The visionary vintners

Tim Walker and Carol Edwardes, Directors at The Wine ReserveTim Walker and Carol Edwards, Directors at The Wine Reserve

Whether you're looking for a fine wine, searching for a sought-after spirit or trying to discover the latest flavour in the world of craft beer, The Wine Reserve has it all. But what’s the secret when it comes to buying wine, how did an A-board cement Cobham’s finest wine merchant partnership, and what’s the link between booze and shoes? Owners Carol Edwards and Tim Walker reveal all in the latest in our series of Elmbridge Icons.

Carol Edwards, Director

I used to work in brand management for Deckers, a large footwear business that owns UGG. I knew everything there was to know about what went into making shoes, but even then, it was wine that really interested me.

My wife and I have always collected wine and we’d regularly go to wine tasting events. It’s just been a passion of ours. Then, after 20 years of working with footwear brands, I was given a choice: move to Hong Kong following a corporate restructure, or leave. I really didn’t want to move to Hong Kong, so I chose to leave and pursue a qualification in wine with the idea that maybe I could turn my hobby into something more.

Whilst doing my diploma, I was shopping in Cobham and saw an A-board outside The Wine Reserve advertising part time vacancies, so I popped in to apply - and that’s when I met Tim. Shortly afterwards, I had a job working alongside him for the previous owner, Marco. That was 2013. By 2015, after Marco had made repeated sounds about me buying the business from him, I had become the new owner and taken on the remaining five-year lease.

Right from the outset, Tim’s involvement was an absolute must. He is a fantastic buyer and I wanted him to come in with me. He did, and has been a fellow director ever since. As owner, I wanted to offer more choice. I also wanted to make the shop and the buying experience sexier. These days, with over 1,300 different products on the shelves, there certainly isn’t a shortage of options.

People often ask ‘what’s next?’. At one point, we were considering a second shop. But Covid made me realise just how important the Cobham community is to us. It’s vital for us to hang on to the new customers that found us during the pandemic, and to keep looking after our longstanding customers, too. By having two shops, there’s a concern that we’d be spreading ourselves too thinly and we wouldn’t want to do that. Besides, between our shop and our online mail order business, which attracts people from all over the country looking for specific wines, we’re busy enough.

Cobham’s thriving right now, and we want to remain at the heart of that, to be there for the Cobham community and support our fellow retailers. We also signed a new 10-year lease in 2020, so we’re in it for the long-term.

Regardless of whether someone is buying a one-off bottle of £700 wine or spending £8 on a bottle every week, all of our customers keep Tim and I professionally involved in something we’re both passionate about.

Wine is a bit like shoes in many ways. They’re both about style. And whilst I love shoes – trainers in particular – wine definitely wins.

Tim Walker, Director

By the time I got my wine diploma in 1993 I’d been working in the industry for a decade or so. Almost 40 years later I still love it.

Most people in the trade fall into it. We’re generally a group of misfits who get jobs in wine shops and then get bitten by the bug. The beauty of it, though, is that it’s always changing and you’re always learning. Even the same producers’ products vary from year to year depending on the climate and many other environmental factors.

There is an art to buying wine. But for us, it comes down to one rule: we don’t put anything on the shelves that we don’t like ourselves. In fact, if you can buy it from us, it’s generally because we love it.

Our motto is that we taste the crap so you don’t have to. To get to the 1,300 or so products we have in stock right now, you have to filter out a lot of rubbish and separate the wheat from the chaff. Tasting is not a terrible job, of course, but there’s a lot of chaff out there so it takes time to whittle down. Our running joke is that we’re ruining our own health for the good of Cobham. Think of us as the superheroes of the wine world.

It’s not only my taste in wine that gets the Cobham community talking, either. I regularly receive positive feedback on my music choices, which you’ll invariably hear when I’m in. My taste is the best of course. Carol’s is pretty good, too. Matt’s, on the other hand, is a different matter – unless you like death metal (does anybody?).

I’m constantly asked about the point at which wine tends to become good. Cheap wine has no character and no typicity, which refers to the ability to taste where a wine is from. Mass-produced wines are also relatively unethical, as they use copious amounts of sulphur to, in effect, disinfect the wine and prolong its lifespan. We’re not anti-sulphur; sulphites are found in all wines. But a wine that contains an excessive amount of sulphur isn’t a good wine.

You don’t have to pay exorbitant amounts for wine, either. Our most expensive bottle at the moment is a Vega Sicilia at £420. Yet we stock a bottle for £8 which wouldn’t be there if we didn’t think it was good.

We’re not snobs and we wouldn’t want people to think that The Wine Reserve is a posh wine shop. The whole team is really approachable and we would always encourage people to come and ask us for help. We’re always happy to give it.

The Wine Reserve. 7 Oakdene Parade, High St, Cobham KT11 2LR

Are you looking to move in and around Cobham? If so, contact Grosvenor Billinghurst, a Cobham estate agent located on the High Street. Pop in to say ‘hello’ or contact us on 01372 588288.

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