This Working Life: ‘We don’t want to be seen as stuffy – wine makers are not stuffy, they are farmers’
Gareth: We deal with family run vineyards. We work with the winemakers with the calluses on their hands. Not with a faceless marketing department.
Our dad, Paddy, set up the company in 1991. He was in the army, stationed in Mullingar. We used to do a house swap in France. Mary Ryan was from Mullingar and had married Michel Bastian in Bordeaux. One year there was a mix up and we had a week with the Bastians in their house.
Michel took dad out to taste wines. Dad was diabetic and searching for the non-intervention approach before it became fashionable. He was looking for wines not altered by chemicals or sugar before bio sustainability became a thing.
He loved the idea of small family-run producers and wanted to make these wines available in Ireland.
When they scaled back the army in 1996, dad took early retirement and concentrated full-time on the business.
Today we employ 35 people. It’s great for us to do the jazz hands, but it’s our team that makes us look good.
Gavin: Fiona, the stock manager and logistics manager, interviewed with us when I was 16. I made her a cup of tea, I was working in the warehouse at the time.
Gavin: Our family is very close. The four of us would debate at the table, fall out, and then love each other by the end of the meal. And as we got older wine became an integral part of our family. I’m 40 and Gareth is 44 and we fight, but 10 minutes later someone says sorry.
I loved living in Dublin with friends from Mullingar while studying marketing at Portobello College. Later I worked in telecoms before I decided to move back to Mullingar nine years ago in September before our father died. It was a really positive move for myself and my wife, Yvette.
My kids are six and three; James’s school and Chloe’s creche are just up the road, Wines Direct headquarters is five minutes away. When I moved back Gareth was already back in. I enjoyed telecoms but I had grown up in this business, it’s what I preferred to do.
Del Boy of Clongowes
Gavin: My passions are wine and music, and our boarding school was amazing for music. Both of us play guitar. I am a failed bassist turned ops director.
Gareth: Wine is art; it’s all connected. It’s all joy and fun. I look around a record shop the same way I do a wine shop.
Gavin: Neither of us did that well at school, but I think we were well liked. I was a real Del Boy. I used to sell sweets and CDs.
Gareth: I was not sure what to do after I repeated my Leaving in the Institute. This was when my dyslexia was picked up. I ended up at the National College of Industrial relations where I got elected to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). I had a great time, also living in Dublin with friends from Mullingar.
I was education officer and USI deputy president and then saw an ad in the paper for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions where I was in charge of the youth committee. I liked it but It became too political for me. When Paddy suggested I go back to Wines Direct, I was happy to do this.
Gareth: The company was built around our dad’s personality. We have changed a lot. There was a transition personally and business wise. But as our mum, Siobhan, says he is not out in the graveyard, he is still in the building.
He was very good at evolution. Never sentimental. He taught us this. Now 60pc of the list is Gareth’s. He would be the first to say “that’s not working, what’s next”.
Covid gave us time to reflect. Now we have a new website, we were selling in Arnotts until recently and we have our shop in Mullingar, but now we will open two new shops.
Gavin: One in Dublin and one outside. We are six days away from getting planning permission. In Arnotts we found there was a strong desire for what we were offering. Arnotts did a lot for us, but footfall in the city centre fell 50pc, and it’s great to stand on our own two feet.
We have grown our monthly subscription club. We are shaking off the ashes of the past, we have changed to a lighter palette. We don’t want to be seen as stuffy – wine makers are not stuffy, they are farmers.
Gavin: I’m woken at 7am by James telling me usually something about Formula 1. I shower, help get the kids out and fetch an amazing flat white from a coffee caravan – Hatch.23. At work I do a 15-minute round with each manager. There’s 17 problems on my desk when Gareth arrives.
I have lunch at home with Yvette and the kids. Yvette works part time in our accounts department a couple of days a week. She would have been one of the senior VPs in Citibank before we moved to Mullingar. I’m back at work at 2pm and I like everyone to finish around 5.30pm – you have to enjoy your life.
I put the kids to bed and might take out the laptop for an hour. Yvette will remind me to step back if needed. She always gives great, steady advice.
We make dinner, and might share some wine. Light the fire and watch TV. I intend to get back into running. I listen to a mix of cheesy music and heavy metal and let it go.
Gareth: I go to the gym first thing three times a week. My wife Maria often goes too. After I make coffee, an omelette and drive to Mullingar. I’m that guy zipping past against the traffic. This is my solitary listening time – music or an economics or history podcast. I say a quick hello to everyone and hook in with Owen in wholesales. We have three people on the road. The restaurants are really reawakening after Covid.
Lunch is often with mum in Mullingar. I spend the afternoons planning and in meetings. I travel twice a month for three or four days. At wine fares you can’t properly see what they are doing until you visit the vineyards.
Maria is an obstetrician so we need to live within striking distance of the hospital. She has been a huge help with my career, gives me perspective when I am losing my nut over a late delivery of a case of wine, and she has a wonderful palate herself.
Before Covid I was selling a lot to restaurants in Dublin, but now it’s about developing the wine list and we work in partnership with our family-run winemakers.
They need our support as climate change is no longer just a conversation, there is already massive drought in some parts of Europe.
Keeping a lid on it
Gavin: Wine for me is about the joy of sharing it with others. It’s not every night.
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