If you weren’t working in wine, what would you be doing?
I’m not sure because when I was 30 everything changed for me. I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition which meant I have had open heart surgery and two further heart surgeries, with a number of complications. While I was recovering I really thought about what I was passionate about and what I wanted from life, and the two things I loved were coffee and wine.
Where did your love of wine begin?
My passion for wine came from a family connection with rare wines from around the world. Having recently moved back home to Devon with my fiancée, I got a job at a local vineyard to learn more about the industry and I fell in love with English wine and everything it stands for. It was not long before the English Wine Collection was born.
Have you carried any skills forward from your previous career?
I used to work in London, running a logistics firm and transporting luxury goods all over the world. It meant working with people who expected the best and wanted it delivered yesterday. I learnt a lot about shipping and managing expectations, which is integral to running an online wine store.
What was the first English wine you tasted?
I have tried so many, I can’t remember but I do know that the first English wine I thought was exceptional, was the Early Pinot Noir from Sixteen Ridges. It showed surprising depth for an English red wine, with a wonderfully rich palate.
Why did you choose to stock English wine exclusively?
I wanted to have a unique aspect that separated us from other wine retailers. At the time of starting the English Wine Collection we were the only dedicated online retailer exclusively for English wines who actually bought direct from the vineyards. Most online businesses don’t hold stock, but I wanted to, so that there would be a quick and easy turnaround for our customers.
What is your favourite part of finding new English wine suppliers?
The wine. It’s always great to get a new taste sensation from a wine that you have not yet experienced. I also enjoy finding out about the stories that each vineyard has to tell because the English wine industry is full of so many passionate people who are excellent at their craft.
What is the most challenging part of finding new suppliers?
It can be hard to find out about some of the boutique producers who don’t attend trade shows and tasting events. I’m always keen to try new English wines and we are very fortunate that a lot of vineyards contact us directly. Individuals also recommend wines that they have enjoyed and want to know if we can source them.
What is the most memorable wine you have tasted?
My taste for certain wines has changed and evolved. I used to be a fan of big bold red wines, the classic Bordeaux style. However, now I prefer a lighter Pinot noir style red or a crisp, fresh white wine. The subtleties in the character which can be drawn out of a delicate white wine are wonderful. Lyme Bay produce great whites, Digby’s sparkling white is a must for any sparkling wine lover, and for red I would say Sixteen Ridges’ Pinot.
Are there plans to add any Welsh wines?
I’ve often thought about this and am open to selling all wines from Great Britain. If it’s good enough, then of course we’re interested.
What’s most important: packaging, stories or accolades?
The beauty of the English wine industry is the individual stories of the people and we decided to publish a series of English vineyard interviews on our website to tell the stories of all the vineyards that we stock. For me, wine is a talking point and stories help to stay in someone’s mind because it becomes more than just ‘a glass of wine’. One of our goals is also to raise the profile and awareness of English wine so we have just started our own podcast too.
How do you help customers discover new wines?
It might not be face to face, but we are really passionate about customer service and offering personal advice. We encourage people to submit questions via our website and email, we have wines in very specific categories, such as what goes well with a Sunday roast, and have a detailed Q&A section to help answer the top questions about English wine.
Do your customers have any key shopping trends?
We often find that some customers will order 12 completely different bottles of wines from us, then a few weeks later they will order whole cases of some of those wines. Every time this happens it makes me smile, as this was one of the reasons for setting up the store. I wanted to be able to offer entirely mixed cases of English wine and when customers take full advantage of that it shows we have a unique and valued offering.
Do you think producers need to make wines more accessible for regular customers?
I think wine in general, including English wine, needs to be better understood. It’s too easy to pop down to the supermarket and pick up a bottle of wine for under £10 and then that becomes an expectation. Everybody has a maximum spend, but with a better understanding, consumers can get so much more from the wine. In one sense, it would be great if English wine was in every supermarket and everybody knew about it, and if it could be produced at a level that drove the prices down. However, as soon as you get to that large mass scale you inevitably lose something.
How would you describe a typical English wine?
I would say that an English still white, for instance, should be beautifully clear in the glass with a hint of lemon yellow or green summer grass. Notes of ripe citrus fruits and a palate that is ‘to the point’ with a clear, definable array of citrus fruits. I expect crisp, lively acidity with enough edge to cut through fatty foods. The finish should be medium to long in length and most importantly leave you wanting more.
How can producers better position themselves in a competitive market?
The most obvious way is competitive pricing, but that’s not very realistic. The majority of consumers are used to spending under £10 for their wine but the English wine industry can’t compete here, so the best way is to continue the pursuit for producing the finest wines in the world.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Sit and think about the question or problem you are facing. Ignore the first and second ideas which come into your head. Take note of the third and fourth as these will be the ideas that are worth pursuing.