In this anniversary interview, we sit down with the CEO, whose journey from Oddbins part-timer to wine industry maven has been nothing short of a grape-filled adventure.
Can you tell us about the early days of Reserve Wines and what inspired you to start your own wine business in Manchester?
I had always been interested in the wine industry and in my mid-twenties started working in Oddbins in the evenings after I had finished my day job.
I loved working alongside passionate people who loved the products they were selling.
It was a game changer for me and I knew I wanted to create a space where people could come and just enjoy wine, feel comfortable asking or not asking questions, connecting with others and having fun.
That’s what it’s always been about for me.
How has Reserve Wines evolved over the past two decades, and what do you think has been the key to its success?
We have always wanted to keep growing and moving.
Getting involved in Altrincham Market was an amazing opportunity and enabled us to move from a traditional retail wine merchant to a hybrid offering.
The chance to work alongside super-talented people has motivated me to push for higher standards, Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson (owners of Altrincham Market, Mackie Mayor & Picturedrome) examples, of great innovators who push existing thinking.
This coupled with working alongside so many passionate food operators has brought a different dimension to the business.
Whilst the business has evolved the core has always been the same..accessibility, enjoyment and quality.
Your journey into the world of wine began with an intimidating visit to a local wine shop. Can you share more about that experience and how it motivated you to create a more welcoming and inspiring wine community?
When I got into the wine industry, I felt very intimidated, learning about wine is a never-ending task and can be overwhelming but the bottom line is it’s just a drink to be enjoyed.
I remember a friend asked me to buy a bottle of wine for her Dad for his birthday and I went into a wine merchant and didn’t have a welcoming or positive experience, the guy who served me was completely disinterested and dismissive and I left feeling like I had been a nuisance (and without buying anything!)
That motivated me to create a space where people felt comfortable whatever their level of knowledge.
You’ve been a wine expert on BBC’s Food and Drink program and worked with top chefs like Michel Roux Jr. How did these experiences shape your approach to wine and food pairing?
Working alongside people who are at the top of their profession is always a great learning experience, I will never forget watching Michel cut up apples for the top of an apple tart and every single piece came out identical, it was a work of art.
100% at all times, it was incredible.
I was lucky to taste some amazing dishes made by hugely talented chefs and it forced me to push myself to work hard to come up with the best pairings I could, a great pairing can enhance and elevate both the dish and the drink.
We always had fun with it though… I try not to take it too seriously.
Reserve Wines is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of special events. Could you tell us more about the events and what attendees can expect?
Most of the events are focused on having a good time and tasting great wines!
We got to celebrate with some of our brilliant customers in our Didsbury store last week. I feel honoured that we have a lot of loyal customers who have shopped with us since the beginning so raising a glass with them was pretty special.
For our ‘20 Years Of Reserve’ event this Friday, we’ll take you on a journey of exploration over the years to taste your way through some of our bestselling bottles in a cosy, relaxed setting at Reserve Wines Didsbury, in the heart of Burton Road.
There are so many incredible tasting events coming up, you can find out how we’re celebrating here
What role do you believe Reserve Wines plays in the local community of Manchester, and how important is it for the brand to maintain its Mancunian roots?
I’ve always loved Manchester; I grew up here so coming back and building my business here was a no-brainer for me.
When I started the business the wine trade was fairly London-centric and it has been good to see that evolve over the years to the vibrant offering we have in the North West today.
I believe community and connection are everything and have always been at the core of our business whatever project we work on.
In the past 20 years, what have been the biggest challenges and rewards of being an independent wine merchant in Manchester?
I guess my challenges are very similar to those any small business owner faces.
Challenging times force you to be creative and agile, making changes quickly to cope with the change in landscape.
Like everyone else we’ve experienced deep recessions and a global pandemic, a flood 2 weeks before Christmas and a fire on New Year’s Eve are a couple of other biggies that come to mind!!
The increasing bureaucracy and proposed changes in the wine duty system are ongoing concerns.
Thankfully there have been many more rewarding moments, and the people and those relationships are always the most important for me, my colleagues, suppliers, producers and customers.
I’ve met and worked alongside so many brilliant people.
As someone passionate about wine, what do you enjoy most about helping people discover and experiment with different grape varieties and wine options?
The customer interaction is still my favourite bit, introducing someone to something new and hearing how much they enjoyed it (or sometimes not so it’s back to the drawing board).
Seeing how much pleasure people get from the experiences we provide, it’s not just a transaction.
I also love challenging how we think about wine and how it’s bought and consumed. We serve wines on tap in most of our sites that are better for you (and the planet) and have produced a range of wines in cans, we are continually exploring how we can be more sustainable as an industry.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or individuals looking to follow their passion in a specific field, as you did in the wine industry?
Try not to overthink it and just get on with it. Take a deep breath and do something each day, even if it’s just a small thing, that gets you closer to your dream or goal. It’s all about intention. Set deadlines to hit key milestones and if this is a challenge for you find someone to keep you accountable.
Finally, could you share some of your favourite places in Manchester and what you love most about the city’s culture and community?
Ah, there are so many..I’ve hosted tastings in all sorts of places, some of my favourites include… Chethams, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester Town Hall, Etihad Stadium (amazing even though I’m a United fan!), Manchester Tennis and Racquets Club, Whitworth Art Gallery and of course, Mackie Mayor.
The city centre is full of great independent food and drink operators as well as so many brilliant indies in the suburbs too, driven by quality and adding value.
It’s independent businesses that help shape the personality and identity of a local community and they are an essential part of our economic ecosystem