As there is no formal training or professional qualification for wine buying it can be hard to know if you are actually any good at it. Yes, you might have a wine list that seems to do the business, but how good are you compared to the wine buyer working for the restaurant group, wholesaler or wine merchant across the road. That’s what the new London Wine Fair Wine Buyer Awards are all about. The chance to go toe to toe with your peers to find out who actually is tippety top of the wine buying world. Christine Parkinson, so long the head of wine at the worldwide Hakkasan restaurant group, is pretty well placed to know what makes a good wine buyer or not. It’s why she is one of the judges in the Restaurant and Wine Bar category, sponsored by The Buyer. Here she explains what she thinks it takes to be a good – and award-winning wine buyer.
The London Wine Fair’s inaugural Wine Buyers Awards closes for entry next week. To help those looking to enter, here’s acclaimed restaurant wine buyer, Christine Parkinson, and her advice on what it takes to be a good buyer.
The London Wine Fair’s new ‘Wine Buyers Awards’ promises to do what it says on the tin. Reward the best wine buying talent there is across the UK wine industry. An opportunity for those who spend most of their careers working away behind the scenes sourcing, shaping and buying the wine lists that their businesses rely on, well, to stay in business.
These new awards are the first time buyers across all channels of the industry are to be recognised in this way, with separate categories for each relevant buying area of the market. From supermarkets to Michelin star restaurants (see below for full details).
The Buyer is pleased to be supporting the awards as a media partner and is also the sponsor of one of the categories, the Restaurant and Wine Bar. To help identify the best candidates in that category the judges include two of the sector’s stellar names: Martin Lam, restaurateur with over 45 years’ experience and founder of Ransome’s Dock, one of London’s best-loved wine focused restaurants; and Christine Parkinson, a wine and sake specialist, who until recently was group head of wine at Hakkasan. Both will be helped by Chris Losh, former editor of Imbibe, who is helping to organise and co-ordinate the awards.
To help mark your cards as to what the judges will be looking for, ahead of the closing date for entries on January 2o, Christine Parkinson shares her insights into what makes a good wine buyer.
You are involved in helping to judge the Wine Buyers Awards. What do you think of this new initiative and why did you want to be involved?
I think these awards are a great idea and long-overdue. Anyone can buy wine, but to do it well takes real skill and understanding, and a solid grasp of technique.
What advice would you have for anyone entering on how best to show what they can do as a buyer?
For anyone entering, I would say: explain your philosophy and give us some good examples of how you put it into practise.
What is your approach to wine buying? How do you decide on a wine to buy or a producer to work with?
Everything starts with the restaurant: what are the pricing and profit objectives? What do the guests want, and what will excite them? How capable are the staff? How much storage and refrigeration is available?
The wine buying policy has to match the particular needs of the site. Once you are clear what is needed, it’s possible to pick the right wines and suppliers.
Have those criteria changed over the years?
The basic criteria never change, but restaurants do, so the buying policy always needs to evolve.
Can you explain how you got into wine buying in the first place?
I had a passion for wine since I first studied hospitality management. I got involved in the wine buying in every job since I left college.
What do you most enjoy about buying wine?
There are lots of things I love about buying wine, but most of all I really enjoy the fact that I can make a difference to the guest: the right wine, on the right wine list, can be a fantastic part of the meal.
What are the biggest challenges and have they got worse over the years?
It’s always a challenge to understand exactly which wines are making a profit, but you will never be a successful buyer unless you do. Nowadays POS and purchasing software systems provide far more information than before, which is great, provided you have time to crunch the numbers.
Where do you see the best wine buying opportunities in the future in terms of countries, and styles for the premium on-trade?
Fresher, lighter styles are on the up, and can often be good value. This is why wines like Beaujolais are becoming popular again.
How do you think wines overall have adapted and moved on during your time buying wine?
There is so much choice now, from so many countries, and it’s no longer just France that produces ‘fine’ wine.
Have those changes been mostly for the better?
Yes, mostly. One particularly good thing is that there are far fewer corked wines now than there used to be.
Where do the problems still lie?
One negative is that it seems more common nowadays to find wine faults that are not caused by the cork – possibly winemakers take more risks in their quest to produce really expressive wines.
What advice would you give to a restaurant buyer about choosing wines for a list?
The quality of the wine simply has to be excellent. This holds true at every price point. The guest must feel they are getting a good drink for their money. Pay attention to vintages, availability, pricing, and the range of wines you offer: these things all have to be right or the operation will struggle to make the wine list work.
You moved on from Hakkasan towards the end of last year, what are your plans now and what can we expect to see you doing in the coming months?
I’m freelance now, and having fun. I get to spend time working with other drinks as well as wine, and other types of operations.
London Wine Fair: Wine Buyers Awards
Entries for the first Wine Buyers Awards close on January 20 so there is not much time to get your entries in. The key is to channel your energies to the right category. The new awards are split into the following areas:
- Restaurant and Wine bar Buyer Award
- Supermarket & Multiple Retailer Buyer Award
- Online Specialist Buyer Award
- Independent Merchant Buyer Award
- Pub Buyer Award
- Rising Star Buyer Award – to recognise the achievements of those 35 years and under, operating in any of the five channels.
You will be expected to provide detailed information that demonstrates your wine buying skills, including the following criteria.
- what kind of margins are you expected to achieve and how you deliver them.
- how you have worked with suppliers to optimise deals.
- do you involve your staff in your buying decisions.
- how far you plan your wine list in advance.
- examples of promotions, events, seasonal listings.
- keeping on top of trends and which ones work in your business.
If you think you have what it takes then you can find all the details on how to enter here.
Deadline for entries: January 20 2020
Shortlist revealed: February 25 2020
Awards Ceremony: May 19 2020
- The 2020 London Wine Fair will take place at Olympia from 18th to 20th May. For more details on the show go to www.londonwinefair.com. For more details on the awards go to Sally Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.