An innovative move to present an all-English wine list for tasting at the heart of London’s Borough market, the centre of real and artisan food in the Capital, opened to a great reception from customers on the Bank Holiday weekend that saw the start of English Wine Week.
The opening of the Wine Pantry off-licence, which will sell tasting samples, on Stoney Street is a conscious effort to present English wine at a location where some of the best and most expensive English produce is showcased but where, until now, English wine was unknown.
Proprietor Julia Stafford established her venture as a direct challenge to the indifference she felt towards English. She says: “I felt there was a disconnect between producers and consumers. It is not helped by the confusion some have between English and British wines. I have a passion for English wine. Since I have discovered English wine I have quickly realised it is not a lazy sale; you really have to go out and sell it.”
The Wine Pantry is at one of the key entrances to the market, guaranteeing high levels of footfall. The outlet will dispense wine samples from a By The Glass wine dispenser and preservation system. Twenty-four bottles of wine will be available on rotation; 8 sparkling and 16 still wines. Samples will be dispensed in 30 ml glasses and be priced from 50p to around £3.00.

Left-field beginnings

Stafford started the Wine Pantry as her first venture in both retail and wine, having developed the concept of selling English wine while involved in a completely different and surprising career: working in the transport of oil and gas products.
She reveals: “I had been looking at the carbon element of the drinks business. I was looking at the carbon footprint of a pub business and studied the issue of green miles of wine. I then discovered English wine and fell for it.”
Having left her previous career in May, 2010, she has spent just a year to develop the concept of the Wine Pantry. Securing a prime position at Borough market might be the key to her success; with competition so tight for spaces, how did she, a novice in business, secure such a prime retail until?
She says: “There was a lot of competition for this unit but the authorities were impressed that I was doing something different and novel and that there was no other English wine presence on the market. We even lack a Waitrose in the area so there is nowhere else to buy English wine.”
She has also charmed sometime reluctant wine-makers to supply the Wine Pantry: a high profile West Country producer who does not normally sell to the off-trade was charmed when she took the effort to make the long drive to his vineyard and agreed to supply her.
Wines, which will be sold by the bottle and case, will range from £6.95 to £7.50 up to £38.00 in price, says Stafford. The unit is very small and wines are stored off-site from which deliveries will be made as required.
Using plastic glasses allows the Wine Pantry’s customers to purchase wine to consume while visiting the rest of the market.

Tasting panel

After the business has settled in, she will stock a selection of English comestibles, such as paté and foodstuffs, to complement the wine and create another revenue stream for her business.
The listed wines have been personally tasted by Stafford who instigated a tasting panel comprising MWs such as Stephen Skelton as well as Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers.
Not all wines being offered as samples are actually on sale as bottles: this is a reflection of the relatively small production of many vineyards in England, notes Stafford.
“The Wine Pantry will be for those English producers who lack a platform in London and give them an opportunity to sell in the market and raise their profile,” she says.
Initially the location will be open six days a week, from 11am to 9pm. While Stafford will take on the lion’s share of running the Wine Pantry, she plans to launch with a number of part-time employees.

COMMENT: The response to all great simple ideas is always: why didn’t I think of that first. Now Stafford has planted the flag of English wine at Borough, it is a wonder no-one had done it before. As the weather warms up for the summer and the visitors to the market not put off by the railway extension works flock to the epicentre of artisan foodstuffs, she will be a great ambassador to her countryfolk as well as foreign visitors for English wine. She deserves to succeed.