The Place: Kensington, London and Islington, London.
The Story: In a normal wine retailer you go in, you look up and down shelves in a pseudo knowledgeable way and you eventually pick one based on a)cost 2)type or c) because you like the label. But not here.
Indeed. Whose bright idea is this? The founders are one Jamie Hutchinson and Dawn Mannis and their Islington and Kensington branches have been going since 2006 and 2010 respectively.
No doubt a pair of old time wine buffs with 50 years in the business between them? Think on. Hutchinson has a background in finance, a venture capitalist to be exact, for whom wine was previously merely a ‘hobby’.
And that was? The Sampling Machine. First spotted in Chianti country where tourists go and try hundreds of chiantis at a sip a time. They’d never seen one in this country so decided to be the first.
Expensive? Sit down. They’re £10k each.
Howso? These things take up half the wall space of the outlets. Wall space which could be stocking wine from floor to ceiling. ‘You have to sell a lot more wine for this to make financial sense.’
What do you pay? You pay a percentage of the retail price for a whole bottle. So the cheapest could be around 30p for a swig up to… wait for it…. £90.
I thought there was a recession on. In addition, two of the three bottles The Sampler had in stock sold.
So, should I ever have that spare £90 what do I do? Simple. You ask for a sampling card, you charge it with whatever amount you like and then get swigging in either shop. 10,000 cards are issued per annum.
No one else doing this? Not quite in the same way. Selfridges have their Wonder Bar and in fact The Sampler recently teamed up with them to force a change in the law on selling ‘sips’. But they’re not quite competing yet.
Successful? Early days. But the end of the week is already pretty busy and early week beginning to go the same way. ‘There are plenty of pubs in Kensington but the only good wine is to be found in restaurants’. This wine bar changes all that.
And who decides what are the unusual wines? It’s down to the staff. When they join they are assigned a geographical area of wine expertise to make their own. Then they pore over local wine magazines, talk to local drinks journalists and local wine makers to find out the rare and wonderful.
Anything bubbling under for 2012? Oh yes. And funnily enough it involves bubbles. The Sparkling Sampling Machine is coming. Currently in development and having only 4 plugs to sample from it will nevertheless retail at around £13k but Hutchinson is very excited about it. He claims Champagne is the ‘most skewed in price/quality ratio’ of all products with huge industrial producers spending massive budgets on big names. The Sampler will be changing all this. But of course that’s what they‘re good at.
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