NI chain is stamping its mark

Winemark is Northern Ireland's biggest off-

licence chain with nearly 70 stores across the country. Last year it focused on promoting grape varieties rather than putting

individual countries or regions in the spotlight.

Its ongoing Explore the Taste promotion features a number of well-known wines each month, such as Oyster Bay Merlot and Turning Leaf Shiraz Rosé, and a rolling programme of discounts

in shops and online. In-store wine

tastings are held from Thursday to

Sunday evenings.

Last year Winemark sourced new wines from Hungary and Bulgaria, and French fine wine was given a boost with a free in-store brochure. But it is not expected to dramatically change its offering in 2007.

"Whether it's the old favourites, Liebfraumilch or claret, or some of our new varieties, the organic Carmen wines from Chile or fresh, sharp, clean-tasting Fire Mountain Riesling from Germany, we are sure we have a wine to suit every taste," says founder Paul Hunt.

Pairing food and wine is an integral part of the chain's marketing strategy. It has selected 70 of its 600 wines in a move to promote quality wine with some classic meal choices, providing monthly fact sheets that include recipes and tasting notes.

"The Selection range aims to provide relevant wine information and recommendations of which wine to enjoy with which types of food. For example, one month we featured our wines with a savoury Asian dish," says a spokesman.

The company has revamped most of its stores over the last few years. Hunt says: "The upgrades have been done to the highest of standards. They are easy to shop from, clean, bright and stylish with state-of-the-art cooling systems."

There were regular promotions throughout 2006, notably on Stella Artois and Gallo wines.

Most Winemark managers hold the WSET higher certificate and one of the chain's top priorities is that all its staff are "knowledgeable, willing and able to impart their experience and advice to the customer".

Another key concern for Winemark is supporting local community issues, and its nominated charity for 2006-2007 is the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.


3 Duncrue Place, Belfast BT3 9BU

028 9074 6274

Current size of estate: 69 stores

Key personnel: founder, Paul Hunt; managing director, Robert Davies.

Year founded: 1973

Number of employees: 307 (2005)

Turnover: £24.4 million to Dec 31 2005

Most recent pre-tax profit:

£1.3 million to Dec 31 2005