The Wine Merchant issue 40

 

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The Wine Merchant issue 40

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 40, September 2015 Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin Independents central to supplier strategies Suppliers are stepping up their focus on independents heading into the busy autumn trading season. Bibendum PLB have already established separate trading divisions to target sector. Agency companies including Enotria and support they would expect. the past. We’ve always concentrated on the superb liquid in the bottle and perhaps not given as much support as we could. That’s something that’s got to change.” buying direct from producers has forced agency suppliers to up their game. “We’ve perhaps been a bit slow with that in THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS Selling wine is one big game for some retailers 4 comings & GOINGS independents in response to growth in the the launch of an indie-focused price list and is pledging to increase its support for the sector. of looking at different structures we’re trying to improve the way we promote wines by supporting independent retailers in terms of liaising with the local press or providing Photo: Lucy Pope Hallgarten Druitt has entered the fray with The increasing numbers of independents The evolution of the Vindependents buying Richard III isn’t the only one drawing visitors to Leicester 6 tried & TESTED Portfolio director Jim Wilson says: “Instead group – whose members include retailers The Sampler, Amps Fine Wines, Sheldon’s Into battle with some of this month’s new releases Reserve Wines, Oxford Wine Co, Corks Out, page 10) – into a limited company with an on traditional suppliers. 10 merchant profile Wine Cellars and The Vineking (featured on Why 2,000 people swear alliegiance to The Vineking really sharp POS, and giving them the kind of agency model has also increased the pressure 22 david williams Customer always right? What about the staff? 24 the full english More retailers make a specialism of domestic wine 26 a good pallet Indies who fit out their stores with recycled materials 40 supplier Bulletin Essential updates from agents and suppliers 48 make a date The store closes atthe the opening end of August after 24 years in Tooting. More details on page 4. new level with of a shop, Unwined Laura Ward and Kiki Evans have taken their wine events business, A Grape Night In, to a It’s another manic October for London tastings

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BACCHUS Thirsty work for eager customers blending wine for the business. b wines plus 10 to 20 guest wines which will be small parcels. It’s a new approach to building a range. You don’t need eight adds Owens, who rules out big retailerrevealed to shoppers. Riojas – it’s just confusing for customers. style half-price offers and even suggests “We’re not there yet but I hope we’ll “We want to be transparent with pricing,” A toast to bread and wine matches You can add ciabatta to cheese and chocolate on the checklist of things to pair with wine for in-store tastings. with local bakery business Baker Tom to run a Saturday in-store bread and wine event. says owner Sue Hall. “We had a lot of “It was nice to do something different,” Wadebridge Wines recently linked up that margins on products could one day be be able to get to that point. The industry intelligence.” needs to treat consumers with a lot more “revolutionary drinking”. much more to come.” The shop will operate under the motto of Owens says: “We’re in a time of big interest and it went very well. We have so many lovely wines and it was just an idea “We’ve got a nice little crew who are A new wine shop in Cambridge is aiming to get customers involved in buying and Thirsty Cambridge is working to develop change in the drinks market but there’s ago, primarily to supply good quality we came up with that we thought would be more interesting than boring old crackers. always coming up with ideas and most of them turn out to be good ones. seemed to have a good time.” different flavoured breads and people “We had focaccia, ciabatta and lots of what co-owner Sam Owens calls a “funky shareholding” structure that could offer customers a stake in the company and of wine. French wines to skiing chalets and hotels. trade outlets. The UK operation was set up this year Le Verre Gourmand was set up 10 years deeper levels of involvement in return for a commitment to buying a certain amount details but I envisage a hybrid of the says Owens. “We haven’t really worked out the exact to supply wines from across Europe to on- shops in Truro and Falmouth as well as county. Wadebridge, and runs a café in Pool in the Baker Tom has speciality bread and cake Wine Society, Naked Wines’ angels and crowdfunding in the style of Brewdog,” Feeling flash at North & South Concept could have franchise potential UK arm of Owens’ French-based wholesale supplier Le Verre Gourmand and Matthew Boucher, a former store manager with Cambridge Wine Merchants. Corner shopping area of the city in a Thirsty Cambridge is in the Mitcham’s Thirsty is a joint venture between the Battersea independent North & South Wines has been catching the eye with flash sales on selected wines and spirits. 2pm on any given day, or at the same time deals on premium products. Recent offers Veuve Clicquot NV at £28.32. The limited deals run between 11am and former First Quench site that has been model rolling out to other UK locations on and it could even go overseas. “We’re already working in France, empty since the chain went under in 2009. a franchise or joint venture basis in 2016 – Switzerland and Austria through Le Verre Gourmand, and there’s no reason this couldn’t work internationally. I really wouldn’t rule anything out.” the cards. Owens says he sees the Thirsty retail each day for a week, giving customers keen have included Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc The deals are available online or in at £12.99, Whispering Angel at £14.88 and person to customers identifying the in the UK”. bottled wines, refillable bottles of wine and craft beer and high-grade bag-in-box wines from French supplier and retailer Bibo Owens. Vino. “It’s good quality, not cheap kit,” says “We’ll never have more than 100 bottled The shop will sell a tight selection of 100 business called We Are Thirsty is also on A separate consumer-facing e-commerce promotion and have been billed on the shop’s website as “by far the lowest prices Izzy Chevallier at North & South says: THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 2

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“We think they’re the cheapest when we say that and if someone came in and said they’d seen it cheaper elsewhere ridiculous price.” we’d match it, provided it wasn’t some we would do lunchtime if the group was big enough to make it worthwhile putting an extra member of staff on. They’re very popular for office parties, birthdays, hen and stag dos, but also people who’ve come want to come back to do something more relaxed with friends.” Vintners, the Wine-A-Lot game starts At Worcestershire’s M&M Personal Flying Füchs Getting in on the tasting game The TV game show has long been adapted by the wine fraternity in the form of mass participation Call My Wine Bluff events or the Wine Options game that’s a popular feature of big industry dinners. works in a shop environment has proved a less easy call, but a handful of wine when booking an event. merchants are quizzifying their wine tastings to give groups a competitive option Challenge tastings as a more hands-off Brighton’s Ten Green Bottles offers Wine Pinning down a smaller format that to one of our more formal tastings and just with a set of tasting notes, from which contestants have to weed out some that tasting three whites and three reds. have been made up. They are then asked to identify grapes and countries by blindgets around five or six bookings a month four and 12 people). M&M’s Mike Oldfield says the business “Our Man with the Facts” • In the exams for would-be Master to articulate knowledge of beer and spirits expertise. from groups (the format best suits between it fun,” says Oldfield. “We start by advising them about how to taste wine and guide the colour, like Sauvignon Blanc being Riesling might be greener in colour.” Game formats provide an informal them through things like how to identify “We do it very informally and try to make Sommeliers, candidates are expected cigar production as well as wines and • Baiju, the traditional Chinese spirit, though there are variants made from • The Wine Society started in 1874 as The International Exhibition Coheld in storage in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall. rice. educational approach for groups for whom having a good time is more important than learning about soil types and grape clones. talking to them about wine for two hours we give them some samples and a quiz manager Lisanna Tammsalu. sheet and they can sit down and have a “Rather than us sitting them down and very clean and clear while Viognier or dry stepping stone between walk-up in-store tastings and tutored events, but Oldfield still says there’s more call for the latter through Groupon. than Wine-A-Lot, especially ones it offers on the £19.99 charge for two people but up for the split. The voucher business takes a 50% cut is usually distilled from sorghum grass, operative Wine Society, as a means of distributing the cask wines that were good time with their friends,” says general and whites which they have to match to the tasting notes on the sheet, but in their own time. They’re given a welcome glass of fizz of the rudiments of tasting to set them on bread, olives and nuts and a bottle of fizz for the winners. wines or sparkling wines we can do that but the price goes up,” says Tammsalu. “We do them any time of the day at on arrival before being given a run-through their way. The £25 per head price includes Teams are given measures of three reds Oldfield says the benefits more than make or £140 for wine [from participants],” he one to five.” One means “no thanks” and five they’d • The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is home to one vineyard, at an altitude of • Bristol wine merchant John Avery Royce on a buying mission in 1965, was the first time Grange had been imported to the UK. returning home with an order for 2,500m. says. “We get them to score the wines from happily buy the vineyard. “It plants the idea in their minds [about spending],” he adds. “It’s also a good way of generating repeat business. Who wants to spend an hour someone to buy one bottle?” “On average we’re taking orders of £130 travelled around Australia in a Rolls10 cases of Penfolds Grange 1960. It “It’s quite flexible. If they want to do fine weekends and after 5pm in the week, but and 20 minutes talking about a wine to get THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 3

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Gin deal makes Hill a Leicester investor Loughborough wine merchant George Hill is opening a new branch in Leicester city centre in a tie-up with the local makers of Burleigh’s gin. moving its head office into new premises open a gin bar with the name 45 West. a wine shop alongside the bar as a 45 West. The producer, 45 West Distillers, is Japan. “We do have a Sauvignon Blanc,” Blanc.” says Evans. “But it’s a sparkling Sauvignon Goodbye Geek The Cheshire village of Audlem has lost its specialist wine shop with the closure of Wine Geek. in October 2013, selling wine-themed Duo had been mooting the move to Tooting in the city’s Hotel Street, where it will also George Hill has been invited to operate merchandise such as T-shirts as well as the liquids that inspired them. • Deli and wine merchant Nino’s Lavinotec in the Warwickshire town of Alcester has closed. The shop was opened by Arash Sahami in October 2011, specialising in Italian wines, British and continental cheese and charcuterie, including eat-in platters. Rachel Wilson opened the business concession under the name George Hill at cathedral and the Richard III visitor “It’s right in the centre, close to the Market forces Laura Ward and Kiki Evans met while waitressing at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. They now operate London’s newest wine shop, Unwined in Tooting – an extension of their wine events business, A Grape Night In, that has been running for over three years. now have a base from which to grow the business. The pair plan to keep that going but centre, so it’s an area that’s becoming very touristy,” says George Hill’s Andrew Hill. our stock will be in there but it won’t be “It’s very flattering to be asked as “Our name will be on the window and the full range as there won’t be the space. Our only investment will be in the stock. our name apparently adds value to the at the moment.” He adds that he has “one or two Slaughterhouse £5 Bolton’s Turton Wines has expanded with new tasting rooms housed in a onetime abattoir. butcher’s shop that occupied what is now Turton’s main retail space. “Hopefully it will allow us to do more Bernie Hardman at the business says: The outbuildings once formed part of a proposition. I’m struggling to find the catch inventive ideas” that he is looking to bring to the new venture but which he wants September. to keep under wraps until the opening in outgrown working from home,” says Evans. “We started looking for premises last year a wine shop. “The idea is that now we’ve got this as a – we always wanted a quirky place to have base we can still do a bit of those [tasting at the weekends.” “We finally got to the point where we’d seller for the main shop in Loughborough. I can’t remember another product getting the same sort of repeat purchase.” for a refurb. “The shop was refitted about four years ago in what you might call an old-fashioned but modern style. Now giftware. we’re opening up a third tasting and sales room with new counters, more stock and like you do.” “We’re generally just moving things on, The Loughborough store is also in line “I’ve been in the business for 50 years and Hill reports Burleigh’s gin has been a big events]. Here in the shop we open as a bar restaurants within the store in Tooting Market, described by Evans as “quite Chefs are being invited to create pop-up events and do private hire for parties.” of the shop has been transformed into a seating area to facilitate a by-the-glass An additional outside space at the rear service and on-premise bottle sales at £5 corkage. Light snacks will follow when a owner Brett Dawson, who still owns the business, initially as an online venture smaller wine producing countries The shop prides itself on wines from compact” but can accommodate 30 covers. away, and each month we feature eight time,” Evans explains. wines by the glass – that will expand over The business specialises in wines made “We offer 55 wines at the moment to take final room has been turned into a kitchen. Turton was founded in 2008 by existing before the shop opened three years later. including Georgia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Morocco, Israel, Moldova and Lebanon. from less familiar grape varieties and from places such as Greece, Lebanon, India and THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 4

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tried & Tested Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva 2008 Two and a half years in American oak, three more in the bottle, and this Tempranillo-dominated Rioja is fruit flavours and comforting wafts of cedar and RRP: £15.95 ABV: 14% raring to go. It’s warm and spicy, with dark brooding Majoros Tokaji Deak Furmint 2011 Hallgarten hails this as “a great example of an orange and there’s a taut acidity that binds the whole thing together. The finish is long, warm and generous but RRP: £14.99 ABV: 12% wine”. Barrel fermentation and ageing lends a creamy, caramel texture that adds weight to the apricot notes leather. “Pairs well with elaborate sauce”, apparently, Richmond Wine Agencies (020 8744 5550) ellisofrichmond.co.uk which is a great marketing opportunity for somebody. also self-cleansing, finally disappearing without trace. hdnwines.co.uk Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722538) Te Awa Left Field Malbec 2013 Produced from fruit from two vineyard parcels in the Gimblett Gravels, this is quite a fearsome beast that 18 months in a French oak barrel. It’s not exactly really wants you to understand what it’s like to spend Quinta do Noval Douro 2008 Half Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca and 10% Tinta Cão, here’s a serious, robust and conversationstopping red that doesn’t flare up on the first sip but imbibing speed is automatically slowed by 50%, RRP: £22 ABV: 14.5% Gonzalez Byass (01707 274790) gonzalezbyassuk.com gently reveals its power in its own good time. The soft, plummy richness stays with you for so long that your which is a major contribution to sensible drinking. angry, but it does have a dark, brooding intensity and a craving for fresh meat that may startle sensitive souls. RRP: £17.20 ABV: 13.5% Hatch Mansfield (01344 871800) hatchmansfield.com Deep down, it just wants to be understood. We loved it. Wirra Wirra Adelaide Shiraz 2014 The winery was established in McLaren Vale in 1894 by a chap called Robert Strangways Wigley, an exports. He’d doubtless enjoy this: a juicy, savoury spice from the oak. RRP: £11.49 ABV: 14.5% eccentric who helped pioneer South Australian wine Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Winemaker Simon Waghorn aims for a leafy, coolclimate style and he achieves it with this prickly, lime-tinged wine. No tropical squelch, no misdirected fireworks in the glass: just an intense, sour-ratherlong, consistent finish. RRP: £16.95 ABV: 13% than-sweet palate with hints of gooseberries and a Richmond Wine Agencies (020 8744 5550) ellisofrichmond.co.uk and pretty robust winter comforter with a sprinkle of Gonzalez Byass (01707 274790) gonzalezbyassuk.com Hiruzta Txakoli 2014 The result of a project to restore the tradition of txakoli production to the town of Hondarribia – which lends its name to the grape variety – this is an intriguing there’s a good steely mineral kick too and just the gentlest salty tang. RRP: £13.49 hdnwines.co.uk ABV: 13.5% and impressive wine that first appeared as recently as 2011. Lemon and grapefruit flavours abound, but Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah 2012 “The quintessential expression of cool-climate Syrah” is what the label promises. That doesn’t mean we’re dealing with anything lean or angular here – far from it. It’s rich and mellow, with deep-rooted and RRP: £14.99 ABV: 14.5% concentrated black fruit flavours as well as liquorice and tar. But it’s all leavened by a sprightly freshness. Awin Barratt Siegel (01780 755810) abswineagencies.co.uk Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722538) THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 6

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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE Robert Bagot Buon Vino Settle North Yorkshire THINGS Gallo has Talbott on its horizon E&J Gallo has added another premium estate to its portfolio with the purchase of Talbott Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. purchase last month of Asti and the County. The move comes on the heels of Gallo’s Talbott is best known for its world-class Magpie disappointment. One wrote online: “I suppose it was inevitable. After the scandal of the false accounting, the ‘management consultants’ stepped in to cull the range and to focus on more profitable lines – this means bulk wines bottled in the UK. If you stuff you’d see in Iceland these days.” The Guardian, August 20 Site members expressed their Favourite wine on my list 2013, a beautiful biodynamic wine from the Chenin: rich, golden, intense and delicious. Loire. Very low yields of naturally farmed At the moment Vouvray Clos de La Meslerie Souverain brand, and the March purchase Los Angeles Times, August 27 look in store, the wine aisle looks more like of J Vineyards and Winery, both in Sonoma UK still Kiwis’ #3 The USA has overtaken Australia as the most important export market for New Zealand wines. year to June, while Australia saw a slight drop. In the UK – New Zealand’s third up 10%. The Drinks Business, August 17 The American market grew 13% in the Favourite wine and food match Cheeses and salamis from The Courtyard above wine with his Gorgonzola is pretty fine. Oh and I do like a plate of Pasta al natural red from Italy or France, but also the Pesto Genovese (homemade of course) with Spezia; steaks with natural produced Rhone reds … actually there are loads. a bottle of Harmoge Walter Batte from La Dairy (next door) with any crunchy young biggest export market – export value was Oz Clarke: community service Favourite wine trip Milan in Provence: outstanding terroir wines beer on tap from 9.30am – what’s not to like? and a super-cool winemaker, organic local Helping with the vintage at Domaine Henri Tesco club closed Tesco is pulling the plug on a popular online club for wine-loving customers as part of its drive to concentrate on its mainstream business. Wine Community in 2011, luring highOz Clarke and John Torode. The supermarket launched the Tesco • Spero Raptis of Adelaide, who spent decades building his dream wine cellar, is suing an electrical company after most of his prestige collection worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was destroyed. He claimed an air conditioning worker left a humidifier running causing 1,253 of his finest bottles of wine to “cook” overnight. His collection included 86 bottles of Penfolds Grange Hermitage. Daily Mail, August 26 Favourite wine trade person There are many, here are a few: Luca Dusi/ Fred Bruschetta at Passione Vino; Frederic Grappe at Dynamic Vines; Deborah Brooks Sliwa at Caves de Pyrene; Martin Slater at the list goes on. at Boutinot; Andy Taylor at Liberty; Patricia Thorman Hunt; Devin at R&H Fine Wines … profile wine experts and bloggers such as winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag winemerchantteam@gmail.com Favourite wine shop and the owner, but one has to also love the R&H in Liverpool for the creative range The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 765 independent wine shops. Except one, and that’s deliberate. The magazine is edited by Graham Holter. Printed in Sussex by East Print. Registered in England: No 6441762 © Graham Holter Ltd 2015 VAT 943 8771 82 Aladdin’s Cave that is D Byrne in Clitheroe. THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 8

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merchant profile: the vineking A Surrey state of affai Seventy per cent of Laan’s range is imported direct Willis: queues outside the butcher and bread shop were encouraging signs Erik Laan’s decision to base his business in the affluent towns of Reigate and Weybridge has paid dividends – despite the twin horrors of the recession and a disastrous 2009 Bordeaux campaign “I swear alliegiance to The Vineking”. A cross Surrey around 2,000 people carry plastic cards in their purses and wallets bearing the wording handy storage area for Erik Laan’s fledgling wine business, established after stints at and Laytons. “Before I’d even put all the on the door asking for wine,” he recalls. “Reigate’s a thirsty town.” Charles Taylor, CG Bull & Taylor, La Reserve bottles on the shelf I had people knocking The Weybridge shop, where we meet, seem rather interchangeable from an Their loyalty doesn’t enable them to vote to boycott rival stores. But it does entitle them to 15% off purchases of six bottles and 20% off a full case. outsider’s perspective but Laan is acutely aware of the differences between Reigate in their different ways. Here you’ve got a much at the top of their game – a lot of are mid-30s to 60s, with young kids. Surrey commuter towns can sometimes in management elections, or require them and Weybridge. “They’re both very affluent much older age group; the guys are CEOs, they’re managing directors, they’re all very international, and people who aren’t here all year round. In Reigate a lot of customers “In Reigate, a lot of people have come out to the “great wines, no nonsense” approach of the company’s three stores. The original, a tiny space in Reigate, was originally just a It’s obvious that customers have warmed appeared in 2007. “I remember doing this delivery – one case of wine for 25 grand to some bloke in St George’s Hill – and I probably quite a good catchment area.” thought, if I’m going to locate a shop, this is THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 10

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irs of London, buying houses – three up, three down or whatever – for the same price as still got London tastes – they like having nice wines and decent food. based because you don’t have as many customers, but when you look after and spend a lot of money.” “Weybridge is very much personalitythey had their flat up in town. But they’ve customers correctly they can be very loyal Reigate. “The idea was that we would close the little one and open the new one on Church Street – it’s got a bigger catchment area and it’s a slightly larger store,” Laan die. It just kept on increasing.” of the three shops? I remember back in the days of La Reserve, it was very much a case of “right, there’s … go and do it”. I wanted to have that with I’ve worked each and every shop so I explains. “But the little one just wouldn’t The Weybridge branch, occasionally doubling as the town’s liveliest restaurant The Vineking has a third store, also in Do managers have a say on the buying side of things? Yeah, if they find something from a tasting that they like. I try to get the guys off to like Liberty or Boutinot. More and taste as much as possible from guys who provide us with a fairly decent portfolio more buying is now done through the the guys to taste those wines more. you have to. We operate on a very strong individual bottle price, but we give 15% discount on a mixed six and 20% off a mixed 12. But whatever I taste has got to because they’re taking a margin, when I taste the wines I think, “well, that’s buying a bit easier. not worth £14.99, that’s £11.99” – and How do you organise the management justify that top price. With a lot of agents, the keys to the shop, this is what we expect my guys as well. We say, “this is your shop, these are your targets, these are the offers”. know all the customers but I’m very happy to let these guys get on with it. Each shop’s got an individual manager. We’re just looking at promoting one of the guys to be an overall manager of all stores, reporting off and do more things. to me, which will hopefully allow me to go Vindependents, and I’ve got to try and get How do you think the new agency model of the Vindependents will affect your relationship with current suppliers? To be honest if it hadn’t been the Vindependents doing it, we’d be doing it ourselves. We’re already shipping more therefore won’t buy it. So it actually makes Do you think that’s a problem that’s got worse among suppliers over the years? To be honest, the guys I’ve dealt with I’ve a lot with smaller suppliers like Ben at never really had any problems with. I deal and more direct: I think probably 70% of Each shop has its own manager and I’m happy to let these guys get on with it THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 11 my volume is shipped direct. The thing is, Indigo; Ben at Carte Blanche; James at New Generation. Yes, we deal with Boutinot and they’ve got a very good portfolio – they’re very good mid-range, and it’s simple. You could do the whole shop with Boutinot, their portfolio is that strong. We used to do a bit with FMV – we now just do stuff Continues page 12

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merchant profile: the vineking From page 11 Have you got particular buying responsibility within the Vindependents? in there too. Some of our customers might go down there, but not that many. you? It’s probably now taking about 18% of the business. Can you see that going higher? Yes, I can. Again it’s because we’re repeated. importing direct, with product that can’t be Is the wholesale range available in the shop as well? We try not to. We definitely don’t have the – that goes forward. house wines in but some of the other wines – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, that sort of thing At house wine level is there some stuff that you sell through gritted teeth or are the wines any good? It’s all stuff that I would How important is wholesale trade for ex-cellars because the euro is at 1.4. You’re insane to buy from someone who’s bought everything at 1.2 exchange rate, put their margin on top again, and then tried to resell it. That doesn’t make sense. The press release from the No. Jess [Hutchinson] does. She has the overall final decision on it. We’re all able producers that I’ll be dealing with who I sure, for everyone. to submit things if we think they will suit the group, but of course there are certain Vindependents is quite bullish and even confrontational: “agents should be intimidated” … I don’t think it was meant to be as aggressive as that. A lot of us work well don’t think will suit the group – or maybe I just want to keep to myself. That’s true, I’m As the group grows, there’s the possibility for geographical overlap – is that a problem? Everybody is awake to that. You’ve got to people strongly object, then it’s a no. pass the credit checks and I think if three with UK agents. At the end of the day it’s a broad group, there are lots of people with different opinions. The amazing thing is that we’ve managed to get it to a limited company position when we do have so many individuals been a fight yet … within it with quite strong personalities. There’s never You’re insane to buy from someone who’s bought at a 1.2 exchange rate Can merchants who are not members of the Vindependents buy stock from the group? That is part of it, yeah. They won’t get the same rates, of course. It would be like margins we’ll be operating on are less. We are buying quite a lot of things from Here in Weybridge you’ve got Wine As the group gets bigger do you think it will be harder to keep everybody happy? There will hopefully be [more people to our buying. joining] because that will give more power very happy with their current agent – or in France, new Zealand or wherever it might be – through the Vindependents they’ve the best wine merchants in the country. It makes a lot of sense for them to deal with us. Everyone who comes in has a credit got a direct route on to shelves in some of If you consider somebody in Italy is not take home. I think that’s the key. Everything we take is tried and tested. We do make a the cheapest on everything in wholesale. as well. It’s that sort of mentality. If you do want that kind of stuff, knock us. point that at the end of the day we won’t be But likewise you can buy cheap crap meat yourself out – there’s all the big boys and buying from an agency house. I believe the there and it means I can get a better deal. Rack down the road and Majestic in the centre – are they attracting a different crowd to The Vineking? I’ve got customers who will go and buy beer in Majestic and buy wine from us. That’s fine; they’re cheap on that front. They’ve got some decent wines – not all of them, but some. Wine Rack is more beer and fags at the end of the day, even now. They’ve got some decent wines in there, they’ll race you to the bottom. But not for I guess round here you’re spoiled when it comes to quality hotels and restaurants, compared to some other parts of the country. No … I’ll be honest, our biggest market, interestingly enough, is actually Indian Not only that, a lot of us do wholesale too. check and it’s very important that everyone has to pay on time too – that’s part of the remit. It’s a very skinny margin that we cheque’s in the post”. operate on so anyone new has to be very restaurants and various rugby clubs and aware of that situation. You can’t go, “ah … stuff like that. That’s the way we’ve gone. sort of places you get maybe 10% of the don’t get me wrong, and interesting beers restaurants but the difference is with those We would like to do a bit more with other THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 12

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Wholesale trade accounts for about 18% of the company’s £1.8m turnover list; 5% of the list. If you look after other rely on them. In this neck of the woods, or further afield? Obviously for logistical reasons I’m not going to put something in Cumbria. It’s got to be in the south east, we’d love to do something up in London as well … This is essentially a traditional wine merchant business – did you see the recent comment from Stephen Finch at Vagabond who said this kind of model is dying? Yes but then their model is more of a wine bar I think. A wine shop is a shop with it. restaurants you get 100% of the list. That makes sense to me. They rely on you, you I’m sceptical about high-end restaurateurs with massive lists. What are you actually going to turn over? It’s a nice is vanity. meal out, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it If you get the new retail director, for want of a better description, what kind of role do you see for yourself going forward? The key thing for me, to keep competitive, is we’ve got to find the right products. We’ve got to be out there the whole time finding new things; something new to talk about. I do not want to have the same old get a few more shops as well … stuff on the shelves. We’d probably like to essentially if it’s a good, interesting site, we’re interested. When we see it, we see it. We’ve worked out our equation, how we a few more sites to push that into. like to run our business. Now we just need How many staff have you got now? At the end of the month it always looks like quite a lot. About 10. there on high throwing down words of enjoy. It’s quite a flat hierarchy. I’m not I’m always looking a bit, here and there. product to sell and people come in and buy you can’t turn up and fill your boot up because people don’t drive. It’s a very London is a different market. In London different mechanism here – people do drive, they do come in and buy a few cases of wine and off they go. We’re not in an along. urban situation. And business is rocking wisdom. We’re very happy to have a frank conversation amongst all of us, which I Continues page 14 THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 13

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merchant profile: the vineking From page 13 What kind of turnover do you achieve? About £1.8m. The best advice I’ve had was ‘don’t drop your margin during a recession’ him but the majority found it a bit weird. in the wine trade or outside of it? The most important bit of advice – and this – was from Graham Chidgey at La Reserve. He made a point of saying, “whatever you Because you’re going to drop customers, and if you drop customers and you drop your margin, you’re dead. point to push the margin up because we Save 15% on six bottles and 20% on 12 Is that roughly where you want it to be? With three stores, yeah. If we had four stores we’d want more. The problem is that with a £2m turnover, which I think we’ll probably hit next year, you become liable Packaging Waste Regulations]. So just as revenue for the government they go and shaft you with something else. Do you run your pop-up restaurant events in all three stores or just the two biggest ones? Just the two biggest ones. The little store one we can get 22. If we exceed that in we’d probably get about three covers in. In here we can get 32 covers and in the other Reigate we’ve got a mate with a deli around the corner and that can seat up to 38 so we can move the pop-up into there if it goes really crazy. really knows his stuff. It’s really good. The chef is excellent, he for tax on all of your packaging [under the we’re doing our best to generate more tax Who’s inspired you in business, either is what kept us going through the recession do in a recession, don’t drop your margin”. still had our customers who we look after very well and give great personal service, and they want to keep us going anyway. Was it a rocky time for you? Very very tough. We were absolutely We made a conscious decision at that not always get the benefit on the night but maybe over the coming weeks and months … No, not at all. We actually sell between a there and then. grand and two grand a night. People buy It must cement the relationships you have, though, over a longer period. Oh yes, exactly. When someone walks in that customer could be worth that fucked by 2009 Bordeaux. We sold a lot but then I paid a commission on that and then the exchange rate shifted and we didn’t sort that out in advance. I kept thinking, crap gambler. And it never came round. “it’ll come back” – it’s almost like being a Then suddenly we had this massive debt which we had eventually to get sorted out. Yeah. I’m still the majority shareholder – I own 70% – but I took on a business Does he prep in the stores? He does a lot of prep in a commercial kitchen and then he comes here to finish off – he fries off the meat and that kind of thing. It works incredibly well. Four courses plus six wines for 60 quid. We kitchen. pour a decent glass and sometimes a refill as well if things are going a bit slow in the People bring friends who haven’t been year anything from £500 to £5,000. You just don’t know, you’ve got to have that type of thing. Did you have to take on other investors? conversation with them and work out what they are – whether they’ve got a cellar, that I always tell my guys it’s a bit like fishing. here already. We get to know them and we talk about the wine, obviously. On those normally. It would be unfair. Everyone partner and he bought 30%. Richard Devitt came in and it was good because as MD I all the time. But I’m better on the shop So he looks after logistics and I’m now what I’m best at … and buying. was doing a lot of things: I spent one year virtually talking to accounts departments evenings we don’t sell as hard as we would knows what they’re here for, you know? Work out what kind of fish you’ve got, then apply said bait. It’s as simple as that. I had one sales gear: dynamite in, and that’s the way he fished. one guy, who’s no longer with us, who had floor than I am looking after the accounts. I guess with events like that you might Some customers laughed and got on with allowed to be front of house again, which is THE WINE MERCHANT september 2015 14

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