Grape Minds was founded in November 2018 by two ex-Majestic staff , Graeme Woodward and Michael Jelley, when they identified a gap in the market for an independent store in the premium suburb of Summertown, to the north of Oxford. DR caught up with Woodward to find out more:

What makes the store unique?

It’s a fairly small shop and we have just under 500 wines, but each bottle has to justify its place on the shelf. It is quite a traditional customer base with traditional wine needs, so probably half our sales are France and Italy.

We have gone through region by region in France and tried to make sure our range is as good as possible in each.

Did you see an uptick in demand when the first lockdown hit?

We noticed just before lockdown we were getting a lot busier. For two weeks it was chaos like I have never experienced in 10 years in the trade. And then for a real solid 10 weeks after that chaos we were doing a steady November/December level of trade. It was a busy period for us for sure.

How did you operate the store in those initial lockdown weeks?

We shut the shop initially and did just telephone and email orders to begin with. There was just myself and my business partner working and we couldn’t keep up with telephone orders and deliveries and have the shop open. Why would we really?

We gradually reopened, starting from 4-7pm, so we would run all our deliveries in the morning and then there would be an hour or so tidying up before we opened the door for a few hours. By July we fully opened 10am to 7pm, seven days a week.

Did you notice any changes in what people were buying?

We started to pick up more supermarket customers and the focus then was on the £6-8 range, and then when Majestic Wine and The Wine Society had a couple of difficult weeks with their websites and keeping up with orders, we got all the £7-10 customers as well.

We picked up hundreds and hundreds of those people initially and we kept hold of up to 20% of our new customers over March and April, which held the business in good stead going forward, as you would obviously pay thousands of pounds in advertising to have that sort of effectiveness.

Our existing customers also started to buy a lot more beer. We have a small tasting room which became a stockroom for a wide range of beer. Now that we are in 2021 it is an interesting time. We were definitely busier at the start of 2021 than a normal January, but it is still a magnitude less than December was. We noticed a real mood shift when the January 2021 lockdown hit and news of the more contagious Covid variant travelled around and the percentage of phone orders compared with people walking through the door has shifted again, much more in favour of telephone orders.

What are your plans for the future?

We have always had ambitions of having two to four sites and we are in a position now to start to look at that seriously and consider our expansion. I think there will be quite a few units available over the next 12 months so we are looking at that.

As we emerged from lockdown in 2020, we brought in two full-time members of staff with the view that they would have a decent career with us as well as running shops in the future.