Meet the owners

Meet Hal

Selecting incredible wines and spirits from around the world with love, dedication and flair, multi-award-winning Cambridge Wine Merchants are passionate about their craft. Co-founder Hal Wilson tells us the story so far. . .

What inspired yourself and business partner Brett Turner to launch Cambridge Wine Merchants back in 1993?

Brett and I were just out of university and both keen to start a business. I’d had some experience with wine at college running wine societies and Brett had set up his own May Ball catering business. Cambridge, at that time, was dominated by fairly vanilla-like big businesses and wasn’t being served by independent wine merchants, so we tried to remedy that. We launched our first shop in Mill Road, then added another shop the following year in Bridge Street, which we’ve since extended into a wine bar and added more shops with wine bars in King’s Parade and Cherry Hinton Road. All the branches are lovely places to visit, sit down and relax, have a glass of wine and then take home something lovely.

Why did you choose to specialise in wine?

It’s a massive, exciting, immersive subject that uses all of your senses, so I love that about it. Wine has had a very important role in community and ritual for 10,000 years and we are just the lucky people drinking great wine today, becoming part of that rich history!

Tell me about the ethos of the business?

That is simply to live our best wine merchants’ lives and be as good as we can be at what we do, nationally and internationally, whilst having fun. We’ve got 30-plus great team members and everyone is crucial, whether they are packing a box for dispatch to a customer in Yorkshire, serving someone across the counter in Cambridge or visiting vineyards to talk to winemakers.

Can you give us a flavour of the vast array of wine and spirits you sell?

It is pretty extensive, and as well as the wines you see in our stores, we have many more which we don’t put on shelves as they are too valuable, rare or pre-sold. We have maybe 1,500 wines, 750 whiskies and spirits and probably another 150 beers and ciders.

How do you source your selection?

We research, talk to producers, go to wine fairs, visit vineyards and get advice about upcoming producers. We look for small, sustainable family-owned vineyards, growers, distilleries and breweries,
because that’s where the passion lies. We love working with people and selling great wines made by lovely people to lovely customers!

Do you have a favourite wine (or will that get you in trouble with suppliers?)

I’ve been fortunate to taste some amazing wines. There are luxury wines which have a ridiculous price tag, but I try to look for wines which are as good but which we, as mortals in Cambridge, can enjoy! Such wines can still be found from classic French regions as well as from the best pockets in South Africa, the Napa Valley, high altitude vineyards in the Mendoza or the Barossa in Australia. For me, some of the greatest wines are aged beautiful Clarets from the Bordeaux region, very old fortified wines from the Douro like vintage port, 150-year-old sherries from Jerez in Spain or Madeiras from the Island of Madeira.

Who are some of the bigger companies that you wholesale to?

Most of the colleges in Cambridge and Oxford, and independent quality restaurants in town including Restaurant 22, Midsummer House and The Chop House. We sell to independent local pub groups all over the country and have partner businesses in Royston, Berkhamstead, Marlow and Norwich.

Christmas is almost upon us! We’d love your wine recommendation for a festive dinner. . .

A Christmas doesn’t go by without the need for something bubbly. We think we have the best value champagne in the country, Pierre Bertrand, which we import from the Betrand family. It is just £30 a
bottle and so delicious. If you’re having a traditional goose or turkey, it’s an opportunity to splash out on a wine which adds to the whole sense of fun such as a white or red Burgundy, an amazing Rioja or a lovely old vine Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. I’d normally finish with a vintage port, but that’s just me. It’s a recipe for a blurry Boxing Day morning but really enjoyable!

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