Red, white and bloom: How we built a wine business in a North Yorkshire village

Samantha and Jamie Hart, owners of Bon Coeur Fine Wines, Melsonby, North Yorkshire.
Samantha and Jamie Hart, owners of Bon Coeur Fine Wines, Melsonby, North Yorkshire.
  • Yorkshire wine merchants Bon Coeur are celebrating their 21st birthday. A lot has changed since Jamie Goodhart launched the company from his London flat. Catherine Scott pays them a visit.
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Just off the A1 at Scotch Corner sits the brand new home of Bon Coeur fine wines. The 32,000 sq ft state-of-the-art offices, tasting and show rooms wouldn’t look out of place in a city centre, but owners Jamie and Sam Goodhart decided upon the tiny village of Melsonby, just north of Richmond, to relocate their growing business.

It may look ultra-modern, but venture further in and the true ethos of this very Yorkshire family firm can be seen. Sat by Jamie’s desk are the couple’s two labradors, Malbec and Merlot. The firm’s “security” they may be, but the only thing you are in danger of is being licked to death.

Samantha and Jamie Hart, owners of Bon Coeur Fine Wines in Melsonby, North Yorkshire.

Samantha and Jamie Hart, owners of Bon Coeur Fine Wines in Melsonby, North Yorkshire.

“We had been looking for a long time for the right site to develop,” says financial director and mother-of-two Sam. “Then this place came up which had been an old warehouse and, although it was a lot bigger than we had really wanted, it just felt right.”

The planners were sympathetic to the Goodharts and now they have their dream HQ in which they can expand their business and give customers a complete experience to help them learn more about wine.

“We wanted somewhere people could come to browse, taste and buy, similar to the experience they have in France, hence we have created Cellar 21 where people can do just that,” says Sam.

“Increasingly people have become disconnected from the things they buy. We believe that people really want an experience. Buying wine is a really personal thing and should be something people take time over getting right. We are here to help them. But above all it should be accessible and that is what we have tried to achieve here.”

Jamie Goodhart got his real first taste of wine working on an Australan vineyard.

Jamie Goodhart got his real first taste of wine working on an Australan vineyard.

The Moor Park double-storey premises are certainly impressive. They include a huge area where the company plans to hold corporate events and tastings. There is also a cutting-edge kitchen which will host food and wine pairing events – you can even book it yourself for bespoke wine tasting events of between 12 and 18 guests.

“The wine is at the centre of everything we are doing here, but at the end of the day wine should be fun,” says Sam. The only issue might be how you get home at the end of the evening as, although Moor Park is only five minutes from the A1, it is a good 50 minutes from Harrogate.

It is all a far cry from the humble beginnings of Bon Coeur, set up by Jamie Goodhart 21 years ago in his flat in south London. His love affair with wine started as a teenager when he got a job driving for Yorkshire Fine Wines. He came from a farming background, his father ran a Pick Your Own fruit farm near Beverley, but the young Jamie was more interested in grapes than strawberries. “It was during this time that I met an Australian winemaker and I asked him for a job. He told me to send me his CV. I rushed home, bashed one out and faxed it straight to him. I think he thought if some 18-year-old could be bothered to do that then they were serious,” says Jamie.

He got the job and duly left Yorkshire for a vineyard in Perth, Western Australia. “I learnt such a lot while I was out there. The Australians are very happy to talk you through all their winemaking processes compared with the French who, when asked why they do something, say ‘It’s tradition.’ A lot of people who want to start their own wine business get a job selling wine. My advantage is that I know how the whole process is done.”

On his return to the UK, although Jamie knew what he wanted to do, his main aim was to be self sufficient. “I wanted to be independent rather than be beholden to any one producer or investor.”

He got a job doing high-end house removals at the same time as slowly developing his wine business. “It was great as I built up a lot of contacts, some who became customers,” adds Jamie. “The chap who owned the business also let me use one of his buildings to store my wine stock which was a huge benefit for me. I was living in London and the cost of renting a warehouse would have been horrendous.

“My initial idea was to create a wine business with the customer in mind, focusing on a truly personal service and offering wine that was hand- picked, or great quality and good value for money,”

Jamie was 24, with no dependants and initially took no money out of the business while it was setting up. “When you are 24 you think you know a lot but you don’t – it is all about learning from your experience.” His first “brochure” was an eight-page typed up and photocopied wine list compared with Bon Coeur’s new glossy 84-page magazine. However, Jamie believes he has retained the initial ethos that he had when starting the company.

He says he was lucky to have some friends in the wine business who were prepared to give him trade references to enable him to build up credit arrangements with the wine houses.

But even in those early days it was important to put the customer first. “It is all about the connection with the customers, and that what makes you different,” says Jamie who is still very much involved in working with Bon Coeur’s private clients.

When he met Sam, Bon Coeur was already growing. She worked in corporate finance in the City, but both were keen to move back to their Yorkshire roots and start a family.

They now have two children, Amber, nine, and six-year-old Jake, who have been very much included in the development of the Moor Park site. “They’d come down while the work was being done,” says Sam. “Jake really loved the space and when it was finished Amber said: ‘Mummy, you’ve spent your money well.’”

Until the move to Moor Park at the end of last year Bon Coeur was run from offices at Swinton Park, close to the Goodharts’ home in Masham. “Yorkshire is very important to us,” says Sam. “It’s where we come from and where we want to raise our children.”

Sam now owns half the business and is finance and operations director. She was also instrumental in making the Moor Park development become a reality. “We knew what we wanted and sometimes the architects questioned some of my ideas but we are thrilled with the result.”

One of the first things that strikes you when you walk into the mainly glass and wood-fronted building is a wall entirely made up of wine boxes. “Jamie had been collecting them for years and had them stored in the garage,” says Sam. “He said he was keeping them to build a wall.”

The rest of the decor is pretty minimal except for the impressive display of large wine bottles, which Sam assures me are dummies, and the odd large photograph of a French chateau and vineyard in case you had forgotten why you were there.

For some people visiting or even using a wine merchant can be quite intimidating. But Sam and Jamie have been at pains to make the experience inviting and fun.

The smell of fresh coffee and comfy sofas greet you on arrival at the spacious ground floor which is also home to Cellar 21, the showroom where you can taste wines starting from as little as under £6.

“People do have the impression that using a wine merchant is beyond a lot of people’s reach. That just isn’t the case. We have some very affordable wines. It is also our job to learn the palate of our customers so that we can find out what they like.”

Cellar 21 is set out in a user-friendly way. There are no cabinets here, just open metal shelving with wines divided into country and starting from low to high price point with helpful keys to the wine’s main characteristics such as light, crisp white to medium-bodied red.

Unlike some wine merchants, customers are able to buy one bottle if that is all they want. There is also an impressive selection of Magnum bottles of wine which people can just walk in, buy and take away.

Wine-tastings are free, something the Goodharts say is beneficial to their business as they feel people are more likely to make a purchase if they haven’t been made to buy a ticket in the first place.

Thanks to the purchase of an enomatic machine they are able to keep a bottle of opened wine drinkable for around three weeks.

As well as looking after and developing their private and corporate customers, trade has become equally important, with Bon Coeur supplying many of the area’s top restaurants and hotels.

“I would say the business is now roughly 50:50 private customers to trade,” says Sam. The company has also taken on John Moorhouse as UK trade sales director.

Bon Coeur now employ 16 people and is likely to expand further if plans to develop Moor Park as a venue for corporate events take off.

It may have taken the Goodharts three years to find a new home for their growing business, but it is clearly one that will take them well into the future.