Ambitious independents to open more shops

Established independents are leading growth in the sector with Oeno, Planet of the Grapes, Vagabond Wines and Bottle Apostle all planning to open new sites in the next few months.

In August wine shop-cum-wine bar pioneer Planet of the Grapes is to close its original location in London’s New Oxford Street and replace it with a bigger site nearby in Holborn’s exclusive Sicilian Avenue.

This story appears in the new edition of The Wine Merchant

This story appears in the new edition of The Wine Merchant

It also aiming for a July opening for a shop and bar in the former home of Fox, an iconic City umbrella retailer and gents’ tailor.

The listed building has a famous art deco frontage and neon sign featuring the name of the original business, so Planet of the Grapes will trade from there under the Fox name with secondary signage to emphasise “fine wines and spirits”.

Other notable features include a curved bomb-proof window installed in World War II and pre-war interior cabinetry.

“We’re very excited to get our hands on it,” says owner Matt Harris. “It’s a beautiful building. You can’t change the sign, so it made sense just to use the name rather than go with something like ‘Planet of the Grapes at Fox’.

“But in terms of the wine, the buying and the operation, it’s very much owned and run by Planet of the Grapes.”

The shop, at 18 London Wall, will be over five floors: a kitchen in the basement, shop on the ground floor, dining on the first floor; a less formal lounge bar on the second; and an office at the top.

“We’re still retail,” says Harris. “We don’t want to lose what we’ve had at Holborn over the last 10 years but we want to be somewhere where you can come to buy wine and stay and have some food and a drink if you want to.

“There’s a pocket in that part of the City where there’s nowhere you can go to buy wine unless you’re going to a supermarket.”

The changes bring the group up to four locations, with its sites in Bow Lane and Leadenhall staying unchanged.

“That will probably be it for me for at least two years,” says Harris, “but I’d never say never and if the right site came up we could do it.”

Cirencester-based Oeno is being rebranded as Appellation Nation after being bought by South African businessman Dave Carson – whose background is supplying brewery equipment in his own country – from the original owner Giles Davey.

The existing store is doubling in size with a knock-through into a next door unit. A second site will open in Cheltenham in May or June.

Manager Nick Burton is staying with the company and will oversee the operation of the two stores.

“Dave has plans to open three or four shops in Gloucestershire or further afield if he feels there is a need for us to be there,” says Burton. “He’s not saying ‘no’ to anything – he’s very ambitious for the company.

“He lives in Cheltenham and chose it for the second shop because he felt it wasn’t well-served for the size of the town.”

The Cheltenham site is a two-storey Georgian property but the bespoke modernist look of the existing store will not be reproduced there.

“It would be very expensive to recreate – may be about £30,000. It’s a classic old Cheltenham shop, but we do have a few surprises up our sleeves.

“There will be a fine wine area and tasting room in the cellar and it will be very much more event-led than Cirencester because it’s a bigger town.”

Burton and Carson visited Prowein to source new wines. “We’re looking to strengthen the entry-level,” says Burton. “We’ve been very strong at £15-£20 but weren’t doing particularly well sub-£10.

“We’ll be sourcing direct for wines below £15, bringing in wines from Bordeaux, the Loire, Languedoc, Puglia and Spain. The exchange rate’s good and there’s lots of value to be had.”

The expanded business will also increase its focus on the New World and try to develop wholesale.

Other forthcoming expansions will see Vagabond Wines open its third London store in the trendy Spitalfields district soon and Bottle Apostle going to four branches when it opens in East Village, close to the Olympic Park.

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