Henley-on-Thames has long been in need of an independent wine merchant – and now two have opened within months of each other.
July saw the launch of ChinChin Henley, which is owned and run by Adrian Fry, who has already hosted three successful events at the store and has plans for many more.
“The first one was super-nervy for me,” he admits. “Although I had done things like that professionally before, this was my first time doing it with wine, but I think I’ve found my feet. They have been really well received and now I’ve got those first-night nerves out of the way, I really enjoy it.
“We’re discussing doing a Hundred Hills [the nearby sparkling wine producer] evening maybe a little closer to Christmas. I’ve taken a couple of customers to Hundred Hills for a tasting and we had a really fabulous experience there.”
After a corporate life as an HR director, Fry’s growing love of wine got the better of him. He says: “My wife and I have had a coffee shop in Henley for the past year, which has proved really successful, and when the unit next door became available we had a few sleepless nights wondering whether or not to take the plunge.”
ChinChin is a hybrid with enough seating to accommodate 12 people. The wine range is broad and evolving and currently has a strong French representation. “I wouldn’t say it’s a specialist area,” says Fry. “But we are definitely looking for a quality-to-price ratio and I think there are some really, really great wines from lesser-known regions such as Languedoc and the Loire.
“We do have wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy but we are looking outside those typical areas. I’m supported very well by Ruby Willis at Yapp.”
Fry is also working with a small number of other suppliers including Lea & Sandeman and Thorman Hunt.
Another independent wine shop, Jacobini, opened on Hart Street last month. It’s a collaboration between owner John Hatfield, local artist Kirsten Jones and wine importer Eddie McGee.
Jones describes Jacobini as “a creative space where people can come and enjoy a glass of wine, or a bottle”.
She adds: “We do free local delivery and we have a curated collection that is unique because we have connections with vineyards in Italy and France.”
Of the 100 or so lines in stock, most are directly sourced by Hatfield and McGee as a result of their Italian and French expertise, but other countries, notably California, are also represented.
Hatfield is a fan of the enoteca model, so small plates of antipasto and tapas will be served on the premises.