The Wright Wine Company doesn't do exactly what it says on the tin. Richard Jones investigates
You could be forgiven for thinking the shop didn’t actually sell whisky at all. Situated on the outskirts of the historic North Yorkshire market town of Skipton, the self-styled ‘Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales’, the signage above the main door announces the store rather inadequately as, ‘The Wright Wine Company’.But venture inside and you will discover one of the finest ranges of Scotch, Irish, American, Japanese, Canadian and New Zealand whisky to be found in the North of England.“When Bob Wright founded the shop in 1982, whisky was really a sideline to wine, hence the name,” begins Julian Kaye, co-partner in the business. “However the more people came in for our whisky, the more the range grew. In 1991 we took over the shop next door (previously occupied by Miss November in the infamous North Yorkshire Women’s Institute Calendar, incidentally) and created a dedicated whisky area over two rooms. “We now have between 550 and 600 different whiskies at any one time, plus whisky books, accessories and over 100 whisky miniatures.”Julian Kaye and Steph Lunn, retail manager, personify everything you could possibly wish for in knowledgeable and passionate whisky retailers.“We have a website http://www.wineandwhisky.co.uk which delivers across the United Kingdom, but we much prefer to speak to customers face-to-face in the shop,” Steph remarks.“Unlike wine, there’s very little snob factor when it comes to whisky, and it’s great to take the time to talk to people. In particular, we normally have a really good crowd of whisky lovers in the shop on a Saturday – it makes for a great atmosphere. “Customers travel from miles around to come and see us, as far afield as Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool and Blackpool. Green Spot Irish Whiskey is a particular favourite with many of our long distance regulars, so we’ve adapted the shelf label to read ‘we get people making a pilgrimage to Skipton for this!’Springbank 10 Year Old at £25.50 is by far and away their most popular Scottish single malt, “but since Signatory took over, Edradour 10 Year Old Unchillfiltered 46% at £33.95 is catching up fast.”In terms of regions, Julian notes that anything from Islay, “simply waltzes out of the door” at the moment. Interestingly, he also observes that “the peaty Islay whiskies are particularly popular with our female customers, who are increasingly buying whisky to drink themselves.”Outside Scotland, the shop has seen major growth in their Japanese section, “primarily due to the phenomenal success of Nikka Straight From The Barrel 51.5%, which as well as being attractively packaged and priced, is an absolutely stunning whisky. For a couple of months when we had it on tasting, it was selling more than Scotch,” Julian remarks.When it comes to her personal favourite from the range, Steph’s eyes light up like a kid in the proverbial sweet shop. After much deliberation, she first plumps for Caol Ila Port Wood Finish Unchillfiltered 1991 Signatory 46% at noting that “Caol Ila is our fifth best selling whisky purely on the strength of this brilliant expression.”Next, she opts for Bruichladdich Flirtation Series 2 20 years old.“At first we all thought this might be a bit of a gimmick because of all the marketing surrounding it.“But when Jim McEwan came over for a customer tasting just before Christmas we all agreed it was truly magical – a simply perfect whisky.”As a self-confessed whisky collector for the past 14 years (“my pension is in whisky”), Julian’s eyes are instinctively drawn to the fine and rare whisky corner which mysteriously features a number of expressions not featured on the website. “That’s because we want to encourage people to visit the shop in person,” they say.Our lips remain sealed on the finer points of this treasure trove but, suffice to say, you can expect more than your fair share of whisky gems.Both Julian and Steph agree that their whisky business has seen a dramatic reversal in fortunes over the past five years.“On the retail side, our sales of wine and whisky are now almost split 50:50. Whisky has suddenly become cool and fashionable again, and we’re seeing more younger people coming into the shop,” Steph observes.“More and more people now come to simply talk to us about the product that they love,“ Julian concludes, “if they don’t actually buy anything at the time, they usually come back later.”And with such a strong range and excellent service on offer in this North Yorkshire whisky Mecca, it’s not hard to see why.
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