There’s a Jamaican bar on the Cowley Road in Oxford called Hi-Lo, which used to have (maybe still does have) the slogan “From a Penny to A Thousand Pounds” on its frontage. It used to stay open till the last person left and was a hang out for pillheads, bohos and Oxford rahs alike. David Cameron was a regular. I was too at one point. I’ll leave you to guess what category I was in.
That slogan came to mind when I was at last week’s Wine Car Boot. If you don’t know, the Wine Car Boot (sale) is one of those London street market-type events where people while away an afternoon or evening gorging on lovely food (lobster rolls, ‘dirty’ burgers, mac(aroni) ‘n’ (and) cheese), and drink until their money or the goods run out.
I’ve been there on the selling side (with Borough Wines in King’s Cross over the summer, then for The Sampler in Old Spitalfields last week), and from my point of view it’s great craic: it gives the (mostly) small wine retailers a chance to promote themselves and is a good little social event for this section of the wine industry. For the punter, it’s a chance to try loads of different wines from an interesting range of sellers. It’s a tenner a ticket, for which you get five wine-sample tokens, then you can buy a glass or bottle of whatever you like best. Yes, the lobster rolls are a withering £14 (£6 for half-size), but if you like wine, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time.
It’s a funny event though. Not funny ‘ha-ha’ but funny ‘reflect for a second, smile philosophically and shake your head’. What’s funny is the contrast presented by the companies that sell there. Look at this:
On the left, Roberson Wines‘ car boot vehicle of choice: a vintage Rolls; on the right, Handford Wines: Transit Minivan with ‘Handford Wines’ written into the dirt on the back door.
As I said, it’s mainly small wine retailers (The Sampler, Borough Wines, Handford Wines and The WInemakers Club, for example), but then you also have such big beasts as D&D (one of the biggest restaurant groups in the UK, annual turnover c.£6m) and the tweedwearing grandaddy of them all, Berry Bros and Rudd (300 years old, a Royal Warrant holder, worth about £130m).
What are such vastly unequal businesses doing selling next to each other? What is a company like Berry Brothers doing at a car boot sale? Obviously, it’s seen as good PR, a way to engage with the younger generation of wine drinkers, but you do get a bit of a feeling that they’re interlopers on a scene.
Pitches for the event cost about £200, and there’s only so much cash you can make from a weekend of selling five of your wines to a limited audience (five is the limit set by the organisers), so those Rolls Royces are a significant additional cost.
Unless I have it totally wrong, Wine Car Boot organiser Ruth Spivey intends for the Wine Car Boot to be an antidote to the red-trouser-wearing culture of wine that puts so many wine drinkers off taking their interest in the subject any further. It’s largely a success, and of course it would be a bit drab if everyone just rocked up in a battered old Transit, but I do hope it doesn’t just turn into a PR drive for the old guard. I doubt it will be allowed to, but we’ll see.
That might seem like a minor chord to end a post on – it’s not meant to be. I had a great time. Again. Thanks to Ruth and the rest of the Wine Car Boot team for another winner!