A couple of self-confessed English and Welsh wine superfans have launched their dream business during the coronavirus lockdown.
The couple have a wealth of experience from food and drink brands, including the likes of: Hotel Chocolat, Harvey Nichols, Not On The High Street and Co-op Food.
Natasha and Gary have been visiting vineyards for years, sampling the best wines Britain has to offer. But access to British wines, particularly those from smaller vineyards, was harder to come by in the nation’s supermarkets. Wanting to turn their passion into something more, they launched their new venture.
Natasha said: “Supermarkets, or wine retailers, tended to stock wines from the biggest vineyards such as Chapel Down, but they would only have a couple of types, and they tended to focus on sparkling wine, rather than white, red or rosé.
“We started speaking to vineyards - they too were struggling to find a decent route to market. Supplying a big retailer comes with a lot of operational and administration challenges. Smaller winemakers didn't really have a chance. It was a shame to see such obstacles getting in the way of people being able to access great English wine.”
The British Wine Cellar offers a range of 60 different British wines – still, sparkling, red, white and rosé – from 13 different small and medium-sized vineyards, delivered to your door.
And the couple have smashed their initial sales forecasts, with wine consumption increasing massively during the coronavirus lockdown.
Natasha added: “I think it's safe to say that demand for wine has gone up generally during lockdown.
“What we have seen is that the sales mix is different than expected. 70% of English wine sales are sparkling wines, but our sales on sparkling have been much lower than this. We have seen a real preference for still wines.
“I think this is probably where people tend to associate sparkling wines with being sociable at parties or get-togethers, and obviously those haven't been happening!”
Natasha says launching in a worldwide pandemic has had its challenges, not least having to have their local MP step in to solve a licencing issue. They had also planned a series of wine tasting events, which had to be shelved – but, opportunities have also been created for the pair.
Natasha said: “What we have done is some bespoke online wine tastings - people hosting Zoom ‘parties’ would order wines from us, and we would then join their Zoom call to host the tasting.
“It's very different from hosting an in-person tasting, but the feedback has been excellent. I think people like the fact they can do it at home, and, of course, rather than only getting a sample of the wines, they have the whole bottle! I think we'll keep doing these - I wouldn't have thought of it before, but lockdown forces you to be creative!”
The couple say their launch would not have been as successful as it has been without the support harnessed from Virgin StartUp.
Natasha said: “In my role at Not On The High Street, I worked with lots of small businesses, and the feedback about Virgin StartUp was excellent – particularly the support offered, and the opportunities to promote your business within the wider Virgin Group.
“Starting a business, particularly during lockdown, can be very lonely. I've started a business with my fiancé and still felt lonely – I can't imagine what it would feel like to do it totally solo. With Virgin StartUp, there is always someone there to help if you get stuck, and there are so many opportunities to network with other business owners.
“Being a retail business, the big chunk of cash we needed was for stock. We looked at lots of different options – if we hadn't got the loan, we'd have still started the business, but it would have needed to be much smaller.
“Our launch has been so successful, and I just don't think it would have gone anywhere near as well if we hadn't had the loan to kick things off properly. It's low interest, and there's no early repayment charges, so when we're more established, we'll probably try to pay it off early.”
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