Passione Vino started in 2003 as a wine importing business when Luca Dusi and Federico Bruschetta saw a gap in the UK market for quality everyday Italian wines. Four years ago they opened a wine shop, which later doubled as a wine bar. DRN spoke to manager Isabel Biagioni Angeli.
How has the company evolved over the years?
When we opened as a wine shop then extended to include a bar we moved our office – a room attached to the shop – into the upstairs space.
The next stage was to set up a bar in the basement to seat 15-20 people, then we turned the room which had been our office into a speakeasy- style area. It was designed so you don’t really know there is a bar there and we don’t advertise this space.
Another unusual thing is that we don’t have a wine list and because we are importers we have the freedom to change our wine by the glass whenever we want. We tend to ask our customers what they fancy, then go and find a couple of things for them to try based on their description of the wines they like. If they like it they can then buy a bottle to take home. It’s really interactive.
What do you do that’s different from your competitors?
We only sell Italian wines and we have a real focus on low-intervention and natural wines from smaller producers. Some people travel a long way across London to us and we have a lot of regular customers who keep coming back to buy wine weekly, or come and have a glass in store maybe twice a week.
Who is your nearest competitor?
We don’t really have any direct competition on the retail side. There are no other independent wine shops really near to us. We had a Majestic in the area but it’s a different concept. Our main competition is on the on-trade side from Italian restaurants.
What’s selling well?
We are seeing a lot of interest in the more unusual grapes from Italy. Our regulars started buying the better- known stuff but step by step are trying different grapes and are now more curious about trying new things.
Alongside that there is a lot of interest in natural wines and we have seen good sales of Pet Nat wines too.
In red wines people used to buy big, full-bodied ones but now it is the lighter grapes that are attracting more interest. Wines from Sicily are doing well, and not just those from Etna but grapes such as Frappato, as well as the classic Etna blend. There is also some interest in wines from the north of Italy, areas such as Trentino. Prosecco and Lambrusco are doing really well. Ours are at a higher price for Lambrusco at £20, which used to be considered expensive but now people understand these are a different quality.
What else do you do to keep customers coming back?
We have a number of tasting events, Dine With Producer events, and private dinners to pair wine with food. We do tastings for corporate groups.
The dinners are very popular and are a journey through Italian wine and food, starting with sparkling. The owners, Luca and Federico, often do the cooking. We used to run events with a guest chef and this is something we want to do more of.
We can do tastings at any time, so if we have something that is perhaps harder to sell until you have tasted it, we can open it up and offer it to customers as they browse, or if they come into the bar.
What are your plans for the future?
We always look for new producers and there are still a couple of areas of Italy that are not so well represented in our store. We think there is still so much more to discover with Italy so we will continue to add new things.
We are currently only open from Monday to Friday and this was a conscious decision because the area isn’t so busy at weekends. But we are finding that we are increasingly busy during the week, especially when you consider that areas such as our speakeasy-style room are all about word-of-mouth.
We are open to having another venue, which would again focus on Italian wine and would most probably be in another part of London. We might explore a venue with more opportunities in the kitchen area, although we do currently have a simple food offer to go with our wines.
We don’t want to become a chain as Passione Vino is unique. Our philosophy is really to help people explore Italian wines and the bar and shop concept works well in driving this. The speakeasy-style bar really encourages people to sit together and chat and sometimes we find people sitting in there who have only just met and they are sharing a bottle of wine.