THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers
Issue 49, July 2016
We’re assuming child labour is now legal
Why Majestic may start thinking smaller
4 comings & GOINGS
Indies decide its time for second (or fifth) branches
The Wine Merchant organised its first-ever reader trip outside the EU to visit the Kavaklidere vineyards and winery in western Turkey. The five independents who came along were impressed with what they tasted – especially wines made with native grape varieties by Ahu Çamli Tokgöz (pictured) and her team. Full story: pages 26 to 29.
Indies braced for a rough ride in post-Brexit world
Independent wine merchants have spelled
out their worries about the effects that the
Brexit vote will have on their businesses.
Currency issues are already causing problems for merchants who receive invoices in US or
Australian dollars, and there are concerns that sterling’s relative weakness has the potential to wipe out profit margins and ultimately drive some wine businesses to the wall.
Merchants are also worried about the way the UK will frame its new trade deals. If wine from the EU is subjected to the same regime that currently applies to imports from outside the single market it would “put unbearable pressure on cash flow”, according to Jamie Tonkin of Old Chapel Cellars in Truro.
There is also concern that Brexit will put up prices generally, and doubts have been raised about how well placed independents will be to
withstand the economic downturn that many
experts fear is inevitable. Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants is
one of several independents to warn that the next Chancellor may raise duty on wine to help plug predicted gaps in the nation’s finances.
But some independents also sounded a positive note, saying that Brexit could create a more level playing field for New World wine imports. There are also hopes that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will put a stop to booze cruises. • Full story: pages 30 to 32.
8 tried & TESTED
Should wines this good really be so cheap?
12 the square wine co
Warwick indie is ready to enter a new phase
18 david williams
Cork is far from screwed, and that’s a good thing
20 reader trip
We head to northern Spain courtesy of La Rioja Alta
24 WEBSITE REVIEW
Admiring the beauty of Newcomer Wines
34 focus on south africa
From rubbery to lovely: how Cape wines won over indies
45 supplier Bulletin
Essential updates from agents and suppliers
Will Majestic think smaller?
It’s less than two years since Majestic raised wine trade hackles by asking suppliers to pay a surcharge on sales of their wines to pay for a new warehouse.
One joke doing the rounds at the time suggested that the company’s mission statement included a commitment “to become the laughing stock of the wine industry”.
Now, after the Naked Wines acquisition, subsequent regime change and fundamental reforms to its retail offering, it looks like time for the laughing to stop.
Getting rid of the six-bottle minimum purchase has taken the chain directly into high street wine shop territory rather than standing isolated as an oddity in the market.
Along with a tighter range and addressing out-of-stocks, it’s helped the retail arm turn in a 4.8% rise in likefor-like sales in its latest annual results revealed last month.
Staff retention figures are down, as might be expected during a period of change, but the chain is uncapping staff bonuses and improving pay in a bid to stop more of its best people heading off to work for independent wine stores and importers.
If there is good news for the
independents who don’t currently share their catchment area with a Majestic branch it’s that the status quo appears to be preserved with the reining in of its new opening programme – aiming instead to sell more wine to more people, more frequently from its existing estate and website. “Active” customer numbers rose 12% over the year.
The new-broom Majestic is making even faster inroads in wholesale with sales up 7.9% in a year in which it opened 1,400 new accounts.
The commercial division has been spun off as a stand-alone business unit which uses the retail arm’s 200-plus sites as delivery depots.
Most independents would be more than happy with an 8% uplift in their wholesale business but Majestic’s ambitions are higher, with chief executive Rowan Gormley suggesting that “we could do better” and targeting long-term doubledigit growth.
The surges in core retail and commercial sales start to make the role of Lay &
Chief executive Rowan Gormley
Wheeler, Majestic’s en primeur/fine wine arm, look ever more marginal.
It’s probably fair to say that Majestic is keeping its options open. It’s devising a plan but the details are sketchy, though it’s hinted at a move to rely less on the volatile en primeur market, which it says puts the business “in the hands of the weather gods
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 2
and the châteaux”. It recognises the value of the Lay & Wheeler brand in its target market: Gormley says that “there is a good business in there, we need to give it the opportunity to prosper”.
The majority of Lay & Wheeler’s profit
currently comes from cellarage rather than retail but it would clearly like this to change.
The group is already experimenting with a smaller format, parking-free Majestic site in London’s Paddington.
Perhaps a small but perfectly formed chain of modern wine shops in mid-sized prosperous commuter belt towns would solve both the “high street Majestic” and “en primeur Lay & Wheeler” conundrums in one go? Don’t bet against it.
Average white (and red) band
Chardonnay at £5.23 and bottles of Shiraz at just 3p more probably won’t strike a chord with many independents. Neither will an average bottle price across the board of £5.40.
There is, of course, no “official” figure for this sort of thing, but these are as close
as the off-trade gets – the latest data from Nielsen (covering the year to January) crunched primarily from the EPOS systems of the major supermarkets.
The Wine Merchant’s own figures from independents reveal the fundamental flaw
in the industry relying almost solely on data from multiples, with average sales prices across 130 stores coming in at £11.21, more than twice the Nielsen figure.
Drilling down a little further into its figures does show some upward movement at higher price points, with sales at £6-£7 up 3% annually in a market down 1% overall. Sales at £8-£9 were up 2%, £9-£10 up 3% and £10-£11 up 2%. Above that, the publicly-available Nielsen data fizzles out
as price points become irrelevant to the multiple sector.
In the £5-£6 price bracket, says Nielsen, sales were down 10%, but the
organisation’s data still shows that wines
priced between £3 and £6 account for twothirds of sales, a vision of the wine market that most, if not all, specialist independents simply won’t recognise.
Obviously the inclusion in “official” figures of the relatively small number of independent shops and their collective sales wouldn’t be enough to tip the balance all the way to £11 but it would nudge that average price up to a level that reflected the whole market, rather than just one part of it.
The wine trade would then be able to judge the contribution of independent wine shops in commercial rather than, as it does so often, purely aesthetic terms.
It includes a version of Rene Magritte’s The Son of Man in which the apple obscuring the bowler-hatted man’s face has been replaced by a bunch of grapes.
“I studied history of art at school and then went to art college,” says Bethell, “and
always found it funny how modern artists referenced the old masters and painters who’d come before them.
“I thought if I could use that with a little comedy value then it might catch a few people’s eyes.”
Bethell’s designs move A-boards on from
A-board art hits new heights
The quest has begun to find the best wine merchant A-board in Britain.
The pacesetter is London’s Vagabond Wines where Nick Bethell has produced a series of boards with exquisite illustrations inspired by famous artists.
Inspiration from Magritte …
… and from Van Gogh
the social media-driven vogue for witty slogans relating to contemporary events.
“The best advertising is often pictorial rather than just text trying to flog stuff, so I thought, let’s try something new to catch people’s attention. And it’s nice excuse to get away from lifting boxes.”
The illustrations can take anything from an hour to a whole day’s shift working around the normal shop tasks, says Bethell, but he hopes it’s a good investment of his time.
“I was doing one the other day and a man come along with his children and started pointing at it and talking about it. He came in and ended up buying a bottle of 2013 Sassicaia.”
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 3
“Our Man with the Facts”
• Phylloxera was first discovered in 1863, in a greenhouse in Hammersmith. The aphid, which can breed sexually or asexually, was not given its name until 1868 when it appeared in the vineyards
of the Rhône.
• French oak used for wine barrels usually comes from one of five forests in the centre of the country. American
oak comes from 15 different states, mostly in the Midwest but also Oregon.
• A miniature railway was built in a the senior common room at New College
Oxford to uphold the tradition of passing the port, across a gap created
by a fireplace.
• Pest control at Castel’s 400 acre wine estate at Ziway in Ethiopia
includes a trench to deter pythons, hippopotamuses and hyenas.
• Wine gums were invented by London sweet shop owner Charles Gordon Maynard. His father was a Methodist
teetotaller who threatened to expel him from the family business even though
the sweets were not alcoholic.
Second store for HarperWells
HarperWells is this month opening a second shop in Norwich – a warehousestyle outlet that will incorporate a tasting room and allow the business to branch out into food sales.
But director Ed Wells says the new branch, on an arterial road in the city centre, with parking facilities, will stop
short of allowing customers to eat and drink on the premises, except in the context of a wine event.
The 1960s single-storey building was originally built for a wine merchant and has a cellar “about the size of a tennis court”, Wells says, with the ground floor occupy space about twice that size.
HarperWells’s original shop, three
miles away in Eaton in the west of the city,
will continue to trade and to act as the administrative HQ.
The décor at the new site will be very
different to the traditional feel of the Eaton store, with industrial racking and pallets stacked in the middle of the floor. “The environment will feel more like a wine warehouse than a small wine merchant,” Wells says.
“We will, I think, be introducing a Coravin library in our tasting room,” he adds. “We have a lot of very good old bottles that we would dearly love our customers to have an opportunity to taste. We did well over 100 events in 2015 and a lot of those are education-based. Obviously our objective is to increase that as much as we can. If we can do more of those on our own premises rather than having to do them in third-party spaces then that’s good for us as a business and also good for the customer, because it’s a more wine-centric space.”
The store will be managed by Plumpton graduate Rob Evans, who has returned
to Norwich following spells at Ten Green Bottles in Brighton and Les Caves de Pyrene. More recruitment is likely.
The retail food offering will focus on products that complement wine, with a blend of local and international goods. “We’ll have some refrigerated areas for cheeses and meats, but primarily it will be oils, tinned goods and seasonings –
anything that’s really got wine in its DNA we’ll be interested in,” Wells says.
“The craft beer section in our existing shop has been going really well for us and we’ll be looking to expand that.
“We will also try and do a lot more with glassware. The unofficial strapline for the business has always been ‘the home entertainment centre for your tastebuds’.”
Buckhurst Hill will be more rustic – more wrought iron and wood.
“Because it’s smaller we’ve got to make sure everything is mobile rather than fixed shelving. We’re going to have a tasting table down the middle of the store and if there’s nothing booked in it will be for display or trialing new wines in the shop.
“We’re going to leave options open – so if you want to create a dance floor you could.”
The aim is to be open by late July, with about 75% of the range carried at the first shop.
Kernaghan says: “One of the core offerings up there will be the craft, Londonbased beers along with Champagne and niche spirits.”
• The Great British Charcuterie Co is opening a cheese and meats shop selling English wines at Brighton’s Marina this month. It will also offer online sales. The start-up is being run by father-and-son team Simon and Phil Bartley.
Albion gets crafty in Clerkenwell
Ed Wells, a man with a tennis court-sized cellar
Rustic feel for new Liquorice branch
Essex merchant Liquorice is looking to create a whole new look when it opens its second branch in the county.
The new store will be across the M25 from its first site in Shenfield in the leafy environs of Buckhurst Hill in Epping Forest.
Owner John Kernaghan says: “They’re both affluent areas. We’re going to go with a different image. The first one is quite modern with a black and white theme but
London food and drink retailer Albion is opening its second branch to incorporate a wine shop.
The new outlet is its fourth in all and will be on the site of the former legendary Turnmills nightclub in Clerkenwell.
As well as operating as a wine and craft beer shop it will have a café, cocktail bar, charcuterie and cheese counter, pie room, juice bar and wine and oyster bar.
The chain has off-sales of wine from its branch at Bankside and has two other shops, both in Shoreditch.
• Tamworth’s Perkins Independent Wine Traders has closed its wine shop and moved to new premises from which it will focus on importing and on-trade wholesaling.
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 4
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THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 5
New Vintage for Wine Parlour boss
Chix Chandaria, owner of The Wine Parlour in Brixton, is planning a new shop in Herne Hill this autumn.
“Here at Brixton it is probably 80% on-trade and 20% off, and we are really wanting to push the off-trade more, so we think Herne Hill will be a good area to do that,” she says.
“We came into Brixton when it was on its way up. I remember the day we were about to open the doors thinking, ‘what have we done opening a wine boutique and a wine bar in Brixton?’”
Three years on, the success of The Wine Parlour has encouraged Chandaria to open a new shop under the name Vintage 1824.
Chandaria is keen to ring the changes, hence the new name and a completely new décor. “We want to feel that we are a chain of independents rather than opening the same thing all over again,” she says.
“We did up the Wine Parlour on almost a zero budget; we up-cycled doors to make our bar top. We have a little bit more cash now but I personally feel when you do things organically like that, it builds much more personality and character to a place.”
Vino has cure for fallen arches
Edinburgh merchant Vino has opened its fifth branch in the Scottish capital.
The new store has been created at The Arches, a redevelopment of part of Waverley Station. Customers can drink on the premises – including at outside tables – as well as buy wines, craft beers and spirits for take-home consumption.
The store is being managed by Emma O’Bryen, formerly of Alliance Wine.
Director Andrew Lundy says the
Vino’s store at Waverley Station is its fifth branch in Edinburgh
company originally planned an industrial vibe for the arch but has instead opted for
a warmer feel, using wood from a Douglas Fir tree sourced from a family member’s garden in Inverness. “It’s very characterful
and quite different – not the kind of thing you pick up in B&Q,” Lundy says.
Fifteen wines are available by the glass and bottles can be bought from the retail shelves for £5 corkage.
“It’s a small unit, but it couldn’t be any more flagship, because of its location,” Lundy says. “It will take a bit of time to pick up, as any new shop would, and until the full development is finished we’ll not see the fruits of the footfall. There’s 3,000
council workers directly across the road and we are thinking about how we attract them to come in.”
Taurus is bullish about expansion
Surrey independent Taurus Wine is planning to expand into a derelict hay barn next to its Grade II listed home in Bramley.
Owner Rupert Pritchett says the retailer has “massively outgrown” the site.
“In movie terms, we’re still sort of preproduction,” he says. “When we get the
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 6
final go-ahead, it will move quite quickly but it’s a six to 12-month renovation job.
“We’ll extend our range a bit as our wings are clipped at the moment due to the current size.
“We will have a 40-seater tasting room so we can host events more easily and there will be a dedicated fine wine room with temperature control and that sort of thing.”
Lowry opens three wine shops at once
Hospitality entrepreneur Nathan Lowry has three new wine shops opening in London within weeks of each other.
The first is Pavilion Wine, a fine wine shop and tasting room, in a new “gourmet quarter” development in west London, close to Sloane Square.
It had a soft opening in June and will go fully live from this month.
This will be followed by a shop and 50-cover tasting bar called Traders in St Katharine Docks in east London and Southwark Wine, set in a railway arch in the Bankside district, close to Tate Modern.
Lowry is also planning a pop-up bar and club called Takeover in temporary space being made available by the redevelopment
of the old Foyles bookshop in Soho. Lowry already owns Pall Mall Fine
Wine and Shepherd Market Wine House in central London, and the craft beer shop and bar London Beer House.
He also licenses the name EasyCoffee, for a chain of low-price coffee kiosks, from EasyJet owner Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
Wrightson sells Yorkshire business
Wrightson & Co, the North Yorkshire wine merchant, has been sold to The Wine Company.
Simon Wrightson has joined the Essexbased business as a consultant though the warehouse and offices in Catterick have closed with the loss of two jobs.
Johnny Wheeler, chairman of The Wine Company, said: “We met Simon and liked him very much and thought there was a good synergy with our business. The customer profile and wine selection is good. We said to Simon we’d very much like him to work for us for a few years – as long as he’d like to do so. He can concentrate on customers and wine and what he loves, and we’ll do all the fulfilment and manage the business.”
Almost half of Wrightson’s business comes from outside the north east.
• Chesterfield wine merchant Barrels & Bottles has used some of the 11,000 sq ft of floor space at its disposal to create a room dedicated to Champagnes from small, independent producers. Andrew Coghlan said the business had “massively extended” its range of fizz from smaller producers and was showcasing around 40 wines from a handful of producers in the room.
• Burnham on Sea independent Brooks & Son, opened in 2010 by Mark Brooks near the Threshers store which he once managed, has now closed.
Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing
It’s Muscadet Madness Month again. The month where we merchants try very, very hard to think up entertaining ways to rustle up some brief interest in an unfashionable wine.
There’s a trip to Nantes in November up for grabs. Brrr. Or, if we are really lucky, £500 worth of Muscadet – which the winner will receive after the campaign has finished. As most
customers will lose interest the minute Muscadet Madness is over, it’s a doubleedged sword. The bottles will be hard to shift for the next 11 months – but handy for Muscadet Madness 2017.
There are forms to fill in several months in advance. How many Muscadets do I currently stock? (Um, one). How will I be increasing my range? (Er, by adding another one, maybe). What activities will I be undertaking to show how wonderful Muscadet can be? (Let’s think … a tasting and discounts?)
The PR agency hired to promote
Muscadet Madness are undinted in their enthusiasm. With less than a month to
go – and no further detail from me – they start pinging me an email on a daily basis and then calling when they get no response.
They share the ideas of past winners.
The merchant who made staff dress in nothing but oyster shells in strategic places. Painful.
There was the shop which indulged in a saucy window display to encourage
customers to “come and taste our melons”. Funny. But disappointing for all those who stepped inside thinking more was on offer than a splash or two of a neutral white.
Then there was the outlet which recreated the French seaside, replete with sand and deckchairs. Smart. Though
I did hear that it was actually rosé
sales that went through the roof and they were still sweeping out sand on Christmas Eve.
I have an idea. “Let’s do one showcasing all three appellations. We could call it the Three Muscadets!” I say to Alex, and start dreaming of dressing up in 18th century costumes. He quietly points out that it would have to be the Four Muscadets. Well, yes, OK. That
Probably not enough
method in our Muscadet
would still work. My bubble is truly burst though when
I try to find a Muscadet that isn’t from Sèvre et Maine from one of my suppliers. Even they think it’s a hard sell.
We could, of course, ignore the whole thing and do the easy stuff like Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc Day. But that goes against the wine trade grain. We should promote the wines we love, not what our customers want to drink.
A tea chest of POS materials arrives, most of which is immediately binned. No one ever reads them. But we keep the aprons and wear them religiously for our four consecutive Saturday Muscadet tastings.
By the end, even we don’t want to see Muscadet for another
year and we don’t win anything.
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 7
tried & Tested
Durello Spumante Brut Palladiano NV
Boutinot is billing this as the next step up the ladder
for Prosecco drinkers and says it’s already the fizz
of choice in the bars and restaurants of Verona. It’s a
style that ought to find a following here too: although
ultimately it’s fairly neutral, it has a dry, mineral appeal
that takes it beyond a lot of Prosecco gloop.
Boutinot (0161 908 1315)
Sirkel Chenin Blanc 2014
The wax seal and recycled paper label give you some idea of Sirkel’s world view, and in case they don’t it’s spelled out loud and clear in the text: “Our mission is to be custodians of earth and guardians of man.” If you’re not too bothered about that and just want a nice Cape Chenin, this is a rich, slightly syrupy delight with a moreish blend of pineapple and saline notes. RRP: £11.50 ABV: 12.5%
Astrum Wine Cellars (020 3328 4620)
Château Peyreblanque Graves 2014
There’s a lot of samey, safe white wines knocking around and it’s refreshing to bump into something with a bit of personality below £15. The nose here evokes hot compost heaps and on the palate we find a complex and luxurious wine full ripe peaches and exotic spice, with impressive length. RRP: £13.99 ABV: 13%
Department 33 (07515 555807)
Castillo del Moro Tempranillo/Syrah 2014
Made with free-run juice from night-harvested grapes
in La Mancha, this soft, warm, juicy and succulent crowd-pleaser doesn’t put a foot wrong. God knows
we looked hard enough for faults and irritants here, to
justify our normal bottle spend, but there were none.
Do you champion a wine like this, or hide it?
Alliance Wine (01505 506060)
Guenoc Petite Sirah 2014
California can make competitively-priced reds with genuine appeal and this silky-smooth example (from an estate once owned by Lillie Langtry) is a case in point. There’s a gentle raspberry tartness and a touch of clove going on here, and a nice fresh mineral tang to the finish. Shame it doesn’t come with a pack of spicy sausages, which seems an obvious oversight. RRP: £12.99 ABV: 13.5%
Berkmann Wine Cellars (020 7609 4711)
Domaine de Tourelles White 2015
Tourelles claims to be the first commercial wine cellar
in Lebanon, being founded in 1868 in the Bekaa Valley
by French adventurer François-Eugène Brun, whose
descendants run the show today. This fragrant blend
is dominated by Viognier, with a nice rounded texture
and hints of tropical fruits and jasmine.
Boutinot (0161 908 1315)
Vesevo Greco di Tufo 2015
Even when we deduct 15 points for the dreadful black-type-on-clear-plastic back label, we still have a winner on our hands here. The wine comes from the breezy Campanian hills where the soil has a volcanic character thanks to the proximity to Vesuvius. It’s an arresting blend of ripe fruits and gritty minerality, great for summer drinking all by itself. RRP: £13.99 ABV: 12%
Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350)
Petra Hebo Cabernet/Merlot/ Sangiovese 2013
Just take one sip of this wine and you’d never believe there was ever anything controversial about vinifying these grapes together in Tuscany, so natural is the blend. In fact, it’s almost an argument for Bordeaux to adopt Sangiovese. A muscular yet refined wine, with a dried fruit, slightly burnt finish. RRP: £17.99 ABV: 13.5%
Liberty Wines (020 7720 5350)
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 8
© Eduardo Azeredo – stock.adobe.com
Win a trip to
The Wine Merchant, in association with Wines of Brasil, is offering independent wine specialists the chance to WIN A TRIP TO BRAZIL to enjoy four days in the spectacular Serra Gaúcha region and visiting some of the most exciting wineries the country has to offer.
TO ENTER Send your name and business address to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you your very own Brazilian wine POS kit. Use your kit and your own creative ideas to create a Brazilian window display for a minimum of two weeks between 1st July and 12th September 2016. Once your in-store carnival is complete, send us photos and a summary of the impact on your sales and how you’ve raised awareness of Brazilian wine by 30th September 2016 to be in with a chance to take part in the real thing! As well as the fantastic main prize there will also be two cases of Brazilian wine for the runner-up. Third prize will be one case of Brazilian wine. THE POS PACK INCLUDES Two posters (one map and one image), flag, leaflets, cards that include details of the consumer competition, a T-shirt and other goodies. You’ll also be sent a list of UK importers of Brazilian wines, to help you put together your Brazilian range. Please visit www.winemerchantmag.com for full terms and conditions.
bits & BOBs
Hoults Wine Huddersfield
Favourite wine on my list Currently, it’s Renato Ratti Barbera
d’Asti, a terrific wine right from the moment the cork is drawn and
terrific value too.
Favourite wine and food match A bottle of Louis Jadot Moulin à Vent Château des Jacques and a proper pork pie, the kind you’ll only find in Yorkshire.
Favourite wine trip I’ve been on some absolute belters but recently walking down the red carpet at the BAFTAs courtesy of Hatch Mansfield was a little surreal.
Favourite wine trade person [Yalumba wine ambassador] Jane Ferrari, quite simply a legend in her own lifetime and so good at teaching what is great about wine in the most engaging and
Favourite wine shop I don’t really go to wine shops, I don’t get out much, so I’m going to say Gwin Llyn Wines. Never been but they are lovely people so I’m sure
their shop is great too.
Aussies hope for post-Brexit gains
Australian winemakers could emerge as
unlikely winners from the Brexit vote.
Britain is the largest export destination for Australian wine by volume and Wine Australia believes Brexit could make it less expensive to send wine to the UK.
Australian winemakers exporting to the UK currently pay taxes that European winemakers don’t, putting them at a disadvantage.
Wine Australia believes that tariff could be dropped when Britain leaves the European Union, which would make Australian wine cheaper for UK buyers. ABC Online, June 27
Bubble won’t burst for sparkling wine
Prosecco and Champagne sales in the UK are unlikely to be affected by Brexit, according to continental experts.
“The UK market has been Champagne’s first destination for many years,” said Guillaume Deglise, CEO of Vinexpo. “The UK is such a strategic market for wines and spirits that I do not see sales dropping.”
Asia celebrates 10% price fall
Fine wine buyers jumped in to buy the
best vintages as the pound collapsed
against the dollar after the Brexit vote.
BI, the fine wine merchant, said buying by Asian customers on Friday, June 24 was eight times the level of that on polling day on Thursday. BI did almost two and half times its normal business in the week following the referendum result.
Chief executive Gary Boom said that the surge reflected the fact that prices had effectively dropped 10% for Asian buyers. Evening Standard, June 30
UK remains a strategic market for Champagne
Innocente Nardi, President of the Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG, added: “I do not believe there are significant factors that could slow sales of Prosecco Superiore DOCG in the UK, because the UK excise tax on sparkling wine is already very high. It is unlikely that sterling would weaken in relation to the euro, because the economic fundamentals of the UK are certainly not worse than those of France, Italy or Spain.” Forbes, June 27
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The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 800 specialist 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 VAT 943 8771 82 © Graham Holter Ltd 2016
THE WINE MERCHANT july 2016 10
merchant profile: the square wine company
Hip to be Square
Two years after Tom Fisher and Hannah Lovell took the plunge with a wine shop in the heart of Warwick, the business is gradually establishing itself as a specialist in esoteric wines, with a thriving Friday night gin club. Now the focus is turning to food,
wholesaling and online sales
Category headings for France, Italy, Spain and so on are a common sight in wine shops. The more adventurous might have ones for, say, Austria, Portugal, or even “pudding”. Not too many, we’d wager, have one for India.
Such is the case, however, at Warwick’s The Square Wine Co – or Square Wine for short – which plugged an inexplicable gap in the market for a quality modern wine shop in the picturesque Midlands town when it opened in the summer of 2014.
Tom Fisher – who talks us through the business here – and Hannah Lovell were minding their own business earning a crust a few miles down the M40 with SH Jones when they chanced upon a vacant unit in the town’s main square, sandwiched between a couple of the more elegant examples from the Betfred and Wetherspoon’s estates.
They’d been chipping away at a wine shop business plan of their own for years but were far from actively looking for an opportunity at the time.
“We just kind of
looked together and said: ‘Shall we do this?’,” says Tom. “We followed
it through, got the finance sorted and got the business plan into a formal state. It was quite quick from having seen the ‘To Let’ sign to
signing the lease.” The whirlwind romance with the premises was formalised by
the due legal process and consummated with a DIY design done on a £4.99 iPad app.
The Indian wine section was the result of a desire to be as bold in wine selection and events as they were in the individuality of the décor.
“The Sula wines are good, fruit-driven wines,” says Fisher. “One of our tastings last year was an Indian tasting with a street food seller from Wolverhampton – just layers of fresh ingredients and a sauce, with so much flavour.
“We put on three Indian wines and then three international wines and the Indian wines were the best sellers by a long way. We have sold over 400 bottles of Indian wine since we opened, which is pretty good.”
What kind of a town is Warwick? Warwick is a foody, drinky town. It is built on independents – apart from a few coffee shops it is all independent trade. There are 140 restaurants in Warwick by all accounts.
But if people want to come out shopping or if they come to browse, it is driven by weather. So footfall is up and down like a yo-yo. If the sun comes out it is a busy, vibrant town.
If the sun goes away and it is cold – the start of the year has been pretty miserable really – the footfall is terrible. But people will still make their way out for a drink and they will have something to eat in the evening.
Does the town rely on visitors coming to the castle? Yes, very much so. But Warwick Castle is a very different entity to Warwick – even though it shouldn’t be. It is Warwick Castle and
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Warwick. People who come to Warwick Castle think they have seen Warwick. They go into the castle, they go round the grounds. They will buy the fake swords and this and that and they will leave and go: “Done Warwick.”
There is no particular body that looks after Warwick. In Leamington you have a Business Improvement District, and everyone pays in or you pay a levy. You get a body that actively promotes you in conjunction with the town centre management. We just have town centre management here who probably don’t promote Warwick the best they could, in fairness.
There are events on left, right and centre because they have the space to do it but often we don’t find out about them until the day. We walk into town and go: “Oh.”
How do you market your own business? We grew ourselves on Twitter and on Facebook 100% because it was free. And it worked, but now we have got to that saturation point and we have 2,200 Twitter followers or thereabouts, which is great. And it still drives the business.
We have some direct sales from Twitter but every day we will get someone in saying, “oh, how long have you been here? A couple of months? I didn’t know you were here”. And it is like, “no, two years now”.
It’s frustrating and in a way it’s actually quite encouraging at the same time. Because if only 5% of the population of Warwick knows we are here, that means there is an untapped 95% that
also shows that we need to do something differently on a local marketing level.
I think some people still want a leaflet through the door. What
we are working on at the moment is selling them mixed case offers, to do a wine club where you could really tailor the mixed monthly and quarterly case. So you get the repeat business quarterly and monthly and you know exactly what is coming in.
Do you lose customers coming in to browse because you are giving them a case delivered? I don’t think so because I think people will still always come in, just to pick up that odd bottle – something special, a treat, a gift, whatever it might be.
Above: the shop occupies a unit in the heart of Warwick Below: Tom Fisher worked at SH Jones with partner Hannah Lovell
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merchant profile: the square wine company
From page 13
It is a bar, essentially, but focused on gin. And we do something
called a Gin Passport. We were talking about loyalty cards and
What about events? I see you have been promoting a visit
I was saying, “let’s do 15 gins every week. Let’s have a massive
from a local author …
back-bar of gins”. And everyone else reined me in and said, “maybe
There is a nice collaboration with other businesses in Warwick,
let’s just do three a week.” We would probably run out of gins quite
which is a very strong part of Warwick’s community – the traders quickly if we did 15 every week.
support each other quite nicely. There is the bookshop over the
So we did three gins every week. With this loyalty card you buy
road – Warwick Books. We did an event three months ago with
nine, you get your tenth one free.
an Irish guy called John Connolly. He has written some thriller/
It is just great. It is a very social, bar environment. And if you
horror-style books. They were going to do the event at the Court
walk through town on a Friday night, 7.30 pm, we are the busiest
Room, a big venue. It didn’t sell quite enough tickets so we said, “let’s do it here.” And it was something really different. We served a glass of Prosecco.
For the Old World Italy has been the star by a country
What about the gin club?
That has just grown organically. My background before this was an account manager in the spirits business. I was selling to the trade. I had
mile. We have trimmed down France considerably
figured how big gin was.
We started doing three gins a week and it
bar in town which is very flattering, as we never set out to be a bar
was very good, 15 to 20 people turned up, maybe 25-30. We did it and we don’t have bar experience.
again at the start of this year and it dipped a bit and we thought,
The guy that works for us, Alistair Truscott … his background is
“ah, maybe it’s run its course”.
hospitality, which is brilliant.
But then we thought, “we want to grow the bar space”. As soon
as we grew it and there was more seating available we suddenly
Tell us about The Square Wine Tasting Club.
got 40 people coming down, because they felt more comfortable in You get five tastings for the price of four. So you are paying £120
the environment. And then we got 50 people coming down. Now
upfront rather than £150 and you get a free tasting. You also get
it is 50-60 people most weeks who will come down to Gin Club,
5% off all purchases in-store. They get their own special, exclusive
which for a small business is great.
summer tasting. They get free entry to the Christmas tasting. So, it
is a way of generating cash for the business – that is why we did it
– but also it is a way of getting loyalty for these tastings.
We are up to 30 people, which we are really pleased with. And
they get 48 hours’ advance notice of tastings as well – that was the
key thing. Because the tastings sold out so quickly that we thought,
“let’s give the people that really want to come a club where they
can get advance notice.”
The gin club attracts up to 60 people every week
What kind of price points are working best for you? We will do a sub-£10 section. Because people who come in for daily wines are still looking for that £8.99-£9.99 bottle.
In the main, £10-£15 is our focus but we will probably have lost sales … we will see people walk out if they can’t find the right one they want at £8.99, which is a lot of people’s average spend.
So I think we need to have another section of value wines. When we had a section that was all £6.99 that wines, we completely undersold ourselves. We looked at the figures and you do your
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The shop has a rustic, informal style with some industrial elements
retail profit per square foot and you go, “that just doesn’t pay – that’s ridiculous.”
What kind of look were you trying to achieve when you first bought the premises? We knew we wanted to do something informal as a style. We weren’t looking for corporate retail, certainly. We wanted something welcoming, something rustic – that was the word that got thrown about.
We always knew we wanted wood as the main element in the shop and with elements of industrial, which is the ceiling, the lamps – which in fairness, now we have got into the bar trade, are not the most practical because they are in the way and people knock their heads on them. The armchair: that was somewhere I just wanted to sit in at the end of the day and read a book, drink a glass of wine – which I do, but not as much as I’d like. We had a little bit more space than we thought – every day we get a comment on about how spacious it feels. I have been to a lot of wine shops that are quite pokey and you are climbing around.
How has the wine range evolved? I think we were maybe too generalist at the start. We knew exactly what we were stocking before we started – you know, each bay, each bin – we knew what was going in there. You make emotional decisions with the wines to start with. We said, “we want to sell that wine because we love it and we know our customers will love it.” And then you see what you get left and then you make the
commercial decisions like, do we need the Côtes du Rhône at £9.99 or do we need a selection of wines from Margaret River because we’ve spent some time there?
Maybe some of the emotional decisions got lost and the commercial decisions kicked in. So like, “actually, no, we’ve got far too many Aussie wines at the £20-£25 level and not enough at £9£15.” So there was some juggling and some jiggling.
What does the French range look like? We have trimmed down France considerably, we gave it far too much space. We were just trying to tick boxes and say, “we need to have this, this and this”. But it was taking up space that wasn’t selling.
Burgundy has been very, very slow for us and we have really, really trimmed it down now. It is such an expansive category and to give it justice you need to give it metres and metres of space and really specialise. So we will have a few Burgundies, we will have a Chablis. We will have a Côtes de Nuits, we will have a Côtes de Beaune, so we will cover all bases. Bordeaux is easier to focus on.
But for the Old World, Italy has been the star by a country mile. Hence we have two metres of Italy as opposed to a metre of other European countries.
We like Italian wines. I would like to go to Italy but I have never been. I just think they offer something of interest. We get more visits from Italian specialists than anyone else in terms of reps
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