I think a lot of our customers are bored with supermarket offerings, said Bob Wright whose business celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. “Our trading figures are substantially up year on year and it seems that our customers have realised that we don’t just do wines for special occasions and celebrations, we do good-value everyday wines too.”
The little shop front of the Wright Wine Co (“please don’t call us Wright’s Wines – it comes out like Right Swines – and we’re not”, said Bob) just off Skipton’s busy High Street looks more like a stone-built cottage than a shop holding nearly 1,000 wines and about 800 whiskies. Whatever the weather it is best to wear a coat when you visit, because the main part of the shop is kept at a cellar temperature to suit the wines although the whisky area is definitely warmer and welcoming.
Bob took over the premises from an existing business in 1982 – a great Bordeaux vintage – but one that probably did not feature too much in his range at the time.
“Business certainly wasn’t easy at first, and it took time for customers to find us but the real breakthrough was being asked to source wines for some of the important restaurants of the region,” he says.l
Now supplying wines to about 100 restaurants from Windermere to Sheffield this small shop benefits from being able to buy big and keep prices keen.
“We import direct from suppliers around the world and we pay promptly to shave an extra few pence from the price of a bottle, so everyone benefits.”
With three vans on the road taking care of deliveries and a thriving mail order business, you don’t have to live near Skipton to buy from the Wright Wine Co, although the shop does attract quite a few customers who spend a day in the Dales and go home with a few cases of wine in the boot.
Unlike many of our region’s independents, this one does not really have a speciality area, apart from whisky, of which more later. The range moves easily between top notch Burgundy from producers such as Grivot, Girardin and Tollot-Beaut to a rather good Touriga Nacional and Syrah blend from Portugal at a great value £7.35.
New Zealand is well-represented with wines from two of my favourite producers, Greywacke and Dog Point although their stock from Felton Road and Ata Rangi rarely makes it on to the list since it just flies out of the door as soon as it arrives. Australia gets a good airing with wines from Moss Wood, Henschke and Leeuwin providing top-notes to a range stuffed with flavoursome wines from Grant Burge, Charles Melton, Wakefield and the great-tasting 3 Amigos from McHenry Hohnen. The Italian range is particularly good with wines from Ornellaia, Gaja and Fontodi but there are great value gems such as Alpha Zeta’s Valpolicella and a deep-flavoured Nero d’Avola from Sicily under £7. The range is constantly under review with a region coming under the spotlight each month when each wine is assessed.
“We tend to select wines on the basis of quality rather than price, and we are very choosy about which growers we buy from, particularly in Burgundy. Now that Premier Cru Bordeaux is beyond the reach of most wine drinkers we prefer to concentrate on the super-seconds such as Réserve de Léoville Barton and Esprit de Pavie as well as reliable properties such as Ch. Gloria from St Julien and Ch. de Pez from St Estephe. In general we favour juicy, good vintages rather than the over-hyped ones where prices are just too high.”
The list also features several good wines in half bottles so that solitary drinkers can still drink well.
While Bob Wright is still definitely still in charge, the succession is in place with Julien Kaye in line to take over, if and when Bob ever retires. Having been there 21 years already and become a director of the company, Julien has possible served the longest apprenticeship in the wine business and has done a great deal to build up the extensive range of whiskies in Skipton. There are about 800 whiskies from around the world including Japan, India, England and Wales as well as the usual Scotch, Irish and Canadian. Tasting is welcomed and there are tickets on dozens of bottles indicating that they can be sampled – under supervision naturally. Rare whiskies are a speciality including a 40-year-old Bowmore from Islay which has a £6,000 price tag, although this would appear to be a bargain since a quick internet check showed that other retailers have the same bottle priced at nearly £10,000.
You don’t need very deep pockets to taste all these whiskies. Some bottles of the more rare spirits have been broached and their contents are sold in individual measures, carefully decanted into tasting bottles which can be posted to your door. There is a plan to buy a cask of Mortlach whisky en primeur and, after a suitable period of ageing, bottle the contents and share it amongst syndicate members. Regular Whisky Club events are so over-subscribed that you really have to be a good customer to even get on the mailing list, so the Wright Wine Co acts as a hub for whisky enthusiasts in the county.
In 30 years, Bob Wright has seen huge changes, from the days when Spanish Chablis was sold for nine shillings a bottle to now when his whole range is listed online.
But despite the apparent signs of technology, I still feel that the computer might be treadle-operated and you might just as well ring up and find out from a real person what is new on the shelves.
• The Wright Wine Co. www.wineandwhisky.co.uk. Tel 01756 700886.