Last month saw the city’s bars, cafes, shops and salons pitted against each other in a battle to be crowned Nottingham’s Independent Business of the Year 2018; the tastily executed offerings of Bar Iberico took the ultimate crown and the restaurant skipped off merrily into their tapas wonderland. The awards have been championing those brave enough to stand up against corporate giants for a few years now, and this time there was a new Special Achievement award up for grabs, taken by none other than Nottingham’s wine-merchant stalwarts, Weavers…
Like the entrance to Diagon Alley, it’s easy to overlook the little independent shop at 1 Castle Gate, but to those who know of the elixirs found behind the door, Weavers is a little slice of Leaky Cauldron secrets. Someone jotting down notes with a quill in the corner wouldn’t seem out of place.
Entering through the fabulously traditional shop front, visitors are greeted by the sight of bottles sparkling floor to ceiling, through a comforting glow that says the place has been around for a good while now. On any visit you’re likely to find the family business’ owners, father and daughter Alan and Mary Trease in the shop with their knowledgeable team. Alan invited us down a tightly woven staircase and into the mystery of the cellar, passing framed newspaper clippings above each step.
“We were bombed in the first world war by a zeppelin,” points out Alan.
“We’ve seen quite a lot of action,” says Mary. “We’ve been here since 1844 and we’ve changed from a lively men’s bar through to an off license. Dad’s fourth generation, I’m fifth generation, and I work with my brother Philip who’s visiting the Nyetimber vineyard at the moment. My fourteen-year-old daughter also has a Saturday job in the office which is nice.”
Alan and Mary talk proudly of the relationship they have with both their customers and suppliers. The longevity of Weavers’ business is a product of their extensive knowledge of wines and spirits, and who’s buying them, which puts them on the map as a quality independent. But that prestige and city-centre location comes with “special occasion” connotations, and can mean that shoppers will swing by the supermarket for a bottle instead. “We’ve got that history that I don’t think anybody can have if you’ve just opened up,” says Mary. “I think some people can feel a little bit intimidated but come in, meet us, we’re really open and friendly, and we can find something to match whichever price point anybody wants.”
“People pick up a bottle in the weekly food shop don’t they? It’s convenient,” says Alan.
“And I can fully understand it, people are so busy,” continues Mary. “But we deliver too. And we’ve got those great wines for special occasions, but also for everyday drinking. Believe in us for that, because that’ll support your local independent more.”
The business practices what it preaches, working alongside many independent vineyards and growers throughout the world. “I just love dealing with family estates, because you get the support you want,” says Mary.
“We avoid brands where we can,” says Alan. “We work with some really great small Champagne firms.”
“We just deal with good wine from good people,” says Mary. “And we look after them. One supplier from Argentina didn’t have enough to buy his bottles but we needed his shipment, so with a deep breath we sent him some money. Three months later, the wine arrived. And he’s been loyal to us ever since. That’s how you build up those relationships.”
The merchants have also developed drinks of their own, ranging from Champagne, to Robin Hood Mead, to their latest beverage: The Spirit of Nottingham Castle Gate Gin, which can be found lacing the city’s menus for Nottingham Cocktail Week next month.
“St James’s Hotel loves it so much that they’ve used it in the [Nottingham Cocktail Week] competition as their base gin,” says Mary. “It was a bit of fun. We didn’t know how well it was going to go, and it’s just flown. We’re really excited. I think the nicest thing is people coming back for their second or third bottle.”
The gin is made particularly “Nottingham” by its acorns: “I suggested it off the cuff,” says Mary. “But the distiller said ‘Ooh, actually…’” After seven months of various back-and-forth batches, and staff tastings in the cellar, a style was found and a recipe was settled on; leading with juniper and the distinct nuttiness of the acorns.
“I think one of the reasons we were singled out for the Special Achievement award was our gin,” says Alan. The spirit, labelled beautifully with green-foiled trees and a squirrel perched cheekily up-top, also has a sister in the form of the strawberry and lavender Castle Gate Pink Gin. While the original is labelled No.1 on the lid to reflect the shop, the latter is foiled pink with Maid Marian and labelled No.17 to highlight the Georgian house just up the road, also owned by Weavers and used to host tasting sessions.
“It’s not too sweet, is it,” says Mary, supping the pink gin. “I think the savouriness of the acorns comes through which balances it quite nicely. Serve it with elderflower tonic and a couple of slices of strawberries or raspberries and a bit of mint.”
“I love this with plenty of ice, sitting in the garden,” says Alan.
Weavers has retained a charming simplicity in the face of a bamboozling digital revolution; Alan still adds up prices on a piece of paper at the till, much to the amazement of young kids in tow with their parents. Remaining optimistic for the future, the family take their time to offer an experience, much like sitting down with an old friend for dinner, and encourage people to pop in for a chat about their drinks.
“People’s flavours are broader now, and we love seeing people happy to experiment; especially with food and wine matching,” says Mary.
“I always cook with white,” says Alan. “Sometimes some of it goes in the food.”
Weavers of Nottingham, 1 Castle Gate, NG1 7AQ. 0115 958 0922