‘I started with two wines out of the boot of a secondhand Renault Clio’

Inside Track: Johnny McMorrough, Boutique Wines

Johnny McMorrough: “The trick is not to be afraid to make mistakes but to make sure you only make them once”

Johnny McMorrough: “The trick is not to be afraid to make mistakes but to make sure you only make them once”


Boutique Wines is a Dublin-based, family-owned wine merchant. Starting out in 2001 with two wines in the boot of a secondhand Renault Clio, founder Johnny McMorrough sells affordable artisan wines from around the world to Ireland’s top restaurants, pubs and hotels.

With the recent closure of venues around the country, Boutique Wines has begun selling online to the public and offering a nationwide delivery service via their new online store.

What sets your business apart from the competition?

We deal with the farmer, the winemaker and the small boutique wine producer. Our products are carefully made using low intervention of chemicals. Our service motto is – “We may be small but we try harder” – as we offer all our clients a one-to-one personalised service to see what works best for them or their business.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve received lots of great advice over the years, including to focus on your own business and not on what other people are doing and to promote people and let them shine.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

Every day I make mistakes. I think the trick is not to be afraid to make mistakes but to make sure you only make them once.

What has been your major success to date?

I would genuinely say that my family has been my greatest success to date – without them my business is pointless.

But in terms of business, I started out almost 20 years ago with two wines out of the boot of a secondhand Renault Clio during personally very difficult times. Now our wines can be found in over 100 of the finest bars and restaurants throughout Ireland including Michelin-starred restaurants, winners of the Gastro Pub of the Year award and great local pubs. I am very proud of the client list we have built up over almost two decades.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

There are many people I admire in business and I frequently read biographies and watch documentaries about business people so to choose one is impossible. However, I recently read an interview with Richard Kennedy, CEO of Devenish Nutrition. What I really liked was that, for the first 20 minutes, he spoke of his family, about the values instilled in him and his siblings from childhood and the sacrifices his parents went through to put them through college.

The lessons he describes and applies on a daily basis are those he learned from family life growing up. Sometimes the simplest principles are those right in front of us. So keep it simple, treat people with respect and do what you love - the rest will follow.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?

It is too early to say. They are supporting people with short-term relief from payments right now because they have to, have been ordered to and frankly have no choice. The real proof will be in the aftermath of Covid-19 restrictions when we all come up for air and actually see the extent of the damage.

What one piece of advice would you give Government to help stimulate the economy?

Simply oversee, implement and force the banks and insurance companies to do their job and support their clients. Stop them trying to find loopholes in their contracts. Our industry, bars, restaurants and hotels are on their knees and will be for a long time time to come.

This country relies heavily on the hospitality sector to provide jobs for people. The government must hold insurance companies and banks accountable to pay out to small businesses.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?

I found it hard letting staff go (including my wife) but it had to be done and we are not alone in this. Because our business supplies bars and restaurants, our business and revenue has dropped abruptly in recent weeks. VAT and PRSI have been suspended to a later date but we still have to pay excise.

We have given them a plan and need to sell wine online to achieve this. Basically, we are working to pay tax right now and to stay trading.

How do you see the short-term future for your business?

In the immediate term it is to go online and sell to the public. We are also using the time to network, build contacts and do charity runs to frontline workers. We have to wait and see what happens next, none of us has a crystal ball, but hard graft will be required.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

Today? Probably about a tenner and I’d take it!