I have some news - the Scarlet Wines shop at The Old Forge in Lelant is permanently closing on Christmas Eve this year, 2023.
This is a sad moment for me. I have been selling wine in Lelant since September 2009, a lot of love has gone into it and a lot of good times have been had. In a way though it is also a sign of progress, Scarlet Wines now is a bigger and very different company than it was then. Let’s take a moment to look back.
Sarah and I initially started selling wine from our house in Barnoon. That was the start of 2009, when we had the unnerving experience of a whole pallet being delivered to our back door, it seemed enormous. Just before then the last specialist(ish) wine shop in the town - Threshers for those that remember - had closed and there seemed to be a gap in the market for something better and more interesting than what was on offer from the supermarket.
Initially customers were friends and family and we probably drank a fair bit of that pallet ourselves. But quickly we realised that there was indeed a market for wine in St Ives - no surprise perhaps - and we began to look for a suitable shop. We viewed The Old Forge in Lelant and it was perfect, with a lovely rustic charm.
Roger Corin did the building work and we opened properly in December that year. Initially the plan was to offer just wine, coffee and cold platters, but after only weeks I ended up in the kitchen and we began to offer some hot food as well. I was, of course, completely out of my depth - cooking at home is one thing - even a tiny restaurant entirely another. We urgently needed a chef and within a few weeks the lovely Olly Hudson presented himself, remaining until we handed the baton over to Mike and Becky in 2019.
They say you have to be crazy to run a restaurant and that was certainly my experience. I loved it - there could be no more sociable job - but it is exhausting and takes serious dedication. It was an incredible learning curve and I take my hat off to all the wonderful, professional restauranteurs I now know; it was a fascinating and humbling experience.
Alongside the restaurant the love for wine continued and I put myself through the WSET courses, including the arduous level 4 diploma in wines and spirits. That sounds like something you get for turning up, but it was actually incredibly intense, as well as fascinating. What I was really learning was how to buy wine - that may sound straightforward - but it is the most essential part of my job.
Over this period I began to sell some wine to other restaurants, and I would like to say a huge thank you to David Fox and Mick Smith for putting their faith in me. Both remain customers today but they let me get my foot in the door, for which I will always be grateful.
Since that time, the wholesale element of the business has grown to such an extent that it now represents 95% of my sales. It has been an absolute pleasure to get to know the thriving restaurant scene in West Cornwall and to work with a lot of brilliantly creative pubs, restaurants and shops.
At the end of 2018 I had reached a point where I needed to focus more on the rapidly expanding wholesale business and it seemed to make sense to hand over the reins of the restaurant. I had been selling wine to Mike and Becky Antonini in Hayle for several years so I asked the question - did they want to take over the restaurant space? I was delighted when they said yes and we set the date of January 2019 for the big hand-over.
Looking back now the timing seems absurd - no sooner had Mike and Becky begun than lockdown hit. I think that if you can survive that, you can survive anything, and I have been constantly amazed by the brilliant inventiveness Mike and Becky have shown to create such a thriving and essential business - despite starting at the worst imaginable time.
The absolute highlight of these 14 years has been the colleagues I have worked with. I did a quick tally and I think there have been around 70 in all - but I have to mention a few; Lucy, Jenn, Olly, Iona, Dan, Todd, Tamsyn and now Sam, thank you. Thank you too to all the others; we had a lot of fun and I can even remember some of it. Both my children had their first taste of employment at Scarlet and I hope it taught them humility and good manners when eating out themselves.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without our wonderful customers. It was a huge pleasure to build up a set of regulars and to this day there are countless people I say hello to from those times. I hope we offered you all something human, enjoyable and just a bit different. I know for a fact that most of the tables and certainly the bar have been danced on at some point, so thank you for bringing the energy and supporting Scarlet over all these years. Here's a look back at some very fond memories from the last 14 years.
What next? With luck it will continue to be onwards and upwards. We now have a fully functional retail website so the shop closing certainly does not mean the end of Scarlet selling wine to retail customers in and around St Ives. If anything the offer is probably better than before, you pick the wine and we bring it to your door for free.
Do have a browse and then just wait for Sam and I to arrive on the bike.
Thank you again to everyone who has made the last fourteen years such a wonderful journey. Enjoy your wine, Jon x