Where I live, you can buy McDonald’s milkshakes 24 hours a day if you so desire. Yet both local wine merchants (one independent, one national chain) had locked their doors at just after 7pm when I was trying to buy a few bottles recently. For a neighbourhood drinks retailer to close so relatively early seems like wilful mismanagement to me.  

Then again, it’s wilful arrogance to hide behind a laptop and pass judgement. So go on then, as the retort goes, if you’re so smart, what would you do?

OK then, here’s how I would run a neighbourhood wine shop. Let’s call it Wilful Wines.

Firstly, trading hours would be until at least 9pm every evening, allowing locals to buy wine after work and for tastings to be held. Opening time would have to be no later than 10am, to receive deliveries, place orders, service any on-trade accounts and catch up on admin.

Location can’t be compromised. To sell good wine, a premises needs to be close to other premium retailers, preferably with convenient parking and in an affluent
area. Rent and rates are bound to be expensive, but that’s an unavoidable overhead.

Staffing is the other great expense, so that might need restricting.
But finding a part-timer who has wine knowledge, excellent customer service and is prepared to work for the minimum wage is as easy as sourcing good Pinot Noir for under a tenner. Either way, the owner ends up stuck behind the counter for 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Goodbye to any social life, then, and as for glamorous buying trips abroad to find exclusive, undiscovered wines to import – forget it. Realistically, stock will need to come from UK agents and wholesalers, which almost certainly means listing some brands that are already stocked by competitors – possibly including supermarkets.

Perhaps a little familiarity might offer reassurance to the clientele – but it means having to be competitive on price, so any thoughts of comfortable profit margins go down the drain. Extra income could come from selling wine by the glass, through Enomatics or Coravin. But that probably means providing tables and chairs, selling small plates of food, and a whole load of other obligations and expenses, including customer toilets – which you now have to clean while manning the phones, explaining to customers yet again that Chablis actually is Chardonnay, bin-ending old vintages of rosé and inwardly cursing anyone who tells you how lucky you are to own a wine shop.

Not forgetting to keep on top of online activity. Every self-respecting shop needs a functional website and social media presence, all of which need continual attention despite an outlay of time and money that seems to generate minimal return. All of which explains why Wilful Wines shall never exist. Everyone who retails wine in this country, I salute you. Maybe I should be more forgiving of my local merchant’s opening hours in future, and just stay hidden behind my laptop. Pass the milkshake.