“I would never have done this if I hadn’t started writing a wine blog”.
So says Paola Tich, ex-journalist, blogger, communications supremo – and now owner of Acton’s newest independent wine merchant, Park and Bridge. Paola’s blog Sip Swoosh Spit is well known and well loved. Her writing is unstuffy and consumer focused. Paola explains that she started writing it for friends, who wanted inspiration and advice about what to buy. She rapidly realised that writing tasting notes was boring. Communicating the story behind the wine was what mattered.
Fast forward a few years, and Paola decided that she could take communication one step further, by actually selling the wines she believed in. Her chosen retail location is a clearly up and coming street in Acton, clinging to the edge of more fashionable Chiswick. This seems like a smart choice – there’s a noticeable dearth of quality wine retailing within spitting distance. Then again, maybe no-one else has been mad enough to try.
Park and Bridge is tiny but smartly fitted out, managing to cram some 150 lines onto the shelves. The selection is interesting and varied, verging on completist. It bears the mark of an expert enthusiast. There’s an eye not only on satisfying a varied customer base, and varying price points, but also exciting and challenging those who are willing to be led by the proprietor’s recommendations.
Paola is very clear that she’s not in competition with larger retailers. “I can’t compete with the supermarkets on price – and I don’t want to. That’s just a race to the bottom”. Nevertheless, the range has plenty of choice in the £8-£12 price band – for me, a sweet spot where value and quality can exist in optimal balance.
You can also buy artisan cheese, craft beers (including the wonderful and wonderfully named “Two cocks” ales), boutique spirits and fancy chocolates. I worry that this is diluting the proposition, trying to cover so many bases in such a small space. Paola doesn’t think so. For her it’s about building up the local clientele, by serving their needs. And if they are enticed into the shop to buy a bottle of gin or a slab of Parmesan, they may well end up buying wine as well.
The Park and Bridge tag line “We love great wine” sums it up perfectly – this is a shop founded on passion. The branding, from shop fitting, to shelf talkers (the labels with tasting notes on the bottles) and bags has been carefully conceived and executed. But I still want to understand more about how Paola’s obsession grew to the point that she wanted to open a shop.
We backtrack over her vinous journey: Grew up with good wine on the table. Interest piqued by occasional revelatory bottles over the years. The desire to learn more about wine, leading to WSET courses. Leading to starting the blog. Thence to more interaction with other wine trade people, and writers. But more recently, dissatisfaction that “blogging” was increasingly disconnected and irrelevant to the wider world. So, to the solution – transfer to the sharp end of the wine trade.
I start to worry. If this is the inevitable progression of a wine enthusiast turned geek turned blogger, Morning Claret wines will be open for business quicker than you can say “Brettanomyces”.
Park and Bridge can be found at 73 Churchfield Road, London W3 6AX
A few favourites from the current list (check the website or visit – the selection will change regularly)
Zanotto Col Fondo Prosecco NV (Italy £15.50)
Fresh and mineral, but with added weight and interest from being bottle fermented and left on the lees.
Gran Cerdo 2012 (Spain, £8.75)
Tempranillo-based, youthful red fruit. Great price for an organically produced, unfiltered and unfined wine. And great fun.
Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2010 (Lebanon, £10.50)
Musar too crazy for you? This is very accessible, full bodied, with smoky, spicy complexity. Packs a lot of punch for the price.
Pittnauer Velvet (Austria, £12.99)
This wine is all about the texture (it does what it says on the tin). Thirst quenching red fruits and silky elegance. Austrian wines are dear to my heart, and it’s great to see that Paola has such a strong selection (Other favourites Feiler Artinger and Moric are also stocked)