I have just heard the news that Roberson will close their Kensington High Street wine shop on 30 August. This is really sad news, but I do understand the logic. The lease is up for renewal and I’ll bet the landlord is hiking the rent. In any case, Roberson say that a very tiny proportion of their business is conducted through the shop, though I’ll bet that I’m not the only one who buys to try from the shop and then orders online. Anyway, it’s a brilliant shop, full of wonderful bottles and it will be sadly missed by me and many other wine lovers. The collection point at Roberson’s Earl’s Court offices will help some local customers, but not people like me who would buy far too many bottles and then trundle them eastwards to High Street Kensington Underground, thence back to Victoria for the train home.
The news made me ponder on my own wine buying right now. The vast majority is done in wine shops. The reason – because these days I’m constantly looking for new wines I don’t already know about. It’s not that I don’t drink my share of the same old Burgundy, Bordeaux and Cote Rotie etc, but just that there’s so much exciting wine and too little time to try it. You go into an exciting wine store and something will call from the shelf, a wine you had never thought of buying. Or perhaps the enthusiastic staff will point something out, especially when they know your taste. It’s so much harder to find such things when trawling through a web list, however good. It’s far more fun as well, and the human interaction element is always fulfilling…it often leads to new wine friendships too.
It seems worrying on the one hand that we are seeing wine shops close. I think Planet of the Grapes are closing their Holborn store at some point as well (apologies if I got that wrong). Yet I think we’ve never been blessed with so many really adventurous retailers of wines, and we should be both grateful for that and make use of them. I certainly hope I can get to say my final goodbye to Roberson, who over the past couple of years have become one of my “A-list” suppliers, especially (but by no means exclusively) for the New Californians they import.
It would only be right to end on a positive note by listing some of the shops I find especially exciting places to buy wine at the moment. The top of the list, in terms of a time line, must be The Sampler. They were a game changer for London, though the excellent wine department in Fortnums and some of the other stores listed have been around for longer. Theatre of Wine (two shops) and Winemakers Club (conveniently located just metres from my wife’s office until she stopped working there) have provided some of the most unexpected bottles this past year. Solent Cellar in Lymington and Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton must be two of the country’s best wine stores, though there are many other famous ones less well known to me, other than by repute (Byrnes, Loki, Secret Cellar, Wine Bear). Uncorked are rightly very highly regarded, and always easy to stop off at on the way to Rochelle Canteen. As are Newcomer Wines. Not as “fine” a selection of Austrians as some places, yet the “Boxpark” location and the sheer fun of what they sell make them quite unmissable. Vagabond (Fulham and Charlotte Street) and D Vine (Clapham North) have also provided some great bottles.
The list is long, and goes on and on (I bet I’ve forgotten some), but I can’t help feeling very sorry that the Roberson shop won’t be there come September. If you’ve never been, it’s well worth the trouble of popping in before they go.