In the middle of Scotland, grapes are only seen in greengrocers, so you'd never see winemakers selling their wines direct to you at their farm door or at a farmers market. I thought one was needed, and, as nobody else was doing it, I created a shop that brought together fantastic small, family run, organic and unknown producers as a perfect antidote for the bland, boring corporations that are making wine and seen on supermarket shelves and, sadly, more and more independent retailers.
We want to bring the winemakers to the fore - they are the ones putting their passion and skill into the bottle so should be the one claiming the glory. What I do is curate the collection. I put together the wine list that contains only the best of any given country, and I do so by tasting everything that comes into the shop, making sure it is the best that is available and is great value for money. The best doesn't mean that everything we have is expensive, far from it, our focus is on affordable wines at the price most people want to pay. We do have more expensive wines, but again, it has to be the best and be good value!
Professionally, I've spent four years working for a national chain, eight years at an independent merchant and eight years writing a successful wine blog called The Tasting Note. I have tasted over 12,000 wines but stopped counting four years ago and have been told that I have a pretty good palate. That is all meaningless however, my credentials really are the regular customers who keep coming back to me, asking my advice and liking what I suggest to them as they know I am very very picky about what I put on my shelves.
Wine is supposed to be drunk. Other shops will do 'tastings for a tenner', but I think this is a rotten way of getting customers to pay to be promoted to. I believe that tastings should be free - if I'm trying to promote a wine, you shouldn't pay me to do so. Every day we have something open in the shop for you to come by and try. Sometimes it will be sample bottles we are given by our suppliers and we'd like your feedback, other times it will be one of our range that we are passionately promoting. The only consistency is that you will never have to pay for our daily tastings.
We will however, from time to time, hold ticketed events. When we do charge for a ticket, I promise you will not be 'sold to'. The understanding is there that you have paid for a tutorial or tasting and therefore we will not try and promote the wines to you, although if you want to buy them, we won't say no!
St Andrews Wine Company isn't a family run company.... yet! My wife is an author with little interest in wine, my son is four years old, so the shop is pretty much just me! I do however have some really talented young people working with me, all with a passion for the products we sell. They all either have wine or beer as a hobby, are in the University wine tasting team or want to get into the alcohol trade as a career, which means that when you come in, whoever serves you is very enthusiastic about what we do. Until my little boy is old enough to join me, these talented young adults are the family in this business, and I couldn't wish for a better one.