The Wine Merchant issue 57

 

Embed or link this publication

Description

The Wine Merchant issue 57

Popular Pages


p. 1

THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 57, April 2017 We reflect the quirks of the independent wine trade THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS Vagabond’s biggest store, and the education of Kelli Coxhead 4 comings & GOINGS Loki breaks down walls; Laithwaites grabs a prime site How many merchants offer a section on their shelves for volcanic wines? Master sommelier John Szabo’s book could make a case for considering the idea. Review on page 18. Direct importing plays a bigger role for indies 8 tried & TESTED The winemaker who uses jazz instead of batonnage 12 UNWINED IN TOOTING From pop-up roots to south London sensation 26 david williams The opposing sides of the wine trade’s Brexit brouhaha Independent merchants are increasingly open-minded about direct importing, according to this year’s Wine Merchant reader survey. Almost half of respondents plan to increase the amount of wine they source directly from producers in the coming year, with around a quarter expecting to buy at current levels. Just under 21% say they will continue to buy all their wines from UK suppliers. The survey finds that, although independents are broadly happy with the service they get from their suppliers, dissatisfaction has risen to its highest level – 12% – since the survey began. The survey sheds light on a range of niggles that independents have with suppliers, including a perception in some quarters that prices have increased beyond what might have been expected as a result of last year’s currency fluctuations. Yet nearly 6% of respondents say they plan to reduce or stop importing directly. One merchant reports being hit by a 27% currencydriven increase on wines ordered in early 2016 and paid for in the summer, at the same time as bond fees rose 9% and transport costs went up by 11%. He was left with thousands of bottles he was forced to sell at cost. “I do a lot less importing now – it’s a lot easier to use agencies,” he says. • Analysis: pages 20 to 25. 30 western australia Reporting back from our first ever long-haul reader trip 36 focus on GIN The boom based on botanical brainwaves 53 MAKE A DATE Look, not all of these tastings are in London! 56 supplier Bulletin Essential updates from agents and suppliers

[close]

p. 2

BACCHUS b Victoria is queen of Vagabond estate Vagabond has opened its fifth, and largest, branch – and is pressing on with expansion plans that will encompass an in-store winery and almost certainly its first site outside of London. The new branch, part of a swish office and leisure development near Victoria station, is three times as large as any existing Vagabond and is dominated by 14 By The Glass dispensing devices. “As far as we know that’s a UK best,” says Stephen Finch, who set up Vagabond in 2010. “Obviously the machines are fundamental to the Vagabond offer. It’s a big space here and what I didn’t want was one big room – I wanted to break it down to rooms within a room. “We also wanted to get away from having machines against the walls. By positioning them more centrally, with two sides to them, they become a sort of partition. That helps break up the space. People like the intimacy about the other Vagabonds and we’ve replicated that here.” The décor is dominated by wood that does a decent impression of being reclaimed. Customers can buy simple food to soak up the wine and everything that’s served on the premises can also be taken home by the bottle (at a £10 discount). Finch will wait and see how big a proportion retail sales will contribute, but estimates it will be around the 20% mark. Across the estate as a whole, 60% of turnover comes from on-premise sales with the remainder split between take-home and wholesale. He seems less enthused by wholesale than the other strands of the business: “It takes a long time to pay for itself, whereas something like this: you open it up and in a month or two it’s already profitable. I’d rather do more of these than wholesale.” Vagabond is also taking a prime spot in the new Battersea development, where an on-site winery will work with grapes bulked in from English vineyards the right terms and slotting them into the schedule because I don’t want to do too much at once. And then there’s something in Brighton that I’m interested in, just north of the Lanes. Brighton is the obvious first stop for us outside of London.” An economics graduate who worked for Deloitte for eight years, Finch talks frankly about his eventual exit from the business, admitting his passion may be better channelled into growing the company from zero to 15 sites than steering it forwards from that point. “I’ll stay with this for quite a long time,” he says. “There are other things I want to do so it’s probably not a lifelong thing. There are already private equity people Stephen Finch: current UK record holder of most wine dispensers in one room to produce a small range of still wines. “It’s still early days in terms of deciding who’s going to make the wine,” says Finch. “It’s not going to be me! If we produce something that’s a fraction as good as London Cru I’ll be happy.” Vagabond is also weighing up sites in north London and on the south coast. “We’ve got an offer on a place in Islington. There are a lot of things that I’m pursuing; it’s just a question of getting THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 2 who have expressed interest for when we’re bigger – at present we’re a bit too small. So that could be interesting because we might get to a point when I might not be the best person to be in charge.” But for now he’s happy where he is. “It is going well, fortunately. We’ve worked really hard at it and we have a great team now. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are. A lot of the right elements have come together.”

[close]

p. 3

Higher education for Somerset indie Almost a quarter of independents say they will offer some kind of education programme for their customers in the coming year, according to The Wine Merchant’s most recent survey. For Kelli Coxhead at The Wine Tasting Company in Winscombe, Somerset, this is hardly a new idea – she has been running her own brand of wine course ever since the shop opened. But she has decided to take things a step further by becoming an Approved Programme Provider for the WSET. It spells the end for Coxhead’s popular self-created courses, but she believes that offering a more structured and internationally recognised programme will be better for her retail and wholesale customers – and send out a strong marketing message. “Having done my Diploma I went and sat the APP course because I knew that was an avenue I’d like to go down,” she says. “It does take up time to get the accreditation: it’s not too taxing, but it is time consuming and obviously there is a financial implication to it. It’s just under £600 to join and go through the paperwork and administration. “It’s a four-day course in London and it’s quite intense. At the end of the fourth day you have your assessment and find out there and then whether you’ve passed. Quite a few people don’t pass and have to go back and re-sit.” To begin with Coxhead will be offering Level 1 and 2 courses at the nearby Railway Inn at Sandford, where she sometimes organises wine dinners. “Hopefully when we’ve got a good reputation we’ll go to Level 3,” she says. Coxhead’s fun-loving personality was part and parcel of the original courses. Although the WSET programme will be more rigorous, she maintains that “the personality will still come across, because I think that’s key and what makes you different from other people”. The new approach is a potentially useful revenue stream for the business but Coxhead says: “I have to be honest and say that money wasn’t the main motivation. I didn’t work out the money until afterwards. It’s going to be a lot of work to promote it and market it. “The cost is obviously the room hire, providing the lunch and the exam fees and course materials for each student.” Coxhead has long-term ambitions to sit the MW exams. “It’s something that I’d like to do but it’s not going to happen in the near future because I work too many hours and I don’t have the finances, so this is a step towards showing our professionalism to the outside world, I suppose. “We are a little wine shop in a village, and I’m not ashamed of that at all, but it’s nice to show that professionalism to our retail and wholesale customers. They don’t have to go elsewhere to take the courses.” Coxhead has long-term plans to try for the MW THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 3 Flying Füchs “Our Man with the Facts” • Algeria was the world’s leading exporter of wines in the 1950s, shipping volumes that exceeded the combined exports of France, Italy and Spain. The country’s vineyards boomed after the phylloxera crisis in Europe which led to vignerons emigrating en masse to the French colony. • On the Greek island of Santorini, vines are woven into circular basket shapes to protect them from wind damage. After several decades the vines become tangled and inefficient, and are pruned at surface level. The root systems on some vines are therefore hundreds of years old. • There is almost twice as much Chardonnay grown in Italy as Pinot Grigio. The country’s viticultural census, carried out most recently in 2010, quotes 19,700ha of Chardonnay and only 10,000ha of Pinot Grigio. • Kir, a blend of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur, takes its name from Canon Kir, a former mayor of Dijon and a hero of the Burgundian resistance movement during World War II.

[close]

p. 4

It’s the one with the cones outside Iconic wine shop goes on the market Wines Etc in Eccleshall, Staffordshire, is somewhat reluctantly up for sale. Due to personal circumstances, owner Ian Martin is “clearing the decks” and selling up. Established in 2003, the shop has been a popular addition to the high street and has a turnover of £320,000. Martin has built a loyal customer base and although he has help from several part-time staff he admits that he just “can’t give the business enough of my time”. He says Eccleshall is “quite an affluent area and it’s a good feeder town for rural Staffordshire”. The shop itself is a villagey chocolate box confection of exposed timbers, dating “probably” from the 1600s and quite a talking point. “I’ve been in Europe and people say, ‘I know that place,’ and they do know the building because it looks so iconic,” says Martin. The business has an asking price of £65,000. • Sam Owens, owner of Le Verre Gourmand UK, the drinks wholesaler behind the Thirsty retail banner, has bought out his ThirstyCambridge business partner Matthew Boucher to pave the way for the Thirsty brand to grow. Owens has said that a second site in Cambridge has been signed up and another branch will be opening in London this summer. Future plans include a fourth UK site and an overseas branch. Loki’s low-key expansion plan Phil Innes at Loki in Birmingham has grabbed the opportunity to double the size of his store. The Whisky Shop situated next door to Loki in the Great Western Arcade has been vacated, allowing Innes to knock through to make one large unit. The extra space will be welcome, not only to allow more room for the wine and gin tastings, but also for the extremely popular gin courses. “Last year we put 1,500 people through gin courses, so it’s a significant number,” says Innes. The wine list will extend a “tiny bit” but the majority of the new retail area will be dedicated to spirits and craft beers. “We’ve got a limited range at the moment and we’ve seen a massive growth in that area in the past year, but we didn’t have the space to facilitate it,” he says. “First and foremost, we are a wine merchant and I didn’t want to undermine our wine side to accommodate spirits and beer.” Innes says he is hoping building work will be complete by the middle of May. Laithwaites bags site in UK’s top location Laithwaites has opened a store in what is arguably the most prime site for a wine merchant in the whole of the UK. In August, research published by The Wine Merchant put West Bridgford, a suburb of Nottingham, at the top of a list of 19,500 locations ranked in order of attractiveness for a new wine shop. Laithwaites’ branch in Radcliffe Road is its first new store in four years and stocks some 300 wines and spirits. A spokeswoman says the business hopes it will be “the first of many” new branches. Crowdfunding for stores five and six The Humble Grape hopes to raise between £750,000 and £1m in its second crowdfunding campaign. The wine merchant/wine bar hybrid operator has branches in Fleet Street and THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 4

[close]

p. 5

Adeline Mangevine Battersea and is opening a third in north London this month. A fourth site in central London is scheduled to open in August. Founder James Dawson says the money will go towards opening its fifth and sixth branches as well as funding online activities and the company’s wine club. Towering ambition of new London shop The new Lechevalier Wine Shop in Tower Bridge Road, London will open in two stages. The retail area at the front of the shop is open for business ahead of the installation of the bar being created at the rear of the premises. Owners Christophe Lechevalier and business partner Klaus Kuhnke met at Borough Market some years ago when they were working at Borough Wines and Artisan Foods respectively. Lechevalier describes their new venture as a “simple concept,” selling wine, cheese, charcuterie and bread. The wine range is so far an eclectic mix from Spain, Italy, the USA, Germany, Austria and France, with a couple of wines from Serbia and an orange wine from Slovenia. The business is working with Les Caves de Pyrene, Indigo and OW Loeb – which provides the shop with the on-tap system. Lechevalier is also planning to work with a new supplier of French wines. “He has just started his business, and he is importing and promoting wines from very young winemakers, all in their 30s, and that will be an interesting way to develop my business, I think.” Once the bar area is complete with a seating area to accommodate five or six tables, Lechevalier is hoping the locals will be tempted to the store by the fresh produce on offer which will include Kuhnke’s freshly baked bread. Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing I’m getting fruit. And alcohol!” says the enthusiastic elderly gentleman, in an excited voice. He’s sniffing the we’re on Old World versus New World. Yes, the entire world of wine summed up in six bottles. contents of his glass with such gusto, This is the one where I get to prove some of it must’ve gone up his nose. But that my pupils’ pre-conceived ideas of he’s acting as if nothing has happened. We’re on week five of our Improve what wines they like and hate cannot be based purely on country alone. Your Wine Skills course, and he’s not got We blind taste an ethereal Pinot Noir any better. I know I am not the greatest from Mornington Peninsula versus a teacher of all time, but am I really that heifer from the Languedoc; a bone dry bad? Riesling from the Wachau against an off- I am blaming my customers for all this. After years of attrition from their Adding a touch unprompted and unoriginal suggestions of how I should grow the business (wine classes), I have finally given in and of class to my business with decided to take the plunge. It’s a good time to explore new revenue streams. The response is underwhelming. It’s the wine lessons that customers on the wrong day; £25 a session for supposedly six wines and some education is “a bit much”; it’s too many sessions (“can’t you wanted just roll them into one?”) Eventually, I manage to sign up six dry one from Marlborough; a Cabernet people, none of whom are any of the Merlot blend from Stellenbosch versus a customers who made the suggestion. But Super Tuscan. Hang the expense, I have a you knew that would happen, right? I sacrifice some magnificent floor point to make! On reflection, I might have been a bit displays at the back of the shop and forceful in making that point. The elderly splash out on a long table, some chairs and new tasting glasses. I also sacrifice gent starts to neck his tasting samples. The timid couple are whispering to each my usual Wednesday nights off. By week five, the group is now other rather than sharing their views with the group. And the new down to four and the potential divorcee is openly swiping on new revenue stream has her phone. Suddenly, she gets dwindled to a puddle. There’s up, grabs her stuff and leaves. the elderly gentleman, a timid couple in their early 30s, and a newly- I forgive her when she turns up for the final session with her “son’s divorced woman whose kids are at uni. friend”. Especially as the timid couple I think she was hoping to meet someone have dropped out. When I turn to the special at the course. Tough luck. elderly gent for the last time to ask what We’ve covered all the basics in earlier aromas he is getting, he duly shouts “fruit sessions: tasting; vinification; wine and and alcohol!” food matching, sparkling … and now In a way, I am going to miss this. THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 5

[close]

p. 6

field trip No more uncool Bulgaria A fresh start that’s paying dividends In Britain we remember the bottomshelf, workaday Bulgarian red wines of the 1980s with about as much affection as the Bulgarians themselves reserve for the communist regime of that time. An awful lot has changed, as even the briefest visit to last month’s Bulgarian wine tasting in London would have demonstrated. Despite a heritage that dates back 3,000 years, winemaking in Bulgaria – at least at a quality level – is essentially a modern affair, boosted initially by the liberalisation of the market in 1990 and then accession to the European Union in 2007. The basement of the Bulgarian Embassy was packed with young, outward-looking producers whose stories belong to the 21st century. Ivo Varbanov, the winemaker (and classical pianist) who convened the tasting, says: “In 1990 some of the old-style wineries – factories, in fact – were either purchased or closed. “Most of the wineries here started between 2004 and 2009 and after that they started planting,” he adds. “So it’s a fairly new thing, but it’s been very quick in its Militza Zikatanova of Villa Melnik, whose winery was built four years ago development.” Agronomists are being trained at the university at Plovdiv and young winemakers are travelling widely, enriching the pool of talent available to Bulgaria’s wineries. The London tasting featured a mixture of international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier, as well as indigenous favourites including Melnik and Mavrud. “There were some old vineyards but the problem was that the clonal selection wasn’t very good – the emphasis had been on quantity rather than quality,” explains Varbanov. “They were planted for everyday wines, not top-end wines.” Varbanov believes Bulgaria needs a mixture of both familiar varieties and local cultivars. “We are not going to be an indigenous variety country, I can guarantee that,” he says. “Percentage-wise those grapes are not the majority. We cannot be like Georgia.” Bulgaria offers good value for what it makes available to the UK, even though the lev is tied to the euro and prices have risen in line with sterling’s decline. Many independents are already seeing a decent return on their investment. TASTING HIGHLIGHTS Ivo Varbanov Chardonnay 2014 Fermented in 600-litre tonneaux, a rich, warm, Burgundy-style Chardonnay with spicy depth and exceptional length. Villa Melnik Melnik/Pinot Noir 2014 Melnik is a late-ripening, small-berried variety that contributes here to a fresh, simple, summery wine. Chateau Kolarovo Mavrud 2012 Twelve months in French oak adds texture to a juicy but light-bodied wine with pure fruit flavours and sour cherry notes. Eolis Estate Viognier 2014 This tiny estate specialises in reds with an impressive ripeness-to-freshness ratio. But this surprisingly linear Viognier, from a rainy vintage, was also a star, with distant peach and honey elements. THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 6 Thracian Legends Rosé 2015 A polished natural wine made with Merlot grapes, showing soft red fruit flavours and fresh acidity. Unexpected depth of character for a rosé. Orbelus Prima 2014 An organic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Melnik with a luxurious mouthfeel, gentle tannins, herbal hints and a peppery finish.

[close]

p. 7

THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 7

[close]

p. 8

tried & Tested Alpha Box & Dice Golden Mullet Fury Semillon/Viognier 2014 Moldova, where winemaker Justin Lane spent much of his career, apparently specialises in mullet haircuts and skin-contact wines. Working in Barossa and the Adelaide Hills, he’s created a warm, richly-flavoured blonde bombshell with honeyed, tropical elements and exotic spice, but a lovely mineral counterweight. RRP: £19 ABV: 13% Boutinot (0161 908 1300) boutinot.com Yalumba The Signature 2013 The spec sheet counsels against opening this Barossa brute for at least five years but after a thorough safety briefing we took the plunge – and it turned out the hard hats weren’t necessary after all. A minty, chocolate orange aroma with gentle wafts of tobacco and a palate with fresh, red cherry sourness combine to make an elegant, intelligent wine that leaves some gaps for food. RRP: £36.99 ABV: 14% Negociants UK (01582 797510) negociantsuk.com Mas d’en Compte Barrel Fermented White 2011 El Pais has described this quirky Priorat blend as the best white in Spain, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Dominated by Garnacha Blanca, with Picpoul, Macabeo and Pansa Blanca, it’s packed with rich flavours of pineapple, peach and apricot and has a rounded, buttery texture, underpinned by crisp acidity. RRP: £23.50 ABV: 13.5% Burridges of Arlington Street (01293 530151) burridgewine.com La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2007 Mellow, relaxed and seductive, this is what most Rioja lovers probably have in mind when they’re daydreaming on the Friday homeward commute. Dark fruit entwines with caramel, cherry and cedar elements in a silky-smooth delight that can’t fail to inspire happy thoughts, and potentially world peace. RRP: £45 ABV: 12.6% Armit Wines (020 7908 0626) armitwines.co.uk Domaine Tournon Landsborough Chardonnay 2013 This Chapoutier-owned estate in the Pyrenees Hills region of Victoria is noted for the mineral purity of its wines. This is a good advertisement for the project, with clean, vibrant fruit – perhaps a baked-apple sweetness, with distant hints of cinnamon. Hooray for whole-bunch pressing and French oak ageing. RRP: £24 ABV: 13.5% Mentzendorff (020 7840 3600) mentzendorff.co.uk Cara Nord Cellar Mineral Montsant 2014 One of several highlights on Boutinot’s “new wines” table, from a young winemaking team working with fruit from 40-year-old Carinena and Garnacha bush vines. Close your eyes and you can almost smell the hot rock and mountain herbs in a wine that lives up to its name, but has a red fruit seam running through it. RRP: £14-£15 ABV: 14% Boutinot (0161 908 1300) boutinot.com Erste + Neue Blauburgunder 2014 This co-operative in the Alto Adige can trace its history back to 1900 and represents the combined efforts of 550 or so growers. A candied nose and gentle cherry sweetness make a favourable first impression but as the wine sinks in, the structure, softness and faintly herbal hints add another layer of pleasure. RRP: £17.99 ABV: 13% New Generation McKinley (020 7928 7300) newgenwines.com Terroir Sonoro El Perseguidor Malbec 2013 Juan Ledesma says the Bio Bio Malbec vines he works with are possibly the oldest in the world. He vinfies the fruit in two ways: with jazz, and without. With this version, a speaker playing his own upbeat guitar tunes is submerged in the tank, which keeps the lees dancing for 12 months. The result is a mellow, polished affair. RRP: £21.63 ABV: 14% Enotria & Coe (0120 8961 4411) enotriacoe.com THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 8

[close]

p. 9



[close]

p. 10

bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Tim Watson The Grape to Glass Rhos-on-Sea Favourite wine on my list I’d have to crack open a Bogle Chardonnay from Clarksburg, California. Big, bold, butterscotch with layers of baked apple and peach notes. “Stand a spoon in it!” Favourite wine and food match I love to experiment all the time as the shop is based on food matching. I co-write food matching articles for the local press. Last week: a delicate lettuce-based soup with Villa Wolf Pinot Blanco. Tonight it’s Rene Jolly Cuvée Speciale Champagne with local sea bass. Happy Mondays! Favourite wine trip I had the pleasure of being guided around Château Lafite Rothschild when I was working at Majestic. Château Clerc Milon was a major highlight around the corner. Favourite wine trade person Apart from my late father-in-law, the great “Silver Fox” Graham Pash who sparked my initial interest, a little mention for Tim at Fells, Bryn at ABS, Emma at Alliance, Kevin at Enotria, Mark at Moreno and Alex at Hallgarten for getting me going. Favourite wine shop Mostly small independents who fly the flag in offering added-value service, diversity, expertise, value and just being awesome. Days off mostly consist of visits when we can, and holidays always have a day included to find like-minded wine enthusiasts. I Salut you. Champagne dips after Brexit vote Magpie Brexit has been blamed for a 14% fall in Champagne sales. Although the UK remains the region’s top export market by volume, sales fell by 8.7% in 2016 to 31.2m bottles. Value plunged 14% to £381m. The CIVC blamed the performance on the collapse of sterling since June’s Brexit vote and also cited a drop in discounted own-label Champagne in supermarkets as a reason for lower sales. “Aggressive discounting tactics are no longer effective to attract customers and boost the volume of Champagne sales,” the CIVC said. “This will please the Champenois, who have long sought to resist the lure of sales volume, with the risk that this poses for Champagne’s global market position.” Champagne Bureau director Françoise Peretti added: “Positive value is forever the defining objective for Champagne. Volume is nice but, for the good of Champagne, it must always take second place.” The Drinks Business, March 21 ‘No reason’ not to quote wine calories The European Union has given the wine industry a year to come up with a voluntary scheme to improve information about ingredients and nutrition on labels. Alcoholic drinks above 1.2% ABV have a special exemption from EU food labelling rules meaning producers don’t have to list nutritional information, such as calories, or ingredients – unless the ingredient is a proven allergen, like sulphites. But there’s no reason why wine producers should not provide more comprehensive information on ingredients and nutrition, says a new report published by the European Commission. Decanter, March 14 A pour-quality invention Sales value was down nearly 9% Scientists in Massachusetts have developed a wine bottle that guarantees a drip-free pour. A groove on the top of the bottle is designed to stop wine running backwards over the lip when the bottle is tilted. The Drinks Business, March 24 winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 winemerchantteam@gmail.com Twitter: @WineMerchantMag The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 823 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 april 2017 10

[close]

p. 11

THE WINE MERCHANT april 2016 11

[close]

p. 12



[close]

p. 13

merchant profile: unwined of tooting Marketforces Part wine shop, part wine bar, part kitchen, part wine club, part ideas factory: Unwined of Tooting is built on the creative energy of owners Laura Ward and Kiki Evans, who burst onto the retail scene in 2015 after running increasingly successful pop-up wine events. Far from grounding them, their market base in south London has only added to the momentum … Kiki Evans and Laura Ward have fond memories of their time at Fifteen, the Jamie Oliver eaterie that offers young unemployed people the chance to train and work as chefs. How did the pop-ups get started? Laura: In 2012 pop-ups weren’t as mainstream as they are now and Kiki was really in tune with the pop-up and underground “At that time it was the most inspiring place to work,” says scene. We started off testing it out on our friends and inviting them Laura, whose Cotswolds burr has not quite faded. The holder of to our houses, but we soon realised that to get invited to people’s a hospitality degree, she worked front of house at Fifteen where houses we needed some kind of public presence. Kiki was living in she chanced upon Kiki – an Aussie studying architecture who had Brixton and suggested we set up there. fallen in love with London while travelling and was developing similar feelings for the restaurant trade. The pair were driven towards wine, eventually hatching the idea for an events company called A Grape Night In. The success of that business persuaded them to open up permanent premises in Tooting Market in 2015. It’s possibly the least intimidating wine shop in the world: wide open to passers-by, and adorned with trinkets and nick-nacks that seem to reflect the friends’ personalities. Customers can drink wine by the glass from a list that ‘We’re getting as much as we can out of this tiny little site. We can seat about 40 people; we do 120 on a good night’ rotates every six weeks. The tiny kitchen is occupied by a succession of chefs who put together imaginative menus based on the wines that Kiki and Laura want to promote. “We’re getting as much as we can out of this tiny little site,” says Kiki: When we started at Seven [a tapas bar in Brixton Market], we used to hand out flyers, then we went on social media, so we’ve Laura. “We can seat about 40 people; we do 120 on a very good never done any big campaigns. Just word of mouth and social night.” media. Twitter at the time, but now Instagram. Who exactly are these people? “There’s a lot professional young couples who are starting families,” says Kiki. How did things develop as word-of-mouth spread? “They used to go out after work in the city, but now they just Laura: It was just a bit of a hobby but the big change was in 2013 want to go to bed by 11pm. So being able to pop out to their local wine bar with a pop-up chef ticks the boxes.” Continues page 14 THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 2016 13

[close]

p. 14

merchant profile: unwined of tooting From page 13 ‘Airbnb approached us when we went to a pop-up networking event. We took over a bar event and did Wine Wednesdays for six months. Every month we had a new theme, and we’d sell a £20 ticket. When the theme was “skint”, we played the Budget speech in the lift and the menus were on newspapers and old school dishes. You’d get a cocktail on arrival which the owners of the space would take about a food and wine offering in Tooting. It’s a part of London that most tourists probably never see’ the revenue for, then they’d get three tastes of wine of 75ml each and three paired dishes. Kiki: We got reviewed in Metro and the Evening Standard and then What was your experience of crowd funding? we got 100 people a night. Kiki: We managed to have back-up because we were a bit dubious Laura: From that we got loads of private bookings and that’s when about how the crowd funding would work. We could have scraped we decided we had to quit our jobs. In 2014, when I had my first child, it got to the point where we through on what we had through loans etc, but to actually stock the shelves and to be properly operational … the crowd funding needed to home in on what we wanted to do and start a shop. made that possible. We asked for £5k but we got £8k. How did you arrive at Tooting? Laura: We went on a bit of a bar crawl around Peckham, Balham, Dulwich and Brixton and decided on Tooting. The link we had was through the burger people who had opened that year. They gave us confidence and said they would go in with us and do nights. Kiki: Much like with the rest of the things we’ve done, this had a good feeling about it and we thought: let’s go for it. What did people get in return for their money? Kiki: The difficult thing with Kickstarter is you can’t promise booze, so we had to offer things like being on our family tree [a framed image containing every benefactor’s name]; tickets to our opening night; tickets to our tasting; a night out with us! Also a cinema night, which hasn’t yet been claimed. Just creative things around wine and what we do with wine. Laura: We thought everyone who had supported the Grape Night In journey so far would be the people that would continue to support us – we had a really fantastic set of loyal customers. But what we were surprised about was how supportive the local community is. They really wanted to get behind it. Possibly the least intimidating wine shop in the world THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 14 What does your deal with Airbnb involve? Kiki: Airbnb are now doing experiences as part of their platform and they approached us about doing a food and wine offering. I think it’s a unique opportunity for people to come to London – to Tooting, which is a part that probably most tourists would never see – and have a food and wine pairing experience.

[close]

p. 15

Kiki Evans (left) and Laura Ward, March 2017. “We were surprised about how supportive the local community is” It started just before Christmas, so it was a bit slow, but March and April are pretty much all booked up. We only do two a month and we do eight seats for them. We’ve got people from Mexico coming. Laura: Some people from America just turned up the other day, because they’d heard about us through Airbnb. What percentage of your business comes from retail? Kiki: If we stuck our finger in the air … a quarter? Laura: We wanted to make sure that what people tasted on any night they could take away, and we’ve increased our range because we’ve found people come to us to buy presents; stock their houses. Kiki: When you sit down to have a drink, it’s not a restaurant markup. It’s £10 corkage, so in that sense it’s quite transparent. How does your by-the-glass offer work? Laura: Every six weeks we pick eight wines by the glass, which are within the retail offering. Most people pick those to take away. That means our retail sales are pretty varied, and people will happily spend £30 on an Arino Noir from Armenia because they remember it from when it was open. We had some Champagne in at Christmas but we couldn’t sell it. No one wanted to buy Champagne from us. They wanted the cloudy Prosecco they’d tried in August. We also do a wine subscription called Box Wine. You get four bottles a month: two whites and two reds. You don’t know what you’re going to get but the idea is that every weekend you get to try something different. We’ve got about 50 people on that list. Where are you sourcing your wines from now? Kiki: We’ve got about eight suppliers. Laura: Our main ones are Les Caves de Pyrene; Liberty; Boutinot; Hallgarten for Greek and India; Red Squirrel; Indigo; Swig; Astrum; and The Knotted Vine. Is natural wine a big thing for you? Kiki: Not necessarily. If it’s got character and it’s interesting then yes, but not just for natural’s sake. Laura: With the smaller producers and the stories behind them, you are getting more interest for your glass of wine. But we’re not like a lot of the wine shops recently which will only do natural or biodynamic wines. What kind of wines are selling best? Laura: Our biggest all-year-round seller is the [Edoardo Miroglio] Soli Pinot Noir from Bulgaria, which does really well for us. We don’t sell New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The only Sauvignon Blancs we have are an oaked one from South Africa from a really Continues page 16 THE WINE MERCHANT april 2017 15

[close]

Comments

no comments yet