Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

The Interview: Mark van der Goot, Director, The Greyhound at Battersea Pub and Dining Room (SAV Pubs Ltd), London

Published:  23 July, 2008

What is the difference between running your own place and being head sommelier in a Michelin-starred restaurant?
As head sommelier you can focus all your time and energy on the wine list and its profitability. You also have lots of staff. Here, I am the sommelier, general manager and owner all in one, and the responsibility is endless. I've got 15 staff to look after, and maintenance issues that continually knock at the door. I'm very lucky because my wife Sharlyn is from a marketing background and she manages that side of things, but we had a baby boy last August so it has been pretty tricky.

How many wines do you have on the list?

At the last count it was about 500, but it goes up and down like a yo-yo. For a lot of wines, I only hold stock of one or two bottles.

What about the fine and rare list?

I recently joined the lists together because I found that people assumed that 'fine wine' had to be expensive, and that often isn't the case. We had wines on that list ranging from 30 up to 11,000, but when customers were looking for something at around 3040 they would automatically put down the fine and rare list, which I found quite frustrating.

What is your definition of fine wine?

The perfect example is a producer in Tasmania called Springvale, which makes 1,200 cases a year, including a fantastic Pinot that is on the list for 38. It's one of the top three Tasmanian Pinots, with a limited production, but still quite accessible and amazing quality: that, in my eyes, is a fine wine. I guess other people would disagree, but for me it is about the quality of the wine, and it doesn't have to cost 200 a bottle.

What are your plans for the list?

I like watching a list evolve, so as we settle in the list will grow, but at the moment there isn't much I would change. There is a huge focus on the New World, but any Burgundy or Bordeaux drinker would also be impressed. I am really lucky because I've got a massive cellar here, which means I am able to buy en primeur and lay things down.

What's it like buying wine for the pub compared to the restaurant?

At first I assumed the pub would have a huge focus on beer and that it would play a big role in our profitability. But there seems to be a trend of people drinking wine in pubs, and it is just steamrolling beer into nothingness. Even when the bar is busy, eight out of 10 tables will be drinking wine. Having a large selection of wines by the glass (18 plus three dessert wines and Champagne) helps a lot and it also gives us flexibility, particularly when matching wine with food.

Which regions or countries are doing well at the moment?

France is coming back. About a year or two ago New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was very popular, but now people seem to be drinking Pouilly-Fum and Sancerre again. The supermarket New World wines aren't doing the Australian wine industry any favours. It's the south-east Australia factor: there is so much mass-produced wine, all tasting the same, that when Australian producers do really exciting things it tends to get overlooked by the UK consumer.

Some of the wines on the list come from your own collection. Was it hard to part with them?

No, because I have tended to overbuy over the years. With certain wines I have kept two for myself and put two into the stock, so that when I sell them I can see how they are developing. It's a little selfish, but it means I can share my passion for some of these wines.

Is it difficult to get hold of some of the wines that you want on your list?

I've used most of the major wine suppliers in the UK, so if I really want to track something down I am sure I would be able to find it from somewhere. With Australian wines I can pretty much get anything, but I can't get hold of older vintages, so that's why I'm selling wines from my own cellar. It's frustrating because there is an interest in older stock but it's so thin on the ground. If you do find it, it is at exorbitant prices that don't make it accessible to a restaurant drinker.

Have you any advice for people keen to set up a business with a strong wine list?

Watch your spending and make sure you do a bi-weekly stocktake for the first few months, because you can very easily spend a few grand on wine and it can hugely affect your cash flow. Set a budget for what you want to hold in stock and just don't go over it. A new business needs all sorts of stuff that can't be paid for with the bottles sitting in your cellar.

Are you thinking of expansion yet?

We are looking at a couple of pubs, but we are waiting for the dust to settle on this one first. This is very much a hands-on type of place, and we're still wondering where we are going to go from here because I think it will stretch us too much trying to do the same thing again. But watch this space over the next six months.

The Greyhound at Battersea Pub & Dining Room, 136 Battersea High Street, London SW11 3JR.

Tel: 020 7978 7021

Australian Mark van der Goot studied at the William Blue Hotel Management School in Sydney. He gained accreditation in wine marketing and as a sommelier from Roseworthy College Adelaide and TAFE New South Wales before going on to work at fine-dining restaurants Moran's and Aria in Sydney. It was at Aria that he met David Levin, owner of The Capital Group in London, and 'rather cheekily asked him for a job'. He moved to the UK in 2001 to take up the post of head sommelier at The Greenhouse, and in December 2004 opened The Greyhound in Battersea with his wife Sharlyn van der Goot.

Key suppliers: Astrum Wine Cellars, CG Bull & Taylor, Matthew Clark Wholesale, Noel Young Wines, Thorman Hunt, The Wine Treasury.