Top Cuvee moves into wine retailing
Highbury restaurant Top Cuvee has opened its own wine shop and delicatessen, Shop Cuvee, just a few doors away.
Rather than sit out the forced closure of his restaurant during lockdown and hope for the best, Brodie Meah continued to sell his wine online. “We’ve been super busy and sold loads,” he explains. “The restaurant is back open, which is awesome, but we needed space for all the wine so we secured a dedicated retail space.”
The focus was always on natural wines sourced from small independent suppliers including Wines Under the Bonnet, and Meah is pleased to say this new addition to the business has allowed him to “do more business” with them.
“We’ve got about 100 lines and they are changing all the time. Orange wines are really popular – people have latched on to it a bit as something new and interesting to try – and it’s the same with pet nat.”
Shop Cuvee has an on-licence but Meah doesn’t have any specific plans for tables and chairs at this stage.
A more pressing issue is pricing. He says: “In order to combat the retail versus restaurant prices issue, we’re going to base our pricing on the shop and charge corkage in the restaurant. Customers are also welcome to buy the wine in the shop, where there will be more choice, and take it to the restaurant and pay £15 corkage.”
Restaurant opens its own wine shop
November will see the launch of Vintage & Vine, a wine shop and bar situated above its sister restaurant, Puro, in Clevedon, north Somerset.
Owner Dom Lamy is in the midst of signing leases before the building work begins and then he’s looking forward to the “enjoyable part, which is us getting in all the wine”.
“The restaurant will be buying wine from Vintage & Vine,” he explains, “so we’ll have a few set house wines by the glass and we’ll have lots of wine upstairs that we can choose to put on the menu or not.
“It’s nice to be in the position to choose which wines you want to stock. Having memories behind the wines and wines that you know just helps you serve them, but no list is ever going to stand still.”
The list of around 200 wines will be sourced in part from UK suppliers such as Alliance, and directly from English producers including Sutton Ridge and Gusbourne.
Lamy, whose background includes running pubs and restaurants in the UK and Australia, where he did his WSET courses, says the new shop will be completely separate to the restaurant, physically and visually.
“It’s a 1920s Chesterfield dark green, with a modern take on it. We didn’t want to detract from Puro – we wanted to give people a different look, a different feel and a different venue.”
From pop-up to urban winery
Chilled & Tannin is set to open in Cardiff this month. The “pipe-dream” of three friends – Alex Griem, Rob Cooper and Dominic Doherty – has become a reality.
“Myself, Rob and Dom all come from a hospitality background,” explains Griem.
“Wine has kept us bonded. We are going into this with the philosophy that if this all works out well we’ll end up with something that doesn’t yet exist in south Wales – and in the worst case scenario, we’ll end up with lots of wine to drink for the next few years.”
The business will initially launch as a pop-up within Cooper’s own Little Man Coffee Company. Griem anticipates the pop-up will run “at least until Christmas” while the friends find their feet. Permanent premises – and ultimately an urban winery – are longer-term goals.
Griem says: “I’ve been to London Cru and I’ve been to a lot in San Francisco; I think it’s an idea which has legs. There are a lot of people growing grapes in the UK now and we think it would be great to make and blend some wines ourselves.”
Local bottling would add to the company’s eco credentials. The business will be plastic free, deliveries will be made in Cooper’s electric van, which has already been dubbed the milk float, and the focus will be on low-intervention, organic and biodynamic wines.
Griem says: “I’m trying to get hold of some paper bottles to see what they’re like. I’m not interested if it’s a gimmick, but it would be great to find an alternative – when you order the wine in and you realise how heavy the glass bottles are, it’s insane.”
Griem’s WSET diploma was put on hold during lockdown and he was able to use the time he would have spent studying to source wines for the shop. He’s based in London for now, with Cooper and Doherty at the sharp end sorting out the shop.
Griem has put a list together of around 80 lines, with the help of Liberty Wines and Davy’s among others.
“We’re just trying to get a Welsh sparkling at the moment,” he says. “We’ve got a fairly even split between red and white and a handful of organic/biodynamic rosés. It’s a good mix of old and new world and we’ve made sure there are some classic styles like Bordeaux and Chianti Classicos but then we’ve got things like Zibibbo in there, a Moscatel, a Chilean blend – stuff that we can compare to something the customer already likes, but pushes the boundaries enough to encourage them to explore the rest of the range.
“We will be doing a wine subscription service, too, with our picks of slightly lesser-known varieties or styles. We’re confident that the way we talk about our wines will persuade people to go for our ‘trust us’ box.”
There will also be a fine wine range under the name Laid Down & Tannin.
Griem explains: “We want to provide an easy way to buy wine to lay down without it seeming like an unattainable or difficult prospect.”
Botfield bucks up Olney with store
The Woburn Wine Cellar has opened its second branch, in Olney, Buckinghamshire.
Owner Stefan Botfield says that the launch of the new shop in the “picturesque market town” was inevitably delayed.
“We put it on ice for a couple of months,” he says, “but once lockdown started to ease off we were able to fit it out at the beginning of June and we had it open for the start of July – it’s been successful.”
In common with the original site in Woburn, Olney is an affluent area with a regular farmers’ market, which Botfield reports gives sales a boost.
“People who buy nice food at farmers markets tend to like nice wine, so it goes hand in hand,” he says. “We do see an uplift in sales when the market is on.”
Locals will also be pleased to see a familiar face in the shop. Botfield says he is “very lucky” that Russell Heap, who used to run Bacchus in Olney before retiring a few years ago, is now working part-time at what is now known as The Wine Cellar.
The expansion has brought about a name change, as Botfield explains. “The idea of pitching up just 20 minutes up the road in Olney and calling it Woburn Wine Cellar just didn’t feel right.
“Then you start looking at your website and Facebook page and, rather than running multiple ones, we decided to go for a name change and that reflects where we want the company to go. Not that I have grand visions of having 50 stores, but if the right thing came up in the right place, would we look at another one? Yes, probably.
“You have to have systems that are capable of doing multi-site and it’s all about inventory control, basically. Once you have that nailed then adding a third or fourth store doesn’t seem so difficult anymore – it’s perhaps a dream, but we’re certainly not writing off that idea.”
Botfield’s energy and optimism is perhaps the result of having successfully navigated the business through tricky times.
“About a week before the pubs closed we got very, very quiet and two of us spent three days and nights uploading content onto the website and getting all our product portfolio on there, because at that stage we just assumed that we’d be closed the same as the pubs,” he says.
“Thank god we did, as the deliveries over the lockdown period were phenomenal.
“There’s a figure knocking around somewhere that is something like 80% or 90% of all wine purchased in the UK is consumed in less than 30 minutes of purchase.
“Most people buy a bottle of wine because they want to drink it that evening, and the way we approached deliveries was that if you are in a 15-mile radius, you either get it the same day or next day.
“That, I think, is what attracted people.”
Container is home for Essex indie
New independent The Twisted Cork opened in Tiptree, Essex, last month.
Christine Longden and her husband Lee are the team behind the venture.
“We always thought this was something we wanted to do,” says Christine, “and when this unit became available I thought it would be really nice to have a boutique wine shop as there’s nothing like it nearby.”
The shop is one of eight converted shipping containers in the village.
“People love coming round here because it’s a nice little community on its own,” says Christine.
“I’ve already got regular customers and great feedback about the wine.”
Free local delivery is available and with a background in logistics the couple have taken nationwide deliveries in their stride, opting for accounts with APC and DPD.
The business is focusing on organic wines and is working directly with a number of local vineyards and distillers.
Alliance has been “brilliant with advice”, says Christine.
“My husband and I are keen wine drinkers but we have a lot to learn. We’ll be taking WSET courses further down the line.”
The sommelier will see you now
The launch of a new boutique hotel, The Vices York, may be on hold thanks to Covid-19. But it hasn’t stopped The Vices Archive, the wine shop within the hotel, from trading.
Sommelier Daniel Curro and business partner Moreno Carbone have confirmed that the hotel will open at the end of this year. But customers can explore the selection of Champagnes and directly-imported Italian wines from next month.
Curro’s sommelier expertise can be put to the test as shoppers are encouraged to book in for a complimentary wine consultation.
Curro says: “The Archive is an opportunity to experience an early taste of The Vices York. A chance to see the collection of wines that we’ve curated, and to shop in a safe and fun way.”
Bradmans to open Matlock branch
Bradmans Wine Cellar has secured the premises for its second store, with hopes for a spring launch next year.
It’s been just over two years since John Morris and his son, Tom, opened Bradmans Wine Cellar in Duffield in an old NatWest branch. Coincidentally, the site in Matlock they have earmarked for their next project is also an old building once inhabited by the same bank.
“This one is an older building,” explains Tom, “certainly more grand and triple the size so it’s going to be on a bigger scale than Duffield.
“It will be different but fundamentally the same – still the same concept of a wine bar but there will be an outside terrace by the river. We just have to adapt to the size.”
Bradmans will be a welcome addition to the high street in Matlock, which is already home to several restaurants and a cocktail bar.
“We will probably do some really simple cheese and meats to go with the wine,” Tom adds.
“Matlock is really good for an afternoon or evening out; you can get the train from Duffield in 15 minutes. You could do a Bradmans afternoon in Matlock and come back to Duffield for a night-time party!”
The father-and-son team expect to split their time between the two sites, “to get things rolling” until they find a manager.
They are still very much in the design phase and Tom says: “We don’t want to rush things, and at the moment we just don’t know what’s around the corner. I’d be amazed if we were open by Christmas. We know that January and February aren’t great months for the wine trade so in an ideal world, I’m thinking it will be March.”
Ipswich indie is learning every day
Richard Sadler has branched out from specialising in computers to open his first wine shop.
Bin93.uk in Ipswich was inspired by Wine Boutique in Felixstowe, whose owner John Greenwold was contacted by Sadler prior to the launch.
“I asked if we could have a gentlemen’s agreement. I buy my wine from him and I have copied his model, but put my own spin on it,” explains Sadler.
“I remember when John started the drinking-in aspect, about five years ago, and it went mad for him.”
Sadler’s background is hospitality with his main business being computerised tills for the trade. Fifteen years ago he set up his computer repair shop.
He admits he’s not a wine expert. “I’m self-taught and I’m honest with the customer and happy to suggest they use Vivino: it’s so easy to use and you can read what other people have written about the wine and check what we’re charging,” he says.
“I’m learning every day. I’m working on the basis that if the customer chooses a wine and they really don’t like it, there’s no problem; it will just become an option for the glass of the day.”
Sadler has spent £40,000 renovating the premises, and there is room to expand.
The generous space has made it easy for him to operate under Covid-19 conditions. “We’re big on the social distancing and we’ve had a very positive response,” he says.
“I’ve asked everyone to book with a maximum of four to a table. The building is so big that we can manage it very well. We’ve got people coming in who haven’t been out since March but they feel comfortable in our venue.”
New lease of life for hennings’ goring branch
Hennings may have called time on its branch at Goring, near Worthing, but former manager Damian Wingate has taken on the shop and is preparing to re-open next month.
Wingate will be joined by Graham Johnson and Roz Cloke and the new shop will be re-branded as Partners in Wine.
When Wingate first started working at the store 20 years ago it was a Wine Rack. “I do say to people that I come with the lease,” Wingate says. “I love what I do, I love the customers, I live locally and it’s great for me to be here.
“When this opportunity arose to take over from Hennings, it seemed to be a viable proposition. Matthew [Hennings] has been really good to me and when I said we’d take it over ourselves he was delighted.”
Hennings will be the main supplier for the moment, which Wingate admits “gives us a leg up and a good starting point,” but he is keen to explore new avenues with other suppliers in the future.
He says: “We’ve got some wines coming in from Bulgaria and potentially from Japan and India too. We want to see how they go and what people think of them.
“The luxury that a shop like ours has is that the majority of our customers are very open, very willing to give something a go and because I’ve known them so long and Graham has also known them for a couple of years, they are happy to take our recommendations and make new discoveries.
“The demographic is changing – I would still say the majority is retirement age with a disposable income. But there is a younger group moving in from London and Brighton. Worthing is a thriving area as far as restaurants and bars are concerned. It’s a good middle ground for London or Brighton, it’s very peaceful, relaxed and easygoing. It’s a great place to live.”
arch life will suit hoults just fine
Hoults is relocating from its current home on a Huddersfield retail park to a nearby railway arch.
It’s an environment that will suit owner Rob Hoult well, and not just because of the significant reduction in his rent bill: the company once had a branch in the Leeds arch now occupied by Latitude Wine.
But the move spells the end of the wine bar created on his current site last year, which Hoult was determined to keep entirely separate from the retail area.
“If there’s one thing this pandemic has proved it’s that wine shops are a good thing,” says Hoult.
“Retail is the most important element of our business, and always has been for me.”
The move from a 3,000 square foot site to one that’s a third the size was prompted by the closure of near neighbours including Laura Ashley and The Bath Store, and fruitless negotiations with the landlord.
“We sat down with the landlord in January to discuss it and they didn’t come back with an offer at any point,” Hoult says.
“I said, we’ll have been here for 12 years when the lease expires in August; I’ve given you over half a million pounds in rent over that period and I haven’t got a bean to show for it. Lesson learned.
“By moving we save £40,000 per year. It’s a no-brainer in that way.”
The new site is only 60 metres from the current store. “There is more frontage and more visibility and so it’s all positive,” Hoult says. “It’s just that when you move from a larger site to a smaller site it can look more perilous than it really is.
“The warehouse model is a dead duck for wine – for anything these days, really. People want a shop and that’s why we restructured some years ago.
“Everyone wanted bigger and better – ‘more square feet equals more sales’ – but that mantra is dead in the water now. Nobody thinks that way. IKEA want high-street stores – the bigger site comes with increased costs. It’s not the way that people look at things these days.
“We’ll put in the range we’ve got now and, moving forward, we’ll actually expand it slightly. With the smaller cost base, we have more agility in that sense.
“As and when – and I think it won’t be until next year – we’ll carry on doing things like winemaker evenings with wine and food, and we might look at some pop-up environment for the bar. But I don’t see that we can sensibly fit in with what is a very busy retail business, having tables and chairs in amongst the wines.
“The more successful the shop is, the more stock we need, the less space we’ve got, and that’s what we envisage.
“We could move tables and chairs in for an evening for a specific event, so there are elements of a wine bar that we bring back into it.
“In January we might look for a site nearer the town centre to put the wine bar in. We always had that intention originally, but then we thought we’d make use of the space we had.
“The lease here expires on August 6, so we have such a short window of time, and we are very busy as a business right now anyway. But it will get done, it will work.
“We’ll get a business in that railway arch for the beginning of August that looks good but might not be how we’d do it if we were doing it from scratch. We might close for a couple of weeks in February and re-do it properly, but we’ll see.”
Are there any drawbacks to running a wine merchant in an arch? Hoult can think of one: “It was a nightmare to try and get long wave when Test Match Special was on.”
aitken thinks big with new store
Aitken Wines in Dundee is on the move to a bigger premises, and owner Patrick Rohde is taking the opportunity to install tap wines and increase the deli offering.
“We will have three taps and see how it goes,” explains Rohde. “Our focus will be on the sustainable/biodynamic and organic wines. We’ve been talking to Graft and the kit itself is from Lindr. We’re still exploring the vessels as I think they have to be marked with weights and measures.”
So are the people of Dundee ready to embrace the bring-your-own-bottle concept?
“There aren’t many places in Scotland that do it and I think our clientele can be guided down that route,” Rohde says.
“People are appreciating all the good stuff about sustainability more and more and this is just a natural evolution of it. There’s also an element of fun – it all adds a bit of theatre.”
Rohde anticipates opening the new 250 square foot premises in August. “It’s a bit of an empty space right now,” he says. “I’m having some nice bespoke shelving units fabricated right now – it’s going to have the usual chic industrial look.”
The shop will be strictly retail and wholesale, though Rohde admits he would “love a little area in the corner” where people can have some cheese and charcuterie and a glass.
“Dundee council aren’t allowing that for the time being, but watch this space,” he says. “I’ve got the wine bar anyway, so the pressure is not really on to that extent. But it would be nice to at least serve coffee and give people another reason to come in and enjoy the space.”
During lockdown Aitken Wines has been “ticking over” with click-and-collect and home deliveries. Rohde says he’s not planning on re-opening to the public until he is safely ensconced in the new shop.
The running of the wine bar under new rules presents different concerns. He says: “I’m not rushing to be the first open. The external area is weather dependent and not really viable unless I offer something else. I think I will offer some off-sales from the bar and some takeaway coffee. We’ll be working to 20% or 30% capacity and the two-metre rule is really prohibitive.”
Despite current trading restrictions, Rohde is upbeat about his imminent move, positive about the future and already thinking ahead to a special anniversary.
“This new place will be up and running and in good shape for our 150th birthday in 2024,” he says.
lining is more orange than silver
Hackney is now home to a new wine bar and shop, exclusively for orange wines.
Silver Lining was previously a restaurant with its own cocktail bar, Every Cloud, situated next door, but lockdown has meant a change of direction for the business.
Managing director Sarah Maddox explains: “We decided early on that we were going to shut down and brace the impact rather than think on our feet, and we’ve really appreciated that time to step back and work out what it was that we really wanted to do.”
So, earlier this month Silver Lining relaunched as a shop retailing more than 30 varieties of orange wine. Maddox says she is “passionate about orange and skin-contact wines,” and for the past year Silver Lining had been hosting Orange Wednesdays, a weekly promotion of orange wines with food pairing and visiting reps.
“Hackney has a very foodie atmosphere and we are surrounded by great restaurants and bars offering a range natural wines, so it’s nice not to be so much in competition with them and stand alone with our offering,” she says.
“We love working with small independent suppliers and reaching out to new, interesting winemakers and I’m definitely looking forward to working with more people in the future. We’ve got wines from all over the world though sadly nothing from the UK at the moment, but only because they’ve only been sold out through their suppliers.”
Once operating restrictions are relaxed and the business can once more welcome guests to the bar, the retail element will remain.
“A lot of the magic of our restaurant is the attention to detail and for us not to be able to talk about the wine and the food at the table with guests doesn’t work for us,” she adds.
“By waiting it out and making coffee and pastries to go, and offering the wine as well, soon enough we’ll be able to return with the good food and wine pairings.”
All’s well in Wells as Santé relocates
Santé Wines has relocated and opened a wine bar and shop in the tiny Somerset city of Wells.
The premises is in a Grade II listed building, part of the historic Bishop’s Eye Gateway. There are two floors and outside seating, enough room for 30 covers.
Owner David Schroetter has formed a partnership with local businessman Louis Agabani for this new venture.
Schroetter says: “I’d been in my shop for 12 years and I needed a bit of a renaissance as they say, so it was perfect – the feedback has been amazing. It’s a huge project and it would have been too big to do on my own.”
Schroetter admits that in March he thought perhaps the pandemic would mean the end of trading and he would lose his business. “But,” he says, “within 72 hours my phone didn’t stop. The minute I closed my shop and just did deliveries, my turnover went up 40%.
“I’ll have to continue with deliveries. Customers still come into the shop and buy one or two bottles and then while they are there they say ‘I’ll have a case of this and a case of that – can you deliver?’”
Used to working on his own, Schroetter is pleased that his son has now joined the business full-time, along with Agabani’s son and daughter, so it’s become a growing family enterprise.
Although he admits he had in recent years slowed down on importing, that too has changed.
“Since lockdown when I got busier and busier, I started importing again and that’s given it a boost as well because people are always looking for something new. I’ve got seven new vineyards that are exclusive to us, so it’s good.
“I still sell a lot of French wine – I’m French, there’s always going to be a lot of French wine – but I have expanded and I’ve got a lot from Italy and Spain and Armenia. I’ve got some beautiful stuff from Armenia.”
D BYRNE MOTHBALLS LEGENDARY WINE SHOP
Staff at D Byrne in Clitheroe have pulled off an almost Herculean task of transforming the warehouse into a shop in order to create a safer retail environment for customers.
The family business’s legendary labyrinthine shop in King Street will remain mothballed until Covid-19 no longer poses a threat.
Joseph Byrne explains: “Part of the charm of our shop is its intimate nature, and people don’t want that at the moment.
“We’ve got much more square footage in the warehouse and we can keep the doors pegged open. It’s been a big job to turn it all around, we had to move a lot of stuff, but we’ve managed to create the same atmosphere that we have in the shop. We’ve had some really good feedback from the customers.”
The new till area was built by Joseph’s uncle, a professional joiner, and as he found the Perspex screening “nigh on impossible” to source, he used glass to full effect. Shelving has been installed and almost the full range of 8,000 different lines is on display.
Before the relocation the business was operating on a call-and-collect basis during lockdown which Joseph says “worked really well”. But he adds: “Part of the passion is face-to-face selling and recommendations, and it’s just not quite the same if you’re doing it by email or over the phone.”
D Byrne has been a Clitheroe institution for well over a century and it’s unthinkable that the shop won’t re-open.
“The aim is always to get back to the original shop,” says Joseph. “The building has been in the family for 130 years – I’m now fifth generation. It’s a bit unknown at the moment but we’ll probably stay here [in the warehouse] at least into the New Year.
“Once we are established here and we re-open the shop we’ll have two sites in town and the joy is that we have parking at this site, which has made a big difference to a lot of customers.”
lockdown inspires new online wine merchant
Winepost is an online business that started as a direct result of Covid-19.
Owner Tristan Thomas says: “During lockdown I was trying to think of what goods and food and drink we could get delivered to the house to minimise supermarket shops. When I looked online, I felt wine was quite difficult to shop for if you didn’t know much about it, which is the bracket I fall into.
“I know I like wine and I know a few types of wine I like, but I don’t know why I like them or what else I should be looking for.”
Customers can sign up for three, six or 12 bottles with an option of monthly or bi-monthly deliveries. Thomas says the target market is people aged between 25 and 40, earning “decent” money, time-poor (hence the appeal of delivery), and perhaps a little intimated when it comes to buying wine.
Each wine is accompanied with tasting cards and notes about the wine and customers are encouraged to provide feedback to aid the process of tailoring future orders to suit their tastes.
“Hopefully you learn about the wine you are receiving and learn about what you like and don’t like and end up getting wine delivered that you love every time,” says Thomas.
A little like Naked Wines then? “To some extent, I think so,” admits Thomas, “but I think even Naked Wines has a high barrier to entry in that it’s quite intimidating. We are similar but with a focus on moving as many decisions away from the customer as possible and then educating them as they go along.”
A big hurdle for a wine business relying on delivery has to be couriers and Thomas found this out very early on. He says: “Our first courier was UPS. It sounds like they have these automated sorting machines which drop [the packages] down a chute with a metre and a half drop at the end, so if your box is the first to go down that chute with nothing to land on then it doesn’t end very well.
“We’ve invested heavily in our packaging and now we are working with APC who seem to be by far the best of a bad bunch. The last few weeks have been smoother.”
Compostable cardboard pulp packaging fits in with the eco-friendly ethos of the business and has been thoroughly tested. “We’ve been throwing wine bottles filled with water around in that and it seems much, much stronger.”
Premises were easy to come by as a self-storage unit is the company’s HQ. “It’s great,” says Thomas, “because it means as we start small, we can work from what is effectively a large cupboard and add on new units relatively easily.
“In the next year or two we’d like to keep growing online and cement our position there. We’re not going to be able to open shops in every town around country – I don’t think we’d want to – but we would like to figure out how we can blend that online and offline combination.
“People still want to see the wines they are buying and talk to people so whether that’s working with specific stores and doing pop up events, it’s finding a way to connect with people without having to invest in bricks and mortar.”
pub becomes a wine merchant
Lockdown has seen a pub in Bury St Edmunds morph into a wine merchant. The One Bull is one of five pubs owned by the Gusto Pronto group and its proactive decision to open a wine shop, Vino Gusto, within the temporarily empty space is paying off.
Group beverage manager Jake Bennett-Day is now based at The One Bull full-time, running Vino Gusto.
He says: “We’ve always toyed with the idea of a retail element but being given the luxury of time is something we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks.
“We were really conscious that when we put the shop together we didn’t want it to feel like a pub that was trying to flog off their stock, so we’ve put a lot of thought into the positioning of shelves also to make sure we comply with social distancing.
“Historically we have always used Liberty and so we turned to them completely in order to fill the shop initially. We’ve recently added a few lines from Hallgarten just to give our portfolio a bit of diversity.”
Bennett-Day previously worked with John Hoskins MW at The Old Bridge in Huntingdon before joining Gusto Pronto.
Although the business expects to retain the retail element once the on-trade is allowed to reopen, he says it’s unlikely that the model would be replicated elsewhere in the group.
“The other sites are more rural and not in a location that calls for a wine shop,” he says. “Here we are in the town centre and the town has been crying out for a wine shop for a long time.
“I always wanted to be the person to put something together. It’s been fantastic – the initial response has been amazing. It’s lovely to do something positive while we can’t do what we do best.”
wine shop will be born in a barn
Plans are underway for a new wine merchant in Banbury.
Mike White intends to open Underdog Wines at the end of the summer. “It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment,” he says, “we are still aiming to open in September but we will have to play it by ear.”
Located “just outside of Banbury, next door to a farm shop,” Underdog Wines will take up the mezzanine floor in an old converted barn, and the ground floor will be a dedicated event space.
“We’ll be doing pop-up kitchens to really showcase local chefs and the ingredients that they grow on the farm,” says White.
White took over his family business, North Oxfordshire Wine, six years ago when he was 24 years old. “It started in the 80s,” he says, “and for a while we did have a shop in the early 90s. It focuses on the wholesale side of things – pubs, restaurants and wedding venues – but since I joined, I have wanted a retail outlet.”
White believes the time is right to add another string to the company’s bow as coronavirus lays waste to sections of the on-trade.
“Unfortunately, coming out of this, pubs and restaurants are going to find it incredibly tough and that’s ultimately going to lead back to small wine merchants that are supplying them as well – so diversifying at the moment can only be a good thing.
“It’s been a real eye-opener for me trying to find an appropriate space and it’s been a long search. I wanted somewhere with ample parking but would be equally nice for people to come and sit in and enjoy a by-the-glass selection.”
White is aiming for a list of between 350 and 400 wines which will primarily be organic and sourced from Graft and Carte Blanche.
the wolf of trafalgar street
Brighton will soon be home to Cut Your Wolf Loose, a bar and shop predominantly focused on whisky but with wine and craft beer in the mix.
The new venture is led by spirits importer and distributor Woolf Sung, as owner Seb Woolf explains.
“My company evolved from dealing just in fine wine and Champagne to include spirits because more and more customers wanted them,” he says.
“We now have a number of our own brands, which we distribute across the UK and Europe, including The Artful Dodger Whisky.
“We are an independent bottler too and we supply companies such as Selfridges, Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange. We also supply bulk spirits to other independent bottlers. So this bar is the next step as we thought it would be nice to take the spirits we source direct to the consumer.”
Whisky lovers will be able to access sample bottles containing “unique expressions” direct from the casks.
“You will be able to pick drams from, say, five bottles and you’ll get a pack that you can walk out with,” Woolf says.
“I really want to be an institution in Brighton for the whisky scene. I’m going to set up another independent bottling line and it will run under the name of the bar, and hopefully we can place those bottles in other restaurants and bars in Brighton.”
Woolf has had his work cut out negotiating council red tape and making structural changes to his premises.
He allows himself a slight sigh when recounting his five hour-long licensing panel meeting on Skype. Even the extensive building issues he’s encountered don’t appear to have fazed him, although he admits that between dealing with the planning and licensing and having to put steels in to support the floors, he’s “not thought so much about the wine side at the moment,” he says.
“I might reach back out to my contacts in France; I might find some younger Bordeaux that hit the mark – I’m a big fan of white Bordeaux.”
Locals who remember the original Trafalgar Street shop, which for 36 years traded as Trafalgar Wines, won’t recognise the premises when it reopens.
“I’ve ripped everything out and started again,” says Woolf.
“There will be a big window where the back door used to be and the access to the rear garden will be from the basement which is being refurbished and will be part of the bar and shop.”
Custard and wine combine in Brum
Wholesaler Wine Freedom is all set to expand its offering to include a wine bar and shop in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Co-owner Sam Olive explains: “Currently we are trade focused, supplying a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants around the Midlands and the next stage of our development will be to become more business-to-consumer.”
Olive and his business partner, Taylor Meanwell, have over 15 years’ experience in the hospitality and retail sectors, with Bibendum, Avery’s and Majestic featuring in Olive’s CV alone.
“We’ve been a slightly nomadic wine wholesaler for the last four years,” he says. “We’ve found this lovely 2,500sq ft unit and one of the great things about it is that while we never would have found something that size and layout in the city, it is only a 10-minute walk from the city centre.”
The site is part of the Bird’s Custard Factory estate. Its units and work-spaces, with their original Crittall windows, high ceilings and exposed steels, are straight out of central casting for “stylish urban hang-out”.
“The main driver for us is wine education and this will be at the heart of everything we’ll be doing,” Olive says. “We’ll be creating experiences where you’ve got education and tasting stories coming together, from straightforward wine tastings to big wine parties. We’re putting a kitchen in there too so we can start doing some great things with food and wine.
“Hopefully we will be a WSET course provider – a lot of that will be trade focused during the start of the week. We’re putting in a nice big bar with retail around the edge and we can fit in a good 120 or so standing. Although there is room for 80+ covers, we’ll see what the kitchen can cope with.”
Patience is the name of the game here – and Olive is pretty Zen-like when discussing the current situation. “Most of our customers are going to have a massive downturn in trade but I’m sure we’ll come out of it,” he says. “For now we just want to keep communication open.
“We’re biding our time; the wine bar and shop launch will hopefully take place in June or July. In the next few months we’ll be getting our e-commerce operation off the ground.
“It’s a work in progress – we are doing some crowd-funding as and when this coronavirus subsides. We are working with a local architect to create a nice big, flexible space for friends, family and businesses to come together and have a good time and learn a little bit about wine.”
Former Corks Out crypt to reopen
One of Chester’s oldest buildings, formerly inhabited by Corks Out, has been given a new lease of life and will re-open this summer as Vin Santo under the ownership of Simon Parkinson.
Parkinson, owner of Vinological in Chester market, explains the two shops will complement each other but will be run completely separately. “Vin Santo is a different concept to Vinological and has a different target audience,” he says.
The ancient Watergate Street shop underwent extensive renovations in 2017 and Parkinson, who has been in negotiations to secure the site since early January, has been able to purchase all the fixtures and fittings as well as the Enomatics. “The refurbishment was fantastic so we are not making a huge number of changes; for all intents and purposes it is a ready-to-go store,” he says.
Vinological will continue under the management of Will Honeywell and Parkinson will welcome Tom Scargill as the manager at Vin Santo. “Tom and I worked together in Corks Out, Chester many years ago,” he says, “so it’s a bit of a homecoming in a way and we hope that will be a draw for the customers. We want all our former regulars to know that we’re back and we can deliver exactly what they loved the first time around.
“We are looking at doing something a little bit different to the regular wine bar/shop model in terms of the food we’ll be serving, but I’m keeping that under wraps for now.”
Whalley can wait for new wine bar
Tom Jones at The Whalley Wine Shop has been looking to separate out the retail and on-trade aspects of the business, so when the site next door became available, he jumped at the chance to take it on as a wine bar.
“It’s a challenging time for all of us,” he says, “but you have to look past this and plan for what the next step is.”
Originally the idea was to open in the old Barclays bank site this summer, but for obvious reasons things are on hold for now. Jones says: “It’s still bubbling away in the background, and though the everyday stuff has ground to a halt, we’re still heading in the right direction.
“We’re lucky that we can carry on with the delivery side of things. It gives us the luxury of being able to plan how we’re going to grow.”
Jones anticipates that he will need a bar manager and an assistant manager as well as a number of part-time bar staff.
“I want to give quite a bit of freedom to whoever we recruit as the bar manager,” he explains. “Hopefully I will find the right person who can come in early at the start and have the chance to put their own stamp on things, including decisions on the kinds of wines we are serving.
“Some of our key lines will be in there and we’ll want some of the suppliers we work closely with to have a presence. So although there’ll be some overlap, I hope there’ll be some unique products too.”
Jones estimates that construction will take about two months. “So as it won’t be the summer, like every good house move, we’ll be in by Christmas,” he says.