PADDY Eyres is a man with a mission. With a solid background in the wine industry, he saw that the demise of Threshers offered a great business opportunity – a “gaping hole in the market” – and in October launched his first wine shop, Bin 21, in Morpeth.
When he talks about his passion for his new business and his desire to build it into a legacy fit to leave one day to his young son Sam, it’s hard not to be swept along by his enthusiasm, but Bin 21 really is a bit different.
So when I arrived in the converted branch of Lloyds Bank at 29 Newgate Street, I was delighted to find Paddy engaged in conversation with a customer – it gave me the opportunity to nose around for a few minutes.
I was struck first by the way the wines are arranged – not by country as they usually are, but primarily by grape variety, and in the corner I was drawn to the great, old steel bank vault door that led into a special section of Champagne and fine wines.
I was pleased to find that, though, they were genuinely fine, they weren’t horribly expensive, just an imaginative selection that included a bottle by one of my favourite Burgundy producers, Erell Ninot – the first time I’ve seen her wines on sale locally.
Paddy joined me. “One of our strengths must be to give outstanding customer service,” he told me. So he’s recruited a team with a bit of “life experience – they’re mostly new to wine, but they certainly know about talking to customers.”
Carolyn Richfield, who was serving in the shop that afternoon, is a good example. Back to employment for the first time after having children, she’s really enjoying the challenge of selling wine.
So what about the novel layout of the store? “Most people these days say they like Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio,” Paddy explained. “So that’s how we set up the shop.”
But there’s more to it. Grape varieties run vertically down the shelves but each major country also has its own band that runs horizontally round the shop. It’s a kind of grid system – I cottoned on pretty quickly, with Carolyn’s help.
The shop also has three clear, distinct ranges. At entry level, in the middle of the shop, are relatively cheap and cheerful wines on permanent offer at three for £14.40. Individually they cost £5.75. I tried one and was sufficiently impressed to make it my wine of the week.
“They’re intended to be great value, quaffing, social wines,” said Paddy.
At the top end, in the bank vault, the wines are arranged in small bins, by price. “It’s arranged for people who are looking for something special and maybe have an amount in mind that they want to spend,” Paddy explained.
In between are the main shelves, arranged on their grid pattern. The wines are also colour coded, like traffic lights, by price – red up to £8, yellow for the next band up to £12 and green for the most expensive. It’s easy to see which wines Paddy would most like you buy.
In fact, to the surprise of all the staff, sales of wines in the middle bracket have been especially good. “There’s a migration up,” says Paddy.
The best-selling line is Villa Maria’s Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010. At £7.99 it’s competitively priced, Paddy points out, and cites one supermarket where it even costs a pound more. Independent wine merchants don’t often take on the big boys and win.
It’s also Carolyn’s favourite tipple and has a big label tied to it recording the fact. Other members of staff have also hung comments around their favourite bottles too.
Paddy, Carolyn and the rest of the Bin 21 team have discovered that Morpeth wine lovers know a thing or two. Paddy feels this plays to another of the shop’s strengths.
“We may not have it on the shelf,” he told me. “But if someone asks for a bottle of 1994 Rioja, we’ll get it in. Or if they’ve tasted a great Châteauneuf du Pape at a hotel in the Lakes, we’ll find it.”
As well as wine, there’s a good range of local beers, malt whisky and plenty more.
There are around 270 wines in the shop, but only the top 60 will appear on the Bin 21 website when it goes live in the next week or two. “And then we’ll only add wines that our customers have recommended,” Paddy insists. “And if we ever get feedback that a particular wine isn’t great, we’ll de-stock it at once.”
Paddy never lost his passion for wine when he left Waverley. He’s clearly very much at home in the wine trade again, and his mission extends well beyond the Morpeth shop.
“I want to stay very much in the North East and Northumberland,” he says. “But I’d like to open in Hexham, Berwick and Alnwick.” Soon? “My heart tells me next week, but my head says later in the year.”
Whether or not the arrival of so many good new independent wine merchants is entirely due to the demise of Threshers, I can’t say, but Bin 21 really is more good news for North East wine lovers.
Wine of the week
Viñas Riojanas Torrontes 2010 Bin 21 £5.75 (three for £14.40):
Delicious, aromatic, fresh dry white from Argentina, with a floral, pear and peach aroma and a crisp, citrus, spicy taste. Try it with Chinese cuisine, especially chicken or seafood.
Bin 21 offers many wines you won’t find elsewhere, but I’m delighted they’ve decided to stock some lines from local wine importers like Marta Vine and Portovino, both Portuguese specialists. Marta’s zingy dry white Vinho Verde Estreia (£9.99) is well worth a try.
Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (£10.49) is new to me and I’m impressed – it’s an Aussie red with real style and great freshness of fruit, as truly blackcurrant a Cabernet as I’ve enjoyed in a while, with mouth-watering acidity and a nice bite of tannin.
Grant Burge’s ‘Benchmark’ Shiraz 2009 (£7.75) is also excellent value, with its rich, plum and black cherry fruit, spiced up by black pepper.