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The Interview: Michael Andrews, Train manager, The Royal Scotsman

Published:  23 July, 2008

Where did you first learn about wine?
My first job was at a fine Relais & Chateaux hotel in the West Country called Hunstrete House. It was owned by John and Thea Dupays, who also started the Bath Priory. We had hanging larders for game and served the best local produce. One of the things John loved most was wine, and at the time Hunstrete House had one of the ten best wine lists in the UK. It was a good grounding.

Why did you decide to move north?

Because of the style of the operation at Gleneagles. At that stage it was run by British Transport Hotel (BTH) trained managers, who were somewhat draconian in their methods but had an eye for detail and really knew how to train staff.

There were two distinct wine lists, the main list and the old BTH directors' list, which had wines back to 1900.

What was it like serving all those rare older vintages?

It was a slightly surreal experience. Some guests would order a 100 bottle at lunch, because for them that was like spending 3.99. It was the same at Craigendarroch [luxury hotel and resort in Deeside]. George Simpson had built it into a four-star country house hotel on the back of the oil boom.

The oil companies never negotiated on rates; it always had to be the best. Corney & Barrow and Justerini & Brooks supplied all the wines, and if I ever had a problem with an order there was a wonderful sales director at J&B who would pop the wine in the boot of his car and drive the four hours from Edinburgh.

What appealed about working on a train?

This is one of the best train experiences in the world and it has been great fun putting the wine list together because it is an all-inclusive price, so I haven't had to worry about profit margins, stock takes or beverage deficits.

What I have to achieve is customer satisfaction. But it's a difficult market; there are a lot of people vying for the top-end holiday experience and it's all about meeting and exceeding expectations.

What role does wine play in that?

Wine and food are both key components in the trip and our customers expect to see the finest wines from Bordeaux, the grandest of Burgundies, the greatest of New World wines.

Which wines/regions are most popular?

At lunchtime people are relaxed and it's a more casual environment, so the New World does well. In the evening it's all about theatre and being dressed up, so we start with a Champagne and cocktails reception, then at dinner we propose certain wines with each course. But we also carry a full wine list, including dessert wines, Sherry and Madeira.

Do you have anything extra special tucked away?

We do carry some truly exceptional wines, because there will always be someone who says they don't like the choice on offer and wants something special. We have some top-end Burgundy and Bordeaux, and wines from the New World that are not quite Grange, but in that class.

We had a gentleman on board one year who said: 'I only drink Burgundy and I don't expect to see anything less than 25 a bottle.' So we went out and selected a whole range of Burgundy especially for him and he was very, very happy. That's the kind of thing our guests expect.

Are there any constraints when serving wine on a train?

The biggest problem is that the train motion means we can't carry anything that will throw a sediment. So we tend to go for vintages that are drinking younger. Burgundy is also great because the older vintages don't throw as much sediment.

Port gives me problems. We have to decant it at the station and then take it straight onto the train.

What about wine suppliers?

The previous manager dealt with seven wine companies but I have been radical and gone for just one this year, Inverarity Vaults.

Why did you decide to do that?

For this style of operation I have to look at the overall picture and in particular the delivery service. If I need Inverarity to turn up at Edinburgh Waverley at 9am on a Sunday morning with a case and a half of wine then they will.

Our turnaround time is only a couple of hours, and the difficulty with most suppliers is that they use carriers and cannot guarantee delivery to our turnaround destinations. They usually have to deliver to our head office (in Leith).

On our turnaround day the last thing we want is to then have to get into a vehicle and come down to the office to pick up wine supplies. We want the wine delivered to the train.

Have you had any strange requests from your guests?

One gentleman requested a nice bottle of whisky to take home with him. We offered to source it, and when we asked what sort of price he was looking at, he said 2,500!

So we went up to Gordon & MacPhail and said we had 2,500 to spend, and the gentleman went home very happy.

The Great Scottish & Western Railway Company Limited

46A Constitution Street, Edinburgh EH6 6RS

Tel: 0131 555 1344