Belfast Telegraph

Award-winning wine merchant invests £300k in online service

By John Mulgrew

A Northern Ireland wine company celebrating 40 years in business says it has invested £300,000 in its new online ordering system.

JN Wines, based in Crossgar, Co Down, began selling from founder James Nicholson's Ford Cortina in 1977.

It now sells its products into restaurants across the UK.

The firm says it has recently developed a new online ordering and delivery service, enabling the 30-strong team of staff to service "wine connoisseurs and hospitality clients across the UK and Ireland".

"It's hard to imagine that it's been 40 years since the business was established, and the industry has transformed in that time," Mr Nicholson said.

"Wine drinking habits have evolved and we've watched the business progress, as the appreciation for the products we supply has also grown.

"Each member of our team is professionally trained and passionate about wine, and that expert knowledge underpins the continued success of everything we do.

"Our clients know that we are dedicated to providing the best possible products and we look forward to continuing to discover exciting new wines and forging new relationships with producers across the world."

James' first exposure to wine was through his older brother Michael's fine dining restaurant, The Villager, in Crossgar.

Michael, who died aged 68 after a long illness, later owned Balloo House but then moved to London where he owned Blades Hotel close to Victoria Station.

Fine dining was a novelty in the 1970s and trade in venues like The Villager was sustained by high-rollers like George and Angie Best.

The company has expanded over the decades into a major force, selling wine across Ireland, the UK and into some markets overseas.

In his four decades in business, James Nicholson has won numerous awards, including regional merchant of the year for Northern Ireland at the International Wine Challenge Awards in London, more than 20 times.

However, such accolades were unthinkable in 1970s Northern Ireland, the era of branded wines like Black Tower, Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch.

He started out selling wine from his Ford Cortina after borrowing £12,000 from Ulster Bank. He souped up the big green car, adding springs so that the boot could carry 60 units of wine, and would spend four days a week selling and two days a week delivering.

"When I graduated to a Hi Ace van I thought I'd hit the jackpot," he told the Belfast Telegraph in an interview in 2015.

Belfast Telegraph