Set to shine a light on the hidden gems of the wine world, Champagne Warehouse has launched a dedicated arm to push the independent side of the business.
The Wine Rascals' ethos is simple: to supply hidden gems from families, not factories. With a portfolio compromising of champagne, still and other sparkling wines, its books feature no brands, with all products sourced directly from vineyards.
Now looking to grow the company's on-trade business, Wine Rascals forms part of a strategy to lift business from 10% to 50% in the next five years.
It was always in my mind that at some point in the future we would want to approach the on-trade market with our products
'I started Champagne Warehouse in 1999 on the principle of importing grower champagnes on an exclusive basis, supplying the UK trade customers,' founder Tony Stones told Imbibe. 'Over the last 17 years, this has grown and grown. We expanded our range but really only focused on sparkling wine, but again using the same principles of families not factories.
'Over the years we had been approached, pretty much through word of mouth, by still wine producers who liked our message and principles who wanted to work with us. It was always in my mind that at some point in the future we would want to approach the on-trade market with our products, but that it would be difficult with just a sparkling offering.'
Two years ago Stones laid out a strategy to develop a full wine portfolio, applying the same principles. He created a trading group to include its new on-trade brand, Wine Rascals. The company now has over 250 exclusive wines from families all over the world, from everyday drinkers through to specialist wines.
'Whilst commercially I need to find the everyday wines, my passion is to find the yet undiscovered wines or the wines from a specific plot which really demonstrate a true regional wine,' revealed Stones. 'There is also no reason why an everyday wine cannot standout as a good wine and this is a challenge we set ourselves.'
Stones set about to improve wine service in the on-trade, and help customers become a little more adventurous when choosing wines: 'For me it was not right that quite a lot of end consumers chose wine simply on label or grape name, or because it was second on a menu or second cheapest,' he added.
'Equally it was not right that in a lot of restaurants a lot of emphasis is placed solely on the food when the dining out experience is about food and wine in terms of money spent – so I had to try and find a way of making the wines just as important as the food where there was not a sommelier there to help the consumer out.
'Our wines have to be great, have a great story and we have to work with our on-trade customers in a closer, partnership way to give confidence to the consumer to venture outside their comfort zones. This will also likely mean increased margins for our customers. We are not in the market to simply sell the default Pinot Grigio by the hundreds of cases, if I can persuade a good percentage of the Pinot Grigio drinkers to try an alternative, then I will think I have succeeded,' concluded Stones.
The creation of Wine Rascals follows Champagne Warehouse's recent online re-branding to The Fizz Company, showcasing its other bubblies like prosecco, English sparkling and cava.
And growth is already on their minds, with Stones revealing Wine Rascals will shortly be increasing its wine portfolio to over 300.
'We will continue to look for wines which will enhance our portfolio whether this be new countries, new styles or finding better examples of wines we currently have.'