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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Mark Bedford, Caviste and The Spirits Room

Published:  16 August, 2023

Midway through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. We continue our series with Mark Bedford, owner and director, Caviste and The Spirits Room, to find out how the year as gone so far, and what the remainder may bring.

How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

Given all that’s going on around us, we’re in a surprisingly happy place. On the wine side our sales are about 15% higher than 2022 – margin down a little since we are selling more fine wine and spirits at lower margins and have increased our trade sales. Our tasting and supper events have never been more popular, so we have increased their frequency and broadened the themes for the autumn period.

The Spirits Room (both shop and website) is 100% higher than last year. This increase is across retail sales and trade sales (hotels and restaurants), but we only opened this side of the business in October 2021, so it is still early days.

    • Read more: Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Matteo Furlan, The Dorchester London

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

We have taken opportunities with customers who are eating out less, and drinking less generally, but wanting to drink nicer wines while eating in. This is a trend that started in lockdown and has carried over to now. Why spend £20-25 on the ‘house red’ when you can find something genuinely exciting on our shelves? Our business has always focused more on the better/finer wines rather than cheaper wines within our range. The average price per bottle has increased by more than the rate of inflation.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

Driving headlong into the storm and coming out – so far – with our business in a solid position. Increasing the spirits sales has been a great encouragement. We have always had a strong range of local gins, but it’s our increasing and unique listing of whiskies (from the UK to New Zealand), Bourbons, rums and all things agave that really stands out.

Selling out our food and wine events has been very encouraging. We recently held a ‘Mediterranean Cruise’ for £45 a head which included an array of dishes and wines to match; there was a lovely buzz in the room. We’re now looking forward to our next events: ‘The Shades of Pinot’, ‘Heat & Spice’ and ‘Wizardry of Oz’.

In terms of a specific goal, we aimed to be level YOY in terms of revenues and margins. That we have seen growth in our business, across wines at £20+ and all spirits, speaks volumes of the team and their ability to find opportunities in the local area and beyond.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

On a wider scale, you cannot ignore Putin’s war drawing in other countries and its repercussions across the world. It’s a terrible situation. For the business, we are seeing its impact on driving up prices and inflation (not that this will matter much if the fighting spreads).

Politically in the UK there is caution around a new government – of any party/combination – inhibiting the great British entrepreneur.

It’s early days, but we are hoping the duty rise won’t impact us and our range too much. But, it is another increase in prices that, where we can, we are absorbing into our pricing instead of a blanket rise across the portfolio.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

We’re seeing some very positive growth in both our wines and spirits. Bourbon, rum, tequila, mezcal and £100+/bottle whisky are really taking off. There’s always that fun moment in showing off certain products – especially the Agave spirits – when they realise ‘hang on, this stuff is actually delicious on its own’.

Naturally, our business relies heavily on the French classics Bordeaux and Burgundy. However, we’re seeing huge growth in Pinot Noir outside of France. Customers are looking for something different and they are prepared to trust our recommendations from the New World, especially in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA.

There has been a slight dip in the big, heavy, 14%+, reds. Whether it’s the most health-conscious approach or a general shift in taste is maybe too early to tell. Christmas is always a chance for those sales to catch up.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

Covid and lockdown created huge opportunities for the business, when we increased sales by 35% despite closing the shops. It introduced the 30-to-45 year old demographic to better, higher value, wines – since they could not eat out and had higher spend potential. Sales have not dropped but continue to grow. Naturally, the online sales have come down from Covid levels with everyone returning to the shops, but they are still six times higher than pre-Covid levels.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

We are very optimistic about Christmas despite the general economic and political doom and gloom. Our increase in trade sales, plus our engagement with the local community, gives us a strong foothold. We believe our customers always like to eat well and drink appropriately. Again, it is that focus on drinking less but drinking better.

Quick fire questions…

Old World or New?

It’s a tie… a more ‘traditional’ New World or an ‘adventurous’ Old. But if I had to choose, it would be Old.

Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit?

Usually the latter, but there’s a time and place for the former.

Vermentino or Vermouth?

Both in equal measure!

Low or No?


Three star or bistro?


Desert island tipple?

Good quality small domaine Burgundy.