The Wine Merchant issue 56

 

Embed or link this publication

Description

The Wine Merchant issue 56

Popular Pages


p. 1

THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 56, March 2017 This month’s guest editor: Biffy Sprinkles THIS MONTH Rosamund Hall and Paul Burgess celebrate getting the keys to their new “neighbourhood enoteca” in a railway arch in Forest Hill. More details on page 4. Sales still on the up but confidence takes a hit Independent wine merchants saw their takings leap by 14.1% last year. The sector is now worth almost £527m, with businesses turning over, on average, £873,829. That figure equates to £642,584 per shop. The findings come from The Wine Merchant’s fifth annual reader survey, which involved 158 of the UK’s 603 specialist independent wine retailers, who between them operate 820 stores. But the study also reveals a marked drop in confidence levels for the year ahead as merchants fret about the impact of Brexit. Just under 70% remain positive about increasing their trade in the coming 12 months, but this contrasts with 81% last year and 89% in 2015. About 9% are pessimistic about their prospects in 2017, compared with the 2% or 3% normally registered in the survey. Margins are holding up, with little change on previous years. Shop margins average 33.6%, a tiny dip on 2016. Wholesale margins rose by a single percentage point to 20.9% and online margins were steady at 31.2%. Average transaction values have risen by more than a pound to £44.93, with merchants reporting that their average bottle price is £11.62. • Analysis pages 22-27, with more in April. 2 BACCHUS The benefits of book clubs and steak nights 4 comings & GOINGS The shop born in a barn but moving to a bull pen 8 tried & TESTED Wines from an anarchist and the snowfields of Oz 12 DRINKMONGER Under the bonnet of the Royal Mile Whiskies sibling 28 david williams Retail technology may have some positive spin-offs 34 focus on english wines Merchants make a success of our domestic product 48 Pinot noir nz 2017 Our man in the field reports back from Wellington 50 MAKE A DATE More reasons to put up the “closed” sign and head for London town 52 supplier Bulletin Essential updates from agents and suppliers

[close]

p. 2

BACCHUS b Blanc canvas for Aged in Oak duo A stressful period for Alex Buxton and Emma Bailie – which started when they unearthed a covenant that prohibited alcohol sales from their Lancashire shop – looks like it’s heading for a happier conclusion. The couple, who spent four years building up their Aged in Oak business in Garstang, were forced to close the premises before Christmas when they discovered the clause in the deeds. Since then they have opened a wine bar in Bramhall, Greater Manchester, trading as Blanc de Blancs – and are preparing to launch a new Aged in Oak store in Poulton-le-Fylde. The covenant emerged when Buxton and Bailie were exploring the possibility of buying their Garstang shop from their landlord. Rather than invest further in a site that could be the subject of a legal challenge, the couple attempted to find alternative units in the village but without success. Blanc de Blancs, which was already in the planning stage, was launched but is part of a separate business owned by Buxton and Bailie. “We wanted a brand that was not as rustic as Aged in Oak as we were moving into more of a suburb of Manchester city,” says Buxton, who fitted out the premises himself. “It’s industrial and edgy but softened – it’s a classier brand, and we’ve built off everything we’ve learnt. We’re happy with it. We’re trying to push the envelope as to what a wine establishment can be.” Planning consent for the Bramhall site required an element of retail. Wines for take-home sale are displayed at the front of the premises, which also features a bar, seating and a DJ station. The new Aged in Oak, which will be managed by Adam Bellaby, will start off with a wine bar focus until cash flow allows investment in a full retail range. Poulton is a larger and more affluent Alex Buxton: bruised but bouncing back town than Garstang, with a train station. “We’re on a road which is the sort of foodie-drinky place to go out in, and it’s the only place that has an outdoor bit, so that will be a bit of a USP for it,” says Buxton. Some of the fittings from Garstang, including the apple crate shelves, will be retained. “All the brickwork I did with my dad – I just knocked that down and in the new place the bar will be made out of brick, so I’ll just knock off all the mortar, clean them up and re-lay them,” Buxton says. So is future expansion likely to come in the form of Blanc de Blancs or Aged in Oak? “We’d have a look at both,” says Buxton. “We also own the name Blanc de Noirs, which would be more of an on-trade thing – it feels like a night time name.” Events of recent months, including some issues involving staff and contractors, have left Buxton and Bailie feeling “bruised”. “But we’re bloody-minded beasts and we have passion for what we do, and we get there in the end.” Toscanaccio turns over a new page A Winchester independent is gaining extra customers through a book club which meets in the shop on Thursday nights. Cat Brandwood at Toscanaccio says the idea came from a customer and the pair now run the club together. Book Club & Booze is publicised through the shop’s website and social media and has a Twitter feed of its own. “We find we get slightly different customers from the places we both advertise it,” says Brandwood. “It’s quite a diverse mix.” The club gets through a book a month and has just finished its 14th tome. “Some book clubs never get around to discussing books,” she adds. “We’re quite strict on that. We don’t want people to attend something that’s falsely advertised. It’s not just an excuse to get everyone in and drinking and we don’t want to exclude people who don’t drink either. “We sometimes get about 15 people, which is quite big, and we have started to THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 2

[close]

p. 3

worry we might have to split into smaller groups if it gets much bigger. Generally we sit at around 10 to 12.” Participants buy their own wine by the glass and there is no fee to join. “We don’t make a huge amount of money off the event but several of those customers have become real customers – they now come to the shop or to wine tastings. It’s very much a PR exercise and trying to make sure we’re very active within the community.” Toscannacio also hosts monthly board game nights on Fridays. “That tends to attract a very young crowd, a lot of the 19 to 25 age group, who for a wine merchant can be quite hard to attract. It’s really good fun and has a very nice feel to it.” Vineking steaks its claim as an eaterie The Vineking’s pop-up restaurant events, which initially started in the Weybridge store about four years ago, never fail to sell out. “It has expanded terrifically,” says wine adviser David Waine. “Since we acquired the shop in Molesey, we are doing pretty much two a month in each of the three shops.” The impressive menus are prepared by 2-Michelin starred chef Max McKenzie. Some of the evenings are themed, the most popular being Feather & Leather – “a celebration of Malbec from south west France, served with duck, and Argentinian Malbec with Argentian steak” – and Barolo & Truffle. A menu might also focus on the northern Rhône versus the southern Rhône, or be a four-course dinner with a six-glass wine flight to go with it. “As well as being an enjoyable experience for the diners it’s also an opportunity to talk to them about the wines they’re drinking and where they come from,” says Waine. “Any of the wines they taste can be ordered and we offer them a 20% discount on any purchases and orders they place on the night.” Thankfully, Michelin-starred cooking does not mean investing in a swanky kitchen. McKenzie preps the food off-site and brings his hotplates, along with at least one extra member of staff to help serve. The Vineking provides someone from its team to talk the diners through the wine choices. Private bookings for large groups are possible. “If somebody would like us to be involved in promoting a food and wine event we’re always happy to try and make that work as best we can,” adds Waine. Flying Füchs “Our Man with the Facts” • Castilla-La Mancha produces around half of all wine made in Spain, despite its harsh climatic conditions. There is a local saying that the region endures “nine months of winter and three months of hell”. • The name Franciacorta is a corruption of the mediaeval Francae Curtes, which translates as “village free of taxes” – a reference to its privileged status in those times. • The ancient Greek writer Herodotus, who died in 425 BC, wrote about the drinking habits of the Persians. Their custom was to reconsider any decision taken while drunk once they had sobered up. But he also notes that any decisions taken while sober had to be reconsidered when drunk. © Galina Barskaya / stockadobe.com Food is prepared off-site and finished on hotplates THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 3 • Christopher Merret, an acquaintance of Samuel Pepys who is credited with being a pioneer of sparkling wine production, ended his career in disgrace after being accused of stealing property from the Royal College of Physicians following the Great Fire of London.

[close]

p. 4

Duo create enoteca in Forest Gate Two former Jeroboams managers have opened their own wine shop and bar in east London. Burgess & Hall takes its name from owners Paul and Rosamund and is housed in a railway arch in a residential close near Forest Gate station. The pair have been trading under the Burgess & Hall name for two years since leaving Jeroboams, running wine pop-ups and events and selling case selections to private and corporate clients. “It got to the point of deciding what to do next and we really wanted a space, so it was just a logical step to take,” says Hall. “We both really missed hand-selling bottles of wine and how much fun that is. We had a really nice customer base through events but the day-to-day physical sense of selling wine is very different.” Hall says the blueprint was to create a “neighbourhood enoteca”. She adds: “We’re a bit more off the beaten track and one of the benefits is that the rents are more affordable. “It’s very informal and friendly but with delicious wines, concentrating on small independent producers who use sustainable viticulture.” The 350-plus range is drawn from smaller shippers including Indigo, Les Caves de Pyrene, Swig and Dynamic Vines, with everything available to drink in for a flat £6 corkage. “The idea is for it to be somewhere people can enjoy wines and get to know more about them. When you’ve got a lot of stuff for people to try it’s wonderful to be able break down the barriers about what people do or don’t like. “We want to be a long-term sustainable addition to the neighbourhood and get people back to the idea of using their local Customers can drink on the premises for a £6 corkage fee wine merchant.” Burgess & Hall is next door to the craft beer shop, bar, cinema and performance space The Wanstead Tap. When I’m 64 … I’ll close my York shop Jim Helsby, owner of York Beer & Wine Shop, has certainly earned his retirement. “I’ve been here exactly half my life,” he says. “I was 32 when I started and I’m 64 soon.” Originally known as York Beer Shop, the business opened in 1985 in partnership with Eric Boyd, who retired in 2004. In the early days Helsby says “there was hardly anybody taking beer really seriously – there were probably about a dozen shops nationally, something like that, and now of course they are all over the place. “We started off being a big fish in – well, I was going to say a small pond, but there wasn’t really a pond, it was more of a THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 4 puddle, and now we’re a very small fish in a very large sea. Everything has changed in the last 30 years.” Still hale and hearty, Helsby will be throwing himself into what he describes as his “little wine sideline”. The mail order business he runs with his “old buddy” Terry Herbert, aptly called The Wine Club, will most likely gain a few more members with the closure of his shop. “Over the last few days there have been some distraught customers coming in asking ‘what am I going to do?’ and I say ‘well, you could give me your email address and join our mailing list’ and quite a few of them have signed up for that.” The majority of The Wine Club list is imported direct, although Helsby hopes he will continue his relationship with Boutinot. Helsby says he’ll be taking the time to do a bit of travelling and will most definitely “remain in touch with the beer side of the industry as an enthusiastic consumer”. The shop is likely to be converted to residential use.

[close]

p. 5

Adeline Mangevine Born in a barn but moving to a bull pen Staffordshire’s Wolesley Wine Loft is moving into a new building on the same site as its existing shop. Owner Charlotte Eglington says pressure on space has led to it moving out of its first floor loft in a 17th century timbered barn into a rebuilt bull pen and dovecote at Wolesley Bridge to the east of Stafford. “We were becoming restricted in terms of expansion,” she explains. “There were weight restrictions that limited stock, plus the layout made it difficult to host tasting events – it has bags of charm and it got us started, but it was not really practical.” The shop’s new home was previously in pieces on the landlord’s farm. “The entire site is built on his passion for saving and reconstructing often listed buildings,” Eglington says. The bull pen and dovecote were in poor condition when they were salvaged from the local manor house in 1989. The dovecote was restored and the bull pen dismantled and stored on the farm until an opportunity to rebuild it came about. “We offered that opportunity and work started last spring,” says Eglington, who says the response from customers has been “very positive”. The shop plans to expand its list following the move. “The weight of stock is no longer an issue and we can fully stock shelves,” Eglington adds. “We have more floor space to allow for flow and a great space to host intimate tastings and events. “We also now have a licence for consumption on the premises and will be offering a limited range of wines by the glass, and craft beers by the bottle, to capitalise on evening visitors from a nearby Indian restaurant.” Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing I’ve been invited to talk to the local college of further education about a career in the wine trade. At first I up. “What skills do you need for wine retail?” “It helps to like wine!” No one laughs. laugh. Flogging booze seen as a “career”? “Psychology is a useful skill. It’s a fine Then I feel flattered to be seen as role balance of giving customers what they model until the event organiser lets slip want to drink and what you want them that they asked me in slight desperation, to buy. No wine should sit on the shelf having been turned down by an MW, a for too long. Learning how to budget wine agency buyer, a wine writer and is vital, such as having the courage to two sommeliers. Cheers everyone. decimate your margins with deals in So, with very bridled enthusiasm, I order to boost your cashflow. rock up to a half-empty lecture theatre. The session format is audience Q&A Listen with questions planted by the college to “encourage student engagement”. I wonder if only those with pre-prepared and learn, students, questions have bothered to turn up. The Head of Catering and Service Industries gives me a glowing and you too could have a introduction, while lying shamelessly about how she is always in my shop. Then realising she has made glittering wine trade career herself sound like a lush to young, impressionable students, she starts “Formal WSET qualifications are backtracking, talking about how she important, obviously, so you can list only visits when she has dinner parties. I all the fruit characteristics of a wine to could butt in and tell the truth. But I am customers. This always helps a sale.” enjoying the moment too much. A hand right at the back: “How much A hand shoots up. “Why did you choose travel is involved in your job?” a career in wine?” Good question! I’m “Oh, lots,” I reply. “You’ll be in London still not 100% sure myself. “Erm … well several times a week for tastings and for … firstly, I don’t see it as a career – more the odd posh lunch – definitely one of the a vocation. Long and unsociable hours, perks of the job.” the pay isn’t great, and you have to like Then, gasp, an unscripted question dealing with people,” I waffle. from a young man: “So, what you’re “But really, I didn’t choose it as a career. really saying is that you are in wine retail It chose me! The only place to accept me because you couldn’t work out what you on a training course after university was really wanted to do with your life?” a national chain of wine shops. I thought “Well, I suppose so,” I say. this would do until I found out what I No point in gilding the lily. really wanted to do with my life – and “Got any internships?” he here I am, 20 years later with my own asks. wine retail enterprise.” Another hand goes THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 5

[close]

p. 6

El Vino’s new store taps into tapas Despite the recent doom-mongering tales from the City regarding the death of the lunch hour, business at El Vino’s Fleet Street, Blackfriars and Cannon Street locations has been successful enough to warrant a fourth branch. The new wine bar and shop opened in Mason’s Avenue EC2 at the end of February. Davy’s Wine Merchants purchased the El Vino business in 2015. Chief executive James Davy says: “It’s a very traditional City, wood-panelled type feel in the original El Vino’s, but this is a chance to take the brand forward. “The new one will have a part-panelled front as a shop window and the rest will obviously be a bar/restaurant.” Davy’s runs 24 wine bars in London and the business has seen a substantial drop in lunchtime alcohol consumption. “Our business has changed from being 80% lunchtime in the 80s and early 90s to probably 60% evening,” Davy says. “It’s not that we’re not busy at lunch – it’s the volume of alcohol that affects the spend.” While he recognises the inevitability of some businesses cracking down on liquid lunches, he is confident that the new puritanism won’t affect everyone. “Fortunately, for people like us, the insurance market is very relationshipbased, it’s very face-to-face and a lot of that is in bars and restaurants in their area,” he says. El Vino is emphasising its tapas offering. “Do I think there’s room for a retail/bar hybrid? Absolutely. That’s what other younger wine shops are doing to create more of a deli-type feel. I think that has legs. I think that leaning towards a tapasstyle business complementary to the shop has legs as well,” Davy says. The Mason’s Avenue site is a former Corney & Barrow wine bar. Davy’s has “taken the fixtures and fittings and added a touch of flavour” to the 3,000 sq ft premises. El Vino’s retail sales amount to “about 20% of the turnover” and Davy is hoping that the new shop will match that. “With Mason’s Avenue it will be interesting to see how the customers perceive the offer and use it,” he says. Davy says around 20% of El Vino turnover comes from retail sales THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 6 Wine consultant Raul Diaz runs the tastings McKeown opens first branch of Oak Oak N4 is the latest independent to join London’s burgeoning hybrid wine shop scene. The business has been set up by Cameron McKeown in a former clothes store in Finsbury Park, with The Sunday Brunch presenter Raul Diaz helping out on events. McKeown has entered the wine trade after spells working in coffee and gambling, during which he applied himself to WSET studies. He is handling all buying for the 150-strong wine range himself and offering 30 wines by the glass along with small plates of food. “There’s no particular speciality in the range,” says McKeown. “We have wines from all over the world; just a broad range you don’t particularly see on the high street. “We get people to push themselves a little bit, so it’s not just the standard grape varieties.” Jascots, Indigo, Liberty, Moreno, New Generation McKinley and Walker & Wodehouse are among Oak N4’s suppliers. The shop is close to the City North development – comprising 355 apartments, offices, retail and leisure – which is due for completion in 2020.

[close]

p. 7

THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 7

[close]

p. 8

tried & Tested Juve y Camps Reserva Essential Xarel-lo 2013 The fact it’s made entirely from Xarel-lo, without the support of Macabeu and Parellada, provides an instant talking point – but this is no mere gimmick. There’s an obscure dusky sweetness at first, conjuring some mythical exotic fruit, but this yields right of way to a dry, mineral finish. Weird and wonderful. RRP: £17.99 ABV: 12% Ehrmanns (020 3227 0700) ehrmanns.co.uk Cedro do Noval Douro 2010 Syrah seems to do well enough on the schist of the northern Rhône, so why not in the Douro? Here it joins Tourigas Nacional, Franca and Roriz in a luxurious blend that’s full of violets and warm port-like notes. But there’s also an earthy dimension and a invigorating freshness that helps fight the urge to find a friendly sofa and take the rest of the day off. RRP: £18.50 ABV: 14% Gonzalez Byass (01707 274790) gonzalezbyassuk.com Dominio del Bendito Las Sabias Gold 2013 An uncompromising Toro that you need to meet on its own terms. Its firm grip won’t appeal to everyone, but after the initial shock you encounter a rich, complex wine with a surprising elegance. It’s crafted from ungrafted Tinta de Toro vines by Antony Terryn, who suggests it’s a wine aimed at experienced tasters. RRP: £26.50 ABV: 15% New Generation McKinley (020 7928 7300) newgenwines.com Buitenverwachting Christine 2011 The best Bordeaux blends don’t try too hard to be facsimiles of the wines that inspired them. This is a recognisably South African affair; cool and smooth with a nice fruit depth. Cabernet Franc’s contribution has recently been upped from 10% to 45% of the blend, integrating seamlessly with new French oak. RRP: £19.99 ABV: 14.5% Berkmann (020 7670 0972) berkmann.co.uk Escoda-Sanahuja La Llopetera 2014 Joan Ramon has been described as an “anarchist” but even the most straight-laced wine drinker will warm to his sulphite-free, unfiltered, wild-ferment fare, made at Conca de Barberá in Catalonia. This is 100% Pinot Nero, but not the wispy kind: it’s packed with herbs and spices and there’s a dark chocolate finish. RRP: £20.70 ABV: 12.5% Indigo Wine (020 7733 8391) indigowine.com Chakana Nuna Estate White Blend 2015 Tasting Chardonnay blended with Sauvignon Blanc can be a bit like listening to two songs at the same time, but here it works beautifully, thanks to the binding agent of Viognier, which accounts for a third of this organic Mendoza wine. A playful but nicely balanced quaffer with backbone, texture and freshness. RRP: £12.99 ABV: 13.5% Fells (01442 866592) fells.co.uk ILatium Morini Valpolicella 2015 Alliance presented this wine on the “bright and fruit driven” table at its London tasting and you can’t argue with that categorisation. This Veneto winemaking family once sold its grapes to the local co-op but now takes pride in its own labels. This example is seriously juicy and bursting with dense red fruit flavours, with soft tannins bringing up the rear. RRP: £11.49 ABV: 13% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com Philip Shaw The Wirewalker Orange Pinot Noir 2015 The Koomooloo vineyard is one of the highest in Australia and gets snow in winter – details that ring true when you clock the paleness of this wine and take a tentative sip of what seems at first rather dilute. Yet there’s just enough body and fruit to make it work, and a smooth consistency that adds a certain class. RRP: £15.50 ABV: 12.8% ABS Wine Agencies (01780 755810) abswineagencies.co.uk THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 8

[close]

p. 9



[close]

p. 10

bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Daniele Longhi Wig & Mitre Wine Shop Lincoln Favourite wine on my list Le Ferme du Mont “Jugunda” Gigondas. Made from 60-year-old vines, it is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. It is exactly what you would expect from a southern Rhône blend: powerful, with ripe tannins and a great balance of fruit and spices. It is affordable and I could drink it forever! Favourite wine and food match Well, being Italian, for me there is nothing better than a pork shank, served with polenta and a nice glass of Barbaresco on the side. Favourite wine trip The next one! I hope one day to be able to take a long trip around France. I think France is a must for anyone involved in wine. Favourite wine trade person As well as Ian [Hingley, manager], who guided me through the wine world when I was learning, I’d like to mention Toby Hope of Hope Wines who is always supportive and also provides most of the wines on our wine list in the pub. At last, a wine glass that fits your face Magpie Designer James Piatt has launched “the world’s first wine glass contoured to fit your face”, via a Kickstarter campaign. Appearing sinisterly similar to a gas mask, the glass reportedly increases the perceptibility of aromas and flavours. If successful, Piatt will sell the clear glasses at $25 a pop in June, with a blue version costing $30. Each glass can hold up to 266ml of wine. The Drinks Business, February 9 region and its wines. Located on the north island, east of Wellington, the Wairarapa Valley comprises the Martinborough GI, Gladstone GI and Masterton, regions connected by the Ruamahanga river. The most planted varieties across all three regions are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, with smaller plantings of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Syrah. The Drinks Business, February 13 Joint venture at former Fetzer site Also available in blue, for some reason Reboot for Kiwi producers Winemakers in New Zealand’s Wairarapa Valley, which includes the boutique Pinot Noir heartland of Martinborough, have collectively rebranded as Wellington Wine Country in an effort to better communicate the Fetzer’s original vineyard site in California has been bought by a cannabis producer. The 80-acre ranch in Mendocino County was the site of Fetzer’s first commercial vintage in 1968. Cannabis becomes legal in California in 2018. Decanter, January 24 • Asda has launched ProGrigio, a sparkling blend of Prosecco and Pinot Grigio that retails for £5 a bottle. Jane Hunt, who chairs the Decanter World Wine Awards Italian regional panel, said: “I can’t think of anything worse or more pointless.” Decanter, February 17 winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 Favourite wine shop Although I’ve only been there once, I really liked the atmosphere at the Ann et Vin shop in Newark on Trent. It’s spaceous and has a very good selection. winemerchantteam@gmail.com Twitter: @WineMerchantMag The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 822 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 2017 THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 10

[close]

p. 11

THE WINEMAKER FILES Susana Balbo, Susana Balbo Wines One of the most respected wine producers in Argentina, Susana has experienced highs and lows in her career, often mirroring the economic and political fortunes of her country. She now combines running her family business with her work as an MP I started 35 years ago. I was the first female winemaker from Argentina. I was working in Cafayate. It was a very small town, isolated in the middle of the mountains, with bad communications. When I wanted to call my mother or father in Mendoza I had eight hours to wait. It was a very primitive place. Every time we needed an engineer to fix something we had to wait maybe eight hours to make the phone call, then it was two days to get from Mendoza to Cafayate. That was annoying and very difficult but it meant I started learning how to fix things myself. I also got a wider view of the business, not just focusing on winemaking. The country was closed at that time. It was the last stage of the military government and the first stage of the democractic government. We needed to pay export taxes of 28%. Susana Balbo Signature Chardonnay 2015 RRP £20.50 “It’s a very cool climate site, one of the coolest in Mendoza, with calcareous soil which gives the minerality. It only spends six months in oak. It’s a classic grape: you can’t not have Chardonnay in your portfolio. People love it.” In the 1990s the country was open. We were able to import technology. I started my own project with the knowledge I’d gained in Cafayate. I failed. I struggled to get payment for my invoices so I sold up and worked for other wineries, travelling all over the world. I learned about many things that science was delivering to the wine industry. That knowledge wasn’t in Argentina yet. We improved the quality of our wines quickly. When I built my second winery I wondered if I should settle in California or Australia, both places I really liked. But I knew Argentina’s wine country much better and I have more freedom about the varieties to plant. We have many, many different microclimates because of the influence of the huge mountains we’ve got. And we have a lot of different soils, from very sandy ones to calcareous ones. We are still discovering new things. Ten years ago nobody was thinking about creating a vineyard above 1,100m. Today we have vineyards in Mendoza at 1,500m and my son José is trying at 2,000m. It’s very extreme. The UK was my first export market. My first trip here was in 1990 at the London Wine Fair and that opened my eyes to wines from different countries in the world. I understood what you had to do to be successful here. It’s been a great experience working Tinhyeofuirrsmt jaorbkeotf.fIet’rsIognoetowf tahsetomwosotrskopinhiastwicianteedryi,natthAenwgoorvleds. PineoMplceLhaarveeneVxaplleo.rers’ Mpeyresoarnlaylidtaieyss: wtheeryehmavoeregliavbenoruastoarcyhaanndcequanaldittyacsotendtrooulrbwutinI egso.tFtohuerwyienaersbauggoa,nydour wmeanrtketot wRoassetwheorfitrhsyt Coonleletgoeg. iIvceaamcehbanaccke ttoo AmnygBoavrerseilnF1e9rm76enatneddgTootrmroonrteesa,ntdhemfoirrset step iIntvooolkveidn.my new project, to create very high quality white wines from Argentina. Susana Balbo Signature Torrontes 2015 RRP £19.50 “It’s barrel-fermented and the most unique Torrontes I ever made. It was a very cold harvest. It spends four months on the lees in French oak barrels and has a very mineral, grapefruit flavour with some apricot. It’s very linear with good tension.” Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2015 RRP £19.50 “We want the vibrant crispness and citrus flavours of Sauvignon Blanc; the mouthfeel that we’ve achieved from barrel-fermenting the Torrontes; and we expect as the wine ages to get the honey notes and softness from the Semillon.” Feature sponsored by Susana Balbo Wines, imported in the UK by Las Bodegas www.lasbodegas.co.uk THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2016 11

[close]

p. 12

merchant profile: drinkmonger Neighbourhood Scotch Royal Mile Whiskies is as much an Edinburgh institution as Greyfriars Bobby and the military tattoo. Drinkmonger, its more wine-focused sibling, may not be on the same tourist trail – but it’s carved out a valuable niche with the locals When you run a perfectly successful whisky operation, diversifying into a stand-alone wine shop might seem like a risky development strategy. But add in a team with years of Oddbins experience, and a healthy local market that’s used to buying wine in independents and the equation starts to look a bit more approachable. Keir Sword has owned Royal Mile Whiskies for the past 20 years. It’s an award-winning whisky shop in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, very much on the tourist trail, though catering just as much to the locals as visitors. Drinkmonger was a way of broadening customer perceptions of what the business is about. “We were getting customers coming in who didn’t know that we had such a range of rums and gins as well, and that we sold a lot of other things apart from whisky,” Sword says. “We found that having whisky as part of our name was a wee bit of a barrier so we played round with various other ideas and we came up with the more generic name of Drinkmonger.” The Drinkmonger brand now has two outlets: the main branch in Edinburgh, just a short way from the city centre, and a second shop in Pitlochry, in Perthshire. The Edinburgh store is in the well-heeled residential area of Bruntsfield. “It is walking distance from the city centre, and there are a lot of students as the university is not far away,” says Sword. “There are a lot of flats and lots of people with first-time jobs who are walking to work. We’re in that area between the city centre and suburbia where you’ve got generally younger, single people rather than families. “People are picking up things for dinner on their way home rather than doing a weekly shop. It fits well with what we are. So, a lot of our sales are one or two bottles, rather than case sales.” The Edinburgh shop – where the interview took place – presents a fairly standard double-fronted face to the road, but this former Bang & Olufsen showroom pushes a long way back from the street, allowing plenty of space for a range of wall- and floor-mounted shelving all the way back to a glass-fronted fine wine and tasting area. The Edinburgh store was once a Bang & Olufsen showroom Drinkmonger is one of our favourite names for a wine shop. Did you kick around a few options? Yes, we had some really awful options actually. We wanted it to include Royal Mile Whiskies a bit so we came up with Other Drinks by Royal Mile Whiskies, things that were never going to work. THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 12

[close]

p. 13

Keir Sword: “A lot of us are involved in the wine buying. It’s a real team effort” There was a guy who used to work with me a long time ago who realise there was a bit of a gap. Oddbins in the 1990s had taken always said that he loved the word “monger” so it just got me thinking: drinkmonger, cheesemonger, ironmonger … it fits. We over and had a lot of really good shops in Edinburgh. A lot of us in the business really loved Oddbins and were sad to see the way were pretty pleased when we came up with that one. Someone it had gone. We tried to position ourselves where Oddbins would had already registered the domain name, but fortunately it was for have been if they hadn’t had two bad takeovers. We try and make sale. it more of a destination shop as well, so once we’ve got people through the door they will make an effort to come, even if they Does your whisky background inform your wine buying choices? A lot of us are involved in the wine buying. It’s a real ‘We tried to position team effort. When we put together our first range, I had been out of Oddbins for about 15 years and had ourselves where Oddbins nostalgic wines, so there was an element of things that I used to love. The managers’ input applies to more recent stuff, so there was a bit of nostalgia and some more up-todate knowledge and that has worked well. We sell wine from all over the world; there’s no particular would have been if they hadn’t had two bad takeovers’ core speciality that we’re trying to achieve. A lot of wine sold in supermarkets is overpriced and we really try to make sure that, with the wines we sell, whatever the price, you’re getting better live on the other side of Edinburgh. They’ll come in because of the range and the knowledge of the staff; people will make an effort to value for money than you’re getting in the supermarket. get here. What’s the average spend? Because of the spirit side of things it’s between £20 and £30. We do have all sorts coming in, not just students and young professionals. When we set up in Edinburgh we spent a lot of money on the refit of the shop. It’s quite a smart shop and we did Why did you go for two Drinkmongers? We figured the economies of scale would work better, buying for more than one shop, so we opened two shops within a few months Continues page 14 THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 2016 13

[close]

p. 14

merchant profile: drinkmonger The Bruntsfield store in Edinburgh “was always going to be very much a dive into wine” From page 13 of each other. Pitlochry was the first. As you walk in there’s a wine shop on your left and whiskies, beers and spirits on the right. There’s a real different feel to both areas. It was always going to be half whisky, half wine, whereas Bruntsfield was always going to be very much a dive into wine. For Drinkmonger, our aim was to turn over £500,000 a year. That is something we have achieved across the two Drinkmonger shops. In terms of paying staff and paying rent, we reckoned that was what we had to target. Do you see a difference in what wines sell in the two locations? The way it’s turned out is that there are some wines in Pitlochry that the locals love, but we don’t have the demand for down here. Probably 90% of the things we sell in Pitlochry, but there’s a lot of wines here that we don’t sell in Pitlochry. We try to make sure that what we choose from these suppliers isn’t everywhere. Pitlochry is much easier as there’s not so much competition, so it’s easier to have a different range up there. The past two or three years, we’ve found some smaller suppliers. Minimum orders from Liberty and Boutinot aren’t a problem because of the scale of the wines we take from them but with the smaller suppliers we’ve found, there’s a few who don’t really supply much in Scotland. We’re doing a lot with Las Bodegas at the moment. The wines that they come up with we are really impressed by. We buy from Roberson, Raymond Reynolds – who I think supply a lot of people up here – and Charles Taylor. They are our key smaller suppliers. Do you do much in the way of tasting events in-store? Yes, there’s a nice little area at the back of the store where we do formal tastings. There’s a good feel to them, with lots of enthusiastic people coming along. We do wine ones, spirit ones – we did an Armagnac one recently, which went pretty well. We’re always looking for new ideas, but we haven’t taken the wine club route. Who are you getting your wines from? Our two biggest suppliers are Boutinot and Liberty. We also deal with Bibendum. We’re very conscious of the fact that there are a lot of independents in Edinburgh and we try and buy differently. What about online? We put a lot of effort into setting up the website and a lot of thought went into it. Trying to get into the online web market is more challenging than spirits, there’s a lot more big competition THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 14

[close]

p. 15

we’re up against. It’s growing steadily. ‘From a whisky point of Do you maintain the same prices online as in- store? Yes. We always have with Royal Mile Whiskies. It means our shop prices are competitive. A lot of the people who were selling online initially were telling us that we needed to sell the whiskies at a cheaper view we have benefited from the fall in the pound, which is a short-term thing’ price online than we sell in the shop as there are no infrastructure costs. We were working out of the shop and it seemed unfair to not give the shop customers the same price as we were doing online. big price increases coming through now. There’s a lot of talk of price increases. Is that something you’re having to grapple with? Yes, it’s a complicated business. From a whisky point of view we have benefited from the fall in the pound, which is a short-term thing. But some other suppliers had to increase their prices quite quickly, and not at the ideal time of year. From a time point of view, when you get a mass batch of price increases, it’s a lot of work to change the system. There are a lot of Are you passing those increases on to customers? We’ve done what we can to get stock in so we can carry on with the old prices for as long as we can, but ultimately we will have to pass the increases on. We work on a set margin and we have to achieve that margin, so hopefully the consumers will understand. It’s not unique to wine; prices are going up across the board and unfortunately there’s not a huge amount of wine made in the UK, so … Drinkmonger works on a set margin so price increases have to be passed on THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2017 15

[close]

Comments

no comments yet