The Wine Merchant issue 28 revised


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The Wine Merchant issue 28

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 28, August 2014 We don’t parrot press releases ‘Underachieving’ indies approached by Oddbins Too many independent wine merchants are “eking out a living” and in some cases not even paying themselves a wage. director Ayo Akintola, who is hoping to for the company’s franchise scheme. That’s the claim of Oddbins managing marketing and PR and can’t just go down the route of saying, I’m not selling any branded wines.” “the unsung heroes” of the wine trade and does not expect their numbers to fall in consolidation in about five years’ time. the near future – though he does predict Oddbins has spoken to more than 100 Akintola describes independents as THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS Has St Andrews seen the future for online wine sales? 4 comings & GOINGS persuade up to 200 independents to sign up “ticking over” on turnovers of £400,000 or stores that are now in independent hands are significantly underperforming. In an interview for The Wine Merchant, Akintola argues that many retailers are Ye Olde Bottoms Up finally gets a new home 6 tried & TESTED less, and believes that some former Oddbins independents about its franchise scheme, but admits there are sticking points over currently enjoy. to 29. Could you really put Piers Morgan on a Malbec label? 9 merchant profile he adds: “In my humble opinion they’re not being run as commercially as they could be run. You’ve got to put money behind business valuations, and a reluctance among retailers to give up the buying power they • Reclaiming former territory – pages 27 Way out in the sticks with The Rural Vintner 14 david williams Funny how posh wine lists always look the bleedin’ same 17 CLIMAT CONTROL Six indies head to Chablis for Kimmeridgian capers 30 wine merchant lunch Joanna Simon joins us for a South West France wines extravaganza 34 suppler bulletin Essential updates from leading agents and importers 42 make a date Specialist wine retailing doesn’t get much more niche than selling unfamiliar Austrian wines from a customised transport container. Meet Newcomer Wines on page 4. It’s going to be a very busy September in the wine trade


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BACCHUS Under the new St Andrews system, to a product at a cheap price,” he says. “each offer has an ‘end date’ that you have to place your order by. We then group one big delivery”. everybody’s orders together and take in well this is going to go, so what we’re doing is looking at the UK supplier network and can get some support from the supplier that’s great. It just helps us a little bit.” picking up wines that we really love. If we “At the moment we have no idea how in single-bottle quantities, it’s only when they have accumulated the equivalent of courier’s fee. a 12-bottle case that the wine is shipped “I have always wanted to try a wide Although customers are allowed to buy to them. Wood applies no mark-up to the the company: if something doesn’t sell we don’t have to order it. That’s the way I’m board with it.” The website has been offering Macia He adds: “I’m trying to have zero risk for Don’t buy from us, buy with us “Most online wine retailers are little more than an Argos catalogue for alcohol,” complains Peter Wood, owner of St Andrews Wine Company in Fife. eager web entrepreneurs would probably the kind of online point of difference that they create for their bricks-and-mortar wine shops. Harsh words, perhaps, but even the most range of different things, but quite often a ridiculous amount for shipping one bottle,” Wood says. “We will offer a free month’s offers, you can, and we’ll keep your wine in our cellar.” each month – not just premium wines, selling it to suppliers and they’re getting on Batle Reserva Privada 2010 at £21. Once the online order deadline expires, Wood price of £25. you have to buy by the case or get charged cellaring service to our customers, so if you only want to buy one bottle from this Wood aims to showcase around 30 wines expects to buy extra supplies for the shop Wood is confident that the new system that will eventually be sold at the full retail won’t depress his margins: there is very he argues, and certainly few of the fixed admit that they often struggle to establish but a selection under £10. “It’s a bit like a little outlay associated with selling online, costs that apply to the shop. “We can cut the gross profit margin but hopefully make approximately the same money,” he says. website and buying we can start placing and look at cash with order, and pass on the price as keen as possible. “If we negotiate half-pallet sales of a “If we get a lot of people looking at our dating agency – we’re introducing people that does not attempt to offer the breadth or next-day-delivery convenience of his more specialised. The site features a “curated list” of Wood’s solution is a relaunched website rivals, but instead aims to offer something wines, which changes every few days, with video reviews and articles for each one. Winemakers themselves are also being invited to provide content. Perhaps more significantly, Wood is larger orders and command better pricing those savings to the consumer, and keep particular product we can get a better into the profit margin.” price. So if we get 2% or 5% that then goes shops will always have a role to play, but he predicts that role will evolve. experience,” he says. mortar shops will be much more about “Twenty years from now, bricks and Wood believes that bricks-and-mortar changing the way in which customers buy has had to pay for that,” he says. the wines. “Retailing wine has always been an expensive thing to do and the customer costs of doing business, the major cost for a wine retailer is stockholding and risk. price that has to be passed on.” and that risk and cash commitment has a “Aside from profits, taxes and the usual Retailers buy wine and then try and sell it, can buy your Mac cheaper online than in there. I think wine shops are going to be necessarily to buy wine.” an Apple Store, but there’s an experience Suits you, sir: save £4 by ordering online “Apple don’t need to have shops – you the same. You’ll go for an experience, not THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 2


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Flying Füchs © John Faulkner Photography Radcliffe: shed liaison with Noddy “Our Man with the Facts” • Mills & Boon can claim a small role in the resurgence of the English wine industry. In 1967 the company published Let’s Plant a Vineyard Beaulieu estate in Hampshire by Margaret Gore-Browne, whose Terry Laybourne tests the merchandise with Carruthers (centre) and O’Toole New enoteca goes with the flow It’s taken a little longer than its owners expected, but Carruthers & Kent has finally opened its enoteca. to be able to serve wine for consumption on the premises when it opened in 2010. Planning complications put paid to that idea, but owners Claire Carruthers and Gosforth store as a wine shop and deli before moving to the next level. The Newcastle independent had hoped enoteca at first, we would have bitten off the enoteca, it’s just another part of an operation that’s already in place.” and restaurateur Terry Laybourne. more than we could chew. Now we’ve got The new-look store was opened by chef “Things are going well,” says O’Toole. inspired many future viticulturalists. • The record for the most wine glasses held in one hand is 39. The Adina of the Philippines. “It’s a lot more work and it’s busy quite a lot of the time. What it’s doing brilliantly is driving sales in the deli and the wine shop. because Newcastle hasn’t got an enoteca, and explaining it to people who come in makes you feel like an evangelist. relaxed about it all. The first few weeks we’d done.” The seating area has been created on “A few weeks in and we’re much more feat was achieved at the Quatre-Gats restaurant in Barcelona by Reymond • Pinot Grigio accounts for 40% of all Italian wine sold in the UK. • Stelvin screwcap closures were first tested on Chasselas wines in by Yalumba as early as 1964. Mo O’Toole now believe that the wait was beneficial, allowing them to establish the now it’s a nicer social environment. It’s fun “It’s a lovely environment to work in, and cheeses and charcuterie and the premises have been adapted to accommodate customer seating. There is a new monthly tasting menu of 16 wines to drink by the fee (£7 for Champagne). The deli now offers an expanded range of were a bit crazy, and we wondered what the right-hand side of the shop, where the till area once was. “We wanted to put it in a space that wouldn’t disrupt the retail a group of people in, it does change the atmosphere. interfere with the flow of the shop.” side of things,” says O’Toole. “If you’ve got “You need to do it in a space that doesn’t Switzerland in 1970, but the idea of sealing wines this way was suggested • All the Sauvignon Blanc planted USA. glass, in a variety of measures. Any wine on the shelves can be opened for a £5 corkage grips with the logistics of running a wine shop and doing tastings,” says O’Toole. “The wait has allowed us to really get to “I think that if we’d have tried to do the in New Zealand until the early 1990s was based on a single clone from the • Pinotage was developed in 1925 appearance on a label. but had to wait until 1961 for its first THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 3


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Living in a box, Shoreditch style “The idea is to bring people in who aren’t necessarily wine experts, and let them have a really cool experience in the store – one that is fun and not snobby,” says Peter Honegger. almost every start-up wine shop. The It’s a mission statement echoed by difference with Newcomer Wines is that Shoreditch. it only sells Austrian wines, and operates from a customised transport container, in partner Daniela Pillhofer, is a native Austrian studying for a degree in London. specialist wine merchant in the country. The container is one of 40 such units at Honegger, like his girlfriend and business Newcomer Wines specialises in Austrian wines that are new to the UK He’s also, at 22, quite possibly the youngest Boxpark, an innovative retail development with the kind of rent demands that appeal to young entrepreneurs. as well as being a retailer and wholesaler of these wines,” Honegger says. “We’re West End as well. working with restaurants and bars and pubs, not only in east London but in the small-scale Austrian winemakers that “The idea is really to be a wine importer retail space, Honegger has invested in winemakers. technology to help customers navigate the range and find out more about the There is a central touchscreen with Perhaps surprisingly for such a small could give people as much information as possible without speaking with them too much.” the retail range, two thirds of which are consists of “flagship” wines intended to demonstrate what Austria is capable of producing at the upper end. There are generally about 40 wines in suggestions about how to enjoy the wines, and each individual section is fitted with a tablet showing films about the producer represented in that part of the shop. “You priced between £9 and £19. The final third focus on reds, so we sold probably more reds than whites,” reports Honegger. “In whites but it’s fairly balanced, I have to say.” “In the first few months we had quite a haven’t been in the UK before and have one has 25 hectares.” “The goal with the store is to promote the summer people are going more for the Is the business in danger of outgrowing interesting bottles. All the winemakers we Honegger and Pillhofer had been living currently work with are small – the biggest in London for two years before setting up “It made us decide to give it a shot here spending a lot of money on rent. have a lot of foot traffic.” Touch the screen for more information its small sales space? Honegger does not it’s fine. Every three or four months we introduce a new winemaker and new back.” wines so it always keeps it interesting But the business is running short of think it’s an immediate problem: “I think shop at Boxpark. “We thought it would be the perfect place to start an idea,” he says. without committing to a big number and to other places in Shoreditch but we still and see how people react and what works, “Boxpark is quite reasonable compared cannot expect with a niche product like Austrian wine that everyone will know says Honegger. for people, and encourages them to come storage space and will probably start using a bonded warehouse later this year. never double or treble it’s very important to see,” Honegger says. “For me even though the retail side can about Gruner Veltliner and things like that,” or a clothes shop – I’m not always going to speak to somebody. I want to explore by myself. So we thought about how we “If I go into any kind of shop – groceries, for wholesale customers to have something THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 4


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Ye New Olde Bottoms Up When its landlord forced Ye Olde Bottoms Up out of its original premises, the relocation was expected to take a couple of weeks. Four months later, the Croydon independent finally has a new home. Paul Trottman, who started the shop in The business also has a new investor. shop we had before was 1,000sq ft and the new one is 500sq ft.” trading – due to issues with the lease, and complications with electrics – meant that Trottman had to release some pension money to compensate for a lack of income. during the hiatus, and old customers are gradually coming back. “We’ve got all our best sellers that we He says suppliers have been supportive The unexpectedly long break from “We’ve gone for smaller premises. The hanging bulbs – and all of the white wines are in chillers.” Chordale for sale Chordale Wine Merchants is on the market. in 1988 as The Select Wine Company, The Lancashire business, established is valued by Blacks Business Brokers at very short opening hours, achieving a weekly turnover of £1,000. three garages. an ex-First Quench unit, is now working the original site. in partnership with Jack Patel, in a former Indian takeaway a five-minute walk from the building, and the building next door, in there, above the shop, and a good old Sainsbury’s Local below. Trottman explains: “The landlord sold had down the road, and some of the new wines we’ve found at tastings while we were closed,” he adds. “I didn’t want to leave, but I have to £200,000 freehold, or £25,000 leasehold. The merchant currently operates under There is planning permission on the for redevelopment. There are flats going admit it was getting a bit tired. The new is wooden. shop is quite different. Instead of carpet, large corner-plot site for three flats and • Spirited Wines is now down to 19 Oddbins. we’ve got a tiled floor here and the shelving “The lighting is different too – we have branches following the sale of 20 stores to 10TH & 11TH SEPTEMBER 2014 OLYMPIA CENTRAL, LONDON, W14 8UX HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE If you require more details please contact us at | +44 (0)161 908 1300 THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 5


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tried & Tested Beef Steak Club Meaty Malbec 2013 You could put pictures of Piers Morgan on Argentine Malbec labels and people would still buy the stuff. bit of branding, for a wine that introduces itself with a bright, fruity fanfare before the reactor core splits open to reveal blackcurrants and meat juices. RRP: £8.99 ABV: 13.5% Ehrmanns (020 3227 0700) Ehrmanns’ creative team has clearly had fun with this Cherubino Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Quite how this wine achieves its incredible nose is worthy of an essay in itself: roast chicken wafting on a summer breeze is the best we can offer as a description. There are mineral, almost dusty notes and the trademark Cherubino “less is more” approach to RRP: £25.49 ABV: 12.5% Hallgarten Druitt (01582 722538) fruit. Yet it’s surprisingly rounded, with a crisp finish. Misal Millennium NV When Dordano Peršuric started planting sparkling wine grape clones near Poreč in the 1990s, locals thought he was mad, not least because there was a war on. Today, Misal is one of Croatia’s most accomplished honeyed but with real mineral depth. RRP: £29.95 ABV: 12.5% Pacta Connect (01273 607711) producers of fizz. This 80% Malvazija, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay blend is a bit special: it’s soft and Orion Tenuta Fiorebelli Cabaletta Rosso 2012 This IGT Venezie blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t smooth and luscious by accident. Thirty per cent of the fruit spends three months drying in a loft before blending, with 40% of RRP: £11 ABV: 13% the wine ageing in oak. The result is a wine with great concentration, minimal tannin, and a fresh, minty lift. McKinley Vintners (020 7928 7300) Domaine de Brau ‘Pure’ Cabernet Franc 2011 Domaine de Brau, in the Languedoc, has been organic since the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie (admittedly the events are unrelated). We’re promised “ripe black fruit with a minty edge”, which is certainly true, though there’s a vaguely cannabisy nose and a RRP: £10.50-£10.99 ABV: 13% Vintage Roots (0800 980 4992) whiff of banana in there too. Solid yet easygoing fare. Tahbilk Museum Release Marsanne 2007 A good mineral crunch and some sunshine warmth are on the first sip. But this is not mere barbecue fodder. reveals notes of honeysuckle, lemons and nuts. RRP: £16.99 ABV: 12.5% Armit Wines (020 7908 0660) Enjoyed slowly, on its own terms, this Victorian blend (there’s some Chardonnay, Semillon and Roussanne) the elements even the most casual swigger will pick up Domaine Madeloc Cuvée Trémadoc, Collioure 2011 Boutinot predicts this is destined to pick up a cult following: certainly it’s a wine that makes you pause Gris, Marsanne and Vermentino, it offers ethereal flavours of orange pith and freshly-baked bread. RRP: £18.74 ABV: 13% Boutinot (0161 908 1300) for thought and search in vain for an explanation for its understated charms. An enigmatic blend of Grenache La Chablisienne Les Vénérables 2010 The vines that produce the fruit have an average age and some lees cushioning to the finish. If you can’t lifetime ban from your own kitchen. RRP: £17 ABV: 13% Various regional suppliers of over 35 years. It’s firmly in the “riper and rounder” make this wine work with food then you deserve a category of Chablis, but there’s a brisk minerality too, THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 6


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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Meeghan Murdoch Randalls of Guernsey Favourite wine on my list commemorative bottling of old-vine Riesling from their collection of Staffelter Hof 862 Riesling – a Lidl woos middle class with claret Lidl is embarking on a “claret offensive” to attract middle-class shoppers. introduce 48 “premium” wines, having From September, the discounter will Magpie Mock the weaker Thousands of pubs and bars have pledged to offer house wines with a strength of 12.5% or below as part of a drive to combat harmful drinking. and the British Beer & Pub Association The Wine & Spirit Trade Association bought more than a million bottles from Sociando-Mallet for £23.99 and a 2007 Reserve de la Baronne for £13.99. The Telegraph, July 16 The list includes a 2008 Haut-Medoc France. Half of the selection is Bordeaux. vineyard plots dotted around the Mosel information on their history have a look at the Wikipedia page I created while Favourite food and wine match time working with the Klein family in Riesling with everything from aperitif to dessert! It was a great way to begin my Favourite wine trip Harpers’ trip to Argentina as the Forbes Jenny MacKenzie and Dominic Crolla. Rolling out of a night bus in Salta to memorable moment. From Patagonia to Salta we ate and drank our way through Argentina! 5 – moi, Emily O’Hare, Jake Crimmin, winemaking career. the Riesling grape can be. We drank the Mosel I found out how versatile Riesling and anything. During my working with them. – this was to celebrate the 1,150 years of the Staffelter Hof name. For more have signed up to an agreement with the government, which has been criticised for not being tough enough on the industry –, July 10 and also as an example of the nanny state. Fine wine on eBay Ebay has signed a deal with Sotheby’s which will mean that fine and rare wines can be auctioned online. partnership to come into effect., July 14 No timescale has been given for the It’s the world’s best wine under a tenor Wine behind bars Bordeaux boom The Frescobaldi family has recruited opera singer Andrea Bocelli to help launch the second vintage of its Gorgona wine, which is produced by inmates in a prison of that name. is intended to raise awareness of the social issues in prisons and to help offenders ploughed back into the project., July 16 The blend of Vermentino and Ansonica Bordeaux has achieved a 13.9% increase in off-trade volumes over the past six months, despite an overall 2.6% decline in the winecategory. that Bordeaux whites were up 41%, and now account for 26% of Bordeaux sales. average of £5.40. The average price for a bottle of The IRI Market Update to June 30 shows assorted grilled meat was a particularly Favourite wine trade person Mr James Forbes – it’s been great having this guy in my corner all these years! Favourite wine shop Robersons. Need I say more? a breakfast of chilled Torrontes and make a fresh start on release. All profits are Bordeaux is £5.60, compared to the market The Drinks Business, July 23 The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the 01323 370451 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag owners of the UK’s 735 independent wine by Graham Holter. Printed by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2014 England: No 6441762 shops. Except one, and that’s deliberate. Edited Registered in VAT 943 8771 82 THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 8


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merchant profile: the rural vintner A year in the country Sam Devaney likes being out in the sticks, which is just as well, because he’s worked there seven days a week for the past 12 months. Local villages are wealthy and his rent is low, and he’s confident that the next phase of The Rural Vintner’s development will help grow profits – and give him some days off O n the face of it, this corner of the Sussex countryside is an odd place for a start-up wine a quaint mini shopping centre within the imported furniture, complete with posh café – for which Devaney has helped to modernise the wine list. merchant – even one that calls itself The Rural Vintner. “We’re not even in a village,” admits Sam Devaney. “There’s a crossroads, and that’s it.” shop is based within a short drive of two major tourist attractions: the Bluebell Railway, and Sheffield Park, a National But the location is cleverly chosen. The grounds of a grand old former country pub, now famous locally as a place to buy exotic into a small deli area, and a larger glass parking immediately outside the shop, a variety of chichi boutiques for bored shareholder in Brighton independent It’s currently a seven-days-a-week commitment. Devaney, who remains the major door facing out to a courtyard. There’s free spouses, and a play area for restless kids. 10 Green Bottles, established The Rural of the units outside of the main building: a handsome brick-built, oak-beamed barn, age uncertain. The sturdy walls keep the place cool in the summer, and a log fire takes away the chill in the winter. The Rural Vintner occupies the largest Vintner a year ago as a separate venture. Trust property. More significantly, it forms part of the Trading Boundaries complex: There are two entrances: one that opens Continues page 10 THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 9


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merchant profile: THE rural VINTNER From page 9 Has business gone as you expected it to? It started brilliantly, and it’s kind of remained consistent. Like any small ‘I love the idea of displaying wines in the way that a sommelier presents the bottle’ activity around here. around for 20 years so it’s a destination all over the country. bespoke. Yes. I was living in Florence for a long time, and there’s a shop called Alessi where they have the wines displayed a bit like this, a bit lower down actually. I’ve always loved restaurant. And Trading Boundaries has been but in quite a rustic fashion. back, they’ve just been painted white. I like this idea of trying to combine functionality with something attractive, but not in an We’re in a barn in the countryside. It artificial way. Because let’s face it, we’re not in Mayfair or Notting Hill or whatever. has to reflect that somewhat but also it’s modern. quite nice to have the juxtaposition – the You can see they’ve not been sanded business holder you’re always wringing your hands at some stage. If it’s quiet for a day you’re wondering why you’ve done it, speaking from day one I’ve been in profit, so I can’t really complain. everything’s wonderful. Overall, generally but the next day suddenly it’s amazing and place. I’m getting people from London and It looks like the shop fittings are all What’s the deal with the premises – is it a rolling lease or something more longterm? It’s renewing on a short-term basis. Because we’re out, effectively, in the sticks, the rent is very low; I get 100% rate relief. My total outgoings are around £15,000 to £17,000 a year. And although it appears to be out in the the idea of displaying wines almost like the way a sommelier shows you the wine in a a bit confusing: it’s just a wall of wine I find modern shelving solutions to be brick and the wood with something more How many wines can you display? Three-hundred and fifty wines, and beers. between 60 and 70 spirits and about 30 You’ve said you want to use the wall space to display another 250 wines – how soon will that happen? I’d like to do it by the end of the summer, leading into Christmas. It’s the curse of you just want to get as many lines in as necessary. someone who’s passionate about wine: sticks you have seven or eight very affluent villages around here. You’ve got Haywards Heath as well, Uckfield, Lewes, and East past here because this is the main road A lot of people from these places come Grinstead in terms of slightly bigger towns. going down to Brighton. Even though it and the eye isn’t really drawn anywhere. Even with decent signage it can be just a bit intimidating. I had an image in my mind of what I wanted, and I’ve got a good friend who’s a carpenter, and we came up with this. It was all about having a slightly sophisticated way of displaying the wines seems really rural there is actually a lot of possible, and it’s probably not completely the range that I’ve got – because it’s not bad, 350 wines. But I get excited about I could probably happily continue with getting new lines in and thinking about a range. I’m not sure it’s brilliant business sense! they’re really amazed by the depth and breadth of the range and they’re also things that are £6, £7 and £8 as well as I find that when people come in here German range or expanding the Portuguese pleasantly surprised because they’ll see Devaney: “The curse of being passionate about wine is you want as many lines as possible” things that are more expensive. I like the THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 10 idea of amazing people because I think it


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creates a talking point, and it’s a good way of spreading the word. It’s a good way of getting people to come back. What are the wines that impress people the most – the real star performers? I got Sassicaia ’95 in because it excites me to have it in the range, and because I a week. But actually having something that’s £240, even for people who don’t thought I could sell it – and I sold it within want to spend that much money … it’s the price that makes them go “wow” and that a reason to engage with your customer. got some great Tuscan wines in; wines starts the conversation. “Is it worth £240? Why is it worth £240?” And that gives you There’s some interest in Bordeaux; I’ve Food plays a part in the fortnightly evening tasting events from Piemonte. I really want to get some spectacular California stuff in. It’s really movement going on there. There are people out there who are fun and there’s an interesting, innovative ready to buy a £140 bottle of Bordeaux prices as well. They’re so flexible and helpful. If I say, “I just want two bottles of quid or so – they’ll give me two bottles bottle, alongside a bigger order. that”, as long as I’m meeting their minimum order – which is only a couple of hundred of the more expensive wine, or even one there’s just an element of oxidation, which wines. But I do have natural wines; wines that are made with organic or biodynamic The only weird one I’ve got is the Pierre because he loves it. works. So no, I don’t have any totally freaky farming, and that have lower sulphur than Frick Chasselas, and that’s only because a customer asks for it and buys it regularly, for Sunday lunch. It turns out that it’s not in older vintages that are drinking now just for a talking point, having the higher- end as well. And it’s fun, because I can get rather than these trophy wines. For 95% of expensive wines that are bought from me, Who are your main suppliers? it’s about drinking now, which I really like. don’t do that. They’re very good at listening to their customers’ needs. As a result they get the lion’s share of my business and I them, which is not to be sniffed at. often spend £700 to £1,000 a week with I don’t understand why more suppliers others and are perhaps less interventionist. for me; I don’t buy because of a label. I can’t stand waving flags for movements, or isms. What other suppliers do you buy from? Liberty: what attracted me to them was I’m very passionate about Italian wines and they have a great Italian selection, if not the best. They also have a great I buy wines that deliver and which work Have you got any really extreme, cidery natural wines that you can frighten people with? One of the problems I have with natural behind it, but I don’t like wines that I wine is that I agree with a lot of the tenets consider to be faulty. I don’t like oxidised wine to the point where it’s undrinkable. but in a way that is correct for the wine: the acidity’s there, the fruit is all there, For a small place, I’ve got a lot of suppliers. Les Caves de Pyrene is my main supplier. I think they’re doing amazing things. I’m and sustainable winemaking. very much into biodynamics and organics like the fanaticism that can be associated with it, and I don’t like the idea that only should be aiming for, because there are many different ways in which you can make good wine. natural wines are the apex that everyone I don’t like the term “natural” … I don’t Australian selection and a great range in Fields, some with Corney & Barrow; I’ve Continues page 12 I have a great Savennières that’s oxidised general. Armit: again they’re good on Italy, but in other areas as well. I do some with there that covers a whole spectrum of different sectors, and they have great Caves have one of the best ranges out ‘There are people buying £140 Bordeaux for Sunday lunch’ THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 11


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merchant profile: the rural vintner From page 11 just started working with Indigo, and Las A while ago a lot of independents Bodegas – brilliant wines from Argentina. seemed keen to consolidate their supplier base, but now quite a few seem to like working with a broad range. As long as the supplier understands my predicament, and is reasonable in terms of minimum orders then I almost find it of suppliers. more beneficial to have a greater number almost hedge your bets – if you don’t want to necessarily order from someone who has a higher minimum order, you can just as long as they’re good and they do what you want them to do and they meet your expectations. Let’s say I’ve run out of tack on a few wines from another supplier, If you have a big range it means you can The front entrance leads straight into a small deli area with pre-packed meats and cheeses cut, but you can run a really tight ship by and hoping that you sell it. just seeing what’s selling, and responding to that, rather than getting in lots of stock flow, which means I can see what I’ve got to maintain that tight grip on cash flow I pay for everything up front. Some merchants argue that the best policy is to constantly refresh the range, so there’s always something new to offer to customers. I don’t understand that at all. One of the things that comes up regularly with It allows me to be very tight with my cash about, whilst retaining the list that I have that wine – you don’t have it any more.” you expand the range this summer? Italy, probably, because I love it, but I’ll USA: Oregon, and California. Definitely Portugal. probably expand it slowly. Definitely the that people are already happy with. I don’t want someone to come in and go, “I loved So what areas will you focus on when Picpoul from Liberty, but I need a Picpoul. Well, Caves have probably got a good one so I give them a call and I just tack that on to become more dynamic. and I can shift the Liberty order to another week. So in terms of cash flow, it helps me Do you have storage here? No, I don’t have any storage. These shelves are designed specifically so I can have everything I need on the shelves. If someone wants a larger order, I just say, local I deliver it. great – what do you want? We work it out It was very important for me to be available to spend for next week. In order actually, because Italy, France and Spain are clearly where I’m strongest because familiar with. South Africa: I love some although I’ll have to investigate that. Australia and New Zealand: for sure. The New World will be the main winner, and they either come and collect it, or if it’s sustainable from day one. My whole idea customers is, “are you going to have this in in a few weeks?” They want consistency; they’re not interested in new things. if they find something they like, they want to come back to it. Which is not to say that expanding. Cleverly expanding. I can’t that’s really where my knowledge is. The New World is something I’m not quite as of the stuff they’re doing. Chile, possibly, was to buy what I sell: if I sell six bottles of that, I buy six bottles back. Of course some ‘I have a tight grip on cash flow and pay for everything up front’ THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 12 take longer than others so it’s not that clear expand exponentially, but getting in things that I know people are going to be excited For me it’s not about changing, it’s about They’re great wines, but if you remember 10 years ago, it was all about these very concentration and extraction. inexpensive wines that over-delivered on direction, to something that’s less varietalthe prices have gone up a little bit. It’s than £12. certainly difficult to find anything for less based and more regional. But consequently It’s brilliant that they’ve gone in another


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‘It’s not like I’m breaking rocks in a Siberian gulag, am I?’ Do you do any buying in tandem with 10 Green Bottles? Not at the moment. We’re planning on doing that in the future. What about buying direct? I worked for a little while at The Winery in Maida Vale, and I just think he’s got such an incredible business model. They buy in stuff as well, but for a lot of things they go out, fill up a van, bring it back and sell which is the foundation for their content across. So I’d love to one day be able to get in. One of the problems I have here is that it’s not a brilliant place for doing tastings. or 12 people [around a narrow table, for sale via Trading Boundaries] it becomes can’t get access to the little nibbles. It kind of works, but if I have more than 10 impersonal; people have to stand back and is very personal, great conversations come up and it becomes really interesting. And actually the sales have far surpassed my expectations from doing events. Having said that, with 10 or 12 people it and I’ve got two young kids, so I can’t have them coming to pick me up from work at 8pm every evening. So I basically got another vehicle – it was on me, not on the put aside for staff is going on the monthly payments for that. That vehicle was important – it’s four- We’ve only got one vehicle as a family, business – but the money that I would have wheel drive which means that if the snow comes down I can still get to work, but more importantly if people can’t get to which is something I really push. me, they can call me and I can get to them, Did you expect to be working seven days a week for the entire first year? I knew I was going to do six days a week probably for about a year I was going to but I thought I’d have one day a week off. have to do seven days a week. But things on a member of staff one day a week. That will take some pressure off. it. Meet the winemaker so they’ve got lots – it’s not fabricated, it’s real, and it comes of stories. They’ve got direct relationships put in in the 70s, and I don’t think this wall So I’d like to take that down and rearrange is part of the original fabric of the building. There are two old loos behind this wall, As soon as I had to get that car I knew that are going well so I’m pretty sure, heading someone in the shop for a week and drive off to Burgundy or the Rhone or northern Italy or wherever it might be. Was the deli in the front porch part of the plan from the beginning? I kind of had an idea that I wanted to diversify a little bit but I didn’t want to do want to split my focus. I had the space in like these ladies who lunch, who aren’t into the end of summer, I’ll be able to take Yes, but it’s not like I’m breaking rocks in Shops surround the courtyard area it from the beginning, just because I didn’t the front and it just made sense, almost as necessarily confident enough to come in and buy a bottle of wine, who were just that they would perhaps identify with a gateway thing. There were a lot of people, a Siberian gulag, am I? It’s allowed me to hone this offering and come up with ideas, Yes. But generally speaking my hours are 10.30am, sometimes 11am, till 8pm. So kids than other people. first year? Nearing £150,000. There’s massive potential to increase that. If I’m not doing be particularly happy. Maybe twice is slightly optimistic, but I would hope to business if I can maintain it. Would I like more time with my family? a little bit and have a U-shaped tasting bar. I could probably have people coming in and allow me to think about other projects. It wouldn’t require me to pay more rent so for a glass of wine and some charcuterie too, because I’d have everything at my the money to do it. point? I’ve worked seven days a week since someone at the moment. opening, and that’s all about keeping the it would be a much better use of the space. every morning I get time with my family. In walking past. I needed to have something a little bit more than just a lot of wine. I most sense. Cheeses and meats go very well with wine. Do you run tasting events? I try and do a tasting every couple of weeks. I do a seasonal programme and try to get people from my suppliers to come thought, what can I do … and that made some ways I get more regular time with my What’s the turnover going to be for the disposal. Running costs don’t change so it’s almost a complete no-brainer if I can get Do you think you’ll get any staff at some twice that by this time next year I wouldn’t increase that significantly. Within three or costs down. I can’t really justify employing four years this is going to be a very healthy THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 13


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just williams reading restaurant wine lists. as part of some grand epicurean tour: the finest, but the nature of the job Not, before I lose your sympathy entirely, A couple of months back I took on a job that required me to spend more time than is healthy restaurants in question, hundreds of them, were all among the world’s acknowledged (background research for a new awards, actually set foot, never mind ordered a bottle, in any of them. The World’s Best Wine Lists) meant I never Not that I could have afforded very many of the bottles on offer anyway. That wine in upper-end restaurants is expensive is not, of exorbitant mark-ups being a timeworn newspaper silly-season staple. of course, a new observation, the “scandal” The best wine list in the world resides at the Palais Coburg Residenz in Vienna diner like me and more familiar with retail prices, the absence of affordable bottles can take more than a bit of getting used across the board in the world’s best cases, under £100. to. With a handful of notable exceptions, All the same, if you’re an infrequent fine- restaurants the pickings are slim not just under £30, but under £50; even, in many Breathtakingly audacious as some Wine lists take the easy option Too many restaurants are more concerned about ticking boxes than curating lists that celebrate less familiar wines with a point of difference replication: from Hong Kong to Houston, their complete sets of Yquem and Lafite, Krug and Cristal. It’s not that there isn’t a place for this ultimately declared The World’s Best Wine List), or, in retail, by London’s Hedonism, there is a kid-in-a-sweetshop pleasure to be had in realizing you’re in a place where you have access to what seems like every great wines. For a restaurant or retailer to get to from Macau to Mayfair, everybody has their flights of DRC, Rousseau and Méo-Camuzet, their “La Las” and their Gajas and their DP, kind of big-gun classicism: when it’s done well, as it is by the remarkable Viennese hotel Palais Coburg Residenz (which was restaurant pricing is, however, what I found most depressing as I waded through lists that sometimes ran to many thousands of bins, wasn’t the prices so much as the lack THERE IS CLEARLY a sense among the of imagination on display in so many cases. world’s sommeliers that a list must include a range taken from a limited list of classic great estates, with as many back vintages as possible, if it is to be taken seriously. And it leads to a remarkable level of vintage of all of the world’s acknowledged that point, however, they need one of two which has built its remarkably detailed case of the oligarch-backed Hedonism, cash. All too often, however, you get the access to a seemingly bottomless pit of collection over many decades; or, in the There’s a timidity to this kind of buying that makes lists seem hopelessly outdated THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 14 things: time, as in the case of Palais Coburg,


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impression that the people behind the retailers) are buying by numbers (or opinion. wine offer at top restaurants (and many you’re lucky, Germany and California, they act as if the past 30 years in wine – with never happened. the emergence of exciting producers in so many previously overlooked places – had FORTUNATELY, THERE ARE lists that David Williams is wine critic for The Observer points), with slavish devotion to received classic books you find bought en masse by intention of conferring unearned gravitas, behind the choices. They’re basically and largely untouched. window-dressing, the selection unloved but with no feeling or passion whatsoever These lists are like those libraries of the uncultured rich: acquired with the sole take a different approach – or approaches, since my many favourite wine lists are as different in their contents and length as the more traditionally and ponderously compiled conventional lists are similar. from mature Rivesaltes to Krug to Chilean País, or it might mean the extensive, of New York City’s Hearth. a fear of deviating from the settled script, that leads to lists that seem hopelessly outdated and unexciting. of classic France with a smattering of In their reliance on the settled canon There’s a timidity to this kind of buying, retail every bit as much as the on-trade – is the sense you get that every bin has been a box. That might mean the tightly focused What unites them – and this applies to several-thousand-bin Riesling, Jura, grower Champagne and Burgundy-lovers’ paradise edited, rather than bought off the peg. And they’ve been put together by people who that wine’s first duty is not to defer to fun. These are lists that have been curated, selected for a reason, rather than to tick off eclecticism of London’s Quality Chop take wine seriously without ever forgetting history, rankings and reputation, but to be big-name Piedmont, Super Tuscan and, if House, with its 125-or-so bins that range THE WINE MERCHANT august 2014 15



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