Recently a campaign on Twitter came to my attention – the plight of the Errington Cheese company in Scotland which faces closure over unfounded concerns that raw cheese (cheese made with unpasteurised milk) is dangerous. They have taken their fight to court, and the outcome will impact on artisan cheese producers across the UK.
As a small company selling Italian artisan wine, this cause is close to my heart, and I wanted to do something to help. I made a suggestion about holding a wine and cheese evening to raise funds, with our wines from Emilia Romagna that are absolutely made for pairing with artisan cheese, it would have been lovely but with everyone already so busy at this time, I knew it would be a tough thing to pull off at short notice. So I racked my brains for another way of helping and this is what I came up with.
I’m going to donate £1 to the Errington Cheese Campaign for every bottle of wine bought between now and Christmas if you put the word CHEESE in the voucher code box.
The money won’t be sent to the fund automatically, we’ll have to write a list of all the people who say CHEESE, we’ll tot up the numbers and send the appropriate donation and then we’ll send an email to everyone telling them how much we raised. You’ll just have to trust us.
We can do this because we are a very small company, a family company in fact. And to be honest it's not easy being a "micro-importer" in a business so skewed towards mass production. People think that if you sell wine you must be making massive profits, that the margins are huge because there are always “offers”.
We don’t really do offers because we don’t have huge margins, we make our prices fair in the first place. The other thing is, we sell real wine, not junk wine.
I set up the company with my brother because when I moved back to the UK after living in Italy for many years, I missed the kind of clean-tasting wine made on a small scale that I was drinking there. In the UK I could only get two kinds of wine: Supermarket wine and ‘Posh’ wine.
I wanted wine that was the wine drinker’s equivalent to craft-beer, I wanted to take the pomposity out of drinking good wine, highlight how much it is about people and places.
There are millions of bottles of wine sold in the UK every year and we only need the tiniest fraction of that market to thrive. For our business to be sustainable we need to sell approximately 600 bottles a month, I am probably one of Love Lane Wines best customers, buying on average 6 bottles a month so if there are 99 other people out there with my kind of values, we're sorted. Or 198 people buying 3 bottles a month, or 594 people buying one bottle a month. Or whatever. That's what I thought.
Our business goes against the existing status-quo of the drinks industry - we have an honest pricing policy that means the producers get about 30% of what we sell the wine for - as opposed to the tiny percentage that goes to the grower when we buy wines from mainstream channels - yet at the same time because of our lean business model and relatively low overheads, we can offer customers very competitive prices for our products.
Buying wine from us is the next best thing to going to Italy and visiting the vineyard yourself. But we can only do this if we achieve a kind of “critical mass” of customers and that’s proving more difficult than we expected.
Business advisors tell us we must buy bigger quantities of wine and drive down the producers’ prices, that we should hire sales reps, spend more money on marketing, send endless emails to people inducing them to buy our product. That’s not the way we wanted to do it, it’s not really our style.
I wanted a simple, small-to-small supply chain that trims off all the useless bits and focuses on making available a quality product through human connection, not what William Morris called “puffery of wares”.
My desire is to have a company that establishes a kind of “virtuous circle”, I want an income to support my artistic practice for example, my brother manages his side of the business while volunteering at a mental health charity. We have a great venue that we like to be used by creative people and for community events, we want to support up-and-coming chefs with our DIY Diner.
And this year I want to support Errington Cheeses. So here’s to Real Wine and Real Cheese, let’s hope they win their case and we can celebrate with a big wine and cheese evening.
You can also donate to the Errington Cheese Campaign via Just Giving, here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/joanna-blythman