This month Vineyard talks to Marasby, a specialist online platform dedicated to quality UK grown wines and produce. Set up in 2022 by Talya Roberson and Simon Huntington – Marasby is promoting UK wines to both the trade and the end consumer.

 What is Marasby and how did it begin?

England and Wales contain the most exciting cool-climate wine regions in the world, yet 99% of the wine we drink in the UK is still imported. Talya Roberson and I founded Marasby as our way of helping to grow the 1%.

Before Marasby, Talya and I worked together as Commercial Director and Managing Director at an importer known for its American wine specialism – under our tenure, it won USA importer of the year seven years running. We wanted to take everything we learnt building this specialism and apply it to building the profile of our own amazing, emerging, home-grown industry.

A quick note on the name ‘Marasby’ – it’s named after Talya’s three daughters: Margot, Astrid, and Blythe.

What is the ethos of Marasby?

The ethos is encapsulated in Marasby Market, which will be a specialist, curated marketplace for the UK wine industry, launching in September. It has been built to showcase the full diversity of high-quality wines now being produced here, making it easy for consumers to discover and buy English and Welsh wines direct from the producer, while empowering those producers to control their own brands and messaging. 

It’s a collaborative approach that takes the view that we could all fight it out to grab our individual share of the 1%, but we are better off working together to grow into the 99%.

What do you find most exciting about English Wine?

The amazing diversity! The UK is the historic centre of much of the world’s wine trade, and as a result, our country’s drinkers are used to enjoying a huge variety of wine styles, grapes and flavours. That’s not likely to change any more than our foodies are likely to give up enjoying Italian, Thai, or Mexican food.

So it’s great that English (and Welsh) winemakers are producing so many different styles of wine, that will suit so many palates. On Marasby Market, that’s something we’re leaning into, with early adopters that range from large producers of estate grown sparkling wine, to niche producers of pét-nat from purchased fruit.

What trends have you seen in the English wine trade?

The most exciting emerging trend is that wine buyers are now highly open to UK wines. Just 10 years ago, many still had to be persuaded that English sparkling wines were worth trying. Now even the most vaguely interested consumer has heard that we have chalky soils like Champagne and that our sparkling wines are world-class. The same change is now taking place in attitudes towards still wines.

What could English and Welsh wine producers do better?

English and Welsh wine producers have done a brilliant job over the last 20 years of growing the profile and reputation of our sparkling wines. Since the golden vintage of 2018, the industry is beginning to do the same with its still wines. Our wine producers need to double down on what they’re already doing, which is increasingly making delicious, world-class wines.

At the same time, the fast-emerging nature of the industry means that it can be difficult for regular drinkers to keep up. There are 200 wineries and 1000 vineyards in the UK. Once you go beyond the few available in your local supermarket, where on earth do you start? What we’re trying to do at Marasby is to sign-post the best wines, making it easy for consumers to discover English and Welsh wines that they’ll love, and then connect them to buy easily from the amazing people who make them.

Linking food and wine is a major part of your online presence why is this important for your customers? 

Because great wine deserves great food. We felt that English and Welsh wines tended to go brilliantly with UK-grown ingredients and tested the theory last year by spending the summer 100% eating and drinking UK-grown food and wine. We’re doing it again in October if you want to join us!

At the same time, our research tells us that most drinkers associate wine simply with friends, with good times, and particularly with food. So, it makes sense to reflect this in the way that we communicate.

How do you choose the wines you carry?

At Marasby, we describe ourselves as a specialist, curated marketplace, because we do want to be selective in which wines are listed on the platform. Having said that, it’s also important to us that the platform showcases the full diversity of high-quality wines being made in the UK. For that reason, the way we choose wines is more about finding producers who share our philosophy of quality and collaboration, rather than those whose wines fit into a particular box of style or taste.

Do you have plans to work with more producers in the future? (Welsh Wines) 

Absolutely! Marasby is not an ‘English’ wine platform – it’s a specialist, curated marketplace for high-quality UK produce, starting with wine. We will be officially launching Marasby Market in September with at least one Welsh producer and plan to add more to the line-up of early adopters over the next few months. If you’re a producer who’s interested in exploring the platform, please get in touch!

You hold various events to promote English wine could you tell us more about them?

So far, we’ve organised trade-focused events that have looked at interesting aspects of UK wine production. For example, we organised a panel tasting of still Pinot Noir from the 2020 vintage, with a group that included sommeliers from London fine dining, Burgundy import specialists, and wine influencers. 

While it’s important that we keep the trade conversation going, our direct-to-consumer focus means that, from September, we’ll also be launching events that help to build the profile of UK wines with consumers. Watch this space!

What is your customer demographic?

Our research has identified three groups of people who are particularly interested in UK wines. Having said that, one of the problems we face as an industry is that we don’t have great demographic data on our customers. 

One of the things that we want to do with Marasby is help address this issue. By offering a wide range of wines on our specialist platform, we can use it as a tool to identify buying trends, A/B test different styles of messaging, and more generally to better understand the customer.

What future plans do you have for Marasby?

First, we want to build on the success of our trade-focused panel tastings, by starting to build consumer wine events that showcase the industry and help to excite and educate drinkers about UK wines.

In the longer term, our ambition is for Marasby to expand from a wine-only platform into other UK-grown quality produce.

What is your favourite wine style or grape variety? Why?

Simon: I fell in love with wine via red Burgundy, so I’m super-excited about the quality of still Pinot Noir now being produced in the UK. While I don’t think it does, or should, try to mimic Burgundy, some of our Pinot is now verging on Burgundy levels of ripeness, complexity, and interest.

Talya: I’m a little bit partial to a glass of traditional method sparkling, and what’s really exciting – and could be a bit of a USP for the UK – is the number of amazing Blanc de Noirs I’ve tasted. Would highly recommend a glass with some homemade Old Winchester cheese straws.

Photos: Ed Dallimore

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