Simon Baile, owner of ExCellar in Claygate
What started life as a traditional wine merchant 23 years ago has steadily been evolving. These days – and depending on what time you pass ExCellar in Claygate – you have just as much chance of hearing live jazz or enjoying a street dining experience comparable with something you might expect to find in a Parisian bistro as you do of buying a bottle of wine. Here we meet Simon Baile, the popular shop’s owner, and find out his plans for the future.
My father worked in wine and was very successful at it, too. He was one of the first to begin buying wine from Australia in 1976 at a time when wine consumption was quite elitist. Over the course of his career, he made wine more democratic, accessible and affordable.
He also built the Oddbins brand back in the 1980s. He bought the business with six shops and eventually grew it to 60, three of which were in Paris, before selling in 1982 to Seagrams, a large Canadian drinks conglomerate.
Much later it was sold to a French firm, and not long after that its success started to wane. By this point, wine was in my blood and I was already establishing a career in the business. Then, in 2008, I was brought in to try and help save the business my father had created over three decades before. We made many positive changes to the company’s dynamics, its range and marketing. However, it was right at the height of the financial crash and sadly, it had to be brought to an end.
Until very recently, I had always put my decision to work in the wine business down to my love of wine. However, I’ve come to realise that it’s not wine but people that gets me going. Wine, like many businesses, is a people business after all. It starts with those nurturing the crops and labouring the fields down to those selling the bottles at the other end of the supply chain.
I think it’s this realisation that’s behind my decision to step out and do other things. Whilst it was my dad that dealt with the wine, my mum was the food connoisseur. She owned the best deli on Upper Street in Islington in the 1970s, so we ended up having the best of both worlds.
So, with ExCellar, I’m bringing the two together. We currently have a pizza oven, which proved popular in lockdown, and I’m now looking to make the food offering a more permanent feature. During the summer lockdown we even had live busking outside the shop. People were stopping in the street to listen, cars were honking their horns and at one point, there were 45 people who had come to listen to the music and enjoy a drink and some food.
Life after lockdown has been just as musical. We’re even booking some renowned musicians including Eddy Smith and Connor Selby to come and play at the shop. It’s really fantastic.
Of course, wine remains at the heart of the business. We’re just bringing a new dimension by adding food and music to the menu, too. The idea is to bring a French feel to Claygate: wine shop by day and bistro by night. Judging by the support we’ve had so far, it seems as though the Claygate community are happy with that idea, too.
ExCellar Wine. 107 Hare Ln, Claygate, Esher KT10 0QX