Up until the mid-summer months of 2021, London’s wine scene, as wide and diverse as it may be, didn’t boast any fine wine boutiques & alfresco wine bars quite like . In the vibrant and enchanting surroundings of , passionate wine lovers or curious passersby are spoilt for choice from an extensive stock list from which they can experience the world’s top wines.
With the option to purchase and take home an iconic, rare, and high-quality bottle of wine (perhaps as an investment piece or an endearing gift), or simply sit back, sample, and enjoy a chosen bottle of wine on the beautiful terrace (for a mere modest service charge), Oeno promises an exceptionally elevated wine tasting experience each and every day of the year!
Bermar had the opportunity and privilege to meet with General Manager Luisa Martinello, former Manager of Harrod’s wine shop, to discuss and learn more about Oeno’s massive success since launching, expanding, and flourishing in a post-pandemic world. From enlightening conversations about the store’s ambitious vision to wider discussions about serving wine by the glass and the opportunity it gives consumers to branch out and enjoy a truly “unique experience,” our time at Oeno House was truly remarkable.
Read our interview below to learn more about the wondrous and wonderful fine wine boutique & alfresco wine bar in the heart of London and the incredible Luisa Martinello.
How would you describe Oeno House?
LM: A store. A bar. An investment. A fine wine boutique with a pop-up terrace. We really are a little bit of everything.
Oeno House was born with the idea of providing a luxury space, primarily to our clients and investors, where guests can visit, have a glass of wine or open a bottle, and make an investment. With an understanding that not everyone is a wine expert when they get into fine wines and decide to invest, the idea behind Oeno House is to give more reality & substance to the investment. Customers may never come across the bottle they invest in otherwise as they may sell it or keep it forever, so we aim to give them a more tangible, all-encompassing, all-embracing experience.
Our venue is also open to the public, as we mainly operate as a retail shop. Location-wise, we chose the Royal Exchange, in the heart of the City, as we know that people working and walking through this area appreciate good wines and good vibes – we wanted to give them ample opportunity to access our wine selection.
How many wines do you have in the store?
LM: We have a very dynamic list at the moment because oftentimes, we just have one bottle of one kind of wine, especially if it’s a rare large format or an exceptional vintage. And then once it’s sold, we need to replace it with something else.
That being said, we count around 500 labels but the total quantity in the shop is around 4,000 bottles.
So, in essence, you’re like a wine gallery that gives people the opportunity to not just view investment wines but actually engage with them.
LM: Yes, and no. I have heard people describe Oeno House as a ‘museum’ which is not true as everything we have is for sale or available to drink (or sample); I would very much like to get away from this ‘museum’ impression because it’s not like something you cannot touch. It’s difficult to make people understand we have different levels, in terms of price point and accessibility. The initial perception is that we are luxurious, high-end, and untouchable, which simply isn’t the case; our wine selection is very obtainable.
The whole premise behind Oeno House is that people get better access to better quality wines in an affordable way. This is because we maintain the retail prices even if you sit at the terrace, you can enjoy your wine of choice with only the service charge on top. You can, for example, start with a by-the-glass option for £12. At this price, we offer, to name few, Argiano Brunello di Montalcino, Borgogno Barolo, Egon Müller Riesling, Domaines Ott* Rosé. When you go to a normal venue, you would receive a level just above the house wine for the same price…those wines wouldn’t even enter these doors. As a result, guests appreciate the quality we give for the price they pay.
Oeno House strikes the balance between accessibility and a premium experience. This is in everything we do, even the layout of Oeno House itself.
Can you explain the design of the store and the premise behind having three floors?
LM: When I first started, Oeno House was an empty space. It was like a blank canvas. My vision was to create an interesting and inviting wine shop but very much with the goal of achieving the balance between accessibility and a premium experience as I’ve said previously.
The first and second floors are designed to allow visitors to explore and take in the wines. For example, the bottom floor boasts our wine by the glass selection as well as our ‘Oeno 30 best wall’ which consists of some of the world’s finest and rarest wines.
Our window display is constantly updated to showcase and highlight producers, their wines, and their stories; as an example, our display in March was dedicated to ‘Women in Wine’ to celebrate International Women’s Day earlier this year.
The second floor caters to different needs, occasions, and price brackets. You can purchase gifts or special occasion bottles for £40 all the way up to rare investment pieces for thousands of pounds. My team and I work hard to make sure we have a wide variety available for our customers.
We of course have the pop-up terrace available to dine outdoors. We also have the top floor, which acts as a tasting room that can be booked for private events, master classes, wine courses, or simply a meeting.
Oeno House does some amazing tasting events. What has been your favourite?
LM: Oeno House works with 80 wineries around the world and this particular tasting event in October 2021 showcased a collection of our exclusive brand partners.
We collaborated with Zyme (a phenomenal producer from the Valpolicella Region in Italy of high quality, tiny production wines not widely distributed so not as well-known as many other brands) and our aim was to mix famous, classic wine brands with lesser-known names, but all of very high quality. We wanted to exhibit pioneers of the winemaking world or producers who don’t maybe market their brand but still have very high quality to offer. With that in mind, we dedicated space to them on the second floor and hosted a four-course dinner for private clients. With some real PR, press, and trade success, the event was spectacular!
We tend to give these producers space for a month in the window and offer tastings of their product(s) to keep the marketing and awareness momentum going.
What do you look for when selecting wines for Oeno House?
LM: Firstly, we choose our wines based on quality – nothing that is not up to standard will enter this door. Whether it be the response of the public, the season, what goes in our shop window, or collaborative opportunities, the common determining factor is the quality. Oeno House promises the best quality we can offer, meaning whether our customers spend £40 or £50,000, we are committed to helping them find what they like. From there, we can make a judgment on whether they want more or less of the same wine depending on their preferences and style.
Rarity is also incredibly important to us. Our wine selection is something we don’t want to see on supermarket shelves. If this wine can be accessed in the local shop, this isn’t the type of clientele we are trying to have or attract. Oeno House wants to offer exclusivities and rarities, not something that is readily available for the mass market.
We also look for shared or similar values. When we do collaborations with wineries, or especially with brand partners, it is fundamental we all share the same integrity and ethos. The vision of the winemaker or winery needs to match that of Oeno House. This is what allows us to deliver and achieve the goal for both ourselves as well as the producer.
How important is it to offer a by the glass experience?
LM: Fundamental. To be able to give our customers that truly unique and magical experience, offering by the glass is 90% important! Obviously, being so new, between juggling Brexit and Covid, which were both challenges in and of themselves, being able to offer that balanced, premium experience is crucial to building Oeno House.
Having reopened the pop-up terrace in March this year, the nicer weather welcomes people to head outdoors and with people returning to work in the city, we are now in a boom. Say they pass during the day, they come to know the space and may come back in the evening (or a later day) to enjoy a nice glass of wine or even to purchase a gift from us. Serving by the glass is absolutely an inviting and alluring incentive for people to visit – or revisit – us.
When offering wine by the glass managing the wastage is a major factor. Especially when it comes to the likes of our rarer vintage offerings, wasting these premium wines isn’t really an option.
Without Bermar’s preservation system we wouldn’t be able to offer as many wines as we offer now, especially sparkling wines and Champagnes because the wastage would become too huge. And it would come to a point where we need to limit the offer(s) to keep the wastage under control.
If everyone was going to visit Oeno House and try just one glass of wine, what would it be?
LM: Krug by the glass. Not many spaces, bars, or restaurants offer this by the glass, let alone at such a competitive price. Oeno House charges £38 for a glass whereas ordering in a restaurant rears anything around £60 or more, so double the price!
The ability to even offer such a beautiful Champagne by the glass is thanks to our Bermar preservation system. If we open [the bottle] and only serve two glasses, we can seal and preserve them before serving again, which avoids wastage. This is definitely something we wouldn’t be able to achieve without our Bermar preservation system.
Final cheeky question, what is the rarest bottle you have right now?
LM: A 1996 Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux, Magnum for £50,000.
You may also wish to visit the venue, which can be found here:
Oeno House, The Royal Exchange, Unit 16-17, Cornhill, London EC3V 3LL.