They think it's all lager. Not now

There's a big market for wine at football stadiums, but it took a small business to cash in on Euro 96

Chris Arnot
Saturday 15 June 1996 23:02

As his name suggests, Hamish McGhee is not an England football supporter; he follows Glasgow Rangers and Scotland. But while his heart pulled him one way during yesterday's big match, his head pulled him another. The further England progress in this tournament, the more chance there is of a substantial return on his investment in 10,000 cases of wine with an exclusive Euro 96 label.

"If England won it, we could be marketing commemorative wine for months," he says, showing a faith in Terry Venables' boys that is shared by few fans south of the border.

This easy-going but self-confident young man was not even born when England won the World Cup. He is 28 and his business, Remuage Fine Wines, based in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, is still in its infancy. Yet he has managed to secure the wine contract for the biggest sporting event held in this country for 30 years.

The idea came to him one morning in March before daybreak. "I was lying awake turning over ideas, as small businessmen are prone to do. I wanted to get the business more in the public eye."

But isn't football more usually linked in the public mind with lager? "Yes, but there's more and more wine drunk at matches. Clubs like Rangers and Manchester United serve between 5,000 and 10,000 meals on a match day."

Once spawned, the idea kept him awake the rest of that night and, indeed, for many of the nights to come.

"I remember coming to work, really excited. I blurted it out to my assistant, Andrew Saxon, and expected him to say: 'Don't be silly'. Instead, he picked up the phone and called the Football Association. They put us in touch with Licensed Properties International [the marketing arm of UEFA], which told us we would have to put a business plan together."

It turned out that from all the wine-growing countries competing in Euro 96, the only rival for the contract was an Italian company. "They wanted to put the wine in bottles shaped like Big Ben. It looked more like bubble bath," says Mr McGhee.

His own business plan, drawn up after the shop closed for the day and his last delivery ("free anywhere in Yorkshire") was complete, had a more favourable response. All he needed was pounds 35,000 to buy the wine. He managed to raise it through loans from banks and associates who trusted his judgement.

Mr McGhee had a good tutor in the mysteries of the grape. Between 1988 and 1990, he worked for Denis Hine of the famous Cognac company at his country house hotel in Gloucestershire. As deputy manager he was responsible for buying the wines and spirits. There were more than 400 bins. The cellar bulged with fine clarets and Burgundies. "Denis taught me everything he knew," he recalls.

It stood him in good stead when he set up his shop, targeting the prosperous surrounding villages, the corporate entertainment market and customers in the South through mail order. In the nine months since it opened, Remuage has built up a turnover of pounds 250,000. "But Euro 96 will add another pounds 500,000 on top. If England win, it'll go through the roof." The 10,000 cases are made up of reds ("soft and fruity, like a Cote du Rhone"), whites ("quite crisp"), sparkling ("medium dry, quite soft") and champagne ("quite dry, but roundish"). So far he has shifted about half. "The big supermarkets wanted to buy it at a price that would have stopped me making a profit."

Instead, he targeted the hotels, wine merchants, pubs and clubs in the cities where the tournament is being staged, as well as the corporate hospitality boxes inside the grounds. "We contacted all the sponsors and put together gift packages, including a bottle of the champagne and a gold-plated corkscrew with the Euro 96 logo. At the end of the tournament, we'll have a commemorative package and market it in the country that wins."

Meanwhile, he is setting off on a tour of clubs hosting the tournament. He hopes to stage tastings (and take orders) inside and outside the grounds.

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