First Published Costa News Group, April 2011, *Plus* Breaking News Update, 1st May 2011

AN ODE TO ODDBINS

THE LAMENTABLE DEMISE OF THE

COMMON MAN’S WINE MERCHANTS

 Regular readers will have noticed over the fourteen years of Cork Talk that I have regularly mentioned, in glowing terms I might add, the wine merchants chain Oddbins. My introduction to the tutored study of wine was through Oddbins. My teacher, David Large, was manager of their largest shop in Liverpool. My first restaurant opened with Oddbins, Prenton, as suppliers, the second restaurant followed suit.

 Then some years later, having established a name for myself in the Spanish wine-world, I brokered a deal between Oddbins and a Spanish supplier. Yes, I have a happy feel-good connection with Oddbins that goes back over 20 years. It’s not surprising therefore that I read with some sadness recently that the company has gone into administration.

 Twenty million pounds worth of debts are, quite understandably, considered to be too heavy a handicap, the business is no longer viable. Over eight of those millions are owed to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) and as the largest creditor it was them who finally pulled the plug, not the cork.

 Of course that leaves another twelve million owed to other parties – British Gas is a creditor for example but also a number of wineries all over the world may be owed payment for wine deliveries Oddbins received when it was trading. Pol Roger, the famous but relatively small Champagne House is out over 200,000 pounds and as their managing director Nick James says for a small company like theirs it’s a major blow which will have serious repercussions throughout the industry.

 The extremely disgruntled owner of the Sur de los Andes winery in Argentina has suggested that Oddbins was badly managed by its previous owners, Castel, and that this mismanagement continued with the current owner Simon Baile. Indeed ‘Disgusted of Argentina’ goes a step further claiming he has been fraudulently treated by Mr. Baile who ordered twice the usual stock before Christmas knowing that he would be unable to pay for the wine, but in fact selling it all!

 Staff at the shops are understandably unhappy too. The more so when it was revealed that one of the executives was given a five-figure redundancy pay off, just before the company went into administration. And the administrators are saying that it is unlikely that creditors will receive any more than 7·5 pence in the pound!

 For me it’s a real shame. Oddbins were the pioneers of making wine accessible to everyone. Extremely well-informed, jeans and tee-shirt clad shop assistants and managers smiled when they asked if they could help shoppers make their choices. Illuminating and often amusing tasting notes were quirkily written by each new wine.

 They didn’t try to sell you the most expensive wine, they assessed all your requirements and comments recommending the wine they honestly thought best suited you. Wine experts and novices alike were comfortable in Oddbins premises.

 Messrs. Manning and Smith from Deloittes have been appointed Joint Administrators and they are saying that there are buyers interested, but it’s unclear whether it will be bought as a going concern or if it will be bought in small portions.

 But there’s another danger lurking behind this sad demise. If Oddbins failure is indicative of a general malaise in the UK wine trade, outside that of the supermarkets, does it mean that there will be other smaller wine specialist shops going to the wall as well? And if so will this mean that we will be even more in the hands of the supermarkets who will be able to dictate what we drink in the UK? It’s a worry, but not here I’m glad to say – yet?

*Breaking News, 1st May 2011* 37 of Oddbins shops have just been sold as going concerns to EFB (European Food Brokers), whose owner, Raj Chatha, said ‘this will be a new dawn for Oddbins.’

Mr. Chatha also commented that he was pleased to have saved many of the jobs of Oddbins’ staff whose futures had looked precarious.

The drinks sector of EFB trades under the name of Whitalls Wines Limited and of his plans for the new shops Mr. Chatha also said, “Our focus over the coming weeks and months will be to replenish the stores with an exciting range at competitive prices.”

 PS There’s a super Duets Evening with Copas and Tapas happening at the beautiful Restaurante Ca Pepe, Moraira on Wednesday 4th May, organised by the musical Duo Dolce Divas (pianist Kirsty Glen will also be singing with Claire Post!). Duets will performed from their new repertoire as well as with the exceptional Baritone voice of Andy Headford. The price of this special innovative evening is only 20€; to reserve your places please e-mail info@dolcedivas.net ; or call me on 629 388 159.

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