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In conversation with Majestic Wine Buyer Beth Pearce

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a buyer at Majestic.

I caught the wine bug travelling around some of the fantastic wine regions of Australia and New Zealand when I was younger and thought a career in wine might be interesting! So when I came back to the UK, I applied for Majestic’s management scheme and worked in our retail stores. I was then fortunate to get the position of Majestic’s first ‘non-wine’ buyer, looking after our spirits and beers range – whilst at the same time studying for my WSET Diploma and beginning MW. After a little while in that role, I moved into the wine side of things – and now look after an extensive selection of regions for the business including Australia, but also New Zealand, Bordeaux, Rhone, Eastern Europe, Regional France and Bordeaux (plus one or two others…!)

How has your role been impacted by COVID-19? What have been some of the positives/negatives for the off-trade and specifically Majestic? Has there been a change in customer buying habits?

Clearly the impacts of COVID on all retail have been stark. At Majestic, our number one priority throughout has been the safety of our colleagues. We’ve been fortunate in that our model was able to adapt quickly to the new normal, even in lockdown, with each store having their own van to fulfill home delivery. Through that, and the incredible adaptability of everyone in the business, we’ve been able to navigate the last few months and serve our customers – as well as revamp our range. We even seen a large rise in new customers trying us for the first time.

However, on the flip side our on-trade arm, Majestic Commercial, and our two French stores came to an almost complete standstill. It’s been a real balancing act across all sectors, and  we’ve worked hard  to keep everything in stock and available to order. Our new Australian range landed just before lockdown, and it’s been amazing to see our customers get really stuck into these wines even without being able to visit our stores.

What are some of the varieties and trends that are currently resonating with Majestic customers?

The love for Aussie Shiraz is still strong, and we’ve seen a return to big bold Chardonnays with plenty of oak. We’re also seeing great sales from Viognier across the world including Australia. We’re also bringing in some new grapes from Australia including Fiano, Marsanne and Tempranillo. The reaction to these has been particularly pleasing, and obviously a key advantage for us is our expert, WSET trained store staff – who are really able to handsell these varieties or regions which may be a little less known (particularly in an Australian section).

How do you decide which wines make it into the Majestic range?

We keep a really close eye on what customers are buying at Majestic, keeping in mind what we are seeing working across the market. From that we have a good idea of how many wines we need from each area, grape and price point and from there we taste and talk until we’ve found wines we think offer the best quality and value for our customers. I obviously taste a lot and, in more normal times, attend plenty of trade events. And we do take feedback from our store colleagues too around what they’d like to see (although sometimes with a pinch of salt, it has to be said!)

What should a producer do if they would like their wine to be stocked by Majestic?

Firstly, have a forensic look at our current range and decide if your wine fills a niche we’re not adequately covering. Our store staff will spend ages talking to customers about your wine so you’ve got to make sure you’ve got great stories to go with great quality wine in the bottle. We’ll always be keen to hear about unique wines that customers will love.

What are your top picks from the South Australian range at Majestic? Do you have a favourite South Australian producer?

I’ve got a soft spot for the Adelaide Hills region. The landscape is beautiful and the wines are lovely and refreshing, especially customer favourites Chardonnay and Shiraz. I’d find it hard to name a favourite producer, but Shaw + Smith and Petaluma come straight to mind as examples of producers smashing it out of the park in the Hills. I’ve got a real personal connection to the region from my time before Majestic, and we were really proud to play a small part in supporting the area after the tragic events of January – through a fundraise for the Fire Service with our friends at Bird In Hand winery.

For more details about Majestic’s South Australian wine range, please visit https://www.majestic.co.uk