Wine without the attitude

Roger Trapp reports on a merchant that believes in value, but not snob value

Even though it has been sold in supermarkets for years, wine still has a stuffy image thanks to the cachet that is held to accrue from vintage years, French labels and musty bottles. It is a perception that a west London wine merchant is determined to change.

Based on the top floor of a building on the edge of Notting Hill, rather than in a fusty City cellar, John Armit Wines says it has always taken a different approach to its rivals.

Not only are the offices out of the ordinary - they form part of a building designed by the individualistic architect Piers Gough - but a good proportion of the 21 employees are, like joint managing directors Susie De Paolis and Amanda Skinner, female. The dress code is more "smart casual" than formal.

But the company stresses that its dedication to content over form extends to the product. True to its founder's principles, John Armit Wines refuses to set store by labels; it is the liquid behind them that counts.

Wines that offer superior quality for their price, and a commitment to personal service, are the qualities cited by the company to explain its success in a competitive industry. Turnover last year was about pounds 10m, says finance director Andrew Murray, and it is anticipated this will rise by about a third over the next two years without much increase in staff.

During a long career in the trade, John Armit himself has earnt a reputation for refusing to accept the status quo. He worked for the wine merchant Corney & Barrow from 1962 to 1978, and is credited with bringing modern management methods to an old-style operation. He is also said to have been one of the first British merchants to travel to meet growers.

In the late Seventies Mr Armit ended his day-to-day involvement in the wine trade and saw the world. His business interests have also widened - including stakes in the London rock venue Dingwalls, and media hangout the Groucho Club.

But the wine bug lingered and Mr Armit established an investment business aimed at serious collectors. In the early Eighties, he set about expanding this into the fully-fledged wine operation that now exists.

The main focus remains a mail-order operation that serves 3,500 private clients. These range from people spending pounds 100,000 a year on wine to more modest quaffers with a budget of pounds 500. But there are also arms serving some of Britain's best-known restaurants, hotels and corporates, including the Bank of England; an agency using exclusive agreements with vineyards to provide wines to delicatessens and restaurant groups; and a trading arm that deals, primarily in Bordeaux wines, with merchants around the world.

The proportion of business that comes from overseas ranges from 12 to 24 per cent, says Ms Skinner, while Mr Murray points out that the amount of trade in particular countries largely depends on the state of their economies. The Far East is picking up again after a tough period, while the US is booming. The strength of the American market is appropriate since California was one of the first New World markets to which Mr Armit's renowned "nose" led him. Now he and his colleagues have strong relationships with wine growers in places as far apart as Italy and South Africa.

Like many other mail-order firms, John Armit is establishing itself on the internet - via an interactive website that will, for example, allow customers to establish the state of cellars as well as order new wines.

But Mr Murray says technological advances should not divert the company from ensuring that anybody who calls within working hours talks to a person rather than voicemail. Moreover, it is a tradition that everybody in the company knows everybody else's business - to the extent that admin staff can take wine-appreciation courses.

Perhaps that's why much of John Armit's business round the world results from personal recommendation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific