We read about all the various wine promotions that go on throughout the year, but we rarely actually get to see what restaurants, bars and wine merchants have done to support them. Here Joan Torrents, well known in the trade for his buying and sourcing wine career, explains how and why he and his wife got so carried away by Wines of Germany’s 31 Days of Riesling promotion they sourced and listed 31 Rieslings for their London wine bar, Pantry & Co.
Let’s face it the trade can’t get enough German Rieslings and given the choice many buyers would have it as their Desert Island wine. But offer it to customers and you can get a very different reaction. So deciding to list 31 different German Rieslings was a pretty brave call for a wine bar where Rieslings have not sold very well in the past.
Tell us about Pantry & Co. When did you open and what are you looking to do?
Pantry & Co was opened by my wife, Pei-chin, in January 2018 with the idea of sharing our passion for all things wine and food. She is a keen baker and initially we opened just weekends to sell her cakes and provide a curated range of wines, cheeses and other delicatessen products as well as coffee.
Why did you open where you have and run the hours that you do?
We moved to the area almost five years ago when the high street was less developed than it is now. We wished that someone would open somewhere that you could go to enjoy interesting wines and artisan coffee as well as providing quality grocery. It happens that after two years living there it turned to be us opening it!
The hours are very long indeed, but that comes with running a startup business. It is also, though, very rewarding and comes with the satisfaction of seeing the business grow and having loyal customers that have supported us along the way.
How do you hope to build the business up?
We are actually on the hunt for bigger premises because our place has proved to be too small for what we want to do. It was a great place with low risk for a start up and now that the model is working we want to benefit from economies of scale in a new site.
Is is strange using all the skills you have learnt in the trade through your professional buying and sourcing side to be doing if for yourself?
It was surprising to find new skills that I did not know I needed to have or learn! Running your own business means being hands on with pretty much everything. There have been, and there are plenty of lessons that we still need to learn, but they also make us stronger and more prepared to face future challenges.
What have been the big positives and negatives so far?
The big plus is having positive feedback and support from our customers wishing us to succeed. It is our loyal customer base and new people discovering us for the first time that keeps us going. The challenge is to keep on innovating and thinking about how we can evolve and move on to the next stage.
As for the worse… well apart from the obvious ongoing pressure of getting the right financial numbers to keep us in business and up to date with invoices, staff costs, rents, etc, the biggest drain is the lack of time off with the family. Particularly as it is my wife and I that are the ones driving the project.
So, yes, the biggest challenge so far has been getting the work life balance right – and the financial perspective. A startup requires loads of time and cash so being able to separate them from personal time and finances has been the most difficult
We have 31 German Rieslings, all of them served by the glass, available which we believe is the first time anyone has done this in the UK. These are the only white wines that we serve with a red, rosé and sparkling completing the wine list.
Why did you decide to do this as Reisling can still be quite a hard variety for wine drinkers to understand and enjoy?
We thought if we were going to support Wines of Germany and the 31 days of Riesling campaign we needed to have a fully committed approach to ensure all our customers could come on a journey of discovery with us into German Riesling. We have listed German Rieslings in the past, alongside other white grapes, and customers have decided to choose the other options. So it has been a bit of a risk.
But we believe that with this unique offering we can really show our customers all the styles of Riesling there are and in that way have enough different choices to please everybody. We have had a number of customers say to us that they have not drunk Riesling for years who have now become converted to the grape because of the promotion and the chance they have had to find the styles of Riesling they want and like. So hopefully it is something they can take on after the summer.
We ask our customers what sort of white wines they like, for instance aromatic and fresh like a Sauvignon or round and charming like a Chardonnay and from there we can give them a taste of different Riesling to try. Like a crisp, dry Mosel or a charming off dry Pfalz. So they have the chance to find the most enjoyable Riesling for them.
How have you managed to source all the wines?
Looking to get in 31 different wines required a lot of work dealing with different producers and there are not many German wine specialists to go to. The core of the range has come from Red Squirrel Wine, Howard Ripley and Enotria, with some single producers from other suppliers.
What sort of price points do you cover?
We start at £5 a glass for a dry Rheingau up to £12 for a lush Spatlese from a renown producer.
Explain the range and why you have chosen the Rieslings you have?
We have structured the range by levels of residual sugar from bone dry (Trocken) to medium sweets (Spatlese and Auslese) with other gradings in between (i.e. Kabinett). Within each style we then have regions of production and producers.
We offer a wine flight with three different styles to allow people to find the type of wine that they prefer the most. To complete the style options we also have sparkling and orange Riesling, for those that are a bit more experimental.
How has it gone down with your customers?
Massively positive and people are delighted to be able to discover all these types of wines. It has been an eye opener to a good proportion of them with some of them confessing they are now converted to German Riesling.
Which Rieslings have proved the most popular?
The off-dry wines, with a slightly lower alcohol than Trocken and ones with a little more residual sugar have been very well received as they can be enjoyed on their own, but also work well paired with food. The dry styles also really well for those looking for a crisp alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc,
What learnings have you taken from running this project in terms of what sort of promotions work best for customers?
Consumers are spoilt when it comes to the choices and options they have in the wine world, so it is a matter of engaging with them with a unique offering. As long as the initial investment does not dry out your cash flow, the key is to make sure you don’t let accountants mute your passion and just follow your heart and see where it takes you.
What have you learnt by having such a bigger list?
One thing is clear: commercial drinks chillers are not designed for tall German bottles! We had to do a bit of DIY in our chiller to be able to fit them.
We have a couple of plans to kick off in September in terms of introducing a larger list, but that also depends on whether we are able to move to a bigger site. Once that is confirmed, we will get our wheels in motion to put the list in place.
What advice would you give other operators looking to get behind initiatives like 31 Day of Riesling?
Simply this: if you get behind a unique idea with all your heart, the results will come through.