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DBM Wines: the leaders of libation

During such challenging times for Bristol’s independent businesses, it’s heartening to hear of local successes and, DBM Wines, which has just expanded after enjoying a roaring delivery trade during lockdown, is one of those

Davis Bell & McCraith (DBM Wines) was established in 2009 by three wine professionals who had each spent over 30 years working in wine. Having worked for some of the largest wine companies, Richard Davis, Aidan Bell and Susan McCraith MW – one of only 300 Masters of Wine in the world – had a clear idea of what they wanted to do, as well as what not to do. The mission from day one was to provide a place where you could buy your wine from people who know their stuff, but aren’t stuffy about it. Instead of overwhelming with a huge number of different wines, they would use their experience to sort the wheat from the chaff and identify real value for money without compromising quality. The business began its life at Leigh Court, a Georgian mansion just to the south of Bristol, later moving to a shop and offices in Clifton Village, and has now moved to its large new shop in Princess Victoria Street. At it recent launch, we took the opportunity to mine the expertise of Richard Davis.

TBM: How did Bristol’s drinking habits change during lockdown?

Richard: I’m pleased to say that our existing customers stocked up on great deals during lockdown as we were able to pass on some great bin-ends. People are enjoying more wine at home and having it delivered, but that is partly because supermarket shopping is not a pleasure at the moment and people are probably just compensating for the fact we’re eating out less and not going to the pub on the way home. Thankfully we have picked up hundreds of new customers in Bristol who want to have home-delivered wine.

How have your own changed?

I’d like to say that I have become a saint and eschewed all vices, but sadly that’s not true. We’ve been working flat-out as an essential business throughout the pandemic, so when I get home, I really need a glass of wine or two – although I have banned biscuits in the office in an attempt to keep trim. At the start of lockdown we managed to launch a new website in just 10 days with the help of our IT company Evergreen. We focused on online/email and phone and managed to offer next-day delivery in Bristol and the UK throughout, which was hugely popular. It was lovely – we had people ringing us saying “I’ve just seen your van delivering to my neighbour, can you deliver to me?” which, of course, we could and still do. Looking back now, I’m surprised I managed to stay so measured in my wine consumption.

What are your recommended wines for autumn/winter 2020?

Something rich and warming, but interesting. I am frequently buying a fantastic Chardonnay from Ktima Gerovassiliou. It tastes like a really decent white Burgundy but is less than half the price, as it comes from Greece. My go-to red at the moment is Aruma Malbec from Argentina. This one is rich, subtle and super smooth, having been made by the Rothschild winemaking team.

What gives you the edge over other indie wine businesses?

Good people. I’m lucky to work with a great team who share an ethos of kindness and generosity which makes life a pleasure at work. When you add a passion for really nice wines to that, it’s infectious and attracts like-minded customers. Over time, it has become the DNA of the business. If you have the best team, the rest is easy.

Do you think the wine world is succeeding in becoming less elitist?

Somewhat. We have consciously tried to show ourselves as open and accessible to all since we started, and I think we have succeeded. We have laid out our new shop to consciously put customers at ease. The front features all the everyday wines and great offers, so you can grab a bottle for the evening easily. Further back, the layout is by region where you can explore a greater range and the treasures an area has to offer. Generally, I think people are often sold unexciting, dull wines that are not worth the money, by enticing adverts, so I am not apologetic about striving for quality and value. You should never have even one disappointing bottle in your basket.

We love accessible wines that taste just like the posh stuff. Any tips?

Top European estates have purchased property in the New World to expand, and use their skills to make excellent wines that are much less expensive than their better known cousins. The Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Chile and Argentina domaines are a great example.

What’s exciting in the world of French wine? What’s your go-to?

New young talent is coming through, making fantastic wine in classic areas and lesser known appellations as well. They are vibrant, exciting wines made by passionate, highly skilled teams who are shaking things up. Frederic and Cecile Gueguen (a young couple with a new domaine in Chablis) are one of my favourites at the moment, not only making great Chablis, but reviving old varieties like Sacy, and Aligote that are just delicious.

Tell us about the community in Clifton

Clifton is an amazing place, and there are great people doing lots of marvellous work behind the scenes to support businesses and the community. As chairman of the Clifton Village Business Improvement District I get to work with other business owners to promote the village. Recently the BID purchased 15 beautiful planters made from recycled plastic to provide safe areas for food businesses to use outside space. As a company we have helped the University of Bristol with their production of hand sanitiser for key workers by providing sturdy boxes for distribution. We’ve also been providing packaging for a local food bank.

Why is it key for a business to embed in the community it serves?

It’s in the word ‘community’. If everyone gives a little and helps out others when they can, then that goodwill feeds the community and everyone benefits. Clifton is great at that. It does mean popping out for a pint of milk can take a long time, as you can end up chatting to numerous residents, business owners and customers on the way!