Fresher, cleaner, greener is the mantra of the natural organic wine business founded five years ago by Sam Olive. Wine Freedom has become a major supplier to the likes of Michelin-star eateries, opened a wine bar in the past year and just launched a very different home delivery service
Sam Olive launched Wine Freedom five years ago inspired by the idea of building a disruptive, inclusive and authentic wine business. The company supplies natural, organic wine to bars and restaurants across the UK, including local Michelin-starred eateries such as Carters and Simpsons.
Late last year, in what turned out to be an all-too-brief break between national lockdowns, Wine Freedom opened its first wine bar at Floodgate Street, Digbeth in what Sam describes as the ‘perfect location’ – a disused warehouse which also became home to a wine shop and tastings sessions. The restrictions have put the bar into semi-mothballs for now, though the off-licence section is still operating in line with the guidelines.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic to the food and drink industry, Sam is optimistic as we see light finally emerging at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel. “I’ve always believed in being flexible to respond to changes in business,” he says. “And that has helped to stand us in good stead during this period.
“We took the decision to go-ahead with the opening of the bar despite the problems we would encounter and in the period before lockdown we were very encouraged and pleased with how it was going. It’s important to realise that we are not just a bar. Wine education and tastings are also key to what we aim to do.”
Last month, Wine Freedom launched a subscription service, House Wine. Available across the UK, the service delivers freshly bottled natural wine on a weekly or monthly basis and is designed to bring wine-lovers ‘closer to the vineyard’. Subscribers can drink and enjoy handmade, organic and sustainable wine at home.
Bottled from kegs, House Wine launched with four wines – Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Triennes Rose, Beaujolais ‘Kanon Keg’ and an orange wine, Frisach Lo Pateret. New wines will be introduced on a monthly basis.
Sam said: “Key kegs are a more stable vessel for transporting wine, minimising contact with oxygen for maximum freshness with little or no need for preservatives.” Being 100 per cent recyclable, Wine Freedom uses a state of the art greenline dispensing system with compressed air, removing the need for gas canisters. The wines are vegan and represent better value with a saving of roughly 20 pent for each bottle.
Sam said: “House Wine is all about super fresh wine that brings people as close to the vineyard experience as possible. All our keg wines are made by small independent wineries and are handmade, organic and natural. In simple terms House Wine is fresher, cleaner and greener – while also being convenient.”
When Sam founded Wine Freedom, he says the plan was always to make it a multi-channel business. His background in the wine trade had been extensive before making the decision to start out on his own. Originally a graduate in interior architecture, Sam got into the drinks business after serving in a wine bar in Bristol. After joining a management training scheme and working in a number of Majestic wine stores, he then spent time working in vineyards in Australia and New Zealand before returning to the UK as an adviser for fine wines in part of the Laithwaites group. A job at Bibendum Wine saw him selling to restaurants and after identifying a gap in the market for natural organic wines he set up Wine Freedom. The move coincided with a general shift in consumer buying habits to better quality wines.
As well as the new House Wine initiative, Sam is also introducing Orange Wednesday, a monthly subscription service for those who enjoy orange wine – a type of wine made from white wine grapes where the grape skins are not removed – which is part of the overall plan to expand a suite of tailored customers offerings. More video footage on the company’s website and social media including interviews with producers and food and wine match-ups is also in the pipeline.
THE WINE MILKMAN
On the website, customers can order mixed cases, each wine bottled by Wine Freedom from the keg, and delivered within a 10-mile radius. They’ll even collect and recycle the used bottles. “We’re like your milkman, but with wine!” said Sam. On that point, and as an aside, Wine Freedom tried to introduce a scheme to help the NHS. “My wife works in A&E and other family members are also in the NHS,” said Sam. “We decided that for every bottle a customer put out for collection, to encourage recycling, we would donate £1 to the NHS. But told us they couldn’t take donations from us as we are in the booze business!”
With family so involved in the pandemic fight, Sam says he is erring on the side of caution with regards to a return to ‘normality’ in business. “I believe it will be June or July before we really start to see things changing and from a business perspective, we’ll be focussing hard on just getting things back to where they were pre-Covid although, of course, we have plenty of plans moving forward.”
The wine bar is ready and waiting to welcome back customers after a highly successful launch. “I guess you could say we got to test the bar for seven weeks between the lockdowns. We were able to give our customers a little taste of what is to come. We did lots of tastings and it all worked a treat.”