When did you move to Leytonstone?
Just over six years ago from south London. We love the High Road vibe, which is jam packed with all sorts of entrepreneurs and independents selling products from all walks of life. We’ve been really touched by the welcome from Leytonstoners, with almost the first question being: are you a pop-up? To which we say no, and they say, “we’re so pleased you’re here to stay.”
Ah. What’s the background to the shop?
I grew up in Italy, spending most of my childhood in my grandfather’s vineyards – which kick-started my love of wine. When I came to England, after some time working in Italian restaurants I moved into the wine trade, where I became a national account manager for a large Italian producer. The job involved travel, but with our first baby on the way in 2011 I needed work that kept me closer to home.
So you took the plunge?
Yes, and opened my own wine shop, the Woodford Wine Room, specialising in small and artisan producers from Italy, in Woodford Green. Every summer I go back to Italy, a bit of a busman’s holiday, scouting at the grass roots for producers. During my last trip to Sicily, I got really into Vino Sfuso, which means ‘loose wine’, and is a traditional way of selling wine from barrel to bottle, which over the last few years has seen a big revival on the Italian high street. I was looking to expand the business, and after my trip, really wanted to try the Vino Sfuso concept in the UK.
Was it popular straight away?
I started doing it in the corner of the store, and then tried it out in the local farmers’ markets – and yes, customers were enthusiastic. The natural next step was to try it out on a bigger scale. Hence, the Wine to Go concept was born, a place with more sfuso and less bottled wine, apart from my handpicked selection. We initially found a premises in a different high street, which fell through due to complications with the lease. Disappointed, one day we were walking up the high street and saw a small shop up for rent and thought, why not Leytonstone? We couldn’t think of many reasons for not to try it here, so we went for it…and here we are.
What do you offer customers that others don’t?
Good quality, value-for-money bottles from small and artisan producers. I work directly with them and see ourselves as contemporary merchants, brokering direct to the UK high street, and then taking a more modern approach to selling it, a bit like a wine version of street food. We also try to embed eco-friendly touches where we can, from the refillable bottles to selling more natural state wines with organic grapes and less sulphites, and using electronic receipts. We hope to develop our already popular wine club and events model in Woodford with our Leytonstone customers; and have some instore collaborations lined up with other wine and lifestyle-related products. Exciting times.