Anja Madhvani talks vines and ventures with owner Simon Cocks
Once Upon A Vine is a specialist wine shop, bar and tasting room, and it would be fair to say a fairytale come true for owner Simon Cocks.
Simon’s exploits began in 2006 after a period of post-graduation uncertainty. He couldn’t settle on a career, and tried many different roles, none of which really captured his interest.
He applied for the Majestic Wines graduate scheme on a bit of a whim, and it was there that his love of wine began. He was promoted to manager and the job saw him running stores all around the country, before he finally settled in Leeds.
There is no pretentious ‘concept’ here, it is simply somewhere to enjoy delicious things...
Things took a stressful turn when Simon was made redundant. Fed up of making money for big companies, he took a role heading up the wine side of things for the Friends Of Ham group as they opened their third site, Ham & Friends.
It was a difficult time for the company, but Simon learnt a lot about the day to day running of a small business, and what goes on behind the scenes to make independent venues possible. But lightning struck twice when Ham & Friends closed and Simon was made redundant again. It became clear that it was time to take control.
A phoenix from the ashes of redundancy, Simon set about planning his own venture. He took on a job as a driver for Basco Fine Foods, and on one of his delivery runs noticed a To Let sign above a unit in Horsforth.
“The town has a similar charm to Chapel Allerton, but it’s a much larger area,” Simon says. “There is a wonderful coffee shop down the road, and a few nice restaurants too. They all seemed to be thriving, and I just felt that what I envisaged for the shop would be a good fit for the area. So I spoke to the agent and here we are."
Simon is laid back in his approach to business. But this seems to serve him very well, and customers are welcomed with ease and warmth. The bar has been a huge success with locals, who come to enjoy his range of wines by the glass (prices start from just £4), as well as stocking up on bottles to take home.
There is an ever changing selection of whites, reds and fizz by the glass - Simon chooses these to suit his fancy on that particular day. He has selected some of his favourite natural wines too, and if you want to choose a bottle to drink in, you can pay the very reasonable £8 corkage.
He has carefully curated a menu of simple foods that pair perfectly with wine. Boards of cheese and charcuterie are available from Courtyard Dairy, Ham & Cheese Co, and Fine Cheese Co, and bread comes from Leeds Bread Co-Op. There is no pretentious ‘concept’ here, it is somewhere to enjoy delicious things of a high quality.
The shop is bright and airy, with seating for just over twenty. Part of the charm is its understated simplicity, which Simon says was down to budget.
“I’d been made redundant twice in a relatively short space of time, so I wasn’t flush with cash,” he admits. “But it’s amazing what can be done on a budget, and I wanted to spend the money where it really mattered, on quality produce”.
He cajoled his recently retired father into building seating and shelving from scaffolding timber, and the work has been much admired by customers over the last six months. Large wooden barrels provide the perfect place to perch and enjoy some wine and Gordal olives. Simon’s flare for visual merchandising is clear, the shop is a beautifully curated den of bottles, candles and prints.
The venue also serves as a tasting room, with regular ticketed tasting events. Not only is this a place to nurture a love of wine, it’s also a place to learn about it too. It is a relaxing place to while away a little time, no fussing staff or stressed out manager, just cheerful Simon sharing his passion for wine with every customer that steps through the door.
Once Upon A Vine, 21 Town Street, Horsforth, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS18 5LJ. Opening: 11am - 9pm Tuesday - Saturday, 12pm-5pm Sunday