The Butlers Wine Cellar is one of only a few food and drink businesses that can quite rightly claim to be Brighton icons. A family-run and operated vintner with outlets in Queens Park Road and St Georges Road, the business begin in the 1970s and is now headed up by Henry Butler and his partner Cassie Gould. Nick Mosley talks to them about all-things wine, how they’ve dealt with the pandemic and what the future holds. [This feature first appeared in the Brighton Argus in June 2021]
Henry, what is the background of Butlers?
The Butlers Wine Cellar is a fiercely independent wine shop, focussing on wines that are interesting, tasty and represent good value. We sell wines from most wine-making regions, with a particular focus on California, Portugal and the wines of England. We are founder members of a national group of some of the finest independent wine merchants across the UK, focussed on importing exciting new wines to the country.
We’ve always taken a fun approach to wine, whether through our social media presence or hosting events including as part of many Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festivals.
Cassie, what has your experience of the past year been? Are things improving for the better?
It finally seems like lockdown is a thing of the past and we are moving into a more 'normal' way of trading again. It's definitely a new and different normal but at least we can finally see and talk to our customers again. Having survived the erratic lockdown wine shopping trends, for us, business has quietened down a little at the moment for home consumption since the bars and restaurants have reopened. That said, as soon as it rains we receive a flurry of local deliveries; May has been a better month for us due to the miserable weather I'm sure.
We’re now open from Wednesday to Saturday, hooray!!! We are definitely seeing demand for more 'treat' wines now people have something to celebrate, and others to share them with. We are also seeing an interest in orange, natural, and low sulphur wines of which we sell quite a few now.
Henry, why should people look to their local vintners to buy wines, beers and spirits – rather than supermarkets?
I come from an independent background – we are an independent local shop – and we personally shop in other local businesses as our default setting; it’s the way I am wired. Some people like the shopping relationship you have when entering an independent, some like the non-confrontational approach of a wine aisle in a supermarket. There is room for both, but we are a specialist, and put hours of work in refining a range of products which we strongly feel provide a lot of joy. It is in our interest not to make a one-off deal with a customer, but rather build a long term relationship. Prices are comparable unless you only buy on discounted supermarket deals. We, as independents, have time to discuss and advise, so hopefully the customer ends up with the wine most suited to their needs.
Henry, looking to the next few months, are there any key drinking trends?
There are always lots of mini trends or fads, which can be distracting. We try to stay true to our mission, taste as much as possible, constantly review our range and stock the wines we feel offer interest and value. There appears to be a lot of chat about buying natural or orange wines. We have some of both – we have had for many years – but we make sure we choose wines we like and think are good quality, rather than just stocking them because they happen to be natural or orange. We have seen an increase in sales of lighter reds, such as wines from Portugal, Beaujolais, France and Italy. My immediate fear would be that due to Brexit costs and admin delays, it might make importing small parcels from funky producers too costly.
Cassie, have you had time yet to professionally and personally get out to bars and restaurants locally?
Yes! We’ve already been out a few times and sat outside and this week we have our first indoor bookings which we cannot wait for. We have been to the fantastic Flint House – who’s sweetcorn fritters I have actually dreamt about over lockdown – , and are heading to Wild Flor, Due South, Fourth & Church, and the Grand Hotel in the next week or so. We have a booking at Mere in London in July which will be an adventure.
We supply hospitality businesses across the city and many can’t order wines fast enough now, clearly seeing a demand from guests. This is great to be a part of as we are as happy as everyone else about the return of hospitality, but we are now dealing with the aftermath of Brexit which affects many aspects of our business. It's a continual juggling act but we are really pleased to moving forward again.
The Butlers Wine Cellar is located at 247 Queens Park Road, Brighton and 88 St George's Road, Brighton. Order online at www.butlers-winecellar.co.uk