it a little crisper. He might have to say “that won’t be bottled for
Students drink a lot, but aren’t they also
is not being repaid so they are taking loans
Forty per cent of the sales are beer now.
To have products that are produced by
Some retailers are going a step further
is a really big home brew store. They have all over the UK. All of their staff rocked up to one of my wine courses to get a wine dutied. angle on brewing, so he brewed that with them. But we can’t sell it because it’s not where they just give you the equipment, second beer] and we’ll do it for the next
about a dozen staff and they do mail order
The Brewstore, which is at the back here,
they give you advice and they pay the duty on it so you can flog it. We did that for [a
Meadows is happy to offer wholesale wines as part of the retail line-up
Stewart Brewing do a craft beer kitchen
one as well. We can make 20, 30 cases of
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 10
something, now that he’s an expert brewer.
We didn’t want to start too big just in case winemaking.
it was shit! It’s a science/art thing, just like Does the boom in beer sales mean that the wine range has slimmed down? I don’t think wine has gone down. I think What’s the turnover of the entire business? Turnover is flat. April to April last year, wholesale and mail order and everything was probably up 20 grand, to a couple of the year before 10% up, and this year so far 6%. not diminished. We still have 500 wines, it’s just that now we have 300 beers. malts. That’s market-driven. in Edinburgh. Yeah, but it’s all exported. Look at the prices: Talisker is 40 quid now. When I was in Oddbins 15 years ago that was beer has gone up. This year we’re 6% up.
million. The shop last year was 5% up and I think that beer is incremental. Wine is
“We still have 500 wines, it’s just that we now have 300 beers” – though malts have declined
Previously we did 100 beers and probably
white was drinkable and the red just wasn’t good. So nobody ever ordered the red. was shocking, we’ll just chuck it out”. We One year’s ageing. It was obviously just got a job in Oddbins. The next season the boss said, “that red
could shoot a cannon down Rose Street, which was where it was, and you would never hit anyone from one end to the other. Not a single person – just dead as a
100 malts, and now we’re down to 40 or 50 It must be a crowded market for malts
tried it again: bloody hell, that was good!
way too young. I thought, my god, this wine thing could be quite good. I came back and Was that in Edinburgh? Yes, I started in Edinburgh. I worked in Sheffield, Perth, then with John in the west end of Edinburgh, one of the big shops – a couple of million pounds a year turnover. Nine years. Edinburgh is very seasonal. November shit; December was OK for How long was your wine bar open for? August was absolutely rammed. July and Christmas. Then January-February: you
doornail. Then March was OK, April picked up, and then it started again. But it lost so wasn’t big inside. It relied on 20, 30 seats outside. And it rains a bit. much money. It had big outdoor seating; it
What do you think when you hear about other independents going the wine bar route? I would warn people against that. We tried to do a bit of an off-trade thing in it with nine quid to sit here, but you take it away for five or six. Dual pricing. People didn’t
on offer at £20. We used to sell absolute all being exported.
bucketloads. Now at 40 quid you go, hold The [North British] distillery in the
on a minute, that’s a frightening price. It’s Western Approach Road which is the big continuous still, the biggest producer of days a week. None of it’s for the UK. bar the British are drinking more. Oddbins? No. My parents didn’t do wine … I think it was a trip to France after I left uni. I did a ski season and the ski company did ownlabel stuff at the hotels. It was shocking, it was really, really appalling Savoie. The grain whisky, runs 24 hours a day, seven
separate shelves: you can buy it for eight or get their head round it. It just didn’t work.
Continues page 12
Whisky is absolutely booming. Everyone Did your relationship with wine start at
September were OK; October was quieter;
The wine bar lost so much money. It relied on seats outside, and it rains a bit
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 11
merchant profile: GREAT GROG
From page 11
It looks like you import your own Champagne. Gobillard, yes. Thierry Gobillard came into the warehouse 14 or 15 years ago, just I’ve done all the brands, I’ve done with a cool box. He was going shooting, killing things up north. He just dropped in. everything, and the range has just gone backwards. And actually this covers it. If We’ve got Gosset as well.
People come in and buy wine and then go and get their bike fixed. We also do rentals
that – that’s for Poland”. I said, “if Poland of flavour, that’ll do”. We sell it at £5.99. likes it, Scotland will like it – it’s cheap, lots buy a lot from Bibendum, 20 or 30 grand a month, when my turnover was under a million. Then they started selling it against me and I thought, whoa … what’s the point of that? Why sell against your customers? sell direct. The whole advantage of us is the last They took on four or five folk in Scotland to couple of miles, from the warehouse. We and your manager has not stocked up or We always make sure people have got
Students buy “a strange mix of stuff”
you want a brand and want to spend 10, 15 quid more, feel free to go somewhere else. What other wines do you import? We do Prosecco from Zonin; we do Allan Scott as a kind of joint thing with Fine a nice man; then we do small stuff Romanin; we do bits and bobs. like Charles Hawkins; we do Domaine with Stewart’s down in Bristol. Wines in Cardiff, because Allan Scott’s
do two deliveries a day into Edinburgh. If
you phone up at 10 o’clock in the morning
phoned in an order, you’ll get it after lunch. booze.
We do a lot of Boutinot stuff, and work
Are you still running your wine education programme? I do lots of tastings and I just do Level 1 and 2 WSET because there isn’t the don’t bother.
Fazackerley at Export Iberia collates
pallets in Barcelona from all over Spain,
We do quite a lot of Spanish stuff. Shane
Do you put your wholesale wines on the shelves too? Yep.
which I think is a great idea. Nobody really does it properly in France, or Italy for that areas, up to Rias Baixas; Godellos; they do Ebro stuff; Tierra de Castilla – good value stuff, about six quid. we didn’t do until about a year and doing
matter. They pull from all kinds of different
You’re not squeamish about that? As long as it’s not everywhere. We don’t sell to other shops so we control where it’s distributed. Our wholesale customers are and a little bit down in England but not a of mixed cases of interesting stuff. mostly Edinburgh and mostly central belt, lot. We do send all over the place. We do a unique package so people can do a couple Are you responsible for all the buying? No, no, no. Everyone has a crack. For instance John was down at the Boutinot tasting recently with the remit that if from the Boutinot range, he just gets it. If Boutinot started to sell against us,
demand for 3, and it costs too much, so I
less trade [people] coming in. The WSET does more support in England; they seem to have forgotten about Scotland. courses. There is not the kudos having As a result it’s fallen off the radar for the WSET in Scotland that there used to be. I don’t ask for it any more. If somebody
Over the last year or two I’ve observed
on-trade, and there’s less demand for the I don’t think it’s a prerequisite any more.
a half ago. stuff with Esporão.
comes to me for a job, I used to say “do you have Level 2?” I don’t do that any more. aware that they should have it. Because often the people who don’t have it are keener and for some reason they’re not Edinburgh is teeming with wine merchants. I can’t think of another place
We went to visit them with Charles
Hawkins and I saw pallets and pallets of this stuff [Pe Branco] in the corner and
there’s anything he wants to take on at all we wouldn’t buy from them. We used to
they said, “you wouldn’t be interested in
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 12
in Britain with such a concentration of independent wine shops. They seem to proliferate rather than die. Do you see each other at events? Yes, at things like Three Wine Men, but PTA and get 500 folk through the door
works for me is a keen cyclist. He was
bike commuting; I was bike commuting; Gary my van driver bike commutes. In fact three quarters of us cycle to work, rentals. we’re all keen on bikes and biking has got really popular in Edinburgh. We also do
I’m not doing that again. It’s £1,000 for 10 wines or something. I can go to a school worth of sales, directly, there and then. just knocked it on the head. and it costs me 50 quid and I get £1,000
What’s the future for Great Grog? Are you happy to stay as you are, or will you expand? The bank are quite keen to loan … but I’ll just see what happens. Get rid of the
Why would I spend £1,000 to get no sales? Every other merchant is in the room. I’ve Your business also deals with bikes. There does seem to be a natural link between cycling and wine. There is a crossover. We opened a bike business, Pedal Forth, which is doing all right. Two mechanics working full time.
Meadows: yet another Oddbins escapee
A lot of people are coming in on their bikes and see the wine shop and wander off and then go and get their bike fixed. and get some wine. It’s a subsection of the warehouse. People come in and buy wine I cycle quite a lot. John and I used to
mortgage. At this kind of stage people can start to believe what the bank are telling them and go and borrow a few hundred the moment but they’re equally happy interest rates are sitting at 6%. People have such short memories. to fold your business in five years when thousand. They’re quite happy to lend at
race back from the warehouse. Simon who
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Be daft. Be pretentious
Bland shelf-talkers and tasting notes might not offend anybody, but they don’t really help sell wine, either. They shouldn’t just capture the character of what’s in the bottle, but that of the merchant too
ack in June last year, a pair of
a prank in the Tesco wine aisle in Brixton. pinged about the internet: very carefully and accurately mocked-up shelf talkers, featuring the Tesco fonts and colours, You may have seen the results as they
graphic designers with too much
time on their hands decided to pull
national press) is rather more damning:
the case proves that very few people pay
any more attention to supermarket shelfback labels. They’re just not interested in them. WHY NOT? WELL, it’s not because the pretentious or daft enough: featuring very little in the way of geographical,
talkers than they do to supermarket wine
Clubcard points, barcodes, the lot, but with wackily surreal tasting notes, such as, on [sic] tears with a hint of suspicion. Great street. Taste guide: trouser jazz.” What was most interesting about this a bottle of JP Chenet Shiraz, “Bitter clowns with lobster thermidor. Best drunk in the
content is pretentious or daft. If anything, supermarket wine communication isn’t (smooth, fruity, crisp, etc) and offering only a very limited descriptive vocabulary vini- or viticultural information, they tend towards the interchangeably bland. Like
Kim Kardashian’s picture has officially now been shoehorned into every magazine on the planet. No, we don’t know what she does either
prank was not that somebody had decided talkers, or that they’d chosen wine as a and for the story to get out.
to take the mickey out of supermarket shelf target. It was, rather, that it took so long for And there are, perhaps, two reasons for people (staff or punters) to notice the fakes that. One is that the spoof notes weren’t name of i-diom, and who also specialise street art when they’re not “culture
the infuriating hum of musak and the
barely comprehensible muffled code of
staff announcements, they are part of the enervating background noise that years without ram-raiding our trolley into a Falling Down-style rampage. Of course, there are reasons why to tune out if we’re to make it to the tills
quite as funny as the duo (who go by the
shelf talkers here don’t really move of us way back in 1944 by James Thurber, where a dinner host tells his guests: “It’s a naïve domestic Burgundy without any its presumption.” The other explanation for the story’s
on from that famous New Yorker cartoon
of supermarket shopping have trained us gondola end as part of a Michael Douglas supermarkets take this safety-first
in a kind of sub-Banksy, corporate-backed jamming” in supermarkets) thought they were. Florid wine verbiage is the softest
breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by slow burn (and it did eventually make the
and oldest of satirical targets, and the fake
approach: because they see their audience as everyone, they would prefer to inspire BBC, Coldplay, Ed Miliband). offending anyone (see also the latter-day humanised results communicate almost a curiously alienating effect: we mustn’t frighten the horses (after all, we’ll be Never mind that the hollow, de-
Ask yourself: did anyone ever buy a wine because it tasted of a specific fruit?
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 14
no one if the alternative meant annoying or
nothing, or that their very blandness has
David Williams is wine critic for The Observer
needing those in the fresh meat section). supermarkets on this matter, if only because the shelf talker – indeed any form of communication based on tasting notes, something that very few retailers of any size have mastered. WHAT MAKES IT so difficult, I think, is the massive gap between the average customers. But it’s hard to be too hard on the
containing non-specialists is a balancing act, one that must take into account the people who might read it. It needs to be love it in the first place.
Writing a tasting note for any audience
because it tasted of blackcurrant rather – its weight, its texture, whether it’s much more relevant.
from wine list mail-outs to online copy – is
very different needs and knowledge of the immediately accessible without dumbing down the detailed reasons that made you there are a few simple ground rules that I’ve come across seem to follow. The
than blueberry? Communicating something about the structure and feel of the wine energetic or comforting – is, in my view, independent customers who will have
wine seller’s interest in and experience of As a wine journalist, I have the same
wine and that of all but a very few of their problem: the descriptive triggers that
most of the more digestible shelf talkers adjectives. Nothing wrong with a couple
There is no magic formula, but I reckon
sought you out, at least in part, for this
The second key thing – certainly among
very reason – is to establish some kind of human connection with the wine, a little bit of context. So a dollop of background information, a titbit for the dinner party. less, please.
first is to dial down on the flavour-based here and there – it’s good to know that a for the first time and as a more involved punter keen to know if the Bordeaux in Bordeaux features cassis and cedar, both
Who made the wine? What are they like?
would make make me interested in and they would be for most of my readers. where it fits on the region’s stylistic If, say, I was going to buy a bottle of
ultimately buy a wine are not the same as northern Rhône, I would want to know
as a novice trying to understand the region
Where are they based? All in 20 words or FOOD IS ANOTHER essential, and don’t works with lobster thermidor, you’re not saying that’s all it goes with. It’s
be afraid to be specific: if you say the wine just a suggestion, but it’s so much more personality. engaging than “seafood”, it sounds like you’ve given it some thought, it adds And that – personality – is of course
continuum: is it lighter, sinewy and full of pepper, or is it lush and polished, darker more modern. Is it like Dard & Ribo or like? That sort of stuff. Whereas, many would glaze over at even this level of detail: too geeky, too technical. Jean-Luc Colombo? What was the vintage (most) of my readers (and your punters) In the bubble of the trade, it’s all too
the single most important ingredient in PERSONALITY; there’s no need to say “this is the Kim Kardashian of wine” unless that’s the kind of thing you’d
any note. That’s not to be confused with
easy to forget that most drinkers aren’t and northern Rhône or even how the the wine is powerful or light. Rhône differs from Bordeaux, and may
aware of the difference between southern want nothing more than a sense of whether
question tastes like they think Bordeaux should. it’s worth asking yourself: did anybody ever buy a wine because it tasted of a
But when there’s a limited word count,
normally say. Whether you’re sober and has to reflect you. After all, as the name you get it right, they might just listen.
sardonic or brash and sarcastic, the note for you to talk to your customers. And if
specific fruit? Would you choose a wine
suggests, a shelf-talker is just another way
THE WINE MERCHANT January 2015 15