A wine list, no matter how small, should speak volumes about a restaurant.
I love to search for an unusual wine, something with a story attached, and a good selection of wines by the glass is always a plus.
In a scaled-down way we have been trying to present just such a feeling at the Old Dairy.
Our new kitchen and parlour, together with the coffee shop, allow us to do evening suppers with a set menu. On a warm summer evening, we can also lay the marble champagne bar on the terrace where guests can eat our food and sip something nice as they watch the sun go down over Flodden Hill.
Of course, it would be a simple matter to push the supermarket trolley into the wine section and load up with whatever takes our fancy, some at half-price no doubt, but what does that do for our customers?
We want to know more about the wines we are serving, where they’ve come from, a little bit about the winery and the small producer or family making it.
No chance of getting that from a supermarket and we could do with a bit of help in setting up a wine list.
Twenty-five years ago Tarquin de Burgh was a young man looking for adventure. With a name straight out of the pages of a romantic novel he could be forgiven for thinking that the world was his oyster.
So he set his sights on the Royal Navy and while waiting to go to sea took a job as a van driver to earn a bit of money.
Little did he know it would change his life, and it was all down to the cargo he was carrying – wine. Boxes and boxes of the stuff, most of it rather fine wine, from an Edinburgh merchant called Justerini & Brooks.
In short, all this wine had gone to his head, not literally, but in a strangely romantic way, for he realised that each bottle had its own remarkable story to tell, beginning with the label.
Named after a French chateau, Italian villa or a Spanish hacienda, they were like tickets to travel, drawing him to the distant vineyards to find out more about their history and the families who for generations had devoted their lives to the land and their wine.
Without knowing it, de Burgh had caught the wine trade bug, so he abandoned his plans to join the Navy and over the next few years proceeded to climb the slippery ladder of the wine world, going from salesman to partner in his own business where his ethos was to hand pick a small list of wine growers from various parts of the world and offer the best of service.
It was a successful formula, which in 2011 would lead to a buy-out from a much larger company.
“The trouble is you get tired of not having to get out of bed in the mornings,” de Burgh says. “And once a wine man, always a wine man.”
So, his thoughts turned to the smaller producers again, and this time he was looking particularly at the more unusual wines, wines that he felt would truly interest his customers if only they had a chance to taste them.
And, if he could present those wines in an even more bespoke way, he would have a brand-new business.
With the help of a new partner, Will Nicolson, he has just launched de Burgh Wine Merchants.
“Our aim is very simple and it’s to offer wines that we want to take home and drink ourselves.
“We bring at least 80 per cent of our wines direct from source and we’re not in any hurry to buy a wine just because it’s what the market wants. We believe in wine first, market second.”
It’s a brave banner that he’s carrying. The wine business is notoriously price-led and he has to convince hotel, restaurant, bistro owners, pub chefs and others that there’s every reason to buy wines from him rather than another wine merchant or high-street wine shop.
“What makes us different is that not only do we sell the wine, but we also buy it and we’re getting it from growers who we have come to know personally with all the trials and tribulations that go with producing every bottle,” de Burgh emphasises.
That’ll do for us!
l The Old Dairy in Ford is a concept store specialising in antiques, vintage and interiors. There is also a coffee shop, parlour kitchen and champagne bar serving evening suppers.
For more details, contact Keith or Lynne Allan on 01890 820325 or visit www.theolddairyinford.co.uk