THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 54, January 2017
22% of our readers used to work for threshers
Online merchants seek bricks-and-mortar comfort
4 comings & GOINGS
The ongoing appeal of Chester, Truro and Herne Hill
8 tried & TESTED
Play-Doh, baby lotion and sherbet flying saucers
Theatre of Wine has opened its third branch with a new shop in Leytonstone, east London,
managed by Beata Ramsay. Full story on page 4.
Picture by Iona Ramsay
12 SMITH’S WINES
The Exeter independent where diners choose to have
Public is on course for better wine knowledge
The number of consumers taking wine courses is continuing to soar, according to figures from the WSET.
Students from outside the wine trade account for around 30% of the 17,000 WSET exams taken in the UK each year. Their numbers increased by 55% last year and figures for the first three months of the current academic year – September to November – show that the momentum is being maintained.
The stats make encouraging reading for the independent trade, which arguably benefits the most from an educated customer base. Some merchants – including Loki in Birmingham, Hennings in Sussex and JN Wine in Northern
Ireland – are WSET educators. Graham Cox of the WSET says: “We’re
appearing at more consumer events and our social media is much more engaging.
“I would also say that our network of providers is better spread and better geared up to deliver. I think if you went back five years, a consumer trying to find a course wouldn’t have been exposed to the marketing, and may have struggled to find something in their area.”
The Local Wine School network, another WSET provider, now operates from 40 locations around the UK. Student numbers grew by about 40% to just under 2,000 in 2015-16, with the trade-consumer split estimated at 50-50.
18 DISPENSE DEVICEs
The hardware looks great, but is it worth the money?
24 david williams
A glimpse into the wine habits of the super rich
32 trip to portugal
We discover the freshness and balance of the Tejo region
51 MAKE A DATE
The February frenzy is about to get under way
55 supplier Bulletin
Essential updates from agents and suppliers
Web spirits in the material world
The growth in online wine sales has been trumpeted ad nauseam over the past decade. A trend that’s less reported is the move by several web-based merchants to open bricks-and-mortar stores.
Paul Pavli has overseen a successful transition of his online retail business Rosso Bianco Wines into a thriving physical shop, The Surrey Wine Cellar in Chobham. Since he found the premises, everything has “been plain sailing”, according to Pavli.
His uncle, Andrew Pavli at Wimbledon Wine Cellar, had been encouraging him to get a store for some time. “My response was, I’ve got to wait for the right location. You’ve got to bide your time and wait for the right place to arrive in the right village, or town.”
Pavli has lived in Chobham for 20 years and when Vicki’s wine shop closed last September, he swooped to acquire the 1,000ft sq premises.
“We do pop-up shops and dinners; we run dinner evenings at a local restaurant and corporate events at the store and run wine tastings as well,” he says. “Even from an online business perspective, there’s nothing better than advertising the fact that you’ve got bricks and mortar, because
it shows you’re a real person behind the computer.”
He adds: “We rebranded and closed down the old website while rejuvenating the new one and we decided to spend a lot more money on it. There’s only about 130 products on the website at the moment, whereas previously we had 400, so we’ve still got loads to do to get it where it needs to be. But at least it’s looking modern and up to date.”
In Canterbury, Jeeves & Johnson Emporium also started life online. But it was just a matter of months before owner Paul Johnson converted a former Bang & Olufsen store into his ideal trading post.
“The website went live in January 2016, and then we found the premises and it was too good an opportunity to miss,” he says, despite there being “no ceiling and no floor” at one point.
The store opened in May. Johnson no longer sells wine online, focusing instead on the accessories and other products he has in store.
“Online it was very slow because we didn’t have a great deal of products,” Johnson admits. “Certainly with the premises it’s easier to let people know we are here.”
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 2
The natural home of speed dating
Unwined in Tooting hosted a dating and wine tasting evening that can be deemed a success on two counts: firstly, the amount of money raised for charity and secondly, the report that one couple is now officially an item as a result.
Employee Emma Chandler is a volunteer at Cancer Research UK’s South West London Relay for Life. “Myself and another committee member, Matt Hall, wanted to kick-start the fundraising with a speeddating wine tasting event,” she says. “I approached Unwined with our idea and they were totally up for it.”
Tickets were £20 each, £17 of which went to charity, which included a glass of wine on arrival. Thirteen couples took part in a series of four-minute dates and during the break Laura Ward from Unwined ran a blind tasting session. Participants were then asked to pick their favourite wine, which then led to a bit of palate matching among the couples.
Chandler says: “It was a lot of fun to host and the feedback was great. We raised over £500 and had a great time playing Cupid.”
Tooting’s popular frontage
The twist is, we’ve banned screwcaps
It’s the prerogative of any independent to restrict their range to the products they personally endorse. Nicolas Hall, for example, only lists European wines. But take a closer look and you’ll also notice his private ban on screwcaps.
Cambridge Vinopolis, Hall’s business, shares many independents’ antipathy towards any form of bulk-shipped wine: “They’re on the shipping lanes for six weeks in plastic bags 10 times the size of my shop,” he says. Although he accepts that more of the small producers he aims to support are now bottling under screwcap in their own cellars, Hall has made it a point of principle to only support those sticking with traditional cork closures.
“I’ve been here three and a half years and I’ve had 12 corked wines in that time,” he says. “Eight of them were replaced and I got my money back, so I’ve only lost four bottles in all that time.”
Screwcaps, Hall argues, are easily dented, which as well as making them look unappealing on the shelf can compromise their airtight seal. “I think it’s fine with white wines at the cheaper end of the market,” he says. “Customers come in and say they prefer cork but they don’t mind screw tops if it’s only a £10 wine – each to their own.”
Hall admits that his fondness for cork is partly romantic but he is also swayed by the environmental issues.
He has an ongoing mission to educate customers about the benefits of corks – and the occasional drawbacks.
“People get so used to screwcaps. A customer thought a wine was corked because the cork was wet – I said, ‘well thank god for that’.
“Corks have improved greatly in the past six years. Obviously old wines react and
they can get corked – that’s the way it is. There are obvious tastes and smells you get from corked wine. But people forget that the bottles don’t get sterilised properly and that can be the problem.”
Hall has even cancelled orders when a supplier installed a screwcap bottling line. “I had been buying a Rhône valley wine for a long time, all sealed with cork. I said to the producer, ‘what’s that over there?’ and he said, ‘oh, it’s the Americans – they won’t buy anything unless I screw top it. They offered me a contribution towards the machinery’. So I can’t buy wine from him anymore. This has happened all over the place now.”
Even in the UK it seems that screwcaps are more entrenched than some people assume. “I’ve got corkscrews on my desk,” Hall says. “Younger people coming in say, ‘what’s that?’ I say, ‘you’ve just bought wine with a cork in it, so you’re going to need one’.”
Hall has only had 12 instances of cork taint
Please take 10 minutes of your time this January to participate in The Wine Merchant’s annual reader survey.
Details are at www.winemerchantmag. com and there are great prizes up for grabs from our sponsor, Hatch Mansfield.
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 3
“Our Man with the Facts”
• Richard Nixon had a passion for Château Lafite Rothschild, but reportedly enjoyed his habit while his staff served mediocre red wine to White House guests, with towels obscuring
• The Batalla del Vino en Haro is an annual event in the Rioja town, in which
locals celebrate St Peter’s feast day in the streets before climbing a nearby hill
to throw copious amounts of wine at one another.
• Slovenian sparkling wine producer Movia expects its customers to manually disgorge its bottles.
• Botrytis cinerea, also know as noble rot, is welcomed by winemakers in Sauternes and Tokaj, but the fungus ruins many other commercial crops.
These include strawberries, tomatoes, rhubarb and cannabis.
• The word rum is thought to derive from the Devon word rumbullion, meaning a fight or disturbance. References from the 17th century
suggest that the spirit also went by the name of Kill-Devil in Barbados.
Customers tune in to match of the day
Plenty of merchants display wine according to country or variety. The Grape to Glass Wine Shop & Tasting Room in Rhos-on-Sea, north Wales, merchandises its range according to the wine’s most likely food match.
Owner and self-confessed foodie Tim Watson says: “I’m matching the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. That’s the model I had set up when I worked at the food centre, [Blas ar Fwyd] – it means people can diversify their palate and try different things.”
Watson had been looking for premises for just over three years when he finally found a former florists that “needed some real work”. Eleven weeks later, with the help of a sledgehammer and some reclaimed scaffold boards, he has created an inviting space complete with sofa and a very busy bar, where wine is available by the bottle or in 125ml measures.
“I didn’t want to be a wine bar – I want peopled to have the ability to try small units of different things, but I don’t want it to be a party house,” Watson says.
Customers will play a role in developing the wine list. “I’ll host an invitation-only event where we’ll sit down and try the wines together. If my customers decide on the range, they’ve got something to come in for and they’ve helped me diversify.”
Watson is planning to engage with the local produce that Wales does so well, including wines from Gwinllan Conwy vineyard in Llangwystenin. “They’re producing a Phoenix, Solaris and a Rondo rosé and even a Solaris sparkling so I’d be keen to get them in,” he says.
824 Number of specialist independent wine shops in the UK
An extra chance to meet Tom Jones
After six years in business with Whalley Wine Shop in Lancashire, Tom Jones has opened his second shop, at Huntley’s Country Stores in Samlesbury, in the unit once occupied by Barrica Wines.
Jones says: “It’s a unique location in that we’re next to a deli and cheese counter; there’s also a fishmongers and a butchers, so it’s got that nice food and wine tie-in that I’m very pleased with.”
Jane Cuthbertson of Barrica recently vacated the premises to focus on her Botany Bay site near Chorley. Huntley’s wanted to maintain a wine presence and approached Whalley.
“It’s a simpler shop because it hasn’t got the on-trade element of the Whalley shop at the moment,” says Jones. “There’s no sampling machines or wines by the glass.”
Jones will be managing the shop for the time being with the help of new employee Alison Brown. Having an additional branch brings the obvious advantage of more shelf space. “What I’m hoping is that it’s going to enable us to just add that extra level
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 4
Tim Watson at Grape to Glass has a good pallet
of stock holding we can push through for suppliers,” he says.
Whalley is the newest member of The Vindependents. Jones says: “We were doing a bit of importing before the pound fell off the face of a cliff. We were bringing some bits in from France and Portugal but really I think now, with the currency as volatile as it is, we are safer for a company our size to concentrate on the UK importers.”
Curtain goes up on Illsley’s third store
Leytonstone is now home to the latest addition of thriving independent Theatre of Wine.
Director and founder Daniel Illsley says that two weeks into opening, the site was still being developed. “The idea was to try not to have a fully finished and complete package when you walk through, so customers have actually watched a lot of the new things going in,” he explains.
“We’ve approached it very organically and we’re giving ourselves the mental space and the time to develop the store over the next six months.” This more
organic approach has meant that trade is not held up and the expense that comes hand in hand with expansion can start to be recouped.
Leytonstone is not such a surprising location, Illsley maintains. “I think of all the areas that we’ve put shops – I mean, if someone was going to do Hampstead, we’d do Archway; if somebody was going to do Clapham, we’d do Herne Hill. We like a lot of space, we need good cellarage, so we look for good, affordable spaces with a developing market.”
The “inclusive” range and team of staff, described by Illsley as the “cornerstone” of the business, will hopefully attract the younger inhabitants of Leytonstone. “You can buy a really good bottle of wine from Theatre of Wine for £6 – there’s something for everybody,” he says. “It’s a lovely area with a strong community and we’ve had lovely responses and a lot of people coming through the door already.”
Chester draws in another wine shop
Look out Chester, there’s a new independent in town. Chris Laidler opened his first shop, Covino, just in time for Christmas.
Chester is already home to a number of wine shops but Laidler says his new shop is a little off the beaten track. “We’re tucked away in a part of town better known for its independents but we get a surprising amount of footfall.”
After completing his viticulture and oenology degree at Plumpton, Laidler clocked up some serious driving hours for Majestic before helping Knotted Vine get off the ground. He remains in touch with David Knott, from whom he is buying a number of wines which sit alongside a
Continues page 6
Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing
There’s a rumour going around that a new wine shop is coming to town. My first reaction is one of
featuring your staff, that will tap into customer emotions.” Helpfully, they do a mock-up using Alex in another tight T-shirt just in case I didn’t understand
astonishment: “Are they crazy?”
the emotions to which they were
My second reaction is one of panic: “They’ll take all my business!”
referring. “You’ll need to build e-commerce
Then comes the fighting talk: “I’ll show into the site of course, so that people
them who is queen of the grapes in THIS town.”
can purchase wines featured in these videos.” Glad to see wine will feature
I call Alex to a strategy meeting at the somewhere …
local coffee shop. “Well, we could do more online,” he
says. Then – taking a deep breath – he adds: “The website is, um, looking a
I had no idea my digital
bit dated and we could use it more effectively to grow our customer base.”
DATED?!! I spent a fortune on the site
needs were so pressing, or
likely to set mewhen we launched and nobody looks at
it, except to find our phone number to
call and ask about opening times (which
are right next to our contact details).
But he’s right. We’ve done little to it
since we opened, apart from updating the Finally: “We believe you need an
wine list (a chore in itself). So I decide
aggressive social media strategy to run
to splurge some hard-earned Christmas profits and task Alex with finding someone to upgrade our online presence.
alongside the relaunched website and drive deeper relationships with your current and future customers.”
Step forward his good friends Cristo
And the quote? £25k.
and Emma, a graphic design and web development duo.
I sit down and take my own deep breath at all these “needs”. Then I email
I am a little taken aback at the speed
back saying I simply do not have the
in which a pitch lands in my inbox. They money. Nor can I afford another member
haven’t even spoken to me, nor spent much time in the shop – apart from the
of staff to manage all the extra work this “refresh” will entail. Could they come up
occasional visit to say hi to Alex. I suspect with something around the £5k mark?
some behind-the-scenes briefing has
While I await their reply, the local free
been going on for a while.
sheet is thrust at me. “New beer and
They don’t beat around the bush. “Your cheese shop to open” runs the headline,
brand needs a total refresh to appeal
with the owner quoted: “The success of
more to the contemporary wine drinker. “Your website needs to be more
dynamic and personality-led through use of experiential videos and blog posts
the town’s independent wine merchant gave us the confidence to build a complementary offering.”
My final reaction: “I like them already.”
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 5
From page 5
selection from Indigo, Red Squirrel and Roberson. “A lot of the wines have ended up being biodynamic or organic just because I feel that style of wine is a little bit more giving and generous,” Laidler says.
He is also buying small amounts direct within the UK, from Court Garden in East Sussex, and Llaethliw in Wales, owned by an old university friend, which has just produced its first sparkling, red, white and rosé. Laidler has “taken the whole range to have something a bit different”.
Using an enoteca model, Covino will have around 120 wines on the shelves for customers to either buy to take away or, for a £10 corkage fee, consume on the premises. “I’m going to use a Coravin and that’s just to pour glasses of slightly more expensive or quirkier wines that I don’t think I’d be able to sell a whole bottle by the glass in the time I’d need,” he says.
A new multi-million pound theatre is due to open nearby in May, and Laidler’s Piaggio Ape van should be another customer pull. “[The van] will be used for doing deliveries and I’ll get it sign-written. I imagine I can get about a hundred bottles in but I’m not expecting to turn into Majestic and have people buying hundreds of bottles – it’s just so people can get home delivery on more than six bottles.”
McWilliam makes it a Truro trio
David McWilliam was one of the first to recognise the importance of on-premise sales for the independent sector and it was with this new hybrid of shop and bar in mind when he established BinTwo in Padstow.
He sold that in 2014 and in November he opened The Sanctuary in Truro, which
The Sanctuary is a bar first and a shop second – cinema and disco are further down the list
looks set to push the concept even further. “It’s far more a bar than BinTwo was,
which was much more shop to begin with,” he says. “Anyone looking in through the window [of The Sanctuary] will think ‘ooh, that’s an interesting bar’, rather than ‘wow, a wine merchant that sells Champagne’.”
Open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays with DJ nights, films and silent discos scheduled in, The Sanctuary is aiming itself at the local “young to middleaged professionals”. Headsets will be available for children so they can watch a range of suitable films.
McWilliam has a pragmatic approach to his fellow Truro independents The Old Chapel Cellars and The Art of Wine. “We’re all good mates to be honest. To complain about another independent when there’s Tesco, Sainsbury’s Aldi, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose …
“In the spirit of working together, it’s far better to set up a lively community of vibrant tradesmen, whatever they sell, than it is to try and protect your own areas. There are so many different wines to sell in the world – we’ve all got to do a good job.”
Wines are sold by the glass as well as in bottles to take away, but there are
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 6
no dispensing systems. “They leave me cold, I’m afraid. They are really low on interaction,” McWilliam says.
“We’re probably listing about 100 wines initially and obviously I’m looking for things by the glass as well as token bottles that every wine merchant should have. One of the things that the nationals are not good at doing is hand-selling individual stuff, and we all know that a lot of independents are really good at that. It’s really important that we do sell some really nice and fairly hefty ticket stuff – I’m not talking about £500 a bottle but up to £100.”
New wine venture is good for the soul
Wild + Lees is the latest merchant to take the plunge in Herne Hill. The new shop was two years in the planning, and provides owner Liam Plowman with a welcome escape from a “soulless media technology career”.
“I spent a couple of years getting the relevant education, meeting with suppliers, going to tastings and finding the property, while I was still working,” he says.
Suppliers such as Boutinot have been “fantastic, incredibly supportive”, Plowman says: “I’m dealing direct with Denbies for English wine and a couple of others for Spanish and Portuguese wines. On the beer side of things, it is a bit more fragmented because I did my first big order through EeBria but I’m dealing with more and more local breweries direct now.
“I’m also doing a rotating but small craft gin collection. I started off with a gin called Bluebottle from a micro distillery in Guernsey and that went really well. This week I’m getting some Cornish gin.”
Herne Hill is a vibrant area, mainly residential, with a fairly middle class, family orientated vibe and Plowman has stocked up with a suitable range of craft beers and some more eclectic wines from Lebanon, Austria and Greece to appeal to the more adventurous clientele.
“Most of Herne Hill seems to work from home on a Friday, so that’s a busy day for us and on Sunday there’s a local farmers’ market which brings about another 4,000 people into the area,” he says.
Rugby star lets Dodd have a try
Tivoli Wines, the Cheltenham wine shop established by professional rugby player Kai Hörstmann and his wife Caroline, has been sold to David Dodd.
Dodd, a Wine Merchant contributor who has worked for Wal-Mart, Sainsbury’s and Lloyds TSB as a location planning manager, says he is fulfilling a long-held ambition to enter the wine trade having taken WSET courses up to and including the Diploma.
Both full-time members of the Tivoli
team, manager Tina Hannam and assistant manager Mike Norledge, have stayed on. Dodd expects to put in 40-plus hours a week and his wife Helen, a management accountant, has also joined the team.
Dodd immediately invested £30,000 in extra stock and is now working on a business plan that could include elements such as fine wine, wholesaling, on-premise sales and education.
“We were quite excited when we saw the building,” he says. “We’ve got about 1,800 sq ft including the stock room and we’ve also got an upper floor.
“It’s not really Cheltenham town centre but I was comfortable with that because of the rents and rates. That frees up our cash flow to invest in the business.
“The business does need a lot of investment but we’ve been saving for a while and we’ve got quite strong cash flow.”
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 7
tried & Tested
Louis Latour Les Pierres Dorées Pinot Noir 2015
This project has seen the planting of Pinot in the
southernmost tip of Beaujolais – the exact coordinates
are on the label, along with the harvest and bottling
dates, fact fans. It’s sunny, hilly site with clay and
limestone soil, yielding a soft, approachable wine with
freshness and rounded red berry flavours.
Louis Latour Agencies (020 7409 7276)
Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013
You may or may not like Play-Doh aromas in your wine, but personally we love them and the entire imbibing experience was as pleasing as a good roll around in a soft play centre when the kids have all been sent home. With its comforting red cherry and damson sweetness, this is a tonic for the January blues. RRP: £13.70 ABV: 13.5% VinumTerra (020 8891 6010) vinumterra.co.uk
Glenelly Estate Reserve 2011
The rebranding looks pretty smart and the wine inside – a blend of Syrah and Cabernet, with a little Merlot and Petit Verdot – certainly doesn’t disappoint. We might have imagined the aromas of baby lotion and notes of sherbet flying saucers, but we can confirm the dark fruit flavours, beautifully integrated oak and robust savoury overtones are all real. RRP: £16.50 ABV: 14% Seckford Agencies (01206 231188) seckfordagencies.co.uk
Dourthe was faced with “record drought conditions”
in 2011 but still managed to craft this elegant and
subtle food-friendly wine, in which Merlot (35%)
and Cabernet Franc (5%) play supporting roles. The
cherry and vanilla flavours are kept reined in and
there’s just enough body to stand up to a wintry meal.
Champagnes & Chateaux (020 7326 9655)
Ktima Gerovassiliou White 2015
Malagousia was nearly extinct when Vangelis Gerovassiliou replanted the family vineyard in 1981 on the slopes of Epanomi in Macedonia. Here it’s blended with the more familiar Assyrtiko, producing a wine that has the gentle oiliness of a Viognier and the stony minerality of a Grüner Veltliner. A lovely balanced wine with a hint of salinity and distant notes of star anise. RRP: £14.99 ABV: 13% Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722538) hdnwines.co.uk
Mas Cristine 2014
This small but growing property is located between Collioure and Argelès sur Mer in the Languedoc. The 2014 vintage saw production switch from a cramped corner of the local co-op to a purpose-built winery. A tightly-wound blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan with an animal aroma, it oozes juicy, dark fruit flavours. A star of autumn’s Sud de France tasting. RRP: £16.60 ABV: 14% Clark Foyster Wines (020 8819 1458) clarkfoysterwines.co.uk
Le Grand Noir Chardonnay/Viognier 2015
Despite hailing from the south of France this is a
rather British affair: the wine is made by Hugh Ryman
and Robert Joseph with branding from Stranger &
Stranger’s Kevin Shaw. It’s a breezy, feelgood kind of
wine – bright, fruity and sunny, with a lovely spicy finish and a slight stoney edge.
Roberson Wine (0207 381 7870)
La Crotta di Vegneron Pinot Noir 2015
This co-operative in the Italian alpine valley of Aosta has chosen to vinify this Pinot as a white wine, and the result is something that should confound even the most expert players in a blind tasting challenge. But it’s no gimmick: it’s a gentle, intriguing and weirdly exotic experience, with an almost salty mountain freshness. RRP: £14.99 ABV: 12.5% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 8
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 9
bits & BOBs
London shop manager Berry Bros
Favourite wine on my list In theory I like anything good whether French or not. I must confess that wines from my native region, Burgundy, are very close to my heart as I believe that at their best, they have a capacity to recall emotions which I haven’t experienced
yet with other regions or countries.
Favourite wine and food match Nothing is better in the winter than a Cassoulet de Castelnaudary paired with a Madiran (from the same region). I tend to favour those produced by Domain Pichard; the 1982 would be a real treat.
Favourite wine trip Whilst studying wine in Beaune, we went
on a trip to Alsace. We met producers in several communes who opened their door to us. Here I remember not only
being able to sample all the styles of wine produced but also eating the local
food. Alsace is a wonderful region.
Favourite wine trade person I will name a few simply because I see
them all on par and their work and resulting contribution to the wine trade is enormous: Michael Broadbent MW;
Hugh Johnson and John Livingstone Learmonth.
Favourite wine shop Les Caves Legrand Filles & Fils in Paris remains a grocer despite selling the best
wines, Champagne and spirits.
Seeing the light in fight against tannin
A Swiss company has developed a device it claims can soften tannins in young wines.
The Vino Flux system, which uses ultraviolet light, has been tested by 150 Australian wineries. Julian Langworthy, winemaker at Deep Woods Estate in Margaret River, is impressed.
“We trialled the 2016 reds and found the treatment had little impact on the wine aroma and colour. The treated wine had softened tannins and was less dry,” he said. Decanter, December 13
More Far East investment on the way
property but so far has not named a target producer or location. It plans to directly import wines from its eventual acquisition. Decanter, December 9
Tank attack at Lombardy estate
Vandals have drained tanks at the Conte Vistarino winery in Lombardy, destroying £420,000 worth of Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay from the 2016 vintage.
Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino, the countess who manages the winery, said the family had received no threats or warnings and had no idea who might be behind the sabotage.
“If you have no idea why, you don’t sleep at night,” she said. “The team is shaken, but we won’t let it stop us. We’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.” The Telegraph, December 11
Chinese whispers over château deal
One of China’s biggest online wine retailers has raised up to €10m to buy a Bordeaux château.
Jiuxian.com has put together a consortium of investors to purchase a
• Pierre Mansour has been named as new head of buying at The Wine Society, replacing Tim Sykes, who steps down from the role on March 20. Mansour has been with the society for 13 years, most recently with buying responsibility for Champagne and Spain. The Drinks Business, December 15
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THE WINE MERCHANT january 2017 10
THE WINE MERCHANT.
Reader survey 2017
Every January, The Wine Merchant asks its readers to participate in the most detailed survey of the UK independent wine trade. The results have helped us build up an unrivalled picture of what makes our sector tick and makes essential reading for merchants and suppliers alike. The survey should only take 10 minutes of your time and you can remain anonymous if you like. None of the results are ever attributed to respondents who do gives their names. This year our partner is Hatch Mansfield, a name that’s well known to independents. They’ve generously donated five cases of wines that we’ll send to five independent wine merchants selected at random who take part in the survey. The cases include a bottle each of Taittinger Folies de la Marquetterie NV; Louis Jadot Fleurie, Château des Jacques; Résonance Vineyard Pinot Noir; Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Chatellenie; Jean Luc Colombo Les Collines de Laure Blanc; Viña Real Reserve; Errazuriz ‘Single Vineyard’ Pinot Gris; Caliterra Edición ‘M’; Robert Oatley Finisterre Chardonnay; Esk Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec; Left Field Malbec; and Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc. Please visit www.winemerchantmag.com to take part. Thank you.
THE WINE MERCHANT JANUARY 2017 11
merchant profile: smith’s wines & SPIRITS
Cook it and they will come
Summer can be a tricky time, even for idiosyncratic merchants like Iain Smith. His solution was a midweek restaurant in his Devon shop, where he does all the cooking
and guests have no say in what they eat. It solved the summer problem; now he’s tackling the thorny issue of the Brexit pricing fall-out …
If you’re looking for an example of a wine shop that truly reflects the personality of its owner then Smith’s of Exeter might be the perfect place. There’s the name for starters, but there’s also a no-nonsense approach to business that becomes clear from a short time spent in owner Iain Smith’s company.
There are no staff, so customers get the boss or nothing, save for a few rare times when he ropes someone in to cover for his absence.
There’s no wholesale business or e-commerce, for no other reason than that Smith doesn’t much care for them.
Three nights a week, Smith cooks dinner in the shop for anyone that wants it, comprising a main course and cheese, with starters and puddings only if time and inclination allow.
His food ethos is worth checking out on the website, where
Masterchef and Bake Off get short shrift. It goes on to state: “There is no choice. The food will NOT be vegetarian. The food will NOT be fat-free. Although we have sympathy for customers with dietary issues, they are not catered for here. What we cook is what you get.” You catch the drift.
Smith turned his back on a career with Majestic to open Smith’s, in the well-heeled St Leonards area of the city, in 2011.
“After a couple of years at Majestic I felt I had to make a decision,” he says. “Do I stay and get my head down and try to climb the corporate ladder and use the money I had stashed to buy a house? Or do I put it into a business? I felt that for my soul I needed to get out of Majestic.”
The Smith’s retailing formula is simple. “You’ll notice there is nothing in here to say where the countries are,” he says. “I just put red on that side and white on that side. I’m a bloke; I keep things simple.”
This isn’t a place to go to read about wine on shelf edges or luggage labels either. It’s all about one-to-one interaction.
“Part of my role here is of ear/shoulder to customers. I have a dear friend who thinks I should have a psychiatrist’s couch.”
The store was “shunned like a rattlesnake” when it was a bakery chain
There are some big, big houses just down the road. Are you in the heart of the money as far as Exeter goes? Sort of. There are two places in Exeter where the money is: St Leonards is one of them and Pennsylvania is another one. Some of Pennsylvania has now become soulless housing estates for the middle classes – or those who purport to be middle class.
On the other side of the road from here, there are amazing, beautiful big houses, attached to or overlooking the university. Historically a lot of the professors, people working at the university, have lived there. We’ve got the hospital at the top of the
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Smith was seduced by the Majestic salary before concluding he was “not that corporate man”
road and Southernhay which is where all the solicitors live. We’ve was a natural progression for me and I discovered Rioja. This is 33
got a private school behind us and another one up the road and a years ago and a nice bottle of Rioja was £5.
medical school as well, so a lot doctors and academics, and a lot of
judges and solicitors.
‘There is nothing to say
Is the value of the surrounding properties reflected in the rents on commercial property?
where the countries are.
Yes and no. I got in here at a good time. Rent wise, five or six six years ago, we were right in the trough.
I just put red on that side
I was looking for a shop on this road for two-and-a-
and white on that side. I’m ahalf years before I found one. This historically was a
Threshers. I went for this premises but the landlord
bloke; I keep things simple’had put a Greggs-type bakery [a branch of Cornwall’s
WC Rowe] in, fully knowing that the good people
of St Leonards are supportive of their independent street and
anything vaguely commercial will be shunned like a rattlesnake. At what point did you decide to open your own shop?
The locals didn’t use the bakery and business at the other [nearby I’d been with Majestic for four-and-a-half years and it was just so
independent] bakery improved so it only lasted about a year. So
seductive. I joined when I was 44 to learn about wine with a view
then I got in.
to climbing the ladder there. I liked the idea of being a [wholesale]
BDM but then after being there for a year or so I became aware
Where was the interest in wine sparked?
that was probably not going to be that much fun.
My interest in wine started in my early twenties. I just enjoyed
a drink I suppose, and then a bottle of wine with a Sunday roast
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merchant profile: smith’s wines & SPIRITS
As a DJ Smith was known as Iain Lazy. “There’s a clue in the name”
utopian vision of sitting in an armchair at the back of my shop and people coming in for a natter and buying a few bottles of wine – and that was kind of what happened. Things changed when I moved from my first shop 10 doors down the road. That was tiny, my office was in the storeroom and that first Christmas … I wanted to scream, there were boxes everywhere, and I thought, god, if I want to grow the business it’s not going to happen out of here.
After Christmas, Rowe’s closed and I moved in without having to pay for the lease. I pay £18,000 a year for the whole building, not just the shop. There’s a two-bedroom maisonette upstairs with a separate entrance and I get about £700 a month from that.
I’m still paying about £8,000 a year for this but I don’t get any small business relief because of the size of the property, which is absolutely ridiculous. Surely small business relief should relate to the turnover and the amount of employees rather than the size of the property? I sell big things, I need lots of storage space.
From page 13
I realised I enjoyed working with the public more and so my future lay in that direction. I’ve always worked for myself and joining Majestic was the first job I’d ever got through an interview. Going to the same place to do the same thing day in, day out I struggled with for a little while. Then I became seduced by money being in my bank account on a regular basis.
But I soon realised I was quite different to other employees at Majestic. I am not that corporate man.
Why did it take you so long to reach the wine industry? Before I joined Majestic, I owned a cocktail bar and a nightclub which I ran for four years. Before that, for 18 years I made a living playing records and putting on club nights. I travelled around Europe playing records in nightclubs for other people’s girlfriends to dance to.
Why did you knock all that on the head? I really was sick to the back teeth of entertaining the people of Exeter. The council is so anti-progress in any shape or form – I don’t think it’s just Exeter, to be honest with you. I see what’s going on up in London at the moment, nightclubs closing left, right and centre because people are more willing to build housing everywhere.
What did you set out to create with Smith’s? My DJ name was Iain Lazy, so the clue is in the name. I had a
Do you have staff? Just me. You’re looking at all of my employees.
What happens when you go on holiday – or don’t you? I’ve got some lovely friends who help me out. The shop is closed Sunday and Monday and if I’m closing the shop for any amount of time and I can’t find cover for it then a poster goes in the window. I
try to make it as entertaining as possible: “Smith’s will not be open for a couple of days because Iain has gone on a jolly down to Limoux to buy some wine for you lucky people.”
Your website is quite entertaining. You make a point of saying “you will not find a price list on this website” in big letters. Because I don’t sell online.
Have you tried e-commerce? I don’t like it. It’s anti-marketing. I spent so much of my previous life promoting club nights that were very different but up in Bristol within a year of starting to be successful there were five other nights trying to do the same. You could either get upset by it or ignore it and focus on what you do, and just try to do the best you can. And that’s what I do. I don’t care how other people are doing things. This is how I run my business and I know it’s different to everyone else.
Tell us more about your dinners. As a wine shop it was ticking along nicely but it wasn’t moving forward fast enough for me, so one quiet summer – because in
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August and September it goes dead here – I thought: “I’ll build a table and start cooking food”. I put a cooker out the back and started making supper every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The original concept was to offer people who live locally the opportunity to come and have a nice plate of food and a glass of wine and spend less than £15. That’s it. I’d never done this before – I had no fucking idea what I was doing.
For the most part it sells out. I match three different wines at different price points with the food I’ve cooked. The main course is £12 then they’ve got a choice of wine: a glass of the least expensive one is £2.50, a glass of the next wine up is £5 and the next starts at £7.50 a glass. The way it works wine-wise is if it’s on the shelf for £10 it’s £2.50 a glass. If it’s on the shelf between £10 and £20 it’s £5 a glass and if it’s over £20 a bottle on the shelf it’s at least £7.50 a glass.
If I’ve got a line that’s not moving as fast as I’d like I can cook a dish that works well with that and move it through the dinners.
It also changes the GP hugely. I think if you ask anyone outside London running their own business, they are probably working on 35% so if it’s on the shelf at, let’s say, £7.50 and it becomes the least expensive wine for the suppers then you’re getting five glasses out of that so you’re turning a £7.50 bottle of wine into a £12.50 bottle of wine.
On your website you very firmly state that you are a wine shop, not a restaurant. Can people come in on other nights and have wine by the glass? No, no. I do the cooking because I like it. I guess there’s an element of – this is where the similarity is between what I do here and my life as a DJ – that selfish pleasure of feeling responsible for other people’s good times. That’s what I got from playing records. Because I do the cooking, the serving, the pouring, everything – the bloody washing up as well – I have a connection with the diners that most chefs don’t have. It makes me feel good about myself. When they leave, everyone’s had a good time. I really like working by myself. I hate being let down.
Does your range reflect that your customers are well-off locals? It looks fairly French-heavy. It comes and goes. A good half of the bottom shelf is Italy. I love Italian wines, I love the madness of them. From the heat of Puglia right up to the lovely cold Alto Adige and the spectrum of wine you get right the way through.
I work with a lot of different suppliers – over 20. The range has come about from what I like rather than trying to follow my
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‘I will try the wine without 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’
“Nobody needs what we sell. Everyone can live on water, so fundamentally what we are selling here is pleasure”
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