Mitch Swift purchased a wine shop in 2020 and has been increasing the offering of English wine at the premises in Broadstairs in Kent. The Bottleneck now stocks wine from 25 Countries but carries 50 English wines.
Why a wine shop?
My Dad was a wine collector and this has given me an interest in wine. At the age of 16 I was living in Germany and this has given me a life long love of Vintage Reisling. In 2019 I was working in sales in London and then a wine shop came up for sale in my local town. I had always known I would end up working in wine but I always thought of being a sommelier then here was an opportunity to buy a shop.
Why increase the amount of English wine you offer?
There are lots of reasons why I wanted to increase the English wines that we carry in the shop. The first is that I am passionate about local wines. That connection and direct link to the vineyard is amazing and something that is possible because of the proximity of these vineyards.
How do you choose the wines you stock?
The story is definitely a selling point and I feel it is my responsibility to know and be able to know and sell that story. I treat the shop as an extension of my own cellar all the wines I stock I hand pick.
How do you promote English wines in the shop?
Physically I have moved the English wines to the centre of the shop so it is the first thing customers see when they come in. In the summer I always keep some English Rosé in the fridge and on the shelf I place English Rosé in a place where it blends with the Provence Rosé giving me the opportunity to cross sell. Interestingly there is a perception that rosé drinkers are women but in my experience as many men buy Rosé as women.
Do you stock any Welsh wines?
I have done. The quality is great and I could definitely sell it but I am currently looking for a producer who wants to work with an independent.
Could you tell us a little about the demographic of your customers?
My biggest customer base is in the 30-50 age bracket but those between 50 and 65 have the most disposable income. For those in the age bracket of 25-40 they often feel intimidated and are at first reluctant to use an independent wine shop worried they will look or say something silly. I can sympathise with this feeling I am only 28 and can often feel dismissed as too young or inexperienced by the industry. So I try to keep a relaxed atmosphere in the shop; ultimately the customer likes what they like.
What could English Wine producers do to help you promote English wine?
Some customers especially older customers are reluctant to buy new wine styles without tasting them first. To do tastings of English wines I have to absorb all the costs myself as it can be difficult to get producers to provide bottles and tasting notes for tastings. It would be good if the producers and the independents could meet half way.
How do you deal with the perception that English Wine is expensive?
If someone comes into the shop and wants to buy a New Zealand white that price point has actually increased to around £13.99 so I can tell them that for not much extra they can try this English wine. With the recent concerns about the cost of living there has been a definite effect on the trade but I think we have built up enough of a following to keep the English brand. We have a significant number of customers who will try something new at the weekend.
Are there any negatives associated with stocking English Wine?
There are downsides for independent wine sellers stocking English wine. As independents we make less margin selling English wine but I am willing to accept that because I really want to support the industry. During Covid-19 many customers switched to supporting local and I feel I should shop local with my producers. Of the English wines we offer 80% are from Kent.
Are there any problems you face specific to the English Wine you stock?
Yes there are two main problems. Firstly I charge my customers £4.99 delivery within the Kent area for up to 24 bottles and £10 outside of Kent but I am quoted significantly more than that for shop deliveries from local wineries sometimes meaning I cannot afford to stock their wines. The second issue I have is that as an independent wine merchant some English producers have a minimum spend before they will supply to me.
What are the advantages of having your wine stocked in independent retailers?
Wine is a personal product, individual and special. I offer a personal service to customers and can advise them and steer them towards wines that will be a good starter for their journey into English wine. Big retailers have more money but they will never have more passion.
What trends have you seen in the English wine trade?
Customers are being exposed more to English wine through the on trade and will come in and ask for some wine they have tried at a restaurant. We are lucky in Broadstairs to have a number of restaurants that include English wine on their wine lists and this has definitely increased interest. Unfortunately some of the big names will not make their wines available to the independents.
Which English wines do you stock in alternative sizes?
We stock Simpsons Rosé in Magnum and Chapel Down in Jeroboam we also have Biddenden in Magnum but as we move through to Christmas I will be increasing the stock of large sized bottles.
What would be your final comment on your Wine journey so far?
I feel that it is my job to put the icing on the cake for my customers whether they are sharing a mid week bottle of wine or if they are buying a large format for a celebration with lots of friends it is a privilege to in a small way help make the occasion special.