With me travelling and writing, and Barbara Managing all, the business grew to about £15m turnover by the end of the Eighties.
With one accountant we did pretty much run everything.
Well, things ran OK, but they didn't run at all as smoothly as they do today. Deliveries could be a bit hit and miss and I was, err … let's say 'spontaneous' when writing and designing what we sent to customers. Spontaneity doesn't work every time!
The frequency went from being monthly to bi-monthly, really, because 'Bordeaux Direct and The Sunday Times Wine Club' were much more separate than now and each written in a different way. Every month it was 'all-change' from the previous month and from each other. That must have been confusing for customers but on the other hand the excitement levels stayed very high … if erratic.
There seemed to be an endless supply of new wine regions to write about. Hard to believe but the wine world was so much smaller then. Such a lot of new territory to cover. We did things like a 144 bottle Tour of Italy offer; 12 regions, 12 wines from each. 12 wines from e.g. Liguria is quite a feat of exploration!
We would have huge successes and run out of wine; big problems. And then I'd have a wild idea, get it wrong and totally bomb - no sales; even bigger problems!
Most of which Barbara had to cope with … because I was always travelling! She's always said as soon as I drove off the ceiling fell in - twice, quite literally. And of course, pre-mobile phones, once I left I was pretty much out of contact unless I remembered to ring home.
As well as the buying trips we did many more wine tours for customers than we do now. We did almost one a week. I didn't lead them all but I did quite a few. We thought nothing of chartering cruise ships for several hundred. And we ran what amounted to a regular bus service to Champagne and Paris where the champagne started to flow at Victoria and just didn't stop for 3 days. That was popular!
In between the big cruises and the Champagne Bus there was nowhere with vineyards we didn't run at least one tour to.
Tastings all round the country too. From Shetlands to Scillies. I can't claim I did all those - we had a succession of excellent people who did them well … mostly. Though I remember one of our ladies who got to Edinburgh for a tasting but forgot the wine. Apparently she just went to the local Oddbins for a few boxes, poured very generously and got away with it.
And the fact that we still had The Old Arch at Windsor prompted us to try opening shops.
We couldn't afford to open real shops at first but we found a dozen customers happy to open 'Saturday Cellar' (sort of franchises) in garages and basements across the country. Tunbridge Wells, Winchester, Tetbury, Ringwood, Stockton-on-Tees, Kinross, Reigate, Sale, Leeds. Started well but not a great success - we found it too hard to keep the franchisees on track – but … you gotta try!
Then we opened a place of our own in a back street in Barnet. We just piled up the cases and I built some rudimentary wine bins from rough timber and we ran it our way and it worked better. So we opened a string that more or less encircled London and went as far west as Newbury.
But … most still failed to make money and Barbara made me shut down nearly all of them.
We outgrew Farnburn Avenue, Slough - there were about 30 of us - mostly in Portacabins - and moved to Zanussi's old premises in Paddock Road, Caversham, Reading in 1979. I remember Barbara being in tears at the prospect. But … we grew to love Reading. (It is possible).