We’re headed out of the centre of Manchester and, although it’s the middle of the day, we’ve got one thing on our minds – wine. We can almost hear the gasps of disapproval – or is that jealousy? Well, you needn’t concern yourselves. When we said we’re focused on wine, that’s because we’re heading into the suburban village of Cheadle, Greater Manchester, to visit the new working home of forward-thinking wine business Boutinot.
Boutinot is a market-leading grape grower, wine maker, wine importer, wine supplier and exclusive agent for over 150 of the world’s finest and award winning wine producers. Established in 1980, Boutinot has grown to become one of the most respected UK based distributors of quality wines from around the world. Its portfolio consists of over 1,400 wines and the company sells more than 44 million bottles each year, supplying a huge variety of wines to UK and international retailers, restaurateurs and wholesalers.
The company’s commitment to provide great wines at competitive prices has been recognised a number of times over the years, notably at the Sommelier Wine Awards, where Boutinot was named Wine Merchant of the Year for no less than five consecutive years.
Our designated driver (and co-host) is Andrew Jackson, from leading North West design and fit-out firm Opus 4. Andrew is not only happy to do the driving, he can also tell us a little about his client’s philosophy.
‘They are a great business to work with,’ he begins. ‘They really know how to look after their people. Everyone gets to go out to see where the wines are produced – and presumably they get to drink the wines – and they all socialise together, host events in the new space and the owners even join them in the fully equipped gym, where they have plenty of friendly competition going on.
‘It’s a real family – and it even says that on the wall in the space; the Boutinot Family.’
As we approach the building, we ask Andrew what the biggest challenges were for the Opus 4 team. ‘To be honest, it’s been a breeze working with these guys,’ he smiles. ‘We knew that they had high expectations, but they were so laid back about it all. Their philosophy was, ‘You’re the experts, you know what you’re doing, show us what you want to do’. There wasn’t even any great pressure on us in terms of timings because they were already local and there was no time limit on when they had to be out of their former building. There was no lease break – they had simply expanded so much that they needed more space.
‘You’ll see how much space they still have left over, but there are more phases to come as they continue to grow. They did bring a lot of the existing furniture along with them from their old building – but we’ve also brought in a lot of good quality new products, which are bang on trend, from the likes of Frovi, Orangebox and Ocee. There are a lot of nice examples in there.
‘The central space is especially great. We spent a day in there with the photographer – and every single person who walked into that space offered us a drink. I think that says a lot about the people here.
‘This is the only client we have ever worked with who wanted us to put in a Rangemaster double oven! We finished the project just before Christmas and – instead of just going out to a local restaurant – the owners cooked up a couple of turkeys and all the trimmings right here for the entire business. It really is all about the culture and the people.’
Speaking of the people, we head into reception where we’re met by Michael Moriarty, Boutinot’s Commercial Director, who’s kind enough to offer us the full tour of the building. Even in the relatively small reception area we can see a couple of really nice design touches, such as the clever use of sheared down wine bottles for the industrial feature lighting and smart wood effect wall finishes, taken from Boutinot and it’s clients own packaging.
‘We were in a 5,000 sq ft office previously – and this is 18,000 sq ft,’ Michael tells us. ‘It is a big leap for us – a big change. One of the very first things we actually talkedυ about in terms of the design was the reception. We didn’t have enough space for anything like this previously and we didn’t want anything that was too over-the-top, big and overly corporate here. We wanted it to reflect what we do – hence all these nice little touches. One of the things that was always an issue for us was that deliveries would constantly come in from couriers and would often sit within the entrance – so we’ve added two feature walls, which everything can now sit behind, so the space is kept free and clean.
‘We did spend a long time looking for a site that would fit us. We didn’t want to move a long way and disrupt people and we wanted a space that was either malleable enough for us to do pretty much what we wanted or was a blank canvas – and this was more of a blank canvas as it was three open floors. With the exception of the central hub, all the walls were already in place.
‘We needed it be functional, of course, particularly the office spaces. We’ve been able to introduce things such as practical wall space, with white boards for people to work on. There’s meeting space on each floor, designed around who needs more of that type of space, then the top floor is dedicated to customer and external meeting space, as well as our tasting room.
‘We’ve created different work settings throughout. We’ve added some casual spaces and quick meeting spaces because the coffee shop can get quite busy and noisy at certain times of the day. The guys came up with the idea of breaking the space up with these dividing screens rather than putting in solid walls – because a number of our teams are still growing. We’ve got stand height tables in the open meeting spaces and one of our teams has even pretty much abandoned their desks and now adopted one of these spaces because they prefer to work closer together – which is great.
‘We can’t do any of this without the people – you’ll see that we’ve got pictures of our people throughout the building.’
We walk through the ground floor facilities and into the central hub of the building – a fantastic communal dining and breakout space. ‘The idea with this was to create something that had a bit of an informal dining functionality and a relaxation space, so it has got a bit of a coffee house feel,’ Michael points out. ‘We use this space a lot – for both internal and external things. Our people obviously come in here for lunch and also for informal meetings in the soft seating areas – and, once a month, a different team within the business will prepare a lunch for anyone who wants to have lunch.
‘We’ve had customer lunches and dinners here – with a bit of a wine tasting, of course – and we’ve recently started a community programme where we invite some of the local old people in for a lunch and some of our people will come and join them and have a chat with them.’
Although we could quite happily stay right here all day, Andrew and Michael are keen for us to head upstairs to see the aforementioned tasting room. Radically different from the friendly, communal atmosphere of the rest of Boutinot’s home, we’re instantly aware that this is the space where wine gets serious. The pristine, futuristic, white room could be lifted from Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams. It is, however, not just designed with a Wow factor in mind – this is a technically advanced space that allows customers to taste the wines under carefully controlled conditions. ‘The tasting room is a major feature for us,’ Michael enthuses. ‘The first thing we wanted was for it to be glazed – so as people walk up they can immediately see into here. We’ve actually got two tasting rooms now – we didn’t at our old place – so we’ve got this customer facing room, which is much easier to keep clean, and then a staff tasting room.’
The room certainly has the Wow factor. Andrew tells us that the space was designed by Michael, who then collaborated with Opus 4 to produce what is a spectacular facility. Both the lighting and the temperature here have to be absolutely right – so as not to taint the wine. There is even UV protective film on the windows to keep the heat and light out.
We’re impressed. It might be easy to be distracted by all the amazing wines around us – but the culture here is just as impressive. Both take quite a bit of special growing and nurturing. Cheers.