Industry veteran harnesses Norse god to sell wine

A wine shop is set to open next month in Birmingham’s business district that will offer customers the experience of trying up to 24 wines by the glass at any one time, including a range of locally produced English wines.
Loki, named after a Norse god who bucked the established order, will be launched by local businessman Phil Innes who is a keen fan of English wine and wants to shake up the traditional way in which wine is sold in the city.
He says: “I think the quality of wine in England is increasing year-on-year. There are already some big names which we intend to stock, such as Chapel Down, Balfour and Camel Valley. However, I always want to work with local producers that’s why we are signed up to stock Halfpenny Green and (although not confirmed yet) Lulham Court.
“I have talked to a lot of people and there seems a positive shift in opinion towards English wines which is a good sign. I think as long as the quality is there and people can try the wines and we can educate them I am sure there will be a growing market.
“Loki pronounced ‘Lo-kee’ is from Norse Mythology, where Loki pushed against the traditional ‘gods’, this is the similarity to Loki wine as we are trying to go against the traditional way of selling wine and give customers the choice to try before they buy using our Enomatic tasting machines. Also with the pronunciation of the word sounding like ‘low-key’ as in it is an unpretentious, low key, relaxing establishment.”
The wine shop is in an arcade that is a major thoroughfare from Snow Hill station into the city, meaning there is a good amount of footfall during the weekend, especially Saturday. The weekdays, especially Thursday and Friday in the ‘Tasting House’ are most likely to be the busiest.

Argon preservation

The business will have three tasting machines, allowing up to 24 wines to be available by the glass, says Innes. The argon preservation machines allow the wine to stay fresh for up to four weeks.
Innes says: “These machines are so important to the concept; the idea is to allow customers to try-before-you-buy up to 24 wines, which empowers customers with the knowledge that they actually like the wine they are taking home. This encourages the customer to try something new without having to buy a whole bottle. The most important thing about the machines however is the experience, we want customers to come into the shop and have fun, this is not just about putting a transaction in the till and going home, it is about making wine enjoyable, fun and relaxed within the premises.”
He acknowledges that other concerns are selling wines with a similar concept, and citesthe Sampler in London are certainly an influence.
“The idea behind the bar and drink-in-fee (£5 on top of retail price) was born out of a frustration of high wine prices in bars, and wanting to offer customers a chance to enjoy wine with a “fair” mark-up to account for the cost of running additional seating areas. What I want to do slightly differently here is to really address the snobbery of the wine industry and make the venue welcoming not just to connoisseur but also to the ordinary wine drinker,” he says.
Loki’s range will not be set in stone and there will be newcomers whenever Innes feels that he can find a wine that deserves to go in the range. In the machines, the wines will be on around a two-week rotation, allowing the entire shop range, including some high end and limited availability wines, within a calendar year.

Brummie and proud

Innes says: “I am Birmingham born and bred, I came back here after a stint in Manchester during and after university. I think from a wine lover;s point of view there are very slim pickings on the independent wine front and I wanted to do something that would get great quality wines into Birmingham.
“I have been in the wine industry since I was 18, and like a lot of people started at their local Threshers and ended up managing for Wine Rack after a stint with Odd-Bins. I will admit, however, that when I joined Threshers at 18 I was not such a fan of wine!”
Loki could work as a small chain, considers Innes, but his work experience in previous drinks industry chains makes him wary of ambitious expansion plans. He says: “After working for two chains that ultimately failed, I am a bit apprehensive about large chains, but I do feel that Loki could work as a small chain. The key in expansion is to keep the soul of the business, if I feel I can do that successfully there is no doubt I will make it into a chain.”