The David Perry Column


It is getting proper cold now and that’s always a dilemma. How can I keep myself from freezing without warming the whole shop?

I have a little heater behind the counter and a collection of heavy-duty thermals. I sometimes hear, “It’s OK for you, but what about us customers?” I have to explain that, to be honest, I’m more concerned about the wine, especially the top-end white Burgundy. And anyway the little heater does no more than prevent serious frostbite. With decent boots and thermal socks, I haven’t had frostbite for a few years now.

In a previous life I worked for a Midlands Co-op society before the central buying group formed. Sometimes I’d have a run around the smaller shops in Birmingham. They had the odd bottle of Chablis and because it was relatively expensive it was on the top shelf.

Now here’s the issue. When it was cold they would have heaters on and a pillow of hot air would settle on the ceiling. They’d turn the heaters off at night and the shop would plunge to near zero. Anyone who understands the estufagem process in Madeira will guess the consequences.

I would take the brown wine off the shelf and explain that it was not saleable. I’d return a while later and find it back on sale because, I learned, reduced waste was a Key Performance Indicator. I started taking a big black marker pen with me and became quite unpopular.

I was reminded of this a while back when I saw a newspaper article on a reasonably new but sufficiently distant indie wine shop. It was coming up to Christmas and they had a picture of their roaring wood burner surrounded by wooden boxes of top-end wines. The caption read something like “come and warm yourself by our fire while browsing our range”. I have to confess I was envious of the nice, toasty working conditions but decided to maintain the cellar-like chill in my shop.

We stock Flor de Vetus Verdejo (Liberty Wines) which has a clever label. It is white with a white butterfly. The butterfly is thermo-chromatic and goes blue when it is cool enough to drink. In the shop it is generally blue from September through until the following April. That’s quite handy when someone inevitably asks if we have anything chilled: everything is chilled, including me! And I can prove it. That particular wine also alerted me to the fact that our fridge at home was not working properly.

One particularity harsh winter, I remember a lady customer looking at the Champagne and asking if we had any in a chiller. She had just stepped around a small snow drift to get to the cleared pavement outside the shop. I explained it was probably as cold as anyone would want it. “Well I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m wearing gloves.”

I get that most wines bought in our shops are for immediate consumption, but just how cold do you need it to be? In the good old days white would be served at cellar temperature, not half frozen, and red at room temperature – that’s the temperature of a big room with no central heating or double glazing, so not warm at all. Here’s a confession, though: when it gets really cold and I need to plunge myself into a steaming hot bath when I get home, I take the red wine with me.

Because we are on the shady side of the street we never get direct sunshine on the front window. The south-facing back wall is baked outside but the two feet of stone prevents any warming of the store room. This means that even in the height of the summer the shop remains fairly cool. It also means I can justify not having a chiller. I don’t want to have a chiller either because it takes up a lot of space, it is expensive to run and it pumps out a lot of heat which I would need to get rid of with air conditioning. So I don’t have a chiller. My electricity bill this month? £18.53.

In the words of Elsa, the Ice Queen: “Cold never bothered me anyway.”

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