I've been to a couple of tastings recently organised by independent wine merchants. The first was at Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells and run by my local - and favourite - wine merchant The Secret Cellar and the second was held at Denbies by The Vineyard who are based in Dorking. They were both very well supported and I know that The Secret Cellar could have sold many more tickets but didn't want the event to be too crowded.
So why if the events were so successful do most people buy their wine from supermarkets and "indies" struggle? Now I'm not suggesting Oddbins is comparable with either of these great businesses but why did it not do better and survive?
When I ask friends why they don't support their local independent wine merchant more rather than the supermarket the response usually is:
"Oh - their wines are too expensive for me. I just want an inexpensive bottle to drink mid week."
"I'm intimidated going into them. They know so much more about wine than I do and I don't want to feel an idiot".
The first point is just plain wrong. To attract people into their shops independents have to stock wine at the lower end of the price range as well as the more expensive wines. Note I don't say "cheap" as the wine at £5 or £6 is often of much higher quality than you will find in many of the supermarkets. It's probably also made by a person rather than a big business and by buying one of his (or her) bottles you are keeping them and their family in business.
The second point is understandable especially, dare I say it, amongst men. Nobody likes to feel they might be shown up whereas it doesn't really bother most women to ask for help. The reality is the staff in good independents love to help out customers. They know their stuff, are well trained and get job satisfaction from recommending just the right wine for the occasion whether its a dinner party or a bottle to drink mid week in front of the TV.They know that if they make the right recommendation you'll come back for more.
I know its easy just to pick up a bottle when you are in the supermarket, but I do wish everyone made more of an effort to buy from independents. Businesses like The Vineyard and The Secret Cellar are making the effort to reach out to consumers by running tasting events. We should all respond by making more of our purchases from independents.