Tell us a bit about Butlers Wine Cellar…
Henry: Butlers is a second generation independent wine shop which has been serving the Brighton community, and further afield, for over forty years. Our main focus is on sourcing great tasting wines at good prices; the process is the same whether a bottle costs £8 or £800. We stock wines from most wine-making countries.
Our shop is in St Georges Road in Kemp Town village. We used to have a further shop on Queens Park Road but the site is now being developed into a residential property. After so many years there we were disappointed that we had to leave, but things move on, and we are left with very fond memories.
Although we do local and national deliveries, and internet sales have risen dramatically, we will always have a bricks and mortar site.
How do you select the wines you’ll sell?
Henry: We mainly sell wines we like! When we taste, we decide if we like it enough, does it represent good value at the price, then we think about whether we can actually sell it.
We tend to hold anywhere between 1000 and 1500 different wines from about 150 suppliers. We are tasting wines every week. Being independent, we can be light on our feet. If something comes in which we feel is better than something we already have, we can make a quick change. We import wine ourselves and have brought new wines to the country, which is exciting.
Cassie: We try to break down the misconceptions about the wine trade and make wines accessible to everyone without any intimidation. We offer great value bottles that aren't found in supermarkets.
The rise of English wine appears unstoppable. How has the industry matured?
Henry: Locally produced wines are definitely better than they were twenty years ago. There were, of course, great English wines back then but there are many more now, with better consistency possibly assisted by climate change to a certain degree. There are also a lot more small vineyards making still wine. More importantly for us, there has been an improvement on the business side of things – in terms of pricing, regular supply and recognition of some of the basics we need as a retailer. It is frustrating when these things aren’t in place.
Cassie: With the likes of Wiston and Rathfinny opening restaurants and accommodation on-site, the offering of – and potential for – wineries is huge; they are becoming tourist attractions in their own right.
Henry: We are getting married on an english vineyard, that's commitment to the cause!
Is English wine now a familiar product for consumers and hospitality staff?
Cassie: I think following Brexit more people in the UK have been looking at English wines with a view that we can all drink local now, although the price point can still be daunting for those who don't understand the costs involved. That said, many more people know about English wines and regularly ask for them. We are lucky as we are located a few miles from most Sussex producers so our customers know the geography of the vineyards and appreciate local production.
Henry: English wine definitely has its own identity, and thrives as a stand-alone product. We were saying recently that it is refreshing to now present sparkling wines without having to refer to Champagne.
There’s clearly more to Butlers than local wines. Tell us about some of your favourite world wine regions.
Cassie: Within the wine world we have a soft spot for Portugal. We have been selling these wines since first opening in 1979 and our range is one of the biggest in the UK. We feel they offer great value and quality. You can find the best wines from a producer at £30 which compared to the best in France might be £100 plus.
Henry: Portuguese producers are generally friendly and welcoming, and there’s a lot of interesting history and grape varieties unique to the country. The wines are affordable and work really well with food; we have even started selling tins of Portuguese fish, which are excellent.
California is also a firm favourite of mine, and we also have a massive collection of wines from Piedmont, including several top Barolos. Not many shops specialise in these wines in our neck of the woods, which is maybe why we get excited about them.
What are your top tips for choosing a wine?
Cassie: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Ideally go to an independent merchant who can tell you everything you need to know to make an informed decision. We try to taste as much as we can so we always have plenty to recommend.
Henry: What we find helpful is if somebody just says how much they want to spend and tells us what they like and don’t like. We want our customers to have the best wine possible to suit their parameters, and then come back for more!
Butlers Wine Cellar, 88 St George's Road, Brighton BN2 1EE
01273 621 638 • www.butlers-winecellar.co.uk