A new wine shop offering tastings and gift packs of Dorset products is opening in Shaftesbury’s empty Gilyard Scarth offices. Alfred caught up with former Town councillor Joe Pestell, from Melbury Vale Vineyard, to hear about his vision to return the unused High Street shop to its historic use.
Retail experts often advise that unique experiences will help to keep our nation’s high streets vibrant. Joe Pestell doubts whether online giants like Amazon can replace the sort of shop space he is planning – somewhere you can sample before you buy.
“Some people might find it courageous in this day and age, but I think it will be a little bit different. Everybody says, these days, all sales are on the internet. But as much as technology advances, I can’t see wine being entirely an internet product because you can’t smell it or taste it online,” said Joe.
Joe says he understands wine. He spent years living and working in the trade in France, although he gives credit to the Kiwis for giving the French a kick in the backside. He told me that New Zealanders followed a scientific study of grapes and winemaking and were able to produce consistently better quality than many other nations.
In Joe’s opinion, our near neighbours across the channel are finally ‘catching up’. But they are facing increased competition from English producers, like Melbury Vineyard. “We planted the vineyard in 2006, and then, after having a fairly successful first crop in 2010, we decided to build the winery itself, in 2013. We completed just in time in October, before the 2013 harvest,” he said.
Although that business is under two miles from Shaftesbury and benefits from passing trade on the A350, Joe is excited by the prospect of taking on the former estate agents at 25 High Street. “It’s a lovely property, with nice big, high ceilings and is brightly lit. For wine merchants, it benefits from a north-facing frontage, so we don’t have problems with sunshine at the front of the building damaging stock in the windows. It’s an ideal building for the purpose,” said Joe.
“The address actually is, to this day, ‘The Old Wine Merchants’. I understand that about twenty years ago, Gilyard Scarth took it over from Eldridge Pope, the brewers, and I think they took it on from an independent wine merchant. The building certainly was built to accommodate wine merchants. That’s very clear because it has a very nice wine cellar at the lower ground floor level,” he added.
As you might expect, Jo will be selling Melbury Winery wines there. “We will be putting our wine at the forefront of things and we will also be selling wines from other English producers and from producers around the world. We will be looking to focus mainly on small artisan producers from around the world, something rather different from what you would see in the supermarket or in the big chain off-licences.”
Joe says it won’t be an expensive shop. “I wouldn’t describe it entirely that way. I think we’ll see some wines at very competitive prices. They may be a little bit more expensive than the supermarkets, but I wouldn’t describe it as high end. It would be somewhere mid-range.”
We are a small town and there is already competition within wine retail. Tesco and the Co-op on Beaufoy Close sell wine. Lidl will have a wine section when they open soon and Shaftesbury Wines is a well-established independent off-licence on the High Street.
Joe believes there is enough business to go around. “I believe so, not that this will be entirely about Shaftesbury, because I will be aiming to sell a lot via the internet. Lidl, who have a very excellent range of wines, and Tesco, are bringing in wines primarily from the very big producers. One of the aspects of that is that few of them are organic and they tend also to be imported in bulk and bottled here in the UK. To do that you have to put a high level of sulphites into them. Quite a lot of people are allergic to the sulphites and even people who aren’t allergic don’t necessarily like the idea of being fed sulphites. It’s good to use smaller producers, wines that have been bottled at the base of production and don’t have the same issue over the sulphites. We’re lucky enough also to have identified quite a lot of organic producers. I think a lot of people in Shaftesbury will be interested in organic wines,” said Joe.
Joe’s new shop will offer shoppers a chance to sample wines, too. “Every day, we will have a couple of wines open in the shop. That will be rotating as we go along. We will have a wine tasting room to the rear of the shop. People can come in and pay for a glass of any wine they like from the shop,” he explained.
There will be nibbles, too. Charcuterie and tapas type-snacks. “It’s a healthy thing to do. When people are drinking, they should always have a little bit of food to help absorb the alcohol.”
Joe says the store’s concept could be considered similar to The Beckford Bottle Shop in Tisbury. “I think that’s a very reasonable comparison. There’s also Morrish and Banham down in Dorchester, in Brewery Square. It’s that sort of vibe. Come in. Take your time. Look at the wines. Pick the bottles out. Read the labels, talk wine, have a bit of fun and just make it a real experience to buy wine, rather than just pick it up and put it in your supermarket trolley.”
People will be able to sample Joe’s selection in the evenings. “We will definitely have some days with later opening through to 8pm. Somebody said to me the other day that it would be hugely helpful if Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce members got together and all agreed to be open at the same hours throughout the day. So often, you come into town and half the shops are closed, which seems a shame. It’s a missed opportunity. We have applied, in our licensing, for Sunday hours of 11.30am to 5.30pm. I think we’ll probably end up doing some Sundays – maybe not all, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Joe intends to make use of the space and the prominent High Street frontage for his business which promotes local products. “We have a big project going on at the moment where we are joined together with other Dorset food and drink producers to do Dorset food and drink gift packs. They will be very prominent in the window at The Old Wine Merchants. We needed somewhere to package those. Initially, we will be using the downstairs space at 25 High Street to put them together. Away from Christmas, we may not have quite so much need of that space. We might move some of the wine tasting activities downstairs so we can use more of the upstairs space for exhibiting wines,” said Joe.
Joe has the shop on a short, initial lease. He says that he is in discussions over buying the property’s freehold. “The other alternative is we might go to a long-term lease with a view to purchasing in the future. That is all still very much in discussion.”
He intends to open on 11th of October and he’s chosen the name for the new venture. “It’s called Wessex Wine Company Limited. That is the name that will be on the shop,” said Joe.