THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 51, September 2016
Dismantling the old boys’ club one glass at a time
© lithian – stock.adobe.com
How Deliveroo is delivering for wine merchants
4 comings & GOINGS
Self-confessed twit takes the plunge in wine retailing
6 tried & TESTED
Eight wines that made us reach for the thesaurus
Only 11% of specialist wine shops are owned by women
Independent trade is
12 the tasting house
Exclusive: independents can thrive in chain-bound
still dominated by men
Women are under-represented in independent wine retailing, analysis by The Wine Merchant has confirmed.
Just 11% of the UK’s independent wine shops are owned by women, a figure which puts the wine sector behind other areas of retailing.
The Longitudinal Small Business Survey of 2015 showed that a quarter of all SMEs in retailing and wholesaling were majority-owned by women.
The data shows that 15% of independent wine shops are jointly owned by male/female teams, leaving 74% in full male control.
Despite a high number of women working in wine PR, marketing, journalism and production, and the emergence of successful women–run companies such as Borough Wines and Corks
Out, the figures suggest that the erosion of the old-fashioned image of the wine trade as a male preserve has been slower to gain traction in retailing.
Vindependents director Jessica Hutchinson says: “Women do seem to be under-represented in the wine trade in general and specifically in the retail sector.”
But Rachel Higgens, co-owner of Corks of Bristol, says she feels there has been a move away “from the time of just men in grey suits”.
She adds: “I see more women in the industry and it seems to have relaxed.
“The younger generation coming in and starting their own shops are moving away from that kind of stuffy old wine merchant thing.” • Full report: pages 28 to 30
20 david williams
Mourning the closure of California’s UK office
34 hello glasgow
Why the city could be a good bet for expanding indies
40 FOCUS ON Argentina
Malbec is a gift horse: should you stare it in the mouth?
52 MAKE A DATE
The October tastings you’d curse yourself for missing
56 supplier Bulletin
Essential updates from agents and suppliers
Though the image of the business has changed the shop interior is largely unchanged.
“We don’t want to change too much because we like the way it is,” says Salt. “It’s more about the feel and the ethos of the business and the image we project externally.
“We want the look to reflect how the
customer experiences Hay Wines. It brings
us into the New World, as it were.”
Salt says Hay Wines, founded in 2009,
is looking to add a second shop in 2017.
Image makeover “We’re looking at crowdfunding as a potential option rather than traditional
ahead of new shop banking,” she says.
“We know some people who’ve gone
Ledbury-based Hay Wines is in the final through that process so we’re in the
throes of a rebranding exercise to bring process of picking their brains.”
the look of the business up to date.
Unusually, perhaps, the shop and
wholesaler chose a creative branding
consultancy for the job. Mary Wright
overhauled Hay’s signage, website and
other communication materials, at a cost of
£3,000-£3,500, plus production expenses.
The connection was made a year ago
The branding has cost around £3,000
through managing director Jane Salt’s
business coach while she was on a government-backed Growth Accelarator
Mitchell goes DIY
course for SMEs. “We’re in the process of rolling it out,”
route on craft ale
she says. “We’ve just had the outside of the Mitchell’s Wines in Sheffield is opening
shop repainted and the signage redone.
its own on-site microbrewery under the
The website is done but there’s still more banner of Hop House Brewing.
to do. It’s an ongoing process, to be honest, Owner John Mitchell has enlisted
and we can’t afford to do it all at once.
the help of a local brewer with 25
“We needed to rebrand because the old look was quite old-fashioned and it wasn’t
years’ experience who will not only be responsible for the first couple of brews,
the way we wanted the business to be seen. before the introduction of guest brewers, “I spent time with Mary to sit down and but has actually built the shop’s five-barrel
work out what Hay Wines was really about. brewery.
“It wasn’t the cheapest thing ever but
“It’s been the best thing for us in a long,
it was worthwhile. I’m not someone who
long time,” says Mitchell. “Our aim is to
could come out with that kind of thing
get up to 59 gallon kegs a week. We’re
myself so I needed somebody to do that bit going to bottle it for the shop and sell
the nines to the local pubs. We’ll also do
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 2
The 23rd microbrewery in Sheffield
firkins for parties. We’re going to sell mini casks throughout the year, and especially at Christmas. Last Christmas we did 600 mini casks, which we got off another local brewery, so hopefully I can convert people to our beer from theirs.”
The brewery occupies the neighbouring unit to the wine shop. “Two or three restaurants wanted it but I thought ‘no, it’s our building, let’s do something ourselves.’ There are 22 microbreweries in Sheffield now and we’ll be 23rd by the time we open.
“I’ve got the chance to have guest brewers in and I’ve got a few guys up my sleeve.”
Mitchell is not averse to the idea of ‘cuckoo brewers’ and says if the venture really takes off there is room for more fermenters. “The fermenters are second hand – they’re old yoghurt tanks – but they’re better than buying new plant because they’re double skinned with their own heating system built in,” he says.
Mitchell with daughter Frankie
Courier service delivers the goods
Increasing numbers of wine merchants are signing up to the online takeaway food service Deliveroo.
High profile chains Vagabond Wines and Cambridge Wine Merchants are using it to offer local deliveries of drinks.
London independents The Grocery Wine Vault, Passione Vino and Out The Box Wines are also using the service, as is Loki in Birmingham.
Majestic is also trialling it as part of its strategy to build its customer base, starting its store in Guildford and three London branches in St John’s Wood, Battersea and Covent Garden. It added four more stores in the summer.
The wine bars Wallow in Norwich and Wino in Leeds have signed up to expand into take-home sales of both drinks and food.
A number of independent specialist beer shops are also using Deliveroo, including Beer Gonzo in Coventry and Clapton Craft in London.
Although Deliveroo keeps its commercial terms close to it chest, it’s thought that the service takes a 25% cut on the value of orders, which means shops need to be working on better-than-average margins for the sector to make it work.
This compares with around 12% for online ordering services such as Just Eat, but the difference is that Deliveroo absorbs the cost and hassle of deliveries, for which it charges customers £2.50.
Mickey Fallowes at Passione Vino says the shop takes as many as a dozen Deliveroo orders on a good day, usually of around two to three bottles per order.
It signed up to the service four months ago. “The experience is quite good,” he says. “The deliveries are pretty much within throwing distance, around 1km.
“We have regulars and you notice the same names popping up every week ordering half a case.
“It’s just another way of getting people to see you. At the moment it’s not a huge amount of income but it’s just another arm that reaches out to tell people what we’re doing.
“It still works out [commercially]. It’s a sale and makes a profit.”
Unlike regular internet orders, wines don’t need rigid, courier-friendly packaging, though businesses do need to commit to quick turn-rounds, which can be as little as 25 minutes to the customer’s door.
“We’re a shop and there’s usually two of us, so it’s not an issue,” says Fallowes.
“It takes two seconds to wrap a bottle up and stick it in a bag and leave it at the front, and the delivery bloke comes to collect it within four minutes.
“We did have one issue, where the driver just drove off with it, essentially. It got resolved in the end.”
Orders come through on a Google Nexus linked to a printer.
“With anyone who puts the order in we have their mobile number so [if we’re out of stock] I can ring them to offer to replace it with something of the same or higher value to make up for it,” Fallowes says.
“We’d obviously like to be pushing more numbers but it will take off over time. I don’t think I’ve been up and down a street in London in the past few months without seeing a Deliveroo driver. They’re everywhere.”
Deliveroo was founded by former investment banker Will Shu in 2013 and has £100 million of venture capital backing.
It operates in 35 UK towns and cities including Edinburgh, Brighton, Sheffield, Manchester and Cheltenham – locations with a high density of independents that are not currently using Deliveroo.
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 3
“Our Man with the Facts”
• There are 168 wineries in Marlborough, up from 104 in 2007. The number of growers rose from 530
to 568 during that period.
• A UK study carried out by two universities in 2015 claimed that 12 million more bottles of wine are consumed each week than previously thought, because people routinely underestimate the amount of alcohol they drink, especially during holidays
• Cabernet Franc is a parent variety of Cabernet Sauvignon, DNA profiling has revealed. As recently as the late 1960s the two varieties grew in roughly equal
quantities in Bordeaux.
• Cambodian wine exists, thanks to a single winery, Prasat Phnom Banan, near the city of Battam-bang. Its two hectares of vineyards include plantings
• In some parts of the world it was once common to protect vines during the winter by burying them under soil, though the practice was expensive and
From finance to fine wines in Fulham
A Chablis-born former finance worker has switched to wine with the opening of a shop in London.
Jean-Claude Menegaldo has made the move after 35 years in his old world to open Au Bon Vin in Fulham.
The shop has an understandable leaning towards French wines with Italy and Spain also featuring heavily.
“I’ve always wanted to have a wine shop and had an opportunity to do it at last,” says Menegaldo.
“I’ve always been interested in wine. My parents had a lot of friends who were winemakers. When I was young I did quite a lot of harvests and visited vineyards.”
The shop will be off-trade only with entry-level wines from £8, moving up to more premium price points.
“I live in Putney and in the Fulham area there are a lot of French people, so there is a network to work with,” he says.
“My aim is to have wines that you can’t find anywhere else. I’ve already found some that are difficult to buy in London. My plan eventually is to import directly the wines I want from producers.”
The current supply base includes Daniel Lambert Wines, Ellis of Richmond, Enotria and Liberty.
Twit opens shop in south London
The Wine Twit has been around for a while as the blog alias of Jez Greenspan, who learned the wine trade ropes working for multiple and indie retailers.
Now Greenspan has decided to put his money where his wine critic skills are and is opening his own shop under the name The Wine Twit.
Fauvette in Penarth: sells wines that “are a bit cloudy”
The store is midway between Clapham South and Wandsworth Common stations in south London.
Greenspan spent seven years with Sainsbury’s and a further five with Erik Laan’s Surrey-based Vineking chain.
• Matt Tipping is the new commercial director at Jeroboams. He has worked for Majestic Wine and was most recently fine wine sales manager at Berry Bros & Rudd.
Blossoms sold as a going concern
The sale of Essex’s Blossoms Wines & Ales as a going concern was edging closer as this issue of The Wine Merchant went to press.
Owner Robert Robinson says the Leighon-Sea shop will retain “99%” of Blossoms’ stock but will probably have a change of name and add a food selection.
Robinson adds that he is mulling over options for his own future but expects
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 4
to move away from wine. “I’m moving to Harrogate,” he says, “but there are already two independent wine shops in Harrogate and I couldn’t really see space for a third. Hence I decided to sell rather than pack it all into a van and take it with me.
“If I can’t have my own shop I wouldn’t want to do the same thing for someone else. It’s going be something very different but I just haven’t decided what yet.
“It’s not been without its frustrations but I am going to miss it.”
A natural blend of wine and cheese
A specialist cheese shop with a selection of natural wines has opened in the south Wales town of Penarth.
Fauvette has been established by JeanMarc Delys and Philippa Friedman, friends since working together in the London restaurant trade over 20 years ago, and who later worked for separate independent cheese companies in the Cotswolds.
“We have quite a large selection of British traditional handmade cheeses,” says Delys. “We’ve gone for a small selection of wines to go with the cheeses and went the natural route: things that are organic, biodynamic, natural wines, some smaller producers and things which are a bit cloudy.
“We didn’t go with the most pungent ones because we want it to be commercial and viable. We’re testing the water and trying things out.”
Les Caves de Pyrene is the principal wine supplier initially.
“We’re just going to rotate things,” says Delys. “To start, we have 12 red, 12 white, a few rosé, an orange wine, some pet nat [from Davenport Vineyards in East Sussex] and a cloudy Prosecco.”
The shop is also listing two reds, two whites and rosé in refillable bottles from 5-litre bags-in-boxes.
There’s a small seating area for by-theglass consumption with a selection of cheeses.
“It’s been so well received,” Delys reports 10 days after opening. “We’ve been very busy. Everybody’s been very welcoming and very positive about the shop.”
On the market after 33 years of trading
The Wine Factor in North Chingford is on the market.
The store was established in 1983 and is currently run by Steve Murphy. “I’ve been in the trade since I was knee-high – my mum and dad had the shop – and I want to move on to other things, otherwise I’ll end up being taken out of here in a box,” he says.
“I’ve been here six and a half years. Business has been all right – to be honest it went down last year slightly but I resigned myself to the fact I’m losing interest to a certain degree.”
Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing
The problem is all inside your head,” Mr Mangevine sings to me. “The answer is easy if you take it logically. I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free. There must be 50 ways to leave your supplier.”
We’re at home, two gins down each and, while Mr M is no Paul Simon in the singing department, he has made me laugh.
“Go on then,” I challenge him. “What’s your advice?”
“Ignore the phone, Tone. Don’t look ‘em in the eye, Guy. Stop paying the bills, Phil and stop giving a f…”
“OK, OK – I get the idea!” I shout as I go to sort out more gins.
Delisting suppliers is never easy. But we live in uncertain times and I want to be a lean, mean, Brexit-ready, Sterling-isrubbish machine.
Next day, through rather bleary eyes, I draw up a list with categories by which to judge them:
• How many customers will I upset if I delist the wines?
• How upset will I be if I delist the wines? (Will I still impress my peers should they ever just happen to pass by?)
• How well do I get on with the rep? (Would a boozy night out with them end at 10pm or 2am?)
• How well does the rep understand my business? (Is negotiating on price fun or frightening? Do they show you wines to suit your business or to suit their commission?)
• How flexible are they about minimum orders and top-ups? (Or do they like to play feudal lord to my serf, whereby I have to beg for their mercy?)
• How often do they do mega ex-cellars deals with the the big boys and not tell you about it? (And how do they react
when you call them out on not telling you?)
• How nasty do they get if you are just a teeny bit late with your payments?
It’s not an easy task. But eventually I whittle it down to three who I could probably live without.
I call each of them in turn. “It’s not you it’s me,” I lie.
The first one offers to buy me lunch at my favourite restaurant so that we can
There must be 50 ways to
leave your supplier – but
I can’t find any of them
discuss doing business together more effectively. How can I refuse?
The second just sighs and says it’s a shame – can they still send us offers from time to time? A minute later, an email pops into my inbox with an absolutely unbeatable promotion that I’d be a fool to ignore. Another temporary reprieve.
The third one says coolly: “Ooh, bad timing. We were about to offer you a trip to the Dão. Didn’t you say you wanted to go there?”
“Um, yes,” I mutter. “Perhaps my decision was a little hasty …” as Bittersweet Symphony pops into my head. And the desire for more gin.
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 5
tried & Tested
Berton Vineyards Winemakers Reserve The Black Shiraz 2015
“Rich” and “thick” aren’t adjectives that necessarily evoke positive impressions but they’re meant as compliments for this Padthaway offer, with its overtones of mocha, liquorice and hint of eucalyptus. Maybe it’s not pushing the Shiraz envelope a huge distance, but it’s impressive value for money. RRP: £9-£10 ABV: 14.5% Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722538) hdnwines.co.uk
Domaine of the Bee The Bee-Side Grenache 2014
Justin Howard-Sneyd’s Côtes Catalanes project is
best known for luscious, bruising reds but weirdly
this Grenache turned out to be “beautifully perfumed,
elegant and Pinot Noir-like”. There’s a lovely depth to
it, though, and it’s crammed with notes of raspberries,
leather, vanilla and thyme – and buttery popcorn.
Domaine of the Bee (07740 288641)
Monte da Ravasqueira Vinha das Romãs 2012
The José de Mello family are enterprising farmers,
using their bit of Alentejo to produce cork, honey and
olive oil, as well as cattle and pigs. But they gave up on
pomegranates in 2002 and used the land for viticulture
instead. This is the result: a powerful but measured blend of cherry fruitiness and firm minerality.
ABS Wine Agencies (01306 631 155)
Lusco Albariño 2015
Pazo de Lusco is in Condado de Tea, associated with a fuller flavoured style of Rías Baixas Albariño, and six months on its lees beefs this wine up still further. There’s a lot going on here – it’s zippy and slightly grainy, with a sprinkle of pepper and crunchy apple flavours. But the finish – and we can be quite specific about this – is exactly like a big fluffy marshmallow. RRP: £13.99 ABV: 13% González Byass UK (01707 274790) gonzalezbyassuk.com
Pala Cannonau i Fiori 2014
Cannonau is a synonym for Grenache, and described by Pala as “the prince of Sardinian reds”. For vinous royalty this wine is pretty unshowy – you could easily miss its subtlety and nuances if you found yourself embroiled in a domestic argument or Brexit negotiations, for example. It’s firm, earthy and dusky, with a pleasantly creamy, dark caramel dimension. RRP: £15.97 ABV: 14.5% Berkmann Wine Cellars (020 7609 4711) berkmann.co.uk
Hollick The Bard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
The bard in question is John Shaw Neilson, who spent his childhood in the swampy bushland around Coonawarra and lived in a cottage where Hollick’s vineyards now thrive. This is a soft, warm and juicy Cabernet that doesn’t feel too heavy or overengineered, designed for early drinking. RRP: £12.95 ABV: 14% Seckford Agencies (01206 231188) seckfordagencies.co.uk
Barros White Port
It looks like liquified summer but it could hardly taste more autumnal, evoking October orchards, when the air is ripe with fermenting windfalls, slippery leaves and distant bonfires. There are layers of quince, toffee apples, marzipan and a tight, orange-tinged acidity. A wine that demands wistful contemplation or, failing that, a giant apple pie and custard. RRP: £15-£17 ABV: 19.5% Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722538) hdnwines.co.uk
Casa Valduga Terroir Raizes Cabernet Franc 2012
Brazilian wine may be a novelty to us in the UK but the Valduga family have been making it since 1875, after emigrating from Italy and planting vines in the Campanha region, bordering Uruguay. This is a polished Cab Franc: smoky, smooth and ethereal, with gentle hints of liquorice and star anise. RRP: £13.49 ABV: 13.5% Berkmann Wine Cellars (020 7609 4711) berkmann.co.uk
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 6
THE WINEMAKER FILES
Charl du Plessis, Spice Route
After two vintages at Rijk’s Private Cellar, Charl was approached by Spice Route owner Charles Back, who offered him the winemaker position at Spice Route, and has never looked back. Charl enjoys cycling and diving, and is a passionate golfer
Swartland is a fantastic place to make wine. I really like to work with the varieties that we use – Mediterranean and Rhône varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan. I don’t know why we didn’t start drinking so much Grenache earlier. For me it’s so exciting to work with these spicy, energetic varieties. It’s a lot of fun.
We’re working on terroir wines; an expression of Swartland. It’s such a unique area. It’s got these fantastic soil profiles. You’ve got these isolated pockets where there’s low rainfall in winter and the soils retain the water all the way through till the end of harvest. We’ve got the best soils for this dry-land farming. It makes these fantastic stylistic wines that have become really popular lately.
Spice Route The Amos Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015 RRP £11.99
“It’s the oldest block of Sauvignon Blanc in South
Africa, planted in 1965. For its 50th anniversary
we decided to make a single-vineyard wine. Amazingly for a Swartland Sauvignon Blanc it shows
a lot of fruit.”
These Mediterranean grape varieties like Syrah or Grenache are very elegant, very spicy, and very fruit-driven although they’re grown in very hard, extreme conditions. It makes for excellent wines with a lot of finesse and a lot of personality.
We don’t normally enter our wines into local competitions. For me the biggest kick is not accolades or medals, it’s to present the wines to people and for people to tell me they enjoy them. Either at formal or informal tastings. That’s the best part of the job.
I think it’s exciting that there’s a lot of young guns in the area. It’s great for the reputation of the region and brings more focus to what we are doing here.
I always do all the Pinotage and the Mourvèdre in open-top fermenters. It’s the best way for me to make great wines. We’ve done a lot of trials and comparative tastings between stainless steel-fermented and open-fermented wines. The ratio between skins and juice is much bigger in an open fermenter compared to a stainless steel tank. During the fermentation process there’s a lot of extraction; there’s a bigger surface of skins. It contributes to the mouthfeel, the colour and the extract of tannin.
Pinotage is made in the vineyard. You can easily over-crop and then you’ll make a bad wine. It’s a very difficult grape variety to work with but the modern New World style has a lot of fruit and is very successful for us.
I work very well with Charles. He’s more like a friend than a boss. I’ve been working with him for 15 years now. I don’t see myself making wines in any region other than Swartland. Just to make more wine and better wine is all I can ask.
Spice Route Pinotage 2015
“I purposely made this in a modern, New World style.
using open fermenters. It’s the only wine in the range with these massive,
in-your-face, fruitforward flavours – cassis
and cherries. It’s easily drinkable but with a lot of
Spice Route Chakalaka 2013
Every year it’s the same six Mediterranean varieties in that blend and
it’s a similar style each time. It would be difficult make a Swartland house style wine with only one
variety but you can be very consistent if you do
Feature sponsored by Spice Route, imported into the UK by Liberty Wines www.libertywines.co.uk
THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2016 8
27th September 2016 10:00 — 17:30
The Vinyl Factory Entrance via Phonica Records 51 Poland Street, London, W1F 7BE
Astrum Wine Cellars Aubert and Mascoli Clark Foyster Wines Flint Wines FortyFive10 H2Vin
Indigo Wine Raymond Reynolds Roberson Wine The Wine Treasury Top Selection SW IG
Register to attend: dirtydozentasting.co.uk
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 9
bits & BOBs
Chix & Buck South London
Favourite wine on my list Steitz Spatburgunder 2012 from the Rheinhessen, aged for 26 months in barrel. Lots of red crunchy fruit and fantastic sweet spices: cinnamon, clove
Favourite wine and food match I make a delicous fillet of beef stuffed with porcini mushrooms and wrapped in parma ham. I serve it with chilli sautée potatoes and some delicious rainbow chard from our local farmers’ market.
Great with a Barolo!
Favourite wine trip Before I started my wine business my best friend and I did a road trip to Champagne and Burgundy staying in youth hostels in the hope of discovering some amazing wines. We drove back with a car full of wine to try and sell to our friends. Unfortunately most if it was so bad we had to throw it down the sink. This was stage one of my wine career
and so much fun.
Favourite wine trade person Oz Clarke. Even when we were small and unknown he gave us his time and
Favourite wine shop Berry Brothers, for amazing choice and customer service. They will always take time to talk to you and find exactly what you are looking with great knowledge.
Majestic aims to be a parcel force again
Majestic Wine is harking back to the 1980s with a new commitment to sourcing exclusive parcels of wine.
The chain now features a new “When It’s Gone It’s Gone” two-pallet section across its 212-store estate where it will stock one-off parcels to give customers “a rapidly changing and exciting range” of exclusives.
Head of buying Richard Weaver said: “We’ve realised these exciting parcels were what made us really special in the past and so I’m delighted we’re bringing them back.”
Around 15 small parcels will be available in store at any one time, with volumes varying from 4,000 to 10,000 bottles and offers running for one to two months. Drinks Business, August 30
Big wine frauds set for small screen
NBC has created a new drama series about a con artist who dupes wealthy collectors into buying fake versions of the world’s finest wines.
The series, named Connoisseur, is no doubt inspired by real-life wine-related fraud cases. Rudy Kurniawan made and sold millions of US dollars-worth of fake fine wine and was jailed for 10 years. Decanter, August 24
Auction stations for Laithwaites
Laithwaites has started selling wine on eBay.
A wide selection of individual Laithwaites wines, plus mixed cases, are now available on its UK site. That brings eBay’s total number of wine listings to more than 3,500.
The move comes only a few months after eBay launched its wine platform across 45 states in the US, offering 10,000 wines from 30 countries. Decanter, August 17
Kurniawan’s wine heading for landfill
• Wine terrorism has been suggested as the cause of a huge wine leak in the French port town of Sète.
Five vats belonging to a wine merchant were empted, creating flooding in nearby roads and underground car parks.
The shadowy group once known as CRAV has been associated with a number of acts of sabotage in recent years. The Telegraph, August 3
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WineMerchantMag
The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 804 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 september 2016 10
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 11
merchant profile: the tasting house
Reading is a town where multiples thrive and independents can struggle. But not The Tasting House. Three years after opening, the business has more than held its own and found a formula that its owner
believes can be applied to other locations across the south
Making the short walk from the nearest car park to The Tasting House involves a brief excursion to the Oracle shopping centre, and through the waterfront area
following Wednesday I found a flat to move into and moved down to Reading.”
Now aged 26, he’s in day-to-day charge of the shop and has
where half Reading’s population seems to spend its lunch break. You can play chain store bingo as you go. Almost every big retail
gradually remodelled the way the store looks. “There wasn’t really much influence from me at the beginning,”
brand seems to be here, from the Apple Store to Zara. It doesn’t
he says. “Over the years, having become quite close mates because
look like a promising location for an independent of any kind.
we work together every day of the week, I’ve slowly had the
Yet tucked up a pedestrianised lane just beyond the Kennet river, chance to have more influence and put my personality into the
past Starbucks, The Slug & Lettuce, All Bar One, Strada, Café Rouge business.
et al, The Tasting House has been plying its trade for three years.
“It was quite scary at first but also really exciting, and there’s not
It’s a modern, two-storey unit, conceived and opened
‘I wanted to create a kind ofby Ciaran McErlean, an entrepreneur whose career
had focused on London cocktail bars until he spotted
organised mess ... a bit morea gap in the market for a specialist wine merchant
in Reading. Enomatics were installed, a food offer introduced, and the business started carving its niche.
cosy, more relaxed – a bit
Jack Overbury was on board from the start, a former Laithwaites employee
more personality to it’
looking for a more hands-
“I wanted to have more involvement been a day here when I’ve had any doubts about where I want to
in the wine industry, and have more influence, more control of the wines,”
be and what I want to be doing. Every day there’s a new customer and there’s a new wine to try. You’re constantly working on things
he says. “I rang Ciaran on the Monday, and thinking about ideas to help the business grow. There’s never
had an interview on the Friday and by really a dull day.”
the end of a two-hour lunch he said
‘I’d love to take you on board’. The
Is Ciaran happy to give you the freedom to run the shop as you
see fit? He’s taken a step back, definitely, because now we’re at the point
Ciaran McErlean on the hunt for good things in Napa
when we’re looking for more units and looking to expand and he needs to spend a bit more time focused on the business plan and
THE WINE MERCHANT september 2016 12
Jack Overbury has gradually changed the look and feel of the shop since joining as assistant manager
looking at units and investment. So that’s kept him a lot busier over the past few months. It’s at
the point now after three years where he can let me get on and run the shop. Hopefully when we take on multiple units I will have my own unit. I want him to be completely comfortable with that from the start.
How have you changed things since coming on board? The changes I’ve made in here, like the blackboards and the wine boxes on the wall, redoing upstairs, painting a few walls and doing more hand-drawn things … it has changed and improved the atmosphere. It’s given Ciaran faith in me, hopefully.
Upstairs it was all very sterile. It was very much just spotlights and white tables, which was great for tastings – you could see the true colour of the wine – but considering wine tastings are every Thursdays and some Wednesdays there’s another three or four days of the week when this can be used as night seating. So I changed the way we looked at tastings and it made it more relaxed, more informal, which means we could use the rest of the room.
I wanted to create a kind of organised mess. A bit more cosy, more relaxed – a bit more personality to it. We drilled the wine
boxes up on the wall and used them as shelving.
Quite often when independents have a first attempt at converting an upstairs space into a tasting area it ends up looking a bit like a boardroom. That’s how it did look, exactly – a boardroom. The next step is live music. As of October I’m starting acoustic nights on Fridays to create a bit more of an atmosphere. The first one is already sold out, which is good.
What kind of capacity do you have? Upstairs you can probably get about 35, 36. We get 22 down here. We get groups turning up on a Friday and we haven’t got space for them. We could easily do another 25-30 covers on a Saturday. So we’re starting to look at units that could take up to 110 or 120. That’s the next step.
Do you open other nights? Yeah, we’re open Tuesday to Thursday in the evening. Downstairs
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merchant profile: the tasting house
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usually gets full but upstairs some nights are busy and some nights aren’t. But our wine tastings are upstairs so that occupies the midweek nights anyway. Sundays and Mondays are half days so they’re always quieter.
Did the Reading public get the idea of what you were trying to do straight away? Word of mouth is always very important in any independent business. We’ve established a really good following now and we’ve had nearly 3,000 different people tag themselves here on Facebook alone, which is quite cool.
We’ve got a really good bunch of regulars and our tastings are selling out left, right and centre now. Our wine club started up, which offers regular delivery of wine to the door, and that’s growing every month.
A lot of people were sceptical at first. A lot of independent businesses have fallen victim to Reading’s sporadic consistency, I guess. It’s been hard to plan and predict what’s going to happen – I’ve seen independent businesses fail within the first couple of years.
A lot of people are now hearing about us before even coming here, which is nice.
Reading is full of multiples. Do people assume you are a chain? Yes, all the time. They always say it’s really great to see an independent wine shop in Reading.
There are independent bars and restaurants and some small shops that have been here for a while. It was very chainy when I first got here but I’ve seen a lot of independents open up. I think that Crossrail has injected a bit more need for that in Reading because people are realising there will be a lot more footfall and money here in the next few years. So it doesn’t seem as unpredictable a place to open an independent business.
It already looks like a place with a lot of economic confidence. There is a lot of money – and also there’s a lot of money in the surrounding areas. A lot of people who are maybe in a slightly more secure financial position do tend out to move out towards areas like Sonning and Caversham and don’t actually come into Reading. It’s a market we’re slowly tapping into. That’s why we started our wine club – people can have wine delivered to their door.
How does the wine club work? It’s like any other kind of delivery service, whether it’s Naked Wines or The Wine Society – we can do six or 12 bottles and there are three price tiers.
We try and make it as personal as possible. We throw in tasting notes and food matching notes for every wine and we say to people, let us know what you want. If your Achilles heel is Australian Shiraz or you have a penchant for Vouvray, let us know and we’ll try and pick wines that we know you’ll like but also start to expand your knowledge and palate and try and find wines that have a similar structure and flavour profile. Hopefully after three or four cases we’ll really start to fine-tune the wines.
They can tell us if they just want three whites and three reds and a lot of our customers just have a random mixed case and we choose. We started just before Christmas and we have more customers adding on every week.
Reading residents naturally assume the store is part of a chain
You only do local deliveries but not national – don’t you trust couriers? At the end of the day it’s me and Ciaran running the shop, and then Matt our full-time member of staff and Juliana, who’s our part-time member. If it’s local enough I’ll literally carry the case to the customer’s house and if it’s not, I’ll jump on a bus or jump in the car. So it is very much as local as it can get because it is us delivering the wine.
At Christmas we hired a van to deliver all the cases. We’re now
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There are around 260 wines in store, all sourced through UK agents
discussing the need for a Tasting House permanent delivery van
almost to do a trial run with wines. We stick something in the
because orders are coming in from tastings and the wine club so machine that we haven’t had in the shop before and see how it
much. It will maybe give us a larger radius to work with, which
goes. Quite often there’ll be one resounding success.
would be good.
What wines have worked particularly well in the shop?
Are you sourcing any wines direct at the moment or is it all
North American wines have always been very popular. The
coming through UK agents?
Cabernets have always gone down very well. Malbec and
UK agents at the moment. We’re not quite big enough yet. We
Australian Shiraz have always been popular. South Africa has been
have built up some great relationships with producers but being a a very popular section for us – I didn’t expect it to be as popular.
small unit we only have 255, 260 lines on shelf and we don’t need to have that much stock in the shop. The shelves are four to five
We’ve worked hard to try and pick out some of the best producers and we’ve been very lucky to have the producers come here –
bottles deep depending on the size of the bottle so we don’t need to keep more than a case worth of each wine, or half a case, in the shop.
We have a great relationship with our importers – we’re working with Les Caves and Enotria and recently started working with Berkmann, Cockburn & Campbell and First Class Products – a guy called Tom Ellis in Oxford – for some grower Champagnes and other sparkling wines. We’ve just started doing
‘Financially secure people often move out to areas like
Caversham – it’s a market we’re slowly tapping into’
some work with Richmond Wine Agencies, and Harley
Wines as well – they specialise in Uruguayan stuff, really beautiful we’ve had Martin Meinert here to do a tasting; Ken Forrester was
wines. Mostly Tannat but some Merlot and Cab Franc and a really here recently; we had Lars from Buitenverwachting in Constantia
interesting Sauvignon Blanc.
here a little while ago. They’re also some of the nicest guys we’ve
met. Their wines are superb. Tom Webb as well, from Thelema and
You clearly haven’t tried to cram the place with wines – there’s Sutherland – his wines were particularly popular, especially his
a sense that it’s a curated selection.
We try and take a step back every three or four months and see
what’s working and what’s not. The Enomatics do a great job,
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