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The Interview: Beppo Buchanan-SmithCo-owner, Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa and Island, Ledaig, Scotland

Published:  23 July, 2008

How did your family come to own not just a hotel but also an island?
My parents purchased the island in 1973 with the intention of creating a hotel out of the main house. Initially, the idea was to run it as a hotel in summer and a religious retreat in the winter, because my father was a Church of Scotland minister. But at the end of the first year, after running the hotel for four months without a break, they decided the idea of the religious retreat wouldn't work and just kept it as a seasonal hotel. When they opened in 1973, every bedroom had its own bathroom, which was unusual for the time and meant they had a leg up on everyone else.

When did you get involved in the business?

I came back to work at the hotel in 1991, after university. I immediately realised that we couldn't survive much longer as a seasonal property, so at that point we changed the business drastically and started opening 11 months of the year instead of six.

Was the restaurant always an important part of the business?

Yes. My mother, who used to cook in the restaurant, was the first female master chef in the UK, and we had an Egon Ronay star way back in the '70s, before anyone else had that sort of thing - or cared about it.

How long have you looked after the wine cellar?

Ever since I came back to the hotel in 1991. It was an obvious thing for my father to give me to look after, because it gave me a little part of the hotel that I could run and organise by myself. We've always been aggressive with our wine list, in that the wines are marked up by less than 50% across the board. As a hotel, we make our money from guests sleeping in our beds not from them drinking our wine, so I'd rather they stayed longer and felt they could drink more wine. It's all part of the package.

You have a very comprehensive wine list. Was that important to you?

Yes, it has to be comprehensive because the average stay at the hotel is more than three and a half days, and there would be nothing worse than having to order a Muscadet every night because that's the only wine on the list that suits your palate. Fabrice [Gue, the restaurant manager] and I tried to design a list that combines wines that are interesting and different with more traditional choices. It leans quite heavily towards the Old World, but we do still have quite a chunk of New World wines.

You have a substantial half-bottle list. Why is that?

That's for two main reasons: so that guests can order a bottle and a half in an evening; and for couples where one partner perhaps doesn't like either red or white wine. It also allows people to try a greater selection of wines from the list. But it's actually quite difficult finding wine suppliers with half-bottles. They'll offer you Fleurie or Rioja, but that's usually about it. It's the same with magnums.

Would you like to have more magnums on your list?

My staff would like more magnums because they enjoy the theatre of opening and serving them. I'm not as keen on

them because they tend to sit around in the cellar for a while.

Do you get a lot of interest in your wine dinners?

Yes. We do two each year - one in March and one in November - and this autumn we are doing a Krug dinner because it was specially requested by one of our regular guests. It's a chance for people to try all the different styles of Krug with food, although we are actually going to cheat and have a red wine with the main course.

Is Champagne a big seller?

Yes, it has become our bestselling apritif for the first time this year, but I really can't tell you why. We recently changed our pouring Champagne to Veuve Clicquot, and they would probably say it's because people come in and see the yellow label. I suspect there is a bit of that - a lot of people must be ordering a second glass - but sometimes I think that as long as the pre-dinner Champagne is cold and sparkling, guests don't notice the difference.

Which styles of wine are most popular with your guests?

If you had asked me two weeks ago, I'd have said the Old World is the strongest and you can't beat it. But in the last fortnight we've sold out of our California wines for no obvious reason, and our other New World wines have really taken off.

Did you have a large party of guests from across the Atlantic?

No, it was all British guests. I have a funny feeling I'm going to go back to the list and find they were underpriced or something!

Isle of Eriska, Ledaig, by Oban, Argyll PA37 1SD, Scotland Tel: 01631 720 371

The Isle of Eriska Hotel is set in a 350-acre estate on a private island off the west coast of Scotland. It boasts its own golf course, a spa with outdoor Jacuzzis and a first-class restaurant with a 200-plus-bin wine list. Robin and Sheena Buchanan-Smith bought the island, which is connected to the mainland by a tiny causeway, in 1973 and converted the main house into a country-house hotel. Their sons Beppo and Chay took over the business in 2000. Chay now runs the estate, and Beppo manages the hotel.

Key suppliers: Friarwood, Inverarity Vaults, Justerini & Brooks, Louis Latour, Mot Hennessy, Paragon Vintners, T&W Wines.