Forest Wines, Walthamstow, London
In 2014 Jana Post and her partner decided to open a wine shop near their home despite having no experience in wine retailing. DRN speaks to Post to find out more:
Why did you want to open a wine store?
We like drinking nice wine and we were travelling a long way to different shops in London to source the types we wanted, so that’s where the idea came from – mainly because there was nowhere near here where you could buy the kinds of wine we liked.
We had an ecommerce business building websites, so initially we were able to keep doing that while opening the new business. But it quickly became obvious to us that even if we started out with limited opening hours we needed to work at this full-time to do all the administration that’s needed when the shop is closed to customers.
What is the area like?
Walthamstow has experienced quite a boom in the past four or five years and there has been a lot of movement from areas such as Hackney, Dalston and Stoke Newington as young couples start looking for their first properties.
When we opened the area was just picking up and I think a lot of people weren’t sure we would succeed, but we managed to keep it going as the community started getting going and word spread about our store.
It’s not exactly affluent but it’s definitely up and coming. There is lots of building work going on and new properties are being created. We are also near the station so we get a lot of passing trade.
What is your competition like?
There are now some other independents which are quite near, such as In Vino Veritas in Walthamstow village and Gnarly Vines in Leyton. Clapton Craft opened not that long ago.
We have a different range so we are all happily coexisting.
The primary reason we chose this location (apart from living two minutes away) is that we are really near the station and we definitely benefit from that footfall.
We really like natural wines which are quite funky and mostly from smaller producers, so these are the kinds of wines we stock. We mainly focus on natural, organic and biodynamic wines, but not exclusively.
We are increasing our focus on things like skin contact and orange wines, because our customers are interested. They have tried wines with us from the start so they are on the exploration journey with us too.
Describe your range – what sells well?
We have about 150 lines, so it’s not a big collection. We also have some craft beers.
We are not really looking to ever expand this number of wines – we try to keep it quite narrow as we don’t want to overwhelm our customers. A lot of them are local so we get a lot of returning trade and are able to keep the range fresh. There’s always something new.
We have a mix of Old and New World wines. We don’t have a specific regional focus.
I think a lot of people are interested in natural wine now and the movement has really taken off. There is a lot of talk about it in mainstream media, plus a lot of our customers are well travelled. Eastern European wines are popular, including those from Slovenia, Greece and Turkey.
We are also focused on price points. A lot of our wines are priced between £12 and £20 and we are a local business so we want people coming back and not just for wines that are a weekend treat – people who might look for something during the week, so we are always looking for the right thing at that key £15 price point.
How do you keep your customers coming back?
We have a monthly in-store tasting for about 20 people at a time. It is quite an intimate event but we try to be welcoming and with an environment where no question is too silly to be asked. It is an easygoing set up.
When we started we were just retail and the unit was too small to incorporate a drink-in element.
Two years ago we took over the premises next door to try out a restaurant concept. It didn’t work as we hoped so we made the decision to move into that bigger unit and vacate the original one.
So our business now is retail but we now have the space to offer the drink-in element and we have been doing so for a few weeks now.
We charge a corkage fee and we also have a small kitchen, so we have a short menu with small sharing plates or charcuterie plates etc.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment we are still streamlining the new space and we will then look to expand our tastings to more than one a month, as well as have some private parties.
We do have a proposition online and because we have an ecommerce background we really want to do more with that, with a focus on our specialism in natural wines.
We ship all over the UK at the moment and there is definitely a trend of people trying these wines in restaurants and then looking for them online – they find we stock it and then they buy a case for delivery.
It’s a growing part of the business that we are keen to continue working on. We also want to launch a wine club some time next year.