"I grew up selling cars all my life – the customer is vital in that industry and I wanted to adopt that ethos in my wine business," says Andrew Eakin who, along with his wife, accessories designer Naomi Murtagh, owns five Bottle Apostle wine shops in London and is now the owner of the Château Puynard vineyard in France.
“We found that the wine industry can be quite pretentious if you don’t know your chardonnay from your sauvignon so we decided to open Bottle Apostle in 2009.”
Arriving in London in 2008, Eakin worked as a maintenance manager in a hotel while Murtagh worked at fashion company Hobbs designing leather goods for their NW3 brand.
Prior to that Eakin had worked in Paris for automotive chemical company Falken Industries Ltd while Murtagh interned with Irish designer Sharon Wauchob going on to work with accessories designer Vincent du Sartel on designs for brands such as Liberty of London, Davidoff and Maison Martin Margiela.
Before leaving Ireland, Eakin had worked for Rathdown Motors in Dublin as well as White Bishop Motors, where he was sales manager from 2002 to 2005.
The couple grew up "a field away from each other" in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, became a couple when they were 18 and have been married 10 years.
They have two small children and live in Kent on four acres of land having moved out of London, although Eakin commutes to the city each day.
On moving to east London (and with the proceeds of the sale of his Dublin apartment in the bank), the couple spotted a vacant shop in Victoria Park Village.
“We thought we’d buy it and rent it out as an income but then we started doing wine courses in the evenings,” says Eakin who now has five shops across the city of London from Crouch End to the Olympic Village.
All Eakin’s staff have WSET (The Wine and Spirit Education Trust) credentials, two members of staff are currently applying for the prestigious Master of Wine and all the wine sold by the company is farmed, made and bottled onsite in the various vineyards that supply the company.
It’s an approach that has served them well and the company has won many awards including Independent Wine Merchant 2011 and Decanter’s Large Independent Wine Retailer of the Year 2015.
Eakin now employs 24 staff and says he strives to treat his staff well and trusts them to run his shops under the guidance of his manager Chris “as if they were their own”.
He continues to work on the floor of the Victoria Park store three days a week.
Last Christmas, with Naomi's father, the couple discussed the idea of buying a vineyard and in February they went to view six properties, ultimately purchasing the working vineyard at Château Puynard in Bordeaux.
“After seeing the first three vineyards, we thought there was no way we were going to buy a vineyard. The amount of money required to fix up some of them was incredible.
“We were also quite picky about what we wanted – to be within walking distance of a small town, to have schools close by, have it all on one plot and to have an existing team on site,” says Eakin who is keen to develop a good relationship with the local community and has already invited the local school to use the lawns for sports day.
“When we walked into the vineyard, we knew it was right. It’s in a prominent position and it’s got some great vines. You’re not talking about Saint-Émilion or Bordeaux Superiuer, it is Blaye Côtes du Bordeaux, but we know we can make good wine at a reasonable price. You buy the land per square acre and you inherit the house,” he says.
While the estate came as a considerable investment, Eakin is keen to stress they have bought a working business not a holiday home.
“You’re buying a business that is currently making money – it’s not like buying a two-bedroom flat in Kensington. If I wanted a nice house with a swimming pool, I could get one for £300,000 in France and I’d have no wines and no headache.
“But what we wanted to do is build a business, make something rather than constantly buying something in and selling it on.”
They have inherited a husband-and-wife team and a former French store manager of theirs from the London business is managing the vineyard and office. The couple has employed a wine maker to develop the wine already being produced on the estate and will now produce a sparkling rosé Cremant, a still rosé wine and two red wines.
“To move into a business that I don’t know anything about in a language I can’t speak has been very difficult. You are a farmer – it’s not about romance. You can go to bed one night and a hail storm can remove the grapes from the vine and you’ll have no revenue for the year...
“We are the 12th generation of people to go through the house and we don’t want to mess that up. We are planting vines next year that we won’t see wine out of for 15 years, we are picking grapes this year that we won’t see bottled till 2018 so it’s very much a long-term project.”