The Knotted Vine and Red Squirrel were both created within six weeks of each other in the summer of 2012, to an enormous amount of fanfare to ourselves I imagine but barely a flicker to the outside world.
David was returning home from several years in Dubai, where he was head wine buyer for the Emirates Group after a masters at the University of Adelaide. Like Rob Woodhead and Clara Rubin, this followed the traditional wine trade finishing school that is Majestic.
The Knotted Vine set out to be a rural wine merchant and a home for small production, minimal intervention wines. A slick online shop featured for a while, there was a physical shop too for a time (in Shoreditch rather than the countryside), but very quickly the Knotted Vine became known as one of the most cutting-edge smaller players supplying the premium on-trade, especially in London. After trying a few angles, the Knotted Vine struck out with clarity, persistence, exceptional customer service and a tight selection of high-quality wines. There has always been a consistency of style that I've loved and so have many others. It grew very fast, and served as an inspiration, certainly to me.
Meanwhile back in 2012, I was at something of a crossroads. I had also worked in Australia, as a scuba diving instructor in Manly. I spent a couple of really valuable years as a management consultant in London with Simon-Kucher & Partners, then three years in politics and journalism, which rather indecisively overlapped with setting up Red Squirrel. I might have been that friend you'd pass the wine list to but I was no wine buff; more importantly wine was a gateway for my curiosity about everything else, like languages, climate, people or history. I realised I needed some experience in the trade, but everyone turned me down! So I skipped the finishing school and got on with it on my own.
Similarly, Red Squirrel set out to be something quite different - an online shop and events company - to what it became. We imported our first wines in 2012, but it wasn't till Rob Woodhead joined in 2014 that we really pursued the trade channel. Like the Knotted Vine, this fast became most of what we do. We also grew quickly, with close to a fifty-fifty split between London and the rest of the country.
The reason for recounting these personal and professional potted histories is to explain how the Graft Wine Company came about, and why David and I believe so strongly in its potential to succeed and do good things for the winemakers and customers we work with.
We realised we had two companies who thought and operated alike, shared wine beliefs and preferences, and were heading in similar directions; but these companies were remarkably differentiated in terms of where we sell, what we sell and most importantly, our respective skill sets.
Each other's strengths complement each other's weaknesses. So like the grafting of two distinct grapevines, we planned to create something we believe is greater than the sum of its parts. A new wine importer with a comprehensive global portfolio of small producers, a presence in every region of Britain, and a special, well-balanced, experienced team of wine professionals.
Red Squirrel and the Knotted Vine were both very small players in a trade naturally dominated by the biggest. I'm very grateful that the current marketplace and media seem to reward and praise the smallest importers far more than seven years ago - fundamentally a good thing.
We aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. The Graft Wine Company is only going to be a slightly bigger player than Red Squirrel and the Knotted Vine were; but David, the whole team and I know it will give us that little bit more scope better to represent our winegrowers, better to utilise everyone's skills, and better to get out and serve our customers.
And above all else, continue having a huge amount of fun doing it.
WHO'S BEHIND GRAFT?
In the summer of 2019, two small 7-year-old wine importers, Red Squirrel and the Knotted Vine, came together to become the Graft Wine Company.
Our dynamic, professional and experienced team is based in London and works with restaurants, bars, pubs, hotels, independent wine merchants and other intrepid businesses the length and breadth of Britain.
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