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4th August 2021 by Rachel Wallhouse
We are independent fine wine merchants and our shop, The Whalley Wine Shop in Lancashire, which has won many top retail awards including the prestigious 2019 National Decanter Award for Best Independent Wine Shop, is extending it’s ‘wine experience’ for customers by opening a dedicated wine bar next door. Our shop which retails fine wines, quality spirits and craft beers, and which prides itself on it’s product range and the quality of it’s service, is expanding into the on-trade in a recently closed Barclays Bank adjacent to our retail premises in King St, Whalley.
Owner Tom Jones explains the rationale behind the move. “ 2020 was supposed to be a year of celebration for The Whalley Wine Shop as it was our 10th Anniversary with loads of events and tastings planned, but as we know Covid struck and all our plans were shelved. However this gave us the opportunity to look at our long term strategy, and to how we could add something new and exciting for customers and for Whalley. Right from the outset we tried to make a visit to The Whalley Wine Shop an experience, creating a buzz, by encouraging customers to taste new wines through our ‘by the glass’ sampling machine, to explore new wine varieties and new wine countries, to learn about food pairing with the mantra ’helping you choose the right wine every time’.
We found that our customers absolutely loved the ambience of tasting and drinking wine in the shop, but with over 1000 different wines on display and often over 20 wines to taste ‘By The Glass’, the shop was frequently packed with customers, and it became clear we needed more space for customers to relax and enjoy their wines. We recognised that customers were having to stand and drink wines in a retail environment and what we needed was a dedicated space to drink and enjoy wines that wasn’t a shop. When the Barclays Bank next door closed it seemed the perfect solution and opportunity to open a venue next door to us dedicated to drinking and experiencing great wines. So during Covid we leased the bank and set about converting it to a high quality wine bar where we can hold both indoor and outdoor wine tastings. A purpose designed wine bar with more seating, space and facilities, where customers can relax and enjoy themselves. It’ll be a place for wine lovers, and our offering and our service will be all about the wine! There will be a small range of beers and spirits for non wine drinkers but no draught beer or cocktails. We’re aiming to be a genuine wine bar, but not just any wine bar we want to be the best place to enjoy and drink wine in the North West with one of the best ranges of wine by the bottle or by the glass anywhere in the UK. A genuine wine bar designed by wine lovers for wine lovers.”
Many might question the wisdom of making a big investment in opening a wine bar in the middle of a global pandemic and with the hospitality industry on its knees, and Tom and his wife Jen did not take this decision lightly. “ We had many a sleepless night debating whether it was a brave or a foolhardy thing to do, but everyone I talked to said it was such a good location and the shop has an excellent reputation. So we signed the lease on the day that Boris Johnson locked down the country for the second time. Crazy or what!” Recruiting staff could also have been very difficult for Tom as many hospitality staff have left the industry to pursue other careers as a result of Covid. Tom added “ We’ve been very lucky in finding a Manager with experience in the County’s top hospitality establishments and with a genuine passion and love for wine. Mario Martins and his team will be happy to help customers choose wines they will enjoy”
Nine months later The Whalley Wine Bar has now opened with the unique proposition that every drink that customers enjoy in the bar will be available for sale next door in the Wine Shop. So if you enjoy a specific wine on your visit to the Bar, you can pop next door and buy a bottle to take home with you. And what’s more if you’ve bought a bottle from the shop and bring it into the wine bar with you, you’ll be able to have it opened for you and drink it right there and then. The Bar will eventually feature a unique ‘Wine Garden’ to enjoy superb wines in the sun in a calm and beautifully designed outdoor space in the garden. An outdoor area with seating in wine pods each dedicated to a specific country populated with information about the wines from that country. But in the meantime the barrels are back! On opening day there will be outside seating with the shop’s distinctive wine barrels being relocated outside the bar so customers can grab a barrel and sit out the front and watch the world go by with a glass of wine in hand.
Another unique feature of the bar is a ’tasting room’ called The Vault. Situated where the safe was kept in the old bank, customers will be able to have personal tastings and consultations in The Vault which will also house some of the Bar’s rarest and most valuable wines. Tom said “ The Whalley Wine Bar is a venue for all wine lovers, whether you’ve just discovered Sauvignon Blanc for the first time and want to sit in the window and enjoy with friends, or are looking to try a 1985 Bordeaux and discuss it’s merits in The Vault, you’ll have a warm welcome, and the very best of our help”
Tom said “ It really is all about the wine. Everything we do will be about encouraging customers to enjoy the adventure and discovery of wine, whether they’re new to wine or an experienced wine buff. The ambience of the Shop has always been very important to us and it will be the same with the Bar, a classy environment, to sit relax, and enjoy wine whether it’s people watching out the front, lounging on comfortable sofas inside, or chilling out in the garden area. We will also be serving a menu of fine foods that perfectly accompany our wines including high quality cold meats and fine cheeses from high quality local suppliers. Not a venue for dinner but great snacks and nibbles to complement great wine.”
“The opening of our wine bar is the totally logical extension to the wine experience here at The Whalley Wine Shop. Our customers were originally encouraged to sample wines, then we offered them wines by the glass to drink and enjoy while standing in the shop, then customers could sit outside socialising around our wine barrels and drinking wines watching the world go by. Now it seems the right thing to do to offer them the opportunity to enjoy wine in the plush new surroundings of a prestigious wine bar in the bank next door!