Alex Baxter introduces Auckland's North Shore to the wide world of wine
Hospitality industry veteran and wine consultant Alex Baxter brings more than two decades of experience to his popular Rothesay Bay business, The Wine Barrel. His varied background ensures that he has an excellent understanding of what his customers are after. It is no surprise then that North Shore ex-pats stream through the doors for their pick of South African wines and boutique beers from the UK and Scotland. But the canny Canadian has a far wider international selection on hand. We persuaded him to share a few trade ‘secrets’.
How did you get involved in the wine industry, and was it always a passion?
I starting work in hospitality in 1995; the wine focus has evolved from there and the passion has taken over. Customer interaction, creating wine lists, winery dinners, corporate events. What’s not to love!
Tell us a little bit about The Wine Barrel, what makes it different to other wine shops?
The Wine Barrel is a small, boutique, owner-operated shop in Rothesay Bay on Auckland's North Shore. We try and differentiate ourselves, with an eclectic range from all over the world, at affordable and reflective prices. We provide passionate, hands on service. We're always looking ahead for that something different, that point of difference!
Running a thriving wine business must be a challenging job. What makes it all worthwhile?
Every job must have its challenges, but what I enjoy the most is trying the wine, buying the wine in, then selling to the desired customer, knowing they are getting exactly what they require, and are leaving with a smile.
What constitutes a successful wine store to you?
Great customer service, a genuine, created ambience, positive and knowledgeable staff, hopefully being able to cater for everyone’s request. Just doing that little bit extra! And seeing the familiar faces return on a regular basis.
What questions do you ask a customer who isn’t quite sure what they are after, to help direct their choice?
The more relaxed the customer is, the easier the relationship. It may sound simple, but start with “red or white?” Are they going to enjoy the wine themselves or buying it as gift? Are they going to be having it with a particular meal or for a special occasion?
Do you have a personal favourite wine/varietal?
Not specifically, there are too many! But I really enjoy international whites.
What would you suggest to a customer who comes in looking for a knockout wine to impress their dinner guests?
Depending on their budget, an aged European red: Barolo, Amarone, Rioja or Bordeaux. We've also got a 1994 German riesling just waiting for the right customer.
What is your personal favourite food and wine match?
Riesling with kimchi and pork sausage.
Which are currently the most popular wines sold at The Wine Barrel?
Aged chardonnays – over 5 years.
How did your relationship with Martin and Planet Wine begin?
I’ve known Martin since 2001, when I was creating wine lists for Paramount restaurant. He was working for Corbans Wines in those days, managing the Corbans Wine & Food Challenge as one of his roles as marketing manager.
What is it that you appreciate about Planet Wine as a supplier?
What's not to appreciate! A huge product range, from around the world. Fantastic price options. And the very personable service that Martin provides.
Which wines/regions are currently under-represented in NZ (and could be an opportunity for Planet Wine)?
Being of Canadian heritage, it would be great to see more Canadian wines and beers on the market. Eastern Europe and the Middle East have a huge amount of wine history, but haven't made it to our shores, yet.
The Wine Barrel
599 Beach Road, Rothesay Bay, Auckland
Tel: 09-479 6010