Hip Shops: Christopher Piper Wines

by Melissa Stewart

16 October 2018

What: wine, spirits, beer and cider
When: Mon-Fri 9am-1pm, 2pm-5pm; Sat 9am-1pm, 2pm-4.30pm
Where: 1 Silver Street, Ottery St Mary, Devon EX11 1DB

Christopher Piper Wines is something of an institution among Devon oenophiles. Whether you’re a restaurant looking to stock a unique selection of wines or a customer hoping to pick up a special bottle for the weekend, this is the place for you.

Originally set up by Christopher Piper in the summer of 1979, operating from a bungalow at the end of Exeter Airport’s runway, John Earle joined as joint shareholder in 1980 and the business moved to Ottery St Mary, where it’s been ever since.

“Just like things at Exeter Airport, a lot has changed since those early days,” says office manager Pip Gascoigne-Pees. “Our shop is twice the size (although still very much a TARDIS!). We have two vast warehouse units, over 2,000 items in stock, run five delivery vans, supply to over 100 hotels and restaurants in Devon alone, and now employ 17 people, rather than the three we had back in 1980!”

As well as a range of wines from across the globe, the shop also stocks Christopher Piper own-brand wines, as Chris has been making wine in the Beaujolais region for over 40 years. “The Brouilly and Beaujolais- Villages are extremely popular,” says Pip. “Chris makes Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau every year, which we tend to sell out of before it even makes it into the country.”

Also popular are Portuguese wines, which, according to Pip, have “made great strides in recent years with their approachability and food-friendliness, not to mention their excellent value for money”; and the shop’s house Champagne, Gremillet. “This family-run estate has been working closely with us since the early days of the business,” she says, “and we think of them as much as friends as suppliers.”

As people become more adventurous with their wine, the Christopher Piper team enjoy  nothing more than helping customers make the right choice for their needs. “We really enjoy being asked for a wine to match with specific food,” says Pip. “A customer came in last week who was cooking cod in tomato sauce with chorizo and olives and wanted a wine suggestion. We recommended a white Rioja which, in his words, ‘couldn’t have been a more perfect match’.

Other questions we’re regularly asked include: how long to keep a wine for, what vintage port would be best for a Christening present, suggestions for wedding wines, and do we stock organic and/or vegan wines? Yes, by the way.”

So, as we head into autumn and start to favour a bold, juicy red of an evening, what should we be looking at?

“Those from the Languedoc and Rhône valley are popular, and there’s a growing interest in the wines from Lebanon,” says Pip. “Wines from both regions share a common ripeness and spiciness which work so well with autumnal flavours.”