THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 41, October 2015
Officially the least scary trade magazine
Wholesale scheme hit by ‘technical issues’
Independent wine specialists are waiting for clarity over the government’s delayed plans for a central register of approved alcohol wholesalers. including small merchants who may simply will need to enrol under the Alcohol on trade. Any business that offers wholesale alcohol, purely connected with the IT infrastructure or if officials are also concerned at the widespread lack of awareness of the new rogue wholesalers who have for decades has evaded taxation. regime, which is intended to crack down on flooded the market with cheap alcohol that It is not clear whether the problems are
Mr Whirly’s hat and the idiot who wants to come and perform in your store
4 comings & GOINGS
supply a handful of local pubs and restaurants, Wholesaler Registration Scheme or face a ban 1, with HMRC scheduled to begin the vetting process on January 1. But with just days to “for technical reasons” and would now get go before enrolment was supposed to start, HMRC said the scheme had been postponed Registration was due to open on October
Why Wine Utopia is opening a third branch after all
live in April 2017, after which it will be illegal does not appear on the AWRS register. So far there has been no indication whether this getting registration under way. 20 and 21.
for retailers to buy from any wholesaler which date will be put back as a result of the delay in • What’s happened to the AWRS? See pages
HMRC originally expected the scheme to go
6 tried & TESTED
Wines that somersaulted across our palate
10 merchant profile
James Nicholson: Crossgar, Dublin … London?
22 david williams
under way at the beginning of the New Year.
A brief history of time, and also Rioja
34 South African wine
After so many false dawns, is this the breakthrough at last?
48 the appeal of apples
Why cider is a good fit for wine merchants
57 supplier Bulletin
Essential updates from agents and suppliers
66 make a date
Tanners has opened the seventh shop in its estate at a former art deco cinema and auction room in Chester. The premises includes a seating area, wine dispensing machine and The store closes at the end of August after 24 years bespoke tasting room. See also page 24.
Still plenty of tastings to go to before Christmas
Customers buy into Cellar future
The maxim that the customer is always right is one of the oldest in retailing. Fingers crossed that it turns out to be true for Kent wine merchant The Secret Cellar, which has tailored a crowdfunding opportunity around what customers said they wanted. Tunbridge Wells shop include a private after regulars requested “more tasting events and pop-up dinners” along with feel”. Mike and Jo Watson’s plans for the
had funding coming in from all over the country. I’d say it’s 90% local, but it has been from all over.” An investment of £250 is rewarded with
“It’s been a real success so far. We’ve
himself, but the magic box is attributed grandfather made many years ago,” he make wines in Derbyshire – not out of
to his grandfather. “I’ve got a box that my explains. “In the 50s and 60s he used to
20% off all purchases for two years – an quickly, says Grainger. long-term,” he adds.
offer that extends to five years for a £500 “We wanted to make the rewards
pledge. This higher-priced option sold out tangible and actually worth doing, and
grapes but out of anything he could find nettles, peaches, whatever – and it was very good wine.”
in the hedgerows – elderflowers, berries, Newson inherited the box and would
pledges from customers of £5,000 apiece. “We’re waiting to sit down and discuss in terms of their input,” says Grainger. course.” with them what we can offer them back
The venture has also received two top
carry his wine samples in it when visiting restaurant clients. “The first question my clients would always ask is ‘where’s the hat?’ and the second question would be was really created by my customers.”
‘where’s the magic box?’, so this whole idea Wines site in Balham, originally operated by Daniel Thorold and later Applejack Trading. The shop has undergone a basic
“We’re on target to open in the first week
of January 2016 and the funding is well on
Whirly Wines has taken over the Thorold
makeover in preparation for the opening on October 15: white walls and a black while – we’ll see what happens”, but the
bar area with seating for around 20 people “a place to enjoy drinks in a comfortable, relaxed environment” with an “exclusive Pledges have been invited in amounts
floor, which Newson says “will work for a built table, complete with spotlights, and
box will have pride of place on a specially
all the wines for tasting will be in the box.
and say, “what’s in the magic box today, Mr dispensing options.
Newson: the magic begins on October 15
from £50 to £5,000, with investor rewards set at different thresholds. Fifty quid secures an invitation to the opening night with free Champagne and canapés, while £1,000 entitles the benefactor to a meal wine thrown in. for 16 guests prepared by a top chef, with
Whirly?” An interesting and arguably more charming concept than some modern wine I import all the wines myself. I don’t ask because all the winemakers I work with anyone else in the UK.” In 2002 Newson started out with just “I hope my business will work because
He says: “People will come into the shop
a private pre-opening night and your name on the funders’ board in the bar. the £500s are doing very nicely,” says lower end. “We’ve sold out of the £1,000 ones and
This reward also includes an invitation to
What’s in the box today, Mr Whirly?
How many independents can you think of whose USP is a magic box and a hat? who after 12 years of importing and from the photograph of Mr Whirly Enter (stage left), Simon Newson
for exclusivity although I generally get it
are pretty tiny and don’t really work with two wines and over time he has built
that up to a range of 140, which until
manager Dan Grainger. “In fact we’ve had more uptake in that bracket than in the
wholesaling is opening his first shop
now has been targeted principally at the wholesale market, including offers from regional France, Italy and Spain, as well as California, Oregon, New Zealand and Australia.
this month. The hat reference is evident
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 2
The play’s the thing for tastings
If you’re looking for a way to pep up your events programme, a theatre company may have the solution. about a wine lecture that goes wrong as the tutor gets increasingly drunk. Spurrier’s 1976 Judgment of Paris, which head with top Bordeaux. Premier Cru Productions has been set The lecture in the play is based on Steven Premier Cru Productions stages a play
comeuppance and his bright assistant
takes over and fills in the gaps that he’s left out,” David says. “He’s an idiot – a science lecturer who essentially chooses to do a blind wine tasting so he can drink wine.
taking control and then telling the story as it actually turned out. In the play he says that the Californian wines will be worth a nothing: the Mouton Rothschild will be happened in reality.”
“The play lends itself to a wine merchant
there’s a paradigm shift that took place and fortune and the French wines will be worth vinegar and the Stag’s Leap will be worth a fortune, and we all know that none of that tasted afterwards do not have to be He is keen to stress that “the wines
pitted the best wines of California head-toup by David and Rachel Bark-Jones, both professional actors and directors. yet absurd” and is being offered as an raiser to a tasting. “It’s a 35-minute farce based on a
“Our Man with the Facts”
• Although modern-day vermouth was created in Turin in the late
element of corporate events or a curtainstupid and pompous man who gets his
The one-act play is billed as “informative
the ones mentioned in the play – the
participants taste what they want to taste”. structure is geared towards corporate and the company is keen to talk to work for them. events, the show is “absolutely adaptable” independent merchants about making it He adds that although the current cost
date back to China’s Shang and Western • Unpleasant geranium-like aromas fermentation. This is an unwanted byan anti-fungal agent. acid being present during malolactic Zhou dynasties (1250–1000 BC).
fortifying wine with herbs and roots
18th century, the earliest records of
A wine bar in Salisbury is taking a stand against chain restaurants – by accepting vouchers issued by its larger rivals. the homogenisation of the city centre. slogan “Cranes Against the Chains”. The move is part of a campaign against
in wines are usually the result of sorbic product of adding potassium sorbate as • Famously, it is possible to open a
Happily, the bar has a usefully-rhyming name that allows the catchy campaign
technique the feat can be achieved with almost any flat-sided object, including • In German wine regions there is still-fermenting wine that has not an iPhone.
bottle of Champagne with the blunt edge of a sabre. But with the right
do with the increasing number of branded difficult for independents to compete.” The venue has opted to take the hit on
restaurants in Salisbury who are making it branded restaurants’ promotions – such as BOGOFs and money-off deals at Pizza Express or Café Rouge – rather than see
The star of the farce is “an idiot”
Jo Wood of Cranes Wine Café says: “It’s
vessels because of the risk of explosion. • Light-struck wines can smell of cabbage, cardboard or garlic.
yet been bottled. The wine, known as Federweisser, is not sold in sealed
a tradition of drinking very young,
customers go elsewhere.
just to make a point,” adds Wood.
“It’s partly good advertising and partly
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 3
Vinorium expects branch to bear fruit
Kent-based wine merchant The Vinorium is planning to build a “state of the art” retail premises on a farm development near Cranbrook. company is testing the water with a popup shop on the site in the autumn and Owner Stuart McCloskey says the
were so many articles and blogs written a wine bar,” says McCloskey. “We are an independent wine merchant. bit tourist-led which was great for the wasn’t great.” “We found the location was a little
about it – ‘the smartest and sexiest wine
bar in town’ – but actually we’re not really
a high-end retail estate occupied by a
number of independent businesses. At
The new location is at The Foundry,
2,000 sq ft it’s just 25% bigger than the available immediately outside.
Romsey warehouse but about half of that The premises will feature a tasting
sampling side of things – but as a merchant who wants to sell bottles to take away, it
space is adaptable for retail use. Parking is counter and will promote case deals more prominently than the existing stores, though pricing will be the same. Majestic, is currently overseeing the Gibson, who started her career at
Christmas period but fully expects to start Hartley Coffee & Farm Shop has been trading for around a year. The location is a fruit farm where the
work on a permanent new store in January.
decoration of the retail area. It will bear “slightly prettier”.
some resemblance to a branch operated by her former employers, she says, but will be
like a Booths,” says McCloskey. “They’ve got their own butchers, their own bakery, a big employ their own team. “It’s only been going a year and the deli
“It’s an amazing farm shop – it’s more
deli section, their own fishmonger and they side has just turned over £1m and the million.”
Story of the Store
Gibson: “This is about being efficient”
What started out as an accidental career in the wine trade is now drawing to a close for Barry and Mary Sapsford. buyer for The Wine Store, based on a farm in Chippenham, Cambridgeshire, where neighbours include a deli and café. shop since 2006. The couple are retiring and looking for a
coffee shop has turned over a quarter of a the outside, with a grass roof, according fitted with five Enomatic machines and house up to 12,000 bottles of wine.
Wine Utopia, the Hampshire independent, is opening a warehousestyle outlet that will form the third branch in its estate. Kings Worthy is in a more convenient location than the current storage Owner Rachel Gibson says the site at
to McCloskey, but visually striking inside, employing a great deal of glass. It will be
The two-storey shop will be modest from
years,” says Barry. “We’ve been here in the
“We’ve been importing wine for about 37 “In the early 80s we went on a holiday in
the moment,” says McCloskey. “It’s ideal for us as it’s such an affluent catchment area. It’s a bit of an unusual place to have an sense because everything is there.” independent wine merchant but it makes staff but McCloskey says the current The move will require “five or six” new
“We’re with architects and developers at
warehouse in Romsey and has the added Winchester and Stockbridge and Gibson more. Wine Utopia already has shops in
advantage of being suitable for retail use. admits she previously had no plans to open else ever again,” she says. “But to me, this isn’t so much about opening a new site We’re not taking on a whole load more as making what we’ve got more efficient. “It’s costing us almost the same as the
a gite in the Muscadet region. Bad weather forced us to help the locals pick the grapes before they perished. A winemaker took
us into his family and showed us the whole fermentation process. We decided to bring stuff back home for ourselves and friends and it grew from there.” to their current shop before taking the decision to buy it. Over the years they imported themselves. The couple were originally suppliers
headquarters in Ashford will remain for at least two more years, after which the or around the town.
“I said before I’m never opening anything
company hopes to create a new purpose-
built office and warehouse development in up store on the South Bank in London last year. “People loved the pop-up and there The Vinorium experimented with a pop-
costs, other than another member of staff. really.”
have mainly traded with wines they have
old warehouse so it seems like a no-brainer
have wines from all over the place,” Barry says. “We import from Germany, Austria, France and a bit from Italy.”
“We are still rather French-centric but we
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 4
tried & Tested
Faustino Gonzalez Amontillado En Rama
This was our first taste of Amontillado En Rama and frankly life feels like it’s changed for ever. A prickly, powerful and pungent single-vineyard wine, from a solera dating back to 1926 and fermented in American oak, it’s a real wild child that somersaults around your palate, unleashing dark chocolate and citrus flavours. RRP: £39.99 ABV: 17.5% Sherry Boutique (07768 023719) sherryboutique.com
Château Marsyas BQa Rouge 2013
Cabernet Sauvignon dominates this blend from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, but there’s a nice chunk of moderating Syrah and Mourvèdre in the mix too. It’s brimming with dense, dark fruit and wafts of coffee, RRP: £19.75 h2vin.co.uk ABV: 15%
but at heart it’s a gentle giant: the acidity is fresh and H2Vin (020 3478 7376)
seems to knock a percentage point or two off the ABV.
Jackhammer Pinot Noir 2013
The name prepares you for another Californian Pinot that drills into your head but the reality is strikingly different. Stephen Dooley has crafted a supple, beautifully balanced wine, expressing pure red fruit highly credible Pinot at an affordable price. RRP: £17 ABV: 13.5% Roberson Wine (020 7381 7870) robersonwine.com
Grace Lane Yakima Valley Riesling 2013
This was our favourite Riesling at the Dirty Dozen tasting. It comes from Washington State and has a lovely, peachy sweetness but also a classy spiciness gents) who lunch. RRP: £13.99
character without any skirmishes with sickly, confected
flavours or alcohol burn. Proof that California can make
mid-palate and a firm mineral finish. A wine that could quite easily develop a big fanbase among ladies (and ABV: 11.5% The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999) winetreasury.com
Domaine Naturaliste Artus Margaret River Chardonnay 2013
The technical sheet talks about crème brulée flavours – to us they were more like your mum’s raw cake mix, straight off the spoon, which we’d say is higher praise. citrus-peel acidity piercing through its soft centre. RRP: £39.99 ABV: 13.5% Aussie Rules (0141 554 1887) aussie-rules.co.uk
Perdeberg Dry Land Collection Pinotage 2013
This powerful, tightly-packed and dense red is ready for a fight with anything you choose to throw at it over the dinner table, so make sure it’s something robust. may even win the variety some admirers. RRP: £11.99 ABV: 14% Boutinot (0161 908 1315) boutinot.com The product of bush-vine fruit from Paarl, it certainly doesn’t play into the hands of Pinotage detractors, and
There’s an appealing warm, buttery richness here, but
in a modern, French-oak, Western Australian style, with
Mirafiore Nebbiolo Langhe 2010
This Piedmont estate was famous in the 19th century but was allowed to wither for more than 70 years. Now it’s back, making wines in a traditional and agethe wine that’s probably no coincidence. RRP: £22.95 ABV: 14% Fortyfive 10 (020 8875 1784) fortyfive10.com worthy style. This one is a delight: no new oak is used, and there’s a plummy softness and approachability to
Château Calvimont Graves Blanc 2013
It’s so easy to overlook white Bordeaux, which is a real shame when there are wines as lovely and affordable as this vying for our attention. The lemon-and-lime yielding to a subtle and gentle minerality. Simple, unpretentious and nicely understated. RRP: £12.99 ABV: 12.5% Boutinot (0161 908 1315) boutinot.com flavours gently edge their way forward on the palate,
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 6
bits & BOBs FAVOURITE
Zac Palmer Laporte
Soho Wine Supply London
Burger King wine is being broiled
Burger King has revealed plans to conquer the wine market. rouge said to go perfectly with the famous patties. broiled just like the meat, it has been iconic hamburger, the Whopper. The wine has been produced as an Aged in wooden barrels after being Whopper Wine is a flame-grilled vintage
in-store wines on the internet and some wines will only be available online. The Guardian, September 28
Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier and Domaine de la Solitude in Pessac Léognan, is to vinify the oldest vine(s) growing in the Bordeaux region for the first time, with the 2015 harvest. single plant but with the canopy grown belong to the city of Bordeaux and are growing in Place de la Victoire. the Basque country. The vine(s), which are in fact just one
Favourite wine on my list
Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the cellar that because I secretly want to drink them I’ve been very discreet about selling all myself. We have a few magnums of 2007
crafted to be the ideal complement to BK’s anniversary special to mark 40 years since the first branch opened in Spain. Daily Mail, September 25
across a pergola with around eight shoots, The grape variety, Txakoli Noir, is highly
Favourite wine and food match
scallops – cooked with a bit of butter and pancetta or bacon if I feel like gilding the lily. An oaked Grand Cru Chablis with
unusual and thought to have originated in Decanter, September 25
Favourite wine trip
equipment in the winery, and then the sent to for the magic to happen. Champagne: it was all the high-tech
• A Champagne bath pop-up is coming to
Goes well with any anti-emetic
London, offering punters the chance to bathe in bubbles while being served Champagne by butlers. Appropriately named Bubbles, the event has been organised by bath retailer Bathstore, which will take over Arch 406 in Shoreditch. Guests will be able to book a single space in a bath, or hire an extra large bath for two or three to share, while those who prefer to keep their clothes on will able to prop up the bar. The Drinks Business, September 25
miles of cool quiet cellars the bottles are
Aldi’s Net gain
Aldi will open a new front in the UK grocery war early next year when it launches an online operation selling wine by the case. grocer’s first move into internet retailing in Britain and will start in the first three months of 2016. Aldi will sell all of its The wine service will be the German
Favourite wine trade person
winemaker who isn’t afraid of making there’s always a better wine. Paul Mas is an ambitious and talented
that, no matter how good something is,
unconventional wines. He also affirms
Favourite wine shop
independent started by a friend, Chris and keep wishing him every success with his venture. Mitchell. I admire his commitment
Cork & Cask in Edinburgh – a small
The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 764 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
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 8
merchant profile: james nicholson
James and his giant
Seventy per cent of Laan’s range is imported direct
Jim Nicholson, Crossgar, September 2015: keen on further expansion if the right opportunity presents itself
Jim Nicholson is a self-taught wine merchant who built his multi award-winning company from scratch. Now employing nearly 40 people and with a £10m turnover, he’s growing the business in both Northern Ireland and the Republic – and is also casting his gaze across the water towards the UK
ne of the southbound routes out sweeping driveway of Stormont
Castle. The messy chaos that prevails in that building seems in stark contrast to the small village of Crossgar, where Jim Nicholson’s wine business thrives, in a splendid building of its own.
of Belfast takes you past the long,
victories as the province’s merchant of the year in the International Wine Challenge can only have helped to raise his profile, is driven more by a love for the business the way. but you sense that Nicholson is a man who he’s in than any gongs he’s collected along
Republic, with all the taxation and currency complications that entails. serious of which happened 10 years meningitis and spent over a year in There have been setbacks, the most
what goes on 16 miles down the road in
ago when his wife Elspeth contracted
shout for Northern Ireland’s first minister? You get the impression he’d be a popular choice. “Jim knows everybody,” laughs finance director Nicola Davies. Twenty-two
Perhaps Nicholson would be a decent
developed an interest in wine after reading up on the various regions and taking the four decades on heads a business that time to seek out the wines they produce. He embarked as a merchant aged 22, and
He started out in the restaurant trade but
hospital, losing all four limbs before being brain and was very much involved in the design of this place with the architect.
allowed home. “It was pretty devastating,”
Nicholson says. “Elspeth has a great design When they put in the foundation she then got ill and was in hospital for 14 months.
operates in both Northern Ireland and the
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 10
When she got out of hospital, the building
was finished.” business saw a 50% fall in sales in the space of a year. The experience was a Then, in 2007, the Dublin side of the new one for Nicholson, but being forced abrupt downturn was “the best lesson I to deal with the consequences of such an ever learned,” he says. The business in the Republic is now returning to rude health. yourselves? One hundred per cent. We can’t afford to pay UK distributors a percentage for doing line, but we’re shipping everything now – How much goes into bond?
The headquarters, half an hour from Belfast, includes a shop, offices and a warehouse
How much of your range do you import
very little, so we’re basically self-sufficient. even New Zealand, Australia, California … We would carry about 30,000 cases in warehouses, duty paid.
There’s always a blip somewhere along the
just feel that’s a business that’s better left to Liberty Wines or Enotria or whoever else wants it. be built? We spent a year taking a strategic look at the business – we were literally climbing over the top of pallets to get at cases. It’s typical of many merchants, I’m sure, where your space is restricted and you just don’t have the flow that you require. Our whole office situation was very cramped. brought the whole team in and said, what do we need to do? Well, we need a new warehouse, we need a new shop … we don’t want to have a lot of shops, it’s not We sat down with our accountant and
shop and maybe another in Dublin.
This is quite a striking architectural statement, as much as anything else. Was that half the fun of doing it? It was. We wanted something modern. I think it’s lovely going into a wine
How did the Crossgar premises come to
our bond in Belfast, and then we’d have maybe 7,000 cases in stock across both How does the business break down between retail and wholesale? I’d say retail is maybe 15% of our overall business. The Republic business now would be 50% of our total business. We supply some independent shops that
merchant’s that’s authentically, beautifully old – they’ve got cellars, and they’ve got history. We didn’t have that and I don’t imitate some old vaulted cellar. like to create that. I would rather create
a modern space that’s fresh than try and just a wholesale showroom. They didn’t feel comfortable coming in, so we put a visual in the window – which we want to change now, we’ve got a few changes
In the beginning people thought it was
we work quite closely with, but a lot of
the time our products are not a good fit. If someone wants a £5.99 or £6.99 wine we
We can’t afford to pay UK distributors a percentage for doing very little
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 11
our business, but we wanted one flagship
coming along – to give people a sense of, “look, do come in, you’re very welcome”. on taste all the time, and wine events,
We try to make it easier with a lot of wines and coffee on the go all the time. So it’s a
Continues page 12
merchant profile: james nicholson
From page 11
who are already handling those things. I’ve just come back from Burgundy – we did a trip for three days, five visits a day, and I That was just a bit of research on the internet, which is not very difficult. Is buying and travelling the most enjoyable part of the job for you or do you like the selling side as much? I’m not as involved in the front line as I used to be. I used to have the car, found five or six really good new growers.
move it was probably one of the best things that ever happened because it made me want to deal with corporations. rethink the whole business. I said, I want to deal with people who make the stuff. I don’t Are you still looking at the UK as a possible route for expansion? Yeah, we’ve looked at a couple of things and we’d still love to do something over
What kind of trade does the shop do? The average spend is about £120. They come in on Saturday and put two or three cases in the car, but 70% or 80% is mail turnover is about £2m. It’s a nice core order. With the retail and mail order the
business. If we relocated closer to Belfast lot harder, you have to think.
yes, it would be busier. But in a funny sort
of way, being in Crossgar you have to try a With buying I get the impression you’re quite a restless soul, always looking for the next new thing … We’re always looking and we’re always travelling – be here at all. It’s not a question of constantly changing: I think the there are three of us who travel, otherwise I wouldn’t
deliver the wines, I took the orders – did everything. I’m always trying to bring business.
there, whether it’s purchase, whether it’s they’ve got a very inflated price for what the business is worth. I suppose we’re all involved mentally
joint venture … the problem is sometimes when you talk to independent merchants
younger, fresher, brighter people into the say, who runs the business when you’re not I’ve a great team of people now. People
in our own business to such an extent we think that the 30 years we have spent is value of my business is the same.
It’s important getting our people educated, but more so getting them to vineyards
here? I say, the same people, basically, who run it when I am here. I can be more of a distraction for people sometimes than a cause for good. So I ease it back. Also when you employ good people who are capable, they want the freedom to go and do what they want to do.
incredibly valuable. The it is. You know, we’re all Is there a particular part of the UK that
probably less than I think
portfolio is evolving all the time and some things drop off and some things continue on. You’ve got something that’s very for some reason. successful, you don’t drop it off, but some We want to innovate and do more
would appeal to you? It’s around the London corridor, that part of the world, where it’s easy distribution. A similar sort of business with a little bit of retail, a bit of wholesale – a mix that to get it up to £4m. we know. A business that’s turning over, Not just to take it over for the sake of
properties and some lines just don’t work, interesting things rather than just churn out another container of Prosecco, of five containers of Prosecco tomorrow it
Obviously the range is bigger now than it was 30 years ago, but how else has it changed? We were the first agency for Rosemount; I remember bringing in the first cases of Rosemount Chardonnay in with the big Chardonnay – will that ever sell? Then we took on things like Yalumba and we weren’t really innovating. yellow label, thinking: my god, Australian took on Piper Heidsieck Champagne … we took on some quite big branded stuff. We totally different direction and wanted to Then when Rosemount wanted to go a
maybe, a couple of million that would like running another business – it’s something that would have some intelligence
which we sell a lot. If we had an order for wouldn’t really excite me. But if someone that opportunity. wanted to put five new innovative wines on their wine list I would be more excited by How are you finding these wines? Do you go to trade fairs? We’ll go to ProWein, and Vinitaly; we’ll be in Vinisud, we’ll be in the Loire Valley because there are a lot of London agents
involved in it. It’s been very difficult to find to go outside of the experience that we know, and we know this works.
something that is a fit for us. We don’t want It’s very hard in the wine business: once
you start getting into a £30m, £40m, £50m turnover it seems to get too big. You can turn over £10m or £15m and be a fun business. You can enjoy it. How do you train your staff?
fair. We don’t go to the London Wine Fair
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 12
Nicholson has never taken a wine exam, but trusts his palate to spot wines his customers will enjoy
We’ve always got one or two of our people doing Diploma – we’ve got about five
Diploma holders, and one MW, Jane Boyce. an educational capacity too.
they travel, and we teach them.
She’s three days a week. She’ll spend a day It’s very important getting our people
maybe sommelier training, so she works in through that education, but more
They’ve a sales meeting once a month – all the guys, I don’t have to worry what they’re doing. A fantastic team. Have you always had a good palate?
they’re given good salaries and obviously commission on top. I’m very lucky – with
Our reps are not set any targets at all.
very tannic, that’s very acidic – but your palate is tuned to it. How big is your customer database? We’ll have 11,000 or 12,000 on the database and about 4,000 active clients. We’re not in the business of trying to
important getting them to vineyard, to
source, so we try and travel as many of our staff as we can so that when they’re selling in the shop they’ve met the winemaker, they’ve been to the vineyard, and it’s a done a single wine exam. The shop has been great because it different experience. Personally I’ve never does generate younger people coming
I don’t know whether I have a good palate. that people will like – and I don’t mean intelligently-made wines that you just know when you taste them.
blanket email people constantly. You get a lot of UK merchants emailing three times opened and looked at. a day. We’re very choosy about how often We’ve got fine wine offerings – Jane we email something out so hopefully it gets looks after the fine wine stuff and she’ll be and recommending. Then we’ve got cellar plan people who
I think I can identify things that will be hits, with 17 grams of residual sugar. You know,
through all the time. We ran this apprentice programme five years ago – we’ve now had three of them and they’ve become full-time members of staff. They work in vineyards,
people in my situation, is you’re tasting Then you show it to members of the
a lot of young wine all the time and your palate gets very tuned into young wine. general public – they say, oh gosh, that’s
The difficulty for us, and probably all the
talking to a lot of private clients all the time maybe invest a couple of thousand each year. She sits down with them and talks
Continues page 14
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 13
merchant profile: james nicholson
From page 13
them through the whole process.
How do you feel about the web? Was it something that you were reluctant to get involved with? No, I think we were the first people to have a wine website in Ireland. It was like all and dancing. We’ve had three or four black and white, it wasn’t exactly singing
Our new website will be totally different, like nothing you will have seen on a wine site
Can you ever entirely switch off from the wine business? I play bad golf and buy slow racehorses and I spend a lot of time in Portugal now. around in Languedoc more than in other areas. there and we do an offer once a year. We We work with Domaine de la Jasse down
different versions. The new version, which nothing you will have seen on a wine site before. now – “was £6.99, now £4.99” – so we’re trying to create something a bit more do, like Majestic or Naked Wines – it’s not going to be that kind of look and feel to it. intelligent. It’s maybe not going to drive sales the way some of the larger multiples aggression. But there’s a very nice There’s a lot of homogenous web sites
we launch next year, is totally different, like
We’ve bought a new house in Portugal, in
the Algarve. Our Portuguese portfolio will Are you excited by what’s going on in Portugal? It’s much better, yeah. We’re working in Dão with some good guys, Falorca, just
probably extend to about 50 wineries now!
probably sell about 800 cases in six, seven
days. Everyone knows the wine’s good and we’ve been doing that for about five years. What turnover do you achieve with the business as a whole? About £10m. You always have to have a little bit of growth but it’s about doing £10m intelligently. If we wanted to do £20m next year, that’s not very hard to do. We just start really cutting pricing maybe adding beer and spirits. and bringing in lower-end products, in 2007 the turnover there alone
doing a great job. Dão is doing a great job; Alentejo is much better for us. Quinta do
wine writers – not saying how good are an integral part of driving the traffic.
our wines are but a blog that’s going
We’re going to have guest bloggers,
to be interesting. We know that blogs
Average spend in the store is around £120
was heading towards £10m and then 16 people working in the business in nine. We made very quick decisions.
When the Republic was at its height
suddenly, within 12 months, that was
cut by half. At one stage we had about
You’re still investing in high-quality printed lists too – do those generate a quicker reaction to what you do online? No, that [organic wines] mailing has gone out and the cost was about £22,000 and not hectic enough to recover the costs. this week to about 5,000 people. With the Mouro we’ve worked with for about five years. We’re shipping nearly every six weeks from them. four other areas. There’s a couple of producers in Bairrada
the Republic and now we’ve got about Do you ever get people expressing an interest in buying your business? We’ve had a few approaches, but we’ve said that, certainly at this moment in time, we’ve no appetite for that. I still enjoy being involved in the business, the to say, I’ve had enough of this, but as changing …
general list, we used to send 7,000 of those
we’d be hectically busy for two weeks – but like to look at it, to touch and feel – and who want to pick them up. horrendous bill. So we’ll continue to print the list – I still
I really like, and there are certainly three or Where else in Europe excites you? Languedoc-Roussillon: our sales there are going really very well. Domaine
excitement of it. I would say two or three
years ago I would have been more inclined long as we’re innovating, as long as we’re in an office. I think I’d like to get out of member of the office anyway!
we’ll still do the mailings about six times a year. We’ll have them in the shop for those Postage and packaging alone is a
Gayda, for example – we’re working very in Roussillon. Sometimes Languedoc-
strongly with them. Domaine Modat down
Roussillon works very well but they either
work or they don’t work. We maybe switch
my office more. I’m kind of an irrelevant
There’s nothing more boring than sitting
THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 14
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THE WINE MERCHANT October 2015 15