London wine bar Humble Grape is eyeing up expansion, as it focuses on a major project to realign itself as a wine importer and distributor of sustainable wines to the on-trade.
Speaking to the drinks business, new group wine buyer Will Hill, who joined the company from Albion Wine Shippers last November, described the new on-trade plans as a very exciting project.
“We want to position ourselves as number one sustainable wine importer of small production sustainable wines,” he said. “We have a few clients in London at the moment and we feel now is a great time for someone like us to step in, with our focus on sustainability, our flexibility with our clients, and our growing list of interesting and exciting producers.”
The business was started in 2009 selling boutique wines direct from the supplier at pop-ups and later moving into corporate events and wholesale supply before opening its first bar in Battersea after a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014. As the focus shifted toward the bard, the wholesale operation – which at its height supplied around 40 bars, restaurants and gastro-pubs – was subsequently scaled back.
However, Hill said it was the ideal time to re-establish itself as a supplier to bars, restaurants and even boutique hotels, with a renewed focus on customer service and flexibility that he said some in the trade felt had been missing.
“Now is a year of growth and opportunity for a lot of people,” he said, adding that it was good to be in a place to be able to develop that.
“There are plenty of bars and restaurants in London who focus on quality and appreciate sustainability in our industry – hopefully we will be able to translate that to the wine drinker as well.”
“We believe in telling the story of our producers rather than just showing their wines – most are family owned, small production, with a great history which makes for great stories,” he says. The sourcing policy focuses on small, family run producers who share similar values on sustainability, “be it by working organically, through solar power, recycling or regeneration projects, or any other number of sustainable practices,” Hill explained.
It therefore focuses more on how the land is farmed and the wines treated than on any specific region, for as Hill points out, “if it’s a good wine, does it matter where it comes from?”
“We have a good, eclectic portfolio to show sustainable wines can be from everywhere. So we have fantastic producers from Germany, Italy, and California, and have recently added a few new wines from Bulgaria and North Macedonia as that’s where we found the quality that fits our ethos,” he said.
“Just this month we have taken on the amazing family owned Villa Melnik from the Struma River Valley in Bulgaria, and the very exciting Lazar Winery from North Macedonia,”
In addition to the new on-trade business, Humble Grape is planning to add two new bars in the next year, in the South East SE10 area of Greenwich and Bexley (SE10) and the North West of London, taking the total number of bars to seven. The existing bars are in Battersea, Canary Wharf, Fleet Street, Liverpool Street, and Islington.