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Wine to 5: Chris Ashton

Inside a professional's everyday life, Decanter speaks to Chris Ashton, MD of Wine Logistics Ltd.

Chris Ashton is MD of Wine Logistics Ltd, based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. He managed the International Wine Challenge competition for nearly 15 years and worked in magazine circulation management for a similar period. When not expediting the transport of wine he messes about on the water in a vintage boat, ideally with a bottle of fizz in hand.

How did you get here?

Via an art degree, a long stint in magazine publishing, and nearly 15 years running a wine competition. I set up my own business three years ago.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Every day is different. We could be importing or exporting pallets of wine, decanting wines into virtual tasting kits, packing retail boxes, collecting used corks, or doing multi-drop deliveries in London. We do events, so sometimes we’re busy collating wines and then setting up the event, too.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That it’s easy. Brexit put paid to simple movements of wine – the paperwork requirements are technical and time-consuming, and change often. A whole new world of pain is due with the UK duty increases on 1 August.

What’s your greatest moment, professionally?

Developing IWC Sake from very small numbers and so playing a small part in stimulating global interest in, and sales of Japanese sake. I have been rewarded with the title of Sake Samurai – one of 103 people globally.

And your greatest mistake?

I learned early on that if you do events in a foreign country, you need local help. What you think will be easy often isn’t. I once did a tasting in Japan and was let down by a glassware supplier the day before the event. Many stressful hours later we found some replacement glasses, but it was pure luck that I had someone helping me. If I hadn’t had their help, there would have been no chance of getting anything. Lesson learned.

What skills and qualities are needed to be successful in your profession?

Patience. I try not to get irate when things go wrong, when they wouldn’t have if the job had been done correctly. You also need to know your stuff and be able to assert yourself. You get a lot of ‘jobsworths’ in shipping, quoting things that are not required – you need to be able to call them out!

Are virtual wine tastings still as popular post-Covid?

Not in terms of numbers, but it’s moved on. Now new teaching and training companies are using it successfully – online tutorials are a great way to get up close and personal to the winemaker and taste wines with them. I’m surprised more people don’t do this now. Virtual tastings were unsurprisingly very successful during Covid due to necessity, but I do think it’s here to stay.

What other trends are you noticing?

We’re seeing lots of online wine start-ups – also wineries setting up their own websites to sell direct, here in the UK, as it’s very tough to get representation at the moment. We offer wineries the facilities to store wines here and we fulfil orders for them in this market. We pick, pack and post. It’s proving to be a big developing part of the business.

Has Brexit made life more difficult for wine producers and wine lovers?

Yes. Now it is not possible to buy or sell alcohol or ship directly to consumers in Europe, as anyone receiving wines needs an EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification) number, VAT number, commercial invoice and so on. A huge market has been lost to us and to them. Moving alcohol around the world is becoming more and more difficult and expensive, which is a great shame.

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