The Paris-born entrepreneur had been working in UK hotels and restaurants since 2001 and opened his own business in Royal William Yard, the recently renovated Grade 1 listed former Royal Naval victualling buildings, home to such names as River Cottage alongside Le Vignoble.
The business is split roughly 50/50 between drinking in and take-home, with 36 wines sold by the glass from Enomatic machines, and some 300 by the bottle, alongside beers from Corsica and a handful of spirits, including a gin and Cornish Pastis from local distiller Tarquin.
Can you sum up your shop in one sentence? We are a wine retailer, lounge and also wine education establishment, as we hold regular expert wine events with guest speakers.
How do the drink-in and take- home elements work together? I think it is the future. How do you make people explore the diversity of wine if they can’t try it? You can’t say to someone, go and buy that, it’s beautiful – how do you know? But it is only the future if you are hardworking, because it means a lot of hours – forget about nine to six.
Do you think you can make money from the wine trade? A lot of retailers say you will never be a millionaire being a wine retailer, but those people think of it too much as a hobby. You have to get the fine line between the two – if you think of it too much as a business you won’t be passionate enough, but if you think of it too much as a hobby you lose track of the business side. What is the point of having your own business if it is not going to make a profit? You might as well work for someone else.
What sets you apart from other drinks retailers? At Le Vignoble we have a young, knowledgeable team who are passionate about wine. The lounge offers customers the use of the Enomatic wine service system which allows guests to sample up to 36 varieties of wine while regulating them all to the correct temperatures.
Who are your customers? We target a lot of young professionals. When I first came to the UK everything was pub and beer, neck it down, get hammered and go home. Now a lot of young professionals have been travelling and don’t want that, they want to have an engaging evening together, which you can do around a bottle of wine better than a few pints. I call it a more European way of socialising. A lot of young professionals are also less scared to ask questions. The older generation don’t want to look stupid so they don’t want to ask questions, but young professionals are really eager to learn more.
How do you keep them coming back? We host monthly events where we showcase new wines. We welcome experts from wine producers and vineyards to speak at our events and we also have great monthly offers.
Does the tourist trade affect your business? In July and August Le Vignoble becomes a little bit of London in the south west. We change the selection in the machines for higher value wines because we know people aren’t going to be worried to spend more. Off season we really have to make sure we put the right priced wines in the machine.
What area of the business is performing best at the moment? Our focus is on wine education and providing our customers with a wealth of expert knowledge based on types of wine and wine production.
What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer? As an independent retailer superstore price cuts can be a big challenge. It is important as an independent retailer to encourage people to shop locally and to help them understand what better value they have shopping at a local independent. We can advise on the right wines to accompany the right flavours and to explain to them the history and production of different wines helping them to make the right purchase.
What’s your top retailing tip? Having the right industry and product knowledge is essential and, above all, don’t mislead your customer.
What has been your biggest business mistake? I’ve spent too much time on the business and haven’t seen my girls – Mylee, aged four, and Tia, who will be two in October – growing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Keep the locals happy – they are your bread and butter in the winter.