An important question came to my mind, which I believe is very important to The Wine Conversation.
“Where is it cool to buy wine?”
Plenty of places will sell you wine, but where do people WANT to go and buy it? Once upon a time, and one of the main reasons the wine culture in the UK became ‘cool’, that place was Oddbins. They may not have been everywhere yet, but anyone interested in wine, particularly if you were younger and wanting to know more about the wine world, would know the name ODDBINS.
It was a place to hang out and find all sorts of weird and wonderful, and just affordable, wine discoveries. Australia. Chile. South Africa. California. Exotic names and brands.
Not only were the wines available, but you could be certain that the person behind the counter, and very often not behind the counter but on the shop floor ready to talk to you, would know a great deal. They would have just tasted some “amazing new listing” that they could recommend.
My wife (girlfriend at the time of course) would know that if I went in “just to browse” I would certainly come out with a bottle of something.
Where are they, and their successors today?
Majestic is certainly one of the most successful. Their ‘by the case’ formula is very good for the bottom line, and profitability and confidence help to keep that success going. But 12 bottles is too much for a student or young person just starting out with wine. I was worried about spending £7, never mind £50.
I believe that when he moved to take charge of wine (amongst other things) at Tesco, Dan Jago said that his aim, and I paraphrase slightly, was to make it the kind of place even those in the wine trade would be happy to buy their wine. He has certainly overseen an interesting expansion of their range, I can’t fault that. Unfortunately, I personally can’t see Tesco or any supermarket being a ‘cool’ place to buy your wine, however good the range (he may well disagree).
Independent Merchants, small shops run by enthusiastic individuals, are certainly out there, but the market is very fragmented and their power to reach out to new consumers is limited. Many also find them quite daunting – an unknown quantity where one’s own lack of knowledge might be sneered at.
Can anyone step in? Threshers seem more intent on becoming convenience stores. Nicolas’ exclusive focus on French wines is insanity in the current climate.
One final alternative are the mail order and internet merchants – and here I’m mainly thinking of Direct Wines / Sunday Times Wine Club / Laithwaites / Virgin. This is a growing area for selling wine, but no-one has yet become THE place to go and buy wine. However, this is something to explore further. Many are vying to be the Amazon of wine retailing.
Maybe Oddbins will finally turn it around, who knows, but it will take a great effort, but who else is there?
So, where do you buy your wine?