After a 15-year stint in hospitality, Martin Hagen sought to open a place that combined the best of European wine bars, enoteche and caves à manger. Here, he talks about bestsellers, the rise of ecommerce and wine for root vegetables
I opened Cave Bristol on Gloucester Road two weeks before the pandemic hit in March 2020. I wanted to create a local food community with a place to perch for a quick glass, a store to stock up on provisions and a space to sit with friends for an entire evening of eating and drinking, but plans had to pivot when we went into lockdown. We kept the store open, operating under government guidelines, but acted quickly to take the concept online.
The online store launched soon after. It offers a selection of wines from small producers who work with respect for the environment and make excellent wines using the most mindful methods.
Orders were, and still are, delivered by bike in Bristol, using zero carbon. Word began to spread of our wine selection, which I take great pride in curating, and soon after we launched nationwide. Some 80% of our sales are now from customers in London and the split is currently 70/30 physical/online, but we are aiming for online to overtake physical in the next six to 12 months.
Old faithful Ciù Ciù Bacchus is our bestseller. At £12.90 a bottle, it’s an excellent introduction to organic wines. At the top end, I have wines that land and fly off the shelf the next day due to the label’s cult status, wines on waiting lists and wines that people call in regularly to request, such as Domaine Labet La Bardette 2015, Cecile Tremblay Morey St Denis Tres Girard 2018, Benoît Lahaye Millesime Bouzy GC 2015, plus quite a few cuvées from Yann Durieux and Philippe Pacalet. It’s great to see this category building momentum and demand.
Every other Tuesday, me and the Cave team host a wine tasting. We focus on different countries, regions or styles of wine with the aim of exploring a selection which sometimes includes rare and unicorn wines alongside those that are more accessible. Cave occasionally also hosts curated events with local restaurants, chefs and producers whose items are stocked in the shop.
Cave Bristol offers a three-tier wine subscription service. Club Cave starts at £59 per month for three bottles, £89 for four bottles and £119 for six bottles. We’re also doing Christmas boxes, including one for pairing with winter root vegetables; one for turkey, goose or other birds; and one for pairing with red meat. There’s also a Wild Card box, which is perfect for those who like to do things a little differently. We have curated a selection of wines from interesting grapes and interesting regions, starting at £99 for six bottles.