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Andrew Bennett

Published:  23 July, 2008

What brought you to Lincolnshire?

My partner, Vicky Herring, and I wanted a complete change of scene after working for high-tech companies in Cambridge.

So about 10 years ago, with the help of Vicky's parents, who live just up the road from here, we bought the Farmers Arms. It had been empty for two years when we took over, so we really started from scratch. On the first night it was a bit of a free-for-all because we were still trying to work out how to work the till and pull a pint. We would both be up until the early hours, me with my wine books and Vicky with her cookbooks.

Did you know much about wine before opening the pub?

My previous job was in sales and marketing and that took me all over the world and developed my interest. The company I worked for developed machines that were used for anything that needed a bar code or lot number, so I ended up in a lot of wineries and breweries. Soon I started planning my trips around where the best wineries were!

How did you tackle your first wine list?

We are lucky to have Derek Smedley MW as a family friend. He put our first list together and has looked after it ever since. These days Derek and I go to tastings together. We meet before we go in to talk about what we are looking for and then afterwards to discuss what we have found. The wines we agree are the most interesting go on the list.

How much has the list changed?

It has changed massively. It's got a lot more wines on it now! In the early days we wanted to keep it simple and so there were only about 40 or 50 wines on it. Now we've got about 250. Initially our customers told us that we should focus more on New World wines, so we built up the Australian and New Zealand sections. Then a few years ago some regulars told me they would like to see more of the traditional styles, so we set about expanding Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Is there any area of the list that you still want to grow further?

Not really, but we have a wine merchant as well (D'Vine Wines), and the area we are concentrating on there is French regional country wines - because I'd like to go and explore some of the less well-known regions myself. So the pub wine list will probably develop a bit more in that direction too. This is a bit of a vinous and gastronomic backwater and it is quite conservative, so wine tastes are also quite conservative and there's a strong liking for French wines.

You have an impressive Australian section though, organised by region.

Yes, Australia is actually our most popular section. Previously the entire list was organised by style, e.g. 'crisp and mineral', but it was getting quite unwieldy, with Australian wines sitting next to Austria and Alsace, and so on. So I thought it would make it little easier to reorganise it by country, and where there is enough diversity of style, such as in Australia, also by region.

You recently won a trip to the 2007 Pinot Noir conference in Wellington sponsored by New Zealand Winegrowers. How did you manage that?

By completing the on-trade survey they sent out asking about the New Zealand wines we had on the list and about our customers' perception of them. I put down my own impressions and also canvassed the opinions of some of my customers.

Did anything they said surprise you?

What didn't surprise me was that the perception of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is so positive. There was also a consistent message that customers think of New Zealand as an unspoilt, clean, green paradise. What did surprise me was that most people have no knowledge of the country's other white grape varieties or its red wines. Some people even thought that there wasn't such a thing as New Zealand red wine! I also found that Sauvignon Blanc is particularly popular with women, and they are often the ones who decide which wine to buy.

Have you any plans for the New Zealand section as a result of the research?

At the moment everything is just lumped under the New Zealand heading, but I would like to organise it by region because New Zealand is starting to produce more wines with a well-defined sense of terroir and regionality. I'd also like to list more of the other varieties the country is producing. Tomorrow evening we're holding a tasting called 'Life beyond Sauvignon Blanc', showing a range of New Zealand wines made from other grape varieties.

Are customers surprised to get handed such a large wine list in a pub?

Yes! My approach is that my heart rules my head, even if it's not always commercially savvy. If I get enthusiastic about a wine or a region, it appears on the list. Some of our customers pore over it all night, others ask for the list expecting a single sheet of paper and it can be too much for them, even though we try to set it out clearly. I tell them that if they tell me the kind of wines they like, I'll come up with some suggestions.