THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 53, November 2016
We hope your reps bring you everything you want this Xmas
© Sean Gee
Probably the smallest wine shop in Bristol
4 comings & GOINGS
The Cheshire merchant that’s doubled in size
6 tried & TESTED
Cabernet Franc punches above its weight
Most independents think about ways to diversify their offer but few consider offering an instore barber’s service. BinTwo in Cornwall is an honourable exception. Full story on page 2.
12 STEEP HILL WINES
The Lincoln independent with a penchant for Germany
Wholesalers caught up in HMRC inconsistency
Many businesses involved in wine wholesaling are still struggling to come to terms with the application process for the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.
Despite the original deadline for applications passing eight months ago, some firms are only now taking action to apply, while others are
under-estimating the level of scrutiny they
might face from HMRC, according to a leading law firm with expertise on the scheme.
Businesses with any wholesale interests
which have not successfully signed up risk breaking the law. Although the scheme does not go fully live until April 1, 2017, the requirement to be registered for AWRS before traders can
deal in duty-paid alcohol is already in force, and has been since the start of 2016.
“We are generally finding that a lot of businesses have not been prepared for the level of detail HMRC goes into,” says Anthony Galvin, director of Altion Law.
Galvin adds that there is also inconsistency in approach from HMRC over individual cases. “From our experience, many meetings can last up to five hours, with additional meetings following,” he says. “By contrast, other companies have managed to be approved with a telephone interview.
• Continues page 22.
18 david williams
We can’t pretend supermarket wine shoppers
have all been duped
30 trip to the douro
Doing the birdie dance in the cause of vintage port
40 focus on cocktails
Your customers may be looking for Sex on the Beach
48 MAKE A DATE
It’s Burgundy time again, and the antipodeans are heading
this way too
52 supplier Bulletin
Essential updates from agents and suppliers
Jeroboams puts shops on the map
Jeroboams has taken inspiration from the golden age of Oddbins with the publication of postcards and other marketing material featuring maps to promote its London wine shops.
The company has enlisted the help of artist Zebedee Helm, whose sense of humour is admired by creative and communications director Ben Chatfield.
“Wine is a fun thing, and we should embrace that,” says Chatfield.
“We have these amazing shops in beautiful, iconic parts of London. We are very much part of these communities
Marketing material with a Steadman stamp
and so for the maps we talked to local characters and shop owners and we got a lot of stories.
“It was all about a more interesting take on an introduction to the areas without being hackneyed and obvious.
“Of course, in Knightsbridge, we’ve put Harrods on there but it was also about things that people might not have known about.”
The maps have gone down well with customers, some of whom have been collecting them as works of art in their own right and displaying them in their homes.
“Zebedee and I were both really familiar with the famous work that Ralph Steadman did for Oddbins years ago,” says Chatfield. “It was brilliant. There was a real cutting edge to Steadman’s work, but I think our stuff has more warmth to it.
“It’s meant to be affectionate and fun. “Zebedee is very much a partner with Jeroboams and we will be working together both in the immediate and longterm future.” So, what’s next? “The big Christmas push” will feature revolving paper Christmas trees, complete with lights. Helm is again behind the design and the trees will appear in all Jeroboams branch windows.
Fringe benefits for BinTwo clients
Padstow wine merchant BinTwo was turned into an upmarket barber’s shop for an evening event to raise money for charity.
The Barber on the Harbour event raised £250 for the Movember men’s health charity with haircuts supplied by Gent’s Quarter, a male grooming business run by two of the wine merchant’s customers, Olly and Claire Griffin.
Money was raised from the sale of spirits supplied by Marussia Beverages and beer from local brewer Swiftie’s.
BinTwo’s Kate Miller says: “It wasn’t crazy but it was reasonably busy.
“We were happy with the turnout and thought it was something we could potentially run again.
“It was a nice concept and something a bit different. I don’t know if it would be a regular thing but we could do it as an occasional pop-up.”
Sincere apologies to Sean Sweeney of Highbury Vintners, who we inexplicably referred to as Sean Welsh throughout our profile of the business in our October edition.
We also owe an apology to Mark Wrigglesworth, for wrongly calling his business The Good Wine Company on first mention despite using the correct name The Good Wine Shop in the rest of our October feature on price increases.
Finally, apologies to Jack Overbury of The Tasting House in Reading who was briefly called Tom in addition to his real name in our September merchant profile article.
All three errors were the result of the editor’s stupidity and have been corrected in our digital editions.
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 2
“Our Man with the Facts”
It fell off the back of a lorry
Merchant’s happy to be boxed in
Bristol independent Corks has opened its third shop, at a Boxpark-style shipping container development called Cargo in the centre of the city.
The new outlet is in the Wapping Wharf area, close to the SS Great Britain and other tourist attractions, and on a pedestrian commuting route between the commercial area of the city centre and the upwardly mobile Southville district.
The Cargo development features 18 food and drink-related operators and there are plans for 28 more units in a second phase.
The wine shop is branded as Corks at Cargo and its neighbours include Chicken Shed – run by local Michelin star chef Josh Eggleton – and the relocated Bristol Cider Shop.
Corks is stocking a slimmed down selection from its bigger shops’ wine ranges, plus a selection of wines and spirits by the glass.
The Cargo store is being managed by Ian Gatenby, who previously ran the city’s Flinty Red restaurant, part-owned by
Corks owners Rachel Higgens and Dominic Harman, which closed last year.
The wine retailer operates Corks of Cotham and Corks of North Street under the Corks of Bristol banner.
10 Cases delivers with Drop app
Covent Garden wine shop and restaurant 10 Cases has launched its own app-based delivery service.
There is no minimum requirement for orders made using the Drop app and individual bottles can be delivered within an hour for a £3 fee. The app is currently available for iPhone with Android and webbased versions to follow soon.
Will Palmer of 10 Cases says deliveries reached “hundreds of bottles a day” within a week of launch.
He adds: “You have to be busy all the time and you’ve got to have the right algorithms for riders. It doesn’t work if you’re cycling one bottle down to Tooting Bec at £7.50, but if you’re taking multiple bottles at the same time to multiple dropoffs then it starts to make sense.”
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 3
• Elderberry juice was regularly used to adulterate port in the 1750s, a problem that reached crisis point by the middle of the decade. British
merchants threatened to stop buying the wine, which led to the effective nationalisation of the port trade.
• Thirty-seven new English wine estates opened in 2015. The amount of land dedicated to English vineyards is now around 5,000 acres – the size of
Windsor Great Park.
• Until 1987 it was allowable in Europe to use ox blood as a fining agent in
the winemaking process. In its simplest form, blood was poured into the vat and stirred. Winemakers continued to
use albumin extracted from blood until 1997, when concerns were raised about
the potential spread of BSE.
• Paul Giamatti, who plays Miles in the 2004 film Sideways, has admitted in interviews that he is not interested in wine and could make little sense of the lines he delivers. Brad Pitt and George Clooney were both considered for the
role of Jack.
Knock-through is a knockout success
Cheshire deli and wine merchant Define Food & Wine has doubled in size with a modern extension serving wine, food and coffee.
The atrium space has been created by
a knock-through to a neighbouring post office that recently closed.
“The idea was inspired by the classic Italian enoteca,” says owner Jon Campbell. “We had a deli and we had the wine shop
but it’s a slightly different approach, a
hybrid of a shop, a café, a deli a restaurant and a wine bar – all of those things rolled into one.
“It’s gone down great so far. People are defining what they want to use it for. We’ve got business people using it for meetings
and people coming after school drop-offs for coffee.
“The whole idea behind it was to drive footfall. We’ve had a good reputation in the area for 16 years for the quality of our wine.
“We stock over 1,500 wines which can be a bit intimidating for some people so it’s
something to knock that barrier down and get them through the door.”
The original shop’s four sampler
machines have been rehoused in the
extension and have begun to earn their keep.
“They were a disaster in the old shop, a
source of constant headaches and a lot of
wastage, whereas now it’s just a full-time
job Friday and Saturday keeping them stocked up,” says Campbell.
Despite the shift in emphasis Campbell
says he expects to see traditional retail
sales rise and hopes to recoup the capital expenditure inside four years.
“We had a couple yesterday who came in for six quid’s worth of coffee and left with £350 in wine. That’s happening frequently.”
Divine opportunity for the right buyer
Jenny Holt at Divine Wines in Wincanton, Somerset, is planning to sell up with an eye on retirement and the opportunity to travel.
Holt has run the town centre’s independent wine merchant since 2004 and owns the freehold of the property.
“I love, love, love my shop but I have to be here six days a week,” she says. “I do have a bit of help but I just want a break.”
Holt says she is giving herself until next summer to find the right buyer.
“I feel responsible for passing it on. It is a bit of a village hall really.
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 4
The old post office was never this much fun
“It’s quite desirable for somebody who wants a lifestyle change or who already runs an independent but wants to open another one. I think someone’s out there.”
Amathus buyer fulfils retail dream
Stefan and Jennie Botfield spent their honeymoon this summer touring New Zealand’s vineyards, before returning home to launch their new shop in Woburn, Bedfordshire.
Woburn Wine Cellar opened at the beginning of October and has already embarked on a programme of tasting events. “We started with New Zealand, as
we’ve got a soft spot for that.” says Stefan. “We’ll probably have tastings every week leading up to Christmas now. We’ve got an oddities tasting coming up. We can pull all the obscure stuff off the shelf that people
might be afraid to buy without trying first, such as a Greek Moscholifero and a Hungarian Furmint.”
Until recently Stefan headed up the Amathus buying team. Jennie, who now teaches full time, used to manage a Threshers store.
“We’re not importing yet – that’s probably stage two – but we’re using a variety of suppliers,” Stefan says. One is Amathus: “I sourced the bulk of the current wine list, so that makes perfect sense.”
He adds: “I can get about 400 wines on my shelves – we’ve got space to grow, as at the moment I’ve got just over 200.”
Woburn is a village with a thriving
tourist industry, with CenterParcs and Woburn Safari Park nearby.
Stefan recognises the need to offer
something extra in such a small village environment. “We do fresh coffee beans and loose leaf tea which we sell by weight
and we can grind the coffee beans here,” he says.
“I always wanted to open my own business. At various points I’ve looked at wine bar opportunities or similar and this came up at the right time.”
The Grade II listed building, which locals
mostly remember as an art gallery, has “a
lovely cellar”, but not one that can be used for tastings as the fire service wouldn’t approve. But the four-storey building has allowed Stefan and Jennie to create a specially designated tasting room upstairs.
• Tom Fisher and Hannah Lovell have closed The Square Wine Company in Warwick after two years. Fisher is planning to continue as a wholesaler but Lovell has now left the wine trade. “We have a buyer for the business, all being well, so there may be a continuation of sorts,” Fisher says.
Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing
Every time I do a tasting in someone’s home I vow I’ll never do one again. These private tastings look so simple on paper. Rock up, show a few wines,
stretch to those, unfortunately, but I will look for cheaper alternatives.
“Exactly WHAT am I paying for?” comes back the snippy reply. I call her and offer her a refund. But invites have
easy money. We have a few options on our website starting at £250. Quite reasonable when you consider it also
includes my time, posh glassware and a
been accepted and she is not going to cancel. She grudgingly accepts the cutprice New World versions.
On the night, I turn up to find 20
discount on sales of any wines tasted.
women in a kitchen the size of my shop
The reality goes something like this.
knocking back cheap supermarket
“Hello, I read on your website that
you do private wine parties in people’s homes,” says the young woman on the
phone, unintentionally making it sound a bit Ann Summers-ish.
“I’d like to book the £250 one for me and my girlfriends. Except I was
wondering if you could bring the price
the world of Tupperware and
down a bit.”
Now, the sensible wine merchant would say “no” at this point. But I’m feeling the pinch with the impact of
Brexit and endless get-sponsored-fornot-drinking campaigns.
“Well, let’s see, I could do it for £200,” I say reluctantly, mentally scrapping all the wines I usually use. “How many of you will there be?”
“I’m expecting 12,” she says. That’s under £17 a head. Cheaper than a Saturday night out at a Pizza Express. Still, I won’t need more than one bottle of each wine and – as she is a new customer – it’ll be good marketing.
We set a date, she pays over the phone, I send a confirmation. I think everything is sorted.
A few days later I get an email: “Please could we have a Champagne as one of the wines. And a Pouilly-Fumé?”
After a few minutes of cooling down, I write back saying the budget doesn’t
Prosecco. “I hope you don’t mind,” is all I get by way of explanation.
I see my profit margin crumble further as I know that means I’ll be using two bottles of each wine.
I spend the next 90 minutes attempting to capture their attention. By wine four, I am simply shouting “AND HERE IS SOME SAUVIGNON FROM CHILE!” They stop talking, briefly, while I pour but most are now too smashed to care.
No one notices when I finish. No one buys any additional wine despite the discount. I pack up quickly and get the hell out
Three days later, I am notified of a review on Trip Advisor from one of the attendees. Two stars. “Expensive and we learnt nothing.” So much for good marketing …
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 5
tried & Tested
Okanagan Crush Pad Haywire Free Form White 2014
The first wines from this British Columbian winery,
set up by Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, appeared
in 2010. It’s been a “steep learning curve”, but they’re
confident enough to risk an unconventional orange,
biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a rustic, pungent and
intriguing affair, with an arresting cat-pee aroma.
Red Squirrel Wine (07940 056014)
MAAL Vista Flores Biolento Malbec 2015
MAAL means “Malbec as Alfredo Likes”, and the young
Mendoza winemaker’s tastes will chime with many in the UK trade. This unoaked, biodynamic example veers
well away from chocolatey excess and strips things
down to basics. It’s raw, pure and elegant, but without
losing the intensity of flavour that aficionados want.
The Knotted Vine (020 8616 2170)
Guerila Cabernet Franc Selection 2014
Guerila is a young biodynamic estate in Slovenia that’s
establishing a reputation for local grapes like Pinela
and Zelen, but also has an original take on Cabernet Franc. This offering is clean and fresh, but there are dusky elements lurking too, along with dark fruits and wafts of leather and spice. RRP: £16.99 ABV: 14% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com
Domaine de Brau Pure Cabernet Franc 2013
It shouldn’t really be surprising to find Cab Franc
thriving in the unfamiliar environs of Carcassonne but you might not expect it to be quite so accomplished as in this organic example. It’s gorgeously dusky and
earthy, but with rounded fruit flavours that give way
gradually to a finish that’s more mineral and savoury.
Vintage Roots (0800 980 4992)
Rutherford Hill Chardonnay 2013
There are some very neutral and samey Chardonnays
parading their unwooded credentials these days but
they can be even less interesting than their gloopy counterparts of yore. This Napa beauty strikes just
the right note, with tropical fruit balanced by a gentle,
buttery oak that underpins rather than overwhelms.
The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999)
Ministry of Clouds Tempranillo/Grenache 2014
This virtual winery has earned rave reviews from
James Halliday and works with grapes from across Australia, in this case McLaren Vale, to create “pure,
expressive” wines. This blend exhibits an attractive
lightness of touch: there’s a hint of sour cherries and a distant salinity followed by a clean, fresh finish.
The Knotted Vine (020 8616 2170)
Petaluma Yellow Label Riesling Hanlin Hill 2015
Thankfully Clare was spared from the New Year bush
fires in the Adelaide Hills and the fruit arrived in
superb condition. It’s a dry style but the flavours are
racy and exotic – the citrus explosion makes it hard to
keep the liquid on your tongue for long but you sense
it’s going to mellow out into something quite special.
Bancroft Wines (020 7232 5470)
Bodegas Ximénez-Spínola PX Vintage 2013
After nearly 300 years of focusing exclusively on Pedro Ximénez, this family winery has definitely got the hang of things and specialises in unfortified styles from its solera. This is jaw-droppingly good: a luxurious,
caramel-tinged delight that’s so creamy it’s practically a dairy product, with a gentle hint of oranges. RRP: £22.49 (37.5cl) ABV: 17% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 6
THE WINEMAKER FILES
Born in Narbonne in 1965 into a winemaking family, G´erard enjoyed a brilliant international rugby career before returning to the family domaine in 1987. He owns 11 estates and is acclaimed for producing some of the finest wines in the Languedoc.
Each estate is managed organically, and gradually converting to biodynamics
For eight years I have lived a double life; sportsman on one hand, wine professional on the other. Today the page has turned, the book is closed. It was not an easy decision to make. Being a successful vineyard owner means having the courage of your convictions and mastering your own destiny. Without these two things, you cannot even hope to make truly great wines.
“A thousand and one details. A thousand and one details,” my father, Georges Bertrand, used to repeat to me as a child. Today, it remains my main concern, when I blend every single vintage of the Gérard Bertand wines with our winemakers, in every Estate, Cigalus or Clos d’Ora. He also conveyed the idea that experience is the best practice a winemaker should learn from: I was 10 when my father, brought me to my first harvest at the Villemajou Estate. Today, I am 52 years old, and I have 42 years of wine experience. This is all thanks to him.
As a serious advocate and user of homeopathic medicine, biodynamics appeared to me as a natural solution for the vine. With a great deal of very expert advice from my friends and collaborators, we tested the method for two years on the most difficult and capricious vines that were not getting anywhere with conventional agriculture at the Cigalus Estate. The results convinced me to convert the entire plot to biodynamics. This process is expensive and demanding in terms of manpower, but it is important that we, the winemakers, start to commit to the respect of nature.
In the UK our reputation has been rising as much in the on-trade as the off-trade. We regularly organise masterclasses as a way to express the variety of terroirs of the Languedoc, tasting our super premium and premium wines, like the Clos d’Ora, a three-year-vintage and the first Grand Cru of the Languedoc; and the Cigalus blend of seven varieties from our first biodynamic estate, as well as our range of Grands Vins – Villemajou, La Sauvageonne, and Hospitalet.
Independent retailers have a premium focus, like ours. They are most likely to convey the messages of our wines, biodynamics, and the art de vivre of the south of France.
Languedoc’s terroirs are many and rich. Every vintage is a crossroads of decisions and seasonal circumstances; the wine depends on the temperature and on the harvest conditions, as well as on a succession of winemaker decisions to design its profile. Our focus is to get better every day.
Sauvageonne Grand Vin Blanc 2014 RRP £21.99
“Grown on the Terrasses du Larzac, a high altitude
volcanic terroir, this is a wine with a rich, round substance and impressive
freshness, through a golden robe and a complex
and aromatic nose with hints of hawthorn flower
Cigalus Red 2014 RRP £25.99
“An blend of seven of the most iconic varieties. An
intense bouquet, with complex aromas of black
fruit, spices, liquorice, humus and truffle. The palate is lush and opulent with velvety tannins. A perfect match with roasted
red meat, poultry ‘en sauce’ or ripened cheese.”
Clos d’Ora 2013 RRP £150
“A biodynamic wine from Minervois’ Cru La
Livinière, with saline tannins, juniper berries, star anise and figs. The finish is like a love potion
where flavours of gun powder, mocha, cinnamon,
mango juice and mature cherries seek to weaken the taster into a swoon.”
Feature sponsored by Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines www.hdnwines.co.uk
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 8
bits & BOBs
Favourite wine on my list Luddite Wines’ Saboteur Red 2014 from Bot River, Western Cape. A big, bold, smooth and spicy blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Niels and Penny, the winemakers, dropped into the shop … I loved it so much I bought all the stock they had left!
Favourite wine and food match We sell crab and lobster meaning that if we have any left over I have to take it home. It’s retro I know, but crab linguine and Muscadet rocks my world! Lobster Macaroni Cheese and Pouilly Fuissé also
has to be tried to be believed.
Favourite wine trip Shortly after my wife Mary and I bought BinTwo we headed to Bordeaux. We’d
already developed a connection with friends who own Château Civrac in Côtes
du Bourg. Seeing first hand the sheer graft that goes into their small scale, traditional production methods really drove the beauty of their story home.
Favourite wine trade person All our suppliers looked after us really well when we jumped into the wine trade. I’m sending them a group hug.
Favourite wine shop Bedales in Borough Market. Chilling out in their wine bar/wine shop feels like being in a bigger, trendier, better looking
version of BinTwo!
Chile growers feel the heat
Global wine production is expected to fall by 5% in 2016 because of “climatic events” causing steep drops in most of the southern hemisphere, particularly Chile and Argentina.
The International Organisation of Vine & Wine has estimated that output will reach 259.5 million hl this year, making 2016 one of the lowest production years in the past two decades.
France is likely to remain in the top three despite a predicted 12% drop in production. The Guardian, October 20
Flavoured versions are thankfully unavailable
Wine lovers urged to play it safe
condoms are even more effective than actual condoms, which prevent pregnancy 98% of the time. The Mirror, October 27
Malbec is music to our ears – kind of
Anla Courtia & Cyrus Pireh – Coils on Malbec (Shinyoko DL/LP) The duo connected coils using liquid circuits of Malbec wine positioned in such a way that supposedly captured the electromagnetic vibrations from the air and then amplified them.
Their stated purpose – that listeners should open up enough to appreciate the so-called symphony all around us – doesn’t exactly set it apart from any number of field recording-cum-science experiment projects, but the festive decision to involve wine, and the overall quality of the intriguing results, makes for a satisfying experience indeed. The Wire, November issue
The most recent incarnation of the loveglove is the “wine condom”.
The shrink-to-fit technology creates a water-tight seal on any bottle, preventing
your favourite plonk from spilling out or going off. With a 99.9% success rate, wine
• Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex is planning to double production following a £2m investment in its facilities. The company expects its output to hit 300,000 bottles a year by 2020. The Guardian, October 10
email@example.com Twitter: @WineMerchantMag
The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 812 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 november 2016 10
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 11
merchant profile: steep hill wines
Radiant on the gradient
We don crampons and climbing boots to visit a wine merchant that’s literally at the very top in Lincoln. Manager Steve Burnett is on a mission
to turn locals on to the delights of Germany and Croatia
When it comes to naming wine retailers some like to keep it simple: there are numerous variations of The Wine Shop, for example. Others like to play on
Arneis, which is not related but is just something a little bit different, but still that fresh Italian white that people are looking for.”
the family heritage or local personality status of the owners. For
Steep Hill’s shopper profile of locals and tourists also brings
some, the name of the town drives the identity of the business. But a ready market for local beers, fancy gins and an out-sourced
whatever the methodology, few can be as aptly-named as Lincoln’s personalised wine bottle service.
Steep Hill Wines, which not only sits on a steep hill, but the steep
hill in question also happens to be called Steep Hill.
The most obvious thing about the shop is the location.
It’s the hill that has Lincoln’s cathedral and castle on its summit Yes, it’s a cracking location, aptly named Steep Hill Wines. It’s a
– just a few metres from the shop – and is visible from every
nice office to have where you can look out the window and see all
vantage point outside the city for miles around.
the old buildings. Our cellar is part Roman, part mediaeval, with
The business was founded by Rob Manfield a quarter of a century ago. Current manager Steve
‘Nowadays, it’s more
Burnett, who showed us round, has been in place for exactly a year, having previously worked for
younger people coming into
Laithwaites. The age and construction of the building limits the
shops like this, whereas
retail space. White wines sit in the front section and reds in an alcove room to the rear. It’s an eclectic mix
it used to be older people
of classics from the Old World, the best of the New and a few treats from the outer reaches, with Uruguay,
Greece and Croatia among them.
Burnett says the presence of more esoteric wines makes one-to- very low ceilings and it still has the fireplaces in it. Above ground,
one interaction with customers a cornerstone of how the business it is Georgian. Recently we were told that 100 years ago, this
property was the house of a joiner, which is good to know because
“With something like Gewürztraminer, it’s a brilliant job, but it all the woodwork is in pretty good nick.
won’t sell as well as Sauvignon Blanc because people have heard of
Sauvignon and they know what it is. Gewürztraminer is more of a Is access an issue? The road is not only very steep but very
hand-sell but the wine is brilliant.
“It’s a similar thing with something like Gavi. It’s a name that
You would think so, but once a week we have a class two lorry
people know and it makes it a little bit easier to sell things like
come down the hill and it more or less gets right outside the door,
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 12
The shop is Georgian above ground, but the cellars date back to Roman times
so it’s very handy for accepting deliveries. The only time when it becomes an issue is the Christmas market weekend. Lincoln has one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe and they shut off the roads, and trying to get deliveries in then is a bit of a pain so we rock up at different times of the day with wine in the back of the car, having to escort it in from having it delivered elsewhere first.
Do you sell many cases or are you more a bottle business? It’s a good mix and people can pull up outside the shop in their car so long as they’re quick. They can park in a nearby car park while they shop and then we can have it ready at the door to collect, or wheel it round. Obviously there are some limitations because we’re not on a busy road with passing traffic.
What’s the local economy like? Business in Lincoln seems to be relatively OK. A lot of people tend to depend on the tourist trade. As for the general economy in Lincolnshire, we’re plodding along. We’re a farming county so it’s always going to be a mixed bag. We don’t have any motorways; we’re not on the way to anywhere.
Who are you competing with locally? There is a Majestic and there is another independent, about five doors up [attached to the Wig & Mitre pub]. There are supermarkets as well but I don’t see them as competition because, without blowing our own trumpet, I feel we are in a different league. It’s actually really nice when people come in and say they’ve tried a supermarket version of something and didn’t think much of it, but then they’ve tried something we’ve sold them and they think it’s pretty damn good.
So where does the core trade come from? Are you touristreliant? It’s a fairly all-round mix. At the weekends it will tend to be a bit more tourist-orientated. In the week, we tend to have a few more locals. There are plenty of coach trips. The local market is mixed in terms of buying habits and average spend. The demographic is quite interesting – it’s forever changing. Nowadays, it’s more younger people coming into shops like this, whereas it use to be older people coming in to buy Burgundy. It’s a steady change in
Continues page 14
THE WINE MERCHANT november 2016 2016 13
merchant profile: steep hill wines
From page 13
demographic that we’re getting through the door now.
It’s quite a small space – do you think that holds you back in any way? I don’t think it’s necessarily holding us back, if anything it actually keeps our buying habits more focused. We have to make sure what we’ve got on the shelf is the good stuff that’s actually going to move. It stops us from being complacent. We stock about 600 wines at a time.
What sort of things are really exciting people in Lincolnshire at the moment? Things like this Croatian wine to be perfectly honest. Again it’s one of these, when if you’ve got it open for tasting, they will try it and really get quite excited by it. OK, there are going to be people who will buy what they’ve always known but there’ll be an equal amount of people that are actually willing to try something new.
The German collection seems to be doing relatively well for itself as well. People are now getting into their heads that it’s less about how it used to be, the super sweet Auslese and whatever else, and now we are getting some really cracking dry Riesling.
We’ve done a couple of German tastings this year, a general German tasting in April and the 31 Days of Riesling, and people really quite like it. It’s starting to pick up again. It’s a bit like Chardonnay which got a bad name for being overly-oaked. It’s starting to recover again a little bit.
With the reds, I’m not going to put my finger on anything specific. It’s a lot more generic as to what people are heading for. It makes it less predictable but it means we are getting towards different and new things. We have a Tannat-Merlot-Cabernet Franc from Uruguay; stuff like that is not going to sell itself.
I notice all the wines on the shelves have quite detailed tasting notes.
Yes, we have people who come in and read the tasting notes, but some come in and don’t really know what they want. They could come in and spend hours reading all the tasting notes, or they could ask me. If they say “this is the sort of thing I like, what do you recommend?” that’s when it gets interesting and it’s easier to sell things like Gewürztraminer and Arneis.
I actually like the hand-selling because the customers are then finding something new. If you don’t like it, you can tick a box to say you’ve tried that, you don’t have to have it again, but at least you tried something for a bit of a change.
Who handles the buying?
I head up the buying but we often discuss things and Rob will come in with ideas and we’ll discuss the best approach. It stops us getting a bit trigger-happy – for example, if it was just up to me, I’d go “ooh, German” and get too carried away and Rob would go “ooh,
French” and get too carried away, and you forget everything else in between.
Do you get out to tastings much? We often go out to industry tastings. It’s important, because with the vintage changes we could just be missing a trick and not even know about it. If I hadn’t gone to any tastings, I wouldn’t have picked up Croatian wine, I wouldn’t have picked up Greek, etc.
Laithwaites escapee Steve Burnett has managed the shop for a year
In terms of getting on board with new suppliers – do you wait
for them to approach you or do you go and seek them out?
I keep on top of it, seeing what everybody’s got. If there’s something specific that I really want that I can’t get from any of my suppliers, I look into that. Sometimes it’s just a general range of wines that someone has that does it for me. We have about five or six suppliers for wine – Hallgarten, Inverarity Morton, BBS Wine Shippers, Marta Vine and one or two others here and there – another seven for the beer and another two for gin.
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The shop’s compactness “helps keep our buying habits more focused”
Is it just the range you’re looking for when you’re choosing a worth and if the price matches it then I will stick it on the shelf.
supplier, or is it something else you get from them?
It’s a mixture of various things. Occasionally we have different requirements such as order quantities and whether they do split cases. That sort of thing is really important to us. Nine times out of 10 it’s about what’s in their range.
How important is wholesale to the business?
We do have some locally. Some of what we wholesale is what we have on our shelves anyway – and it’s quite predictable how much extra we have to have in to allow for that. Everything is carted up
and down the stairs from the cellar so we try not to hold too much
What’s the sweet spot on pricing here?
I’d say between the £12 and £20 mark. We do have bottles in our Burgundy collection that are, of course,
‘I will try the wine without
higher in price, but we like to have an all-round mix of
prices. We appreciate that some customers might only want to spend £10 and others might want to spend £89 – we try and cater for all.
Occasionally we have bottles for under £10 but we tend not to really. That’s more down to our personal preference. This Portuguese wine, Azulejo, is £7.95 and came from Marta. We have found that Portugal
looking at the price, say what I think it’s worth and if the price matches it then I
will stick it on the shelf’
produces some absolutely brilliant wines for very
reasonable prices and this is testament that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get something half decent. This is probably one of our best sellers.
here at any one time – we’d rather just keep it topped up as a steady tick-over. We don’t have warehousing anywhere else.
My view has always been, pay what the wine is worth, so if you’ve got £15 in your pocket, use it wisely and spend it on a bottle of wine that’s worth £15, don’t buy a bottle of wine for £10
What about the web? We do a lot of tastings throughout the year and a lot of the online
and go and waste that fiver on something else. There’s a reason it is the price it is and it’s worth that price. When I go buying, I
will try the wine without looking at the price, say what I think it’s
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