The Wine Adventure: Pip Martin

Pip Martin's love affair with wine prompted him to go it alone with The Wine Adventure - a successful tasting company

The palette of the average UK consumer has traditionally been viewed as fairly unrefined – all beer and fish and chips. But we are, in fact, becoming a nation of wine lovers – a billion litres of the stuff was knocked back last year, with annual sales predicted to grow to £10 billion by 2009.

The wine industry is something that Pip Martin knows all about. A former manager at the wine department in Harrods, he was also Corporate Events Manager at Virgin Wines – Richard Branson’s online wine merchants.

In all, 14 years in the food and drink sector, in which he helped entertain a raft of corporate clients, provided an ideal backdrop to The Wine Adventure – the wine tasting events management company Martin has set up.

Providing corporate clients with bespoke wine tasting sessions with additional services ranging from catering to magicians, The Wine Adventure’s success has seen its founder scoop a Shell LiveWIRE award.

Martin has a deep-rooted interest in food and drink, admitting he was a “chubby child” who was obsessed with mealtimes and loved cooking in his mother’s kitchen.

He also has a strong entrepreneurial streak, something he demonstrated by striking out on his own after a year at Virgin Wines.

“I have always wanted to run my own business,” he says. “That’s largely because I’m slightly obsessed with being free and I’m also terrible at being told what to do!

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“It’s always good having the advantage of working for a large company, because then you have an understand of how corporate culture works.

“It’s almost like a rebirth when you start your own business, because you are going through a re-conditioning process and the process is taking complete responsibility for everything that happens in the business.”

Happily, Martin left on good terms with Virgin Wines, despite the fact he was also aiming at the corporate wine tasting market.

“Virgin and I parted amicably, I wasn’t bitter or twisted, and they don’t do, to the best of my knowledge, corporate wine tasting,” he explains.

After starting up with the help of an inheritance, Martin initially struggled to get the right premises for the fledgling Wine Adventure.

“You couldn’t run my business from home – the offices I’m in now are specially adapted. I’ve got commercial glass washers, wine storage space and all the equipment you need to run a wine tasting business,” he says.

In his quest for premises, Martin approached the Wandsworth Youth Enterprise – an organisation that gives subsidised business premises to young entrepreneurs. However, his attempts to gain office space were frustratingly rebutted.

“I showed them my business plan and I spent four or five months trying to convince them I had a really good idea,” he explains. “They just weren’t jumping on board. I gave them nine revised versions of the business plan and they just said ‘bad, bad, bad, bad.’

“At this stage I had Virgin saying it’s not a good idea, my dad saying it wasn’t a good idea and lots of other people saying it’s not a good idea.”

This tough introduction to business ownership did not knock Martin off course – he persevered with his idea and set up in offices in Richmond before the Wandsworth Youth Enterprise called almost a year later to admit their mistake and offer him a space, where he based to this day.

“I absolutely knew that it was a good idea and it held water and I had the experience to bring it to market,” he insists.

Since these initial teething problems, The Wine Adventure has gone from strength to strength, securing an impressive list of corporate clients and events in Italy, Switzerland and France.

Martin says he is actively looking for new aspects to add to his events to make them even more interactive and enjoyable for participants.

“The innovation is constant at the moment – we’re always seeking new experiences with wine,” he explains. “I invest a lot of time looking at parallel industries, not purely focused on the wine trade. Any piece of interactive equipment I can bring in, for instance, to make the events different, I do that.”

Although Martin overcame initial scepticism of his idea, he advises other budding entrepreneurs to be totally convinced by their business ideas before moving forward.

“The concept of the business is key – if the market research is telling you that the concept doesn’t work, it takes a lot of courage to listen and say ‘OK, I’m not going to do it.’

“It takes almost as much courage to turn around and say it’s not going to work as it is to go ahead and do it.

“One of errors you can make as a small business is that you don’t market research it comprehensively, and even if you do, you don’t listen to the market research,” he says.

So what beverage would he recommend to someone hoping to impress a client? Martin racks his brains – it’s clearly not an easy choice.

“That’s a good question, it’s a bit like asking which is your favourite child – I would hate to put one to the front of the queue, because the others will feel terrible!”

Finally, we get his answer. “A champagne I’m exited about at the moment is Charles Heidseck Misen-Carve. In terms of quality and value, it’s fantastic.”



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