I have just been forwarded the link to your article on your blog in which you compare Oddbins Loire range with Waitrose's. I thought it was worth me replying to your comments and give you an idea of our plans and to explain the current paucity of availability of Loire wines on our website.
As you are no doubt aware Henry Young and Simon Baile bought Oddbins on the 1st August 2008 with the aim of putting the 'odd back into Oddbins'. I arrived as part of Simon and Henry's new management team and have been tasked with the exciting task of making this happen with our wine range. I am directly responsible for French Wine buying along with Stuart Cole, who is based out of Simon's shop Ex Cellar on the Rue des Ecoles in Paris (a former Oddbins!). This I believe offers us a unique French buying perspective, that none of our competitors can match.
In August we inherited a business which was massively over-stocked with the most appalling French Range in place. To put this in context Simon and I tasted the existing French Range of 155 lines - from which we found only a third that we wished to continue with. We found a further third were utterly undrinkable and de-listed immediately; the other third we wanted to de-list, but were determined to find a replacement for them prior to de-listing. There were no wines from the Loire in the first third. Most of which we had over half a years worth of stock.
We also have inherited some infrastructure that isn't up to our standards - the website is one of these, which we are currently trying to put in a solution for. It is currently not reflective of our full range and we are intending on moving the website into our Battersea store, so it will be able to have a fuller and more complete range, to include some of our more interesting parcels and wines, which due to their nature we push out to our stores as soon as they arrive in our warehouse (from where our website is fulfilled).
Initially our main aim was to show the estate that we were willing to buy wines that were interesting and out of the ordinary. We weren't looking at specific ranges, merely at achieving a stop gap to show what we were about. From France we listed 90 wines from small producers, mostly parcels of less than 100 cases.
Come January 2009 with this job done, successfully (we had equal like-for-like sales for the Christmas trading period as 2007 - a strong result given the economic climate) Stuart and I were concentrating on building ranges. We spent half of January in Burgundy - from where we have come back with a range of 25 'core' listings and with over 100 parcels varying from anything from 10 cases up to 1,000 cases.
In February 2009 we went down to the Angers Salon to address our Loire range and have already started changing our list as a result - obviously I am very much still in negotiations with the various wineries, but I can let you know that we wish to list wines from the likes of Henri Bourgeois, Domaine Salvert and Damien Delecheneau. The intention is to have a 'core' ranging of around 15 lines from Central Vineyards down to Muscadet. We then will look for parcels of esoteric, interesting and exciting wines to fill the rest of the range through the year - I suspect the bones of this new range will be coming into stock from the end of March onwards. Stuart will be in the Loire this week and possibly down there next week trying to source the wines where we still have gaps. If you would like to sample the initial fruits of our labours it would be great to see you at our press tasting in London on the 31st March from 11am to 5pm at our Farringdon Store.
In the meantime, do feel free to contact me at any time and I will happily give you more detail.
31-33 Weir Road
DD +44 (0)20 8944 4769
Fax +44 (0)20 8944 4444
I'm delighted to learn of Oddbins' plans and look forward to seeing them in place. In particular it will be good to see the likes of Damien Delecheneau (Domaine la Grange Tiphaine) listed. I have been impressed by Damien's wine (both Montlouis AC Touraine) for some time and visited him last year – must write up that visit.
It is unfortunate that Oddbins' website currently gives such a poor impression. I understand that the technology they inherited makes it very difficult to remove wines from the listing. It would be wise, however, to provide an explanation on the site otherwise it is easy to jump to the wrong conclusion, especially as there is now only one Australian Shiraz available out of 30 listed!