The art of wine-buying is a mystery to many of us. Ben, one of our wine buyers here at the Co-op, gives us a glimpse into this unique world of grapes and growers. He also reveals why doing things differently means we have one of the strongest ranges in retail.
‘Wine buyer’ hasn’t really ever been a career on a Job Centre checklist but a teenage Ben Cahill’s other choices of Brazilian footballer and portrait painter weren’t either!
Working with wine might be an ‘out there’ job for many of us but for this art graduate (who knew that his penchant for painting people wouldn’t really pay the bills) wine was just another artistic outlet – another way of being creative. But where did Ben’s wine wisdom first take root?
“My mum and dad always had wine in the house,” says Ben. “One friend in the village where I used to live had a nice wine cellar. He took great care in showing me expensive wines I’d only ever read about. I was quite lucky bumping into the right people. I’d always had an interest but it was serendipity rather than some kind of masterplan.”
Ben’s best wine regions
- France – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Provence
- Italy – Barolo, Amarone, Tuscany
This interest began to blossom into a career after taking a part-time job in a local wine merchants which specialised in the wines of France. Soon Ben was managing the store but decided that the best way to learn about French wines was to go and live there – which he did – for five ‘surreal and amazing’ years, selling wine to the rich and famous on the Cote D’Azur.
Cote D’Azur to Co-op
So how did Ben make the move from the glamorous French Riviera to the increasingly glamorous Manchester? “I saw the job and it sounded very exciting,” enthuses Ben, himself dressed in the kind of sharp and sophisticated suit you’d expect from a wine connoisseur. “While I’d lived abroad I’d never had lots of opportunity to travel, so that appealed. My interview wasn’t typical – we talked about claret for 45 mins!”
Top five Co-op customer favourites according to Ben
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Grigio
- Australian Shiraz
For eight years Ben has been privileged to work in a small (but perfectly formed) department headed up by Simon (category manager), three other buyers (Ed, Gyles and Joe) who look after different wine producing countries, and Carole (buying assistant) who, according to Ben, knows ‘the Co-op inside and out’.
“We don’t have a typical day and that’s part of the joy of what we do – every day is different,” he smiles. “You’re always learning things. There’s always something you don’t know – a new producer or a new hot spot region.”
Doing things differently
Without a doubt our obvious USP is the fact the Co-op, as the first retailer to champion Fairtrade, reached the unbelievable milestone of selling our 50 millionth bottle of Fairtrade wine in 2015. And our Fairtrade journey has seen a return to producers of more than £30million in the last 20 years. That’s the Co-op difference in action.
“The majority of the things we pride ourselves on are the things we do differently – whether it’s a collaborative project with a winemaker we admire from a region people may not have heard of, or a partnership with a producer who shares the same co-operative values as us, or a label that looks different from anything else out there,” says Ben.
The launch of our new Co-op means we’ll be shouting much louder about the great things we do. The same goes for Ben and his colleagues.
“We’re actively pursuing recognition from the wine industry not just because of our sales – which have been very strong now for the last few years – we’re trying to get recognised within our own industry. We’re here because we really do love our product. There’s no room on the shelves for anything that’s average.
“We are becoming people’s wine merchant on the doorstep,” he smiles.
Time to open a bottle and celebrate? We think so.
Find out more about wine at Co-op Food, here.