“Innovation, and pushing boundaries, asking different questions of both the buyer and consumer is what we need. Standing still is walking backwards and I find that tricky at my age.” As a business strategy it’s hard to argue with such a straightforward approach as Danny Spencer has for his growing East Street Wine Co distribution business. Well known in the trade for his many years with Boutinot, Spencer is now well on the way to establishing a wine import business that is 100% a reflection of his friendly, infectious personality. Here he looks back on his buying year for 2019 and what he expects to happen in 2020.
Danny Spencer is the kind of person you want to spend time with, which for a wine supplier with his new Wine Street Wine Co is a pretty good trait to have.
How was 2019 for you been in terms of buying, sourcing and availability?
No real horror stories in Europe have meant in the main decent wine has been available at sensible prices. The real joy is discovering new producers [to me] and who clearly punch above their weight and deliver wines of real interest. For example Fabrizio Vella in Sicily and Altolandon from La Mancha, both organic and both single minded in their pursuit of authenticity and provenance.
Which areas were the most successful in terms of value and availability?
Regional Europe is always a go to. Value, quality and above all interest. Field blends abound and they’re often fabulous! Further afield Marlborough Gewurztraminer, Stellenbosch Cabernet Franc and McLaren Vale Sangiovese have also rightly demanded attention.
Do you see that continuing into 2020?
Innovation, and pushing boundaries, asking different questions of both the buyer and consumer is what we need. Standing still is walking backwards and I find that tricky at my age.
Which areas did not do well in 2019 and why do you think that was?
I often find so much of Bordeaux so disappointing, but perhaps that’s not just this year. Am I allowed to say that? Almost anything you would like to drink you cannot afford. So little value.
How do you decide to take on a new producer or partner – what criteria do you use?
Fundamentally they have to pass the wanker test. That is: Do we want to work with them? Are they true to the values of their region and its methods and culture? Are they doing the right thing by the environment, their staff and their other partners.
We would like to think that we pass the wanker test and only want to work with others that do likewise.
How is the UK looking to producers now after the years of Brexit uncertainty?
Relentless duty increases just make it ever more difficult for quality wines to gain any traction in the UK. We get further and further away from the prices charged at country of origin and producers find it harder and harder to understand. It’s a downward spiral as we then have to push for lower prices to hit price points and producers can simply sell at higher prices to other countries, and who can blame them?
Are you buying wine more to fit into different formats, be it for tap, keg, can, bag in box?
Tap, keg, BiB – I’m still to try anything that I think enhances the current offering. So why do it? I’m all for innovation, but you have to ask why too. Cans may be different. We’ve had great success this year with Wild & Wilder ‘Tabula Rasa’ – 50cl bottles under a beer crown [produced by Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW]. So in effect an instant carafe. Fabulous wines from Adelaide Hills always help too.
What are the sweet spot price points wise that you focus most of your buying on – is that changing?
The East Street Wine business is exclusively on-trade and very much focused on what we call ‘Quality Casual’. Gastro pubs, cocktail bars, small plates restaurants, outlets that offer high quality fare but where you can still wear your trainers, that sort of thing. So the sweet spot really is between £25 and £35 a bottle. Working that backwards wines need to cost our customers between £6 and £9.
The challenge for more than 25years has been to find wines that can catch the imagination, punch above their weight and give the consumer a truly different experience. It’s not always easy but it is great fun. It’s why we do it.
Business and personal highlights of 2019?
Completing three years of East Street Wine Co and making a profit (albeit tiny!) for the last two of those. As a business incorporated the day after the Brexit referendum we didn’t pick the easiest time to set this thing up!
Personally, moving in with my wonderful partner Katrina is real life changing stuff. I couldn’t be happier.
Best drinking and eating experience you had in 2020?
How do you answer that! And funnily enough 2019 is the first year in 20 years that I’ve not visited Donostia (San Sebastian) which would always be my default answer to a question like this. So, if staying at home then I’d have to say I had a stunning meal at 64 Degrees in Brighton – and they’re not even a customer!
Winewise, well a 1999 Rustenberg Peter Barlow Cabernet takes a bit of beating. I’m so lucky to get to taste so many extraordinary wines and I never forget that.
What did you do for Christmas?
I moved in with my partner on November 24, two and a half years to the day since we first met. So it was Christmas at home, surrounded by family in front of a roaring fire, watching the Boxing Day Test Match from South Africa.
What did you drink?
We do like a drop of fizz. And so DeMorgenzon Cap Classique Brut will be getting put through it’s paces. There’s some Sancerre Rosé rolling about too and lots of reds from Spain, Catalunya and Languedoc.
And what was on your TV?
Scorsese’s The Irishman on Netflix.
Any favourite Christmas song?
Bruce Springsteen – The Wish. Little known but performed brilliantly on his one man show on Broadway last year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wpcA2rfMfc