Andrew Byrne calls time

ArticlesComings & Goings

After more than 50 years in the trade Andrew Byrne is ready to retire. But he’s leaving D Byrne & Co in the capable hands of his brother Philip, and his own son, Joseph, who is now the fourth generation to run the iconic family business.

The oldest of 14 children, Andrew always knew he was expected to join his father in the shop, but he saw it as a positive opportunity rather than mere filial duty.

“This business is a great place to be to learn stuff,” says Andrew. “You get taken all over the world. I left school at 14, which was allowed in those days. We were grocers back then but Philip and I grew the wine side of things. We’re both self-taught, and I’ve taught my son Joseph all I know. He’s become a great whisky expert.”

There is a lot of affection in the trade for D Byrne & Co. It’s been the recipient of many awards over the years and has a reputation for its huge range of wines, made all the more exciting by being housed (until Covid hit) in a rather romantic Victorian building that invites exploration and discovery.

It’s easy to imagine that many indies have been inspired by a visit to the shop on King Street in Clitheroe.

“We’re probably one of the best-known wine businesses in the country,” Andrew concedes. “I’ve grown up with wine and as wine drinking has grown in this country, we’ve grown with it. We’ve tried to be at the forefront of everything as far as we could be, all the time.


We think we’ve got the lowest mark-up on our wines in the country. That’s how we built our business up


“We’ve always had opposition – there’s been three big wine companies that have competed against us, and we’ve always managed to outdo them because we own our own buildings.

“We think we’ve got the lowest mark-up on our wines in the country. That’s how we built our business up – if somebody wants something they know they can probably find it in our shop and we’ll probably be the cheapest in the country for it. And that’s how we’ve built our reputation.

“We’re not greedy with our profits. Me and Philip, we don’t drive fancy cars or anything like that. We’ve not been down that route.”

A couple of years ago, the family relocated the entire operation to their warehouse which, being the complete antithesis to a labyrinthine Victorian property, was more conducive to shopping in Covid times. It was an opportunity for some long-awaited maintenance on the high street premises, which Andrew says will re-open, in addition to the warehouse site, as soon as they find a replacement for him to work in the shop.

He admits that while the character of the more quirky premises was probably part of the attraction for customers, the company has certainly not lost any business by operating from the warehouse.

“We’re just as busy as we always were, and it’s better because there’s somewhere to park. We’ve actually increased our range now, because there’s more room there.”

Two particularly memorable trips during his career stand out. “My favourite trip was with Boutinot,” Andrew says. “We did Chile and Argentina and saw all our agencies out there. That was a stunning trip because I really enjoy cooking and in Argentina we were looked after by a Michelin-starred chef and he taught us to cook.

“I also went to Italy where I made my own wine. We went to Araldica, a Barbera d’Asti Estate, and we tried about 30 or 40 samples from different aspects of the vineyard with different combinations of wood and non-wood. I made my own Barbera wine and that was really enjoyable. I had to commit to about 10 pallets. It sold well, as I’ve got pictures around the shop of me making it, so customers can see exactly how I did it.”

After all this excitement, what will Andrew be doing in his retirement?

“Well, it’s not something you can just drop easily,” he says, “but I’ve had my first week off now and I managed to keep myself busy. I do enjoy gardening and so my garden should be in prime condition come autumn.

“I’ve enjoyed the trade very, very much over the years. It’s been a great place to grow up in and I’ve made many friends.

“I’m a member of a club round here where all the merchants meet up regularly for blind tastings and things like that. We always have a good flight of wines that we taste blind and we’re all as bad as each other at guessing what they are. I was at one run by Leeds Brewery and we finished up with a bottle of 1962 Mouton Rothschild. It was in perfect nick and it was one of the best wines I’ve ever tried in my life.

“I remember selling that when I first came into the trade and, if I remember rightly, it was about 12 shillings. It’s about £5,000 a bottle now.”

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