The Burning Question

In association with Champagne Gosset

January 2021

I think it’s really easy to sell to them. If young people are spending more time drinking at home and not in pubs then surely wine is a fit. I think it’s about engagement. Independents should look at trends and embrace the new – there’s always going to be a way that works with what each individual business does. Youngsters are still very sociable people and wine is a very sociable drink and you don’t have to spend a fortune. There’s wine below 10 quid, there’s wine below eight quid, and it’s our job to find it.

Rob Hoult, Hoults, Huddersfield (Champagne winner)

One of the ways that we were getting through to that group before lockdown was by having more events. We had one where the doors were thrown open – it was literally like a wine jumble sale. You needed sharp elbows to get through and grab a glass of wine, but it meant there was nothing preachy about it at all. Quite a few younger people came along and found things they really liked. We also had a few music evenings and they definitely worked.

Guy Butters, Rise & Vine, London

It seems the 25-and-under category is getting more savvy by the minute in my opinion. Social media allows younger people to have access to insider knowledge much quicker than we ever used to, which means wine recommendations and tips can be shared instantly. Younger folks are getting to grips with the impact that mass wine production has on the environment and want to buck those trends, so they have more of an interest in where their wine comes from and how it’s made.

Iain Alcott, The Twisted Cellar, Bishops Stortford

I think they are very price-orientated and they are quite impulsive buyers – usually buying something just for the evening ahead. They might be a bit more discerning, dependent on budget. When I was that age I was drinking beer and playing rugby but I know in France after a game, they’ll go out much later and drink wine in the clubs – it’s a cultural thing. People’s tastebuds mature at different stages and there is still a bit of snobbery associated with wine, so generally I think people come to it a bit later.

Simon Lloyd, Lloyd’s Wines, Great Missenden

November 2020

There’s never a bad time of year for Champagne but the bubbles are synonymous with celebration. I’d love to see an increase in sales across the sparkling range – we see many opt for excellent English fizz as their go-to celebratory tipple. We also tend to notice an increase in sales of sweet and fortified wines as the weather turns colder. My best pairing suggestion for the day itself will be a generous glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry with Christmas pudding and quality vanilla ice cream.

Jake Bennett-Day, Vino Gusto @ The One Bull, Suffolk

Gin crackers are proving very popular – it’s a miniature gin in a cracker and it really has captured the imagination. A lot of people are going for gin, vodka or whisky miniatures to try different things out rather than spending on a big bottle. I think they want to increase their chances of not being too disappointed! The lead-up to Christmas has been a little bit slower than last year. In Scotland we’re not in lockdown yet, but I think it will happen and people are getting out now and securing their Christmas purchases.

Alan Irvine, The Scottish Gantry, Glasgow

There will be those who are budget-minded and those with excess money. We mostly operate as a wine bar but now we’re going to swing back to being a shop and our hamper things have already started rolling in. We love having our big cheese selection and at Christmas we switch to some classics and ramp it up with a bit more of an English focus – it’s a good time of year to do that.

Kirsty Tinkler, Weino BIB, London

Premium whisky will be a big push for us, and Italian wine is a big category for us. We are beside some supermarkets so in order to have a marked point of difference we do tend to go for the slightly more obscure – in our area, anyway. Greco di Tufo does quite well, Falanghina and Aglianico do very well for us and Amarones do very well too, from the classic level to the top tiers. Bordeaux and Rioja are popular too. The premium is always there, no matter what – it’s just tapping into it. But you can see people looking at core value so the promotional lines are also very strong at the moment.

Glenn McGarry, McGarry’s Fine Wines, Belfast

October 2020

We only have three tables that seat six – the rest are all fours. People are booking in sixes rather than fours, so all my sixes are always taken. The 10pm curfew for us … we love it! Our opening hours are 10am to 10pm anyway but you’d never get people out for 10pm, it would always be 11 o’clock and then it’s another hour to clear down. So now it’s amazing because people are leaving at 10pm and we have a new online booking system so we’re getting an extra sitting in. For us, productivity has increased.

Zoe Brodie, Honky Tonk Wine Library, Plymouth

We are missing out on the turnover from the last few drinkers. In Lancashire people are being advised not to mix between households, so that’s had quite an effect on us. We had capacity for 40 covers and that has come down to 25 or 30. When people were allowed to stand at the bar we could have 80 in here. The upside is the spend per person has gone up because they are having to book a table and ordering more food. There’s about 15% more margin on food, but based on 50% of our usual turnover.

Ben Fullalove, Fullaloves, Lancashire

The 10pm curfew feels like yet another kick in the teeth – after a whole series of Covid-related kicks in the teeth. We are already running on just 60%, as we have had to lose so many covers to make our premises fully Covid-secure – and the curfew, which effectively means that we have to call last orders at 9.15pm, means we are taking yet another hit: a further 20% reduction in revenue from our drink-in customers. We can’t do any in-house wine tasting events, but thankfully our online tastings are still very popular.

Marc Hough, Cork of the North, Manchester

It’s been like death by a thousand cuts. It hasn’t been difficult to manage logistically: we’re so used now to ringing people up and saying, ‘you’ve got a booking of seven people, you can’t come’, or ‘you‘ve got a booking of six – are you all from two households?’ So it’s just a matter of getting on the phone and contacting people. The 10pm thing has been worse, for sure, because when the government looked at it they probably thought they were just knocking off an hour. But really nobody is coming in after 9pm for a table for an hour, so that’s had a bigger impact.

Duncan Findlater, Smith & Gertrude, Edinburgh 

September 2020

The reps are starting to come back around now. I’ve seen four in the last week. Some of the suppliers we deal with have been fabulous with sending out samples, so if I know I’m looking for something in particular I just send a couple of emails and I get samples at the right price point. I would say the pricing is quite keen at the moment as it’s quite competitive out there. I’ve been able to buy quite a bit from various companies that they’d normally be selling to the on-trade, and that’s been really useful.

Gill Mann, Jaded Palates, Ashburton and Chagford

I like to go to the portfolio tastings and that’s where I’d get my new wines. I look forward to them – that’s the best part of the job! The suppliers have been very good. I’ve just had two bottles in from North South Wines and that’s the way I’m going to have to go from now on. The reps have been furloughed, but they are starting to come out of the woodwork again. I’ve not really needed many new wines as we’ve been selling a choice of cases, but after a bit you get bored of selling the same wines.

Barry Howarth, Lancaster Wine Company

All I’ve really been able to do is trawl through some of my better lists and ask for samples to be sent. Since the start of lockdown I must have listed about 40 new wines, just through doing that. A good way to continue engaging with people was not to keep going back with the same old, same old. One or two suppliers have sent samples when I’ve asked. Enotria have been absolutely brilliant, I can’t praise them highly enough. When people have gone the extra mile to help you, who are you going to be loyal to when it’s all over?

Euan McNicoll, McNicoll & Cairnie, Broughty Ferry

I think we’ve found our suppliers have been quite forthcoming with samples, within reason. They’ve also been suggesting stuff on special offer and things like that. As they’re coming off furlough, reps are slowly coming back and I’ve got some dates in the diary for reps to come in and taste some wines with us. I had one tasting with a supplier a couple of weeks ago and it was very straightforward. We distanced carefully – it just takes common sense, really.

Nick Beedle, The Beckford Bottle Shop, Tisbury

August 2020

In my opinion this would be another obstacle for the wine trade. I have been working in the trade for over 18 years and have never ever come across anyone who has shown any interest about the calories contained in a bottle of wine. Even if this would be mandatory, I do not think this would stop people from drinking their favourite wines. This might make sense for products containing a large amount of sugar, such as soda, but for wine it is pointless.

Carlos Blanco, Blanco & Gomez, London

In over 15 years in the trenches, I can honestly say that I have never been asked by anyone about the calorific content of any of our wines. Sulphites, alcohol levels, vegetarian, vegan, natural, organic, and more – all yes. Never calories. Our customers either don’t care or don’t want to know. By choosing to drink alcohol in the form of better wines, I honestly think people have already made their choice on the potential health impact, and don’t need nanny to tell them off.

Will Bentley, Bentley Wines, Ludlow

I fall somewhere between ‘I don’t care’ and ‘it’s probably a good thing’. I think people underestimate how many calories are in a bottle of wine and for those looking to drink more sensibly, it will help. It might nudge people towards some drier styles. I think the more information we can give customers the better. I don’t think there will be a huge number of people who care, but for the people who do, it’s a good way to start a conversation and that is what the wine trade is all about.

Archie McDiarmid, Luvians, St Andrews

More information and clarity is great when it helps the consumer make a decision. There may be more important things to look at – for example, putting grapes and blends on the label, and chemicals and additives used in the winemaking process. Many wines with appellation laws requiring a certain alcohol percentage, or sweetness level, become disadvantaged as they have no opportunity to be in the low-calorie market. So yes, the labelling would be a good optional idea, but it needs to come with context for the consumer as to what affects the wine, and what would make it low calorie.

Jamie Smith, Tring Winery

July 2020

Holidays and concerts and all sorts of stuff have been scuppered. To be honest I don’t really want to go anywhere, or go on a plane and do anything like that. I’ve got a friend who’s got a place in Whitby, so I might get there but it depends what the rest of the family wants to do. I think this year is written off! I don’t think I’ll be able to step away from the business at the moment anyway so holiday plans aren’t really on my radar.

Louise Smith, The Jug & Bottle, Bubwith

It was my first wedding anniversary in June and my husband and I had planned to go away for a week, but instead we went walking in the south west coast – it wasn’t quite the break in Cornwall that we had planned. The next thing we have planned is for November and hopefully by then there will be some semblance of normality. My husband is a pilot and his experience is that people are being fairly relaxed about face masks – as soon as they’re on board, the masks come off.

Polly Gibson, Grapesmith, Hungerford

It’s difficult for us because both Terry and I run the shop and we don’t have staff, so as and when we take a holiday we rely on a good friend of ours who covers for us. But he is a retired gentleman and he is having to look after his health at the moment. So this year we’re both independently taking the kids off to see different sets of relatives. I’ll be in Cornwall with my sister and then Terry has some pals coming down who will camp with their kids and our kids. It’s been lovely here and it looks like holiday season already!

Nichola Roe, Wine Therapy, Cowes

I won’t be taking a holiday this year but that’s because we’re looking at taking over the running of a deli about 25 miles away, and if it does happen, I can’t just then close for a couple of weeks and go away. If I had the option of a holiday, I’d be happy to fly because I don’t feel there is a huge risk to my personal health, but even if I got to Italy, for example, I don’t think we’d be able to walk around the streets and visit restaurants and nice bars, and that to me is what a holiday is.

Sam Howard, HarperWells, Norwich

June 2020

We just bought lots of hand sanitiser and that’s on a table by the door and at the till as well. We’re not wearing any masks, though quite a few of our customers are wearing them. We only have two members of staff on and it’s one in, one out for customers because we’re quite a small shop. We’re taking contactless payments but when it goes beyond the limit we just wipe down the card machine afterwards. We’re not using the Perspex or glass screens, but we have got tape signage on the floor.

Beata Ramsay, Theatre of Wine, London

I don’t have people coming into the shop at the moment as we have been running a click-and-collect and a delivery service. But I am starting to work towards re-opening. I’ve just bought a big bottle of hand sanitiser. I think the guidance is so unclear. Some people are going shopping at the moment and wearing masks and some aren’t. I think the route I will take is making sure handles are wiped down and hand sanitiser is available for everyone. I think a screen at the counter is a bit overkill.

Tom Flint, Bottle & Jug Department, Worthing

We have hand gel by the door and on the counter. We’ve got a really funny-looking cheap plastic screen. I can’t see through it but as long as it keeps the customers safe! The back of the shop has been turned into a packing area for internet sales and so we have less retail space and we are having a maximum of two people in the shop at any one time. We also have masks, which were quite expensive but we had them printed with our logo on and one with John Cleese on, as well as a Guinness one.

Matt Ellis, The Smiling Grape, St Neots

We’ve got gloves and masks and the shop is clearly marked with tape to indicate the two-metre markers for the customers. The masks were crazily overpriced but we got a box of pretty basic disposable ones. We had trouble getting a protective shield for the counter and we are just about to have some clear acrylic blinds fitted that pull down from the ceiling and attach to the counter. I thought it was worth the bit of extra investment as it’s about future-proofing; when we don’t need them we can retract them, but who knows if there’ll be a second wave or another pandemic?

Carol Edwards, The Wine Reserve, Chobham

April 2020:

The Burning Question April 2020

March 2020:Burning Question March 2020

February 2020:

Burning Question Feb 2020

January 2020:

Screenshot 2020-04-20 at 13.34.30