New indie specialising in US wines set to open in London
An online wine shop that set up during the pandemic is opening its first bricks and mortar store in London at the end of the month, specialising in wines from California and Oregon.
Pacific Wines, which was set up by cofounder Rachel Gilbert during lockdown in 2020, will open its first shop in Islington next month.
Rachel Gilbert, a former maths teacher in an inner city school in Hackney who left teaching to study for her WSET after spent several months working with growers and producers in France before the pandemic, launched the ecommerce business in November 2021 with her businessman father, Graham, who shares her passion for American wine.
Although they initially planned to open a shop, this wasn’t feasible in the midst of a pandemic, so Gilbert adapted the business plan and decided to focus on establishing the online business.
“We wanted to see what wines worked and develop the store [gradually], doing it right, not fast,” she told db.
The team plans to concentrate initially on wines from California and Oregon, with wines from Napa and Sonoma well represented, including Napa Cellars and DeLoach Vineyards, as well as some lesser known wineries such as Keep Wines and Field Recordings.
Washington State is also on their radar but Gilbert says it is likely to take longer to find the collection they’re confident in. She also points out that one problem is that “a lot of very good quality wines stay in the US, and there is a lot of paperwork to be done at both ends.”
As a result, the wines are sourced from UK third parties in the trade, but Gilbert plans to establish relationships with producers themselves, now that international travel bans have been lifted with the aim to ultimately source direct from the wineries.
However she admits that it was probably “a saving grace” that it wasn’t possible to do this at the outset due to Covid-19, as it has given the team time to establish themselves and refine their plans.
“We didn’t have the credibility [then], but now we have had an online store for a year, and a new shop and we are more established,” she says.
Finding wines at a price point that the UK consumer is prepared to pay also has narrowed the field down, she notes – although there are a small selection of wines retailing above £100, Gilbert says she wants “people to walk into the shop with £20 and come out satisfied”.
Currently the range consists of around 140 skus ranging from £10- £170, with around 30 of those retailing for £20, after a project to bring in more wines in the £10-20 mark.
“We brought in 12 new wines at the £10-20 mark and have another four in the sub £20 range,” she said. “It takes a bit more work, but what we don’t want to offer a £12 wine similar to one you could buy for £5 in the supermarket. A sub £20 wine has to taste its price.”
While some distributors and indies have a very good collection of US wines, “there isn’t another US wine specialists in the UK,” Gilbert says – and American wine is not well understood by the UK consumer.
“There’s a gap in the market and a gap in knowledge,” she points out. “We’ve been working on making the website informative, bringing producer profiles and developing boxes of curated lists – a region, producer as a great introduction to this realm.”
The new store, which is located on Islington High Street also includes an events space at the back which can hold up to 30 people, to enable the team to host corporate events, parties and classic wine tastings.
Gilbert said the while lockdown gave the team the opportunity to set up Pacific Wines online and start to develop our range of wines, living locally, she had my heart set on opening a store in Islington.
“When this store became available, I knew the time was right. I can’t wait to open the doors and showcase the delicious wines to everyone,” she said.