Giving wine a reboot
Ham isn’t a topic you expect a former catwalk model to get so animated about, but then Ruth Spivey isn’t your typical fashion industry clotheshorse.
When the rest of us were at the age to be excitedly trotting down to the polling station for the first time, Spivey was living the dream in Paris walking for some of the biggest names, from Chanel to Galliano. While her contemporaries on the circuit were soaking up the freebies, Spivey used her time travelling the world to indulge her interest in food and wine.
“Rather than going to another nightclub full of lots of slimy men, where I got in free because I was a model, I would find the weirdest thing I could eat or try the best local restaurant. I wanted to try grasshoppers in Mexico or the local pâté,” she says.
Fourteen years later and, apart from the occasional assignment, she’s quit full-time modelling and is more likely to be found in a London car park than on a couture catwalk.
Now Spivey’s energies are spent on Wine Car Boot, a new event where urbanites pay to try, then hopefully buy, wine sold from the backs of cars. A £10 entry fee gets them a tasting glass, five samples and a six-bottle carrier.
The first Wine Car Boot took place in Hackney’s Netil Market in September, attracting around 300 consumers. On November 16, it’s moving to a covered space near London Bridge.
Unlike traditional boot fairs, all the traders are independent wine merchants who don’t pay to attend and keep all the money they make on sales.
Having worked at London’s Bottle Apostle and also on-trade specialist Decorum Vintners, Spivey wants to highlight the accessibility of wine and challenge the idea that independents are stuffy and intimidating. “Independents do struggle, and it’s hard to make money. I’m doing this to help the independent wine industry. I don’t charge them a pitch fee, unlike other events. All I ask is they turn up with gusto.”
Her determination is driven by being frustrated at consumers’ reticence to visit their local shop. “When I was at Bottle Apostle, I had friends who would only come in when I was working. Or they’d say, ‘Oh, you work there, I’ve always wanted to go in but haven’t’.
“People can’t expect shops to do all the work — they can’t drag you in. Customers are grown ups, they need to get over it and just walk in and ask questions because the staff are so knowledgeable, and they’re usually also really nice and want to share it.”
She adds that part of the problem is that although there is a general movement towards shopping in independents, the price of goods in other artisan stores has created a stigma that has been transferred to wine.
“Everyone likes the idea of supporting independent shops, but most places, like butchers, are quite expensive and I can see why people would buy free-range meat from the supermarket – everyone’s on a budget. You can go to a posh butcher and not find anything that cheap, but you can buy wines under £10. In a deli or greengrocer’s you come out with a piece of cake and half a cauliflower and you’ve spent 40 quid. However, wine shops do have really affordable wine.
“Bottle Apostle had something like 70 wines under £10, which is a pretty good selection. Plus, compared with all the small supermarkets it’s so much more interesting and customers can start developing their knowledge.”
Spivey hopes Wine Car Boot will break down some barriers. “It’s not just ‘Here’s some wine, do you want to buy it?’ It’s about building a relationship. The customers start to get to know the shop staff and won’t feel intimidated by going into the shop to see them, rather than just trotting back to the supermarket.
“They can go into the shop thinking: ‘There’s that bloke I met in the car park at the weekend’. A car park is a great leveller. Customers have paid so almost feel like the shops have come to put on a show for them. Also, everyone’s personality gets a bit bigger because
they’re not in a quiet shop. It livens everyone up and gets them talking.”
She says the emphasis is on fun and breaking the mould of what is expected at tastings.
“I wanted to do them somewhere that doesn’t look like the usual tasting set-up so I’m using different spaces. Tasting wine is about drinking it with food, not just having it with Carr’s water biscuits.
“Wine Car Boot is aimed at normal wine drinkers, who usually drink it with food and aren’t trying to assess it for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust exam.”
WINE FOR THE MASSES
“It’s educational but also about eating, drinking and talking about wine, which you don’t get at most events because people are usually worried about saying the wrong thing,” Spivey adds.
The concept has already caught the attention of a few wine generics wanting to work with Spivey on bespoke themed car boot sales. Meanwhile, she has set her sights on expanding the idea to other cities, with Oxford, Brighton and Edinburgh all possible targets.
She is also exploring the idea of running a Wine Car Boot specifically for collectors, where buyers come and “have a rummage around someone’s cellar and pick something up. Maybe it’s a bit old, maybe it’s perfect and you get a bargain — you pay your money and take your chances”. For now though the focus is on bringing wine to the masses.
As well as Wine Car Boot, her other ventures include Flight Club, a tasting night where consumers turn up and try a selection of wines. She also runs Street Vin, a pop-up wine bar on wheels which appears at various events.
One day Spivey would like to open a wine bar where customers try samples, much like the rustic caves you stumble across on country roads in rural France.
“They’re like the French equivalent of a Majestic,” she says. “There are a few bottles open to taste and the Brits who experience it on holiday walk around trying the wines thinking they’re living the life.”
And what would Spivey’s recommended accompaniment be? “Baguette avec jamon et beurre, of course.” Simple yet appealing, much like her Wine Car Boots.