Ruth Yates, the boss of Cheshire wine business Cork's Out is breaking open the bubbly

Ruth Yates, the boss of a Cheshire wine business is raising a glass after being ranked near the top of the most influential experts in her trade WORDS BY RAY KING

There’s an old saying in the business:’You can make a small fortune in the wine trade. But you have to start with a large one.’

Ruth Yates smiles in half-acknowledgement. ‘What I do know is that you have to work incredibly hard.’ The 45-years-old has done exactly that and just eight years after opening her first shop in Stockton Heath, near Warrington, Ruth has been named 16th in the inaugural list of the top 75 most influential people in wine.

The accolade, by Off Licence News ‘The Voice of Drinks Retailing’, comes on top of her Corks Out group -now comprising five outlets in prime Cheshire locations - being named 2011’s Independent Retailer of the Year. It’s the latest in a string of prestigious awards showered on the business.

All that in itself amounts to a remarkable achievement in the face of the ferocious competition from the big supermarket chains that has seen several national off-licence chains fold. But Ruth’s rise in a trade she first entered into 21 years ago is little short of astonishing.

Married at 19 and a mother shortly afterwards, Ruth, a Liverpudlian, arrived in the Warrington area, took a part time job as a shop assistant at a local Thresher off licence knowing, she admits, ‘absolutely nothing about wine’.

‘For me it was a convenient means of earning a bit of money. I’d look after the children during the day and serve in the shop in the evening.  I enjoyed the odd glass of wine but knew nothing about it. There was no family connection; my parents didn’t drink it or anything. But I remember clearly after my first week or so the shop off-loading some bin-end Bordeaux. I took a bottle home and that was it. I’d never tried anything of that quality before and I was hooked.’

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Ruth’s new-found enthusiasm spurred her to study the subject, take trade examinations and she swiftly became shop manager. ‘I am still, after more than 20 years, still learning,’ she says. ‘That’s the lovely thing about wine, the learning never stops.’

After doing some area management for Thresher, Ruth joined Greenalls, the former brewer on nearby Wilderspool Causeway, as a buyer when the trade was the preserve of old men in tweed suits with a self-interest in maintaining the mystique of wine. But the  ‘discovery’ of the New World changed everything – they even put the grape variety on the label! – and Ruth was able to ride the crest of the new wave.

‘I saw it as my mission to demystify wine for customers, take away all the snobbery and make it easy to understand.’ To that end she decided to quit her secure job and prove herself as a risk-taking entrepreneur.

She opened the first Corks Out in Stockton Heath in 2003, choosing the location because she felt the village didn’t have a decent wine merchant. Openings in Chester, Timperley, Heswall and Alderley Edge followed, each reflecting Ruth’s innovative approach. She’s particularly proud of the Chester branch, housed in a beautiful vaulted Mediaeval cellar in Watergate Street from where wine has been sold for more than 300 years.

With her second husband, Richard, – he introduced the Chilean brand Concho  y Toro into the UK - Corks Out has broadened its horizons and was one of the first wine merchants in the country to introduce ‘wine jukeboxes’ – Italian-made tasting machines that enable customers to sample a wide range of wines kept fresh and in peak condition by the latest in wine technology. At the Chester branch more than 40 wines, many of them top quality and expensive, are available for tasting at any one time.

Said Ruth: ‘I have a lot of respect in the wine world because of my buying experience and negotiating skills which help me get good prices and pass them on to customers. But it’s all about marketing and you can’t stop for a single second. You have to keep ahead of the game, watch out for new trends and make certain you offer excellent service.’

The print version of this article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Cheshire Life 

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