My brother took me to the Wine Society warehouse in Stevenage this week. I knew that he had been a member for sometime but he hadn’t told me much about it so two things struck me when we reached it: first, that it was a very modern building, and second that it was smaller than I had thought. Not tiny, but not Amazon size either.
Bro hadn’t told me much about it, so when I found it such a pleasant experience, I decided to submit an application to join. It was incredibly clean inside (I suppose I think about builders’ warehouses, where it’s quite dusty; although there were similarities, there was no dust here).
The warehouse is clearly laid out – different regions of France, Italian, Chilean, and so on. There are areas where there the society’s special wines (I didn’t dwell there too long, I’d looked at the website and knew what I wanted when I went in).
One of the things I liked about it was that they didn’t just sell wine, they also sold decanters wine coolers and other such items. They also had these very whizzy machines where you could taste some of the wines for free. You pushed in the card, waited a few seconds, pressed a button for your chosen wine and it poured it out. So we tasted a few (it would have been rude not to!). Ali, my sister-in-law, and I were both very impressed so I took photographs so I know what I want to buy next time.
One of the other things I liked, which was a clincher for me, was that the staff were all very, very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. And they have their own delivery service that delivers to over 60% of the society’s members. With the problems that I have with delivery companies, that sounds like a result to me. I submitted an application to join.
The Wine Society was founded in 1874, as an offshoot of the Grand Exhibitions that took place during the nineteenth century. Basically what happened was that various countries sent wine to form part of the exhibition in London, they were stored in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall and somehow the public who visited didn’t get to see them. This obviously caused a bit of consternation with the wine producers who’d sent their wines all this way, so, at the request of the British government, a series of lunches were held to get the word out there. (Note to self: maybe this is what I should do to publicise my blog and other writing work? Mm, could be expensive but I kind of like the idea…) Some of those who attended the lunches wanted to buy these wines, and other good wines, so the idea for a members’ co-operative was born.
Originally known as The International Exhibition Wine Society Limited, the aim was to buy wines direct from the wine growers so that they could be sure of the authenticity and quality of the wines and sell them to the members at fair prices. The aim is the same now, but note I said “fair” prices, not cheap prices. We’ve seen what selling too cheap has been doing to British milk producers (yes, I do feel very strongly about that, and as soon as I found out about it, I started buying my milk from one of the supermarkets that gives them a fair price) and the same applies to wine. If you want exclusivity and quality, you have to pay. It’s as simple as that.
Over time, the society grew and was operating from three different cellars in London – one underneath the London Palladium Theatre, another at Joiner Street, near to London Bridge Station, and the third at Rotherhithe, which flooded at high tide! That couldn’t have been great, could it? So, in 1965, the then chairman, Edmund Penning-Rowsell, moved the whole operation to Stevenage. (Pause while I raise a glass of Jean Marc Brocard 2012 Chablis, a very pleasant wine, purchased at the society, to Mr Penning-Rowsell. If not for you, Bro would never have come across the society and I would not have submitted my application to join.)
It costs £40 for lifetime membership of the society, but that gives you one share in the co-operative, and also a voucher for £20 off your first purchase (Bro bought this week’s wine, bless him) and you can join online. It’s early days for me to recommend something, but this has my brother’s seal of approval too, and he’s just as particular as I am, so go ahead, join. (And no, they aren’t paying me to say this. Unfortunately.)
Meanwhile, drink responsibly.
© Susan Shirley 2015