IT’S a long way from Wigan to the stunning azure skies of the French Riviera.
But while wine entrepreneur Dougie Lowe admits that the surroundings are a “just a bit little less glamorous” than cool Cannes or Juan-les-Pins, it’s a great base, he says for pushing out the frontiers for some of Europe and the New World’s lesser-known vintages.
Six years ago the Golborne man founded Origin Wines and Spirits in units in Seaman Way in Higher Ince.
If you like a less high street and more “little place we discovered down this back street on holiday” tipple Dougie is your man.
Ever tried Turkish fizz, Chilean Moscatel or Lacrima from Italia?
As for opening hours, he asks customers to get in touch via phone or email as he will try to be available “whenever you need a drink!”
Origin does most of its trade with bars and restaurants across the North West region.
Born near Durham, Dougie became intoxicated with the variety and excitement of the wine trade after earning himself a job flogging cases to the uber-wealthy (or distinctly flashy) super yacht owners holidaying in the Riviera.
It gave him a taste for the trade and he used the experience gained from working for a major wine retailer to prepare him for an assault on the dining tables of the metropolitan borough and beyond.
Dougie said: “Working the yachts under the Mediterranean sun may sound very glamorous but it was hard work, actually.
“When you think about it, it’s not like going around knocking on a restaurant door, you needed a lot more planning and get up and go.
“I heard about a job hosting wine-tasting on yachts on behalf of a company called Vans Sans Frontier which had only been going for a few years and I thought ‘I’ll have some of that’ even though I was quite green really and although I loved the stuff, I was hardly an expert.
“But a lot of the yachties were ex-pats so a lot of them welcomed an Englishman on board with open arms and we ended up selling a lot to crews as much as anything else.”
After returning to Blighty to finish his degree course, Dougie earned himself a job with high street wine retailers Oddbins, starting at the bottom in London and working up to becoming a branch manager, latterly at its large Liverpool store.
An invitation to a friend’s wedding in Bolton led to his meeting his wife-to-be and the couple eventually settled in Golborne.
An appraisal of the potential commercial premises across the borough pointed him, six years ago, to Ince and the Enterprise Centre off Seaman Way.
Its excellent communication links have certainly played a part in the business’s solid expansion.
He said: “I have worked for a wholesaler before and got a bit sick of selling the cheapest Pinot Grigio or the cheapest Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
“When I set up on my own I wanted to go a different way and that meant specialising, I hope, in wines that are a little off the beaten track: stuff that is interesting and still at the right price.
“There is just too much out there already to try and compete with them selling the same old rubbish.
“But we have found wines from Italy, Spain and France that may be people haven’t heard of and would like to try.”
Rather than travelling Europe or the world, tramping up dusty tracks in search of that illusive undiscovered vintage - as romantic and appealing as that may sound - he sources most of his cases after specially-organised tasting at independent producer fairs in Paris or France.
He has had good success at such events in favourite regions like Alsace or Reims and their many champagne houses.
And then there is the London Wine Fair and the increasing number of get-togethers the wine trade organise for professional lovers of the grape on this side of the Channel.
He said: “You have always got to look at the value as well, of course.
“I have tried lots of lovely wines at £15 and £20 but selling them in any quantity is another matter.
“I suppose the majority of the bottles I sell are going out of here at wholesale at between £4 and £5, but it is still quite difficult really and there is plenty of hard work involved.”
Dougie does sell to restaurants across the borough ... but is keen to expand his local customer base.
He will also sell direct to the public if they call, although that side of the business is yet to develop into any kind of significant footfall.
Origin Wines and Spirits has a website operation which his son is keen to help with, although that is in something of its infancy.
If pushed, Dougie will admit to particularly liking aromatic white wines, Rieslings and Gewurztraminer, particularly the vintages coming out of Alsace: that fascinating region on the Franco-German border which has been fought over by both countries over the centuries.
He is delighted that more and more wine is being sold and enjoyed in homes and on dinner tables across Wigan.
He said: “There is still a lot of the generic stuff being sold, of course, but I think people are now a lot more prepared to try stuff they may be haven’t heard of before.
“The demise of some of the high street wine chains left a lot of empty shops which enthusiastic people have taken over across the region and they are working really hard to be a bit different and stock some interesting stuff.
“To my mind there is some great stuff coming out of Alsace and, as ever, it is good value. Spain is also very good value just now. There are lots of great bottles coming out of that country just now.
“People are always invited to pop in to see us in Ince and come and have a look what we are all about.”
He is keeping an open mind about the prospect of Origin opening its own shop on the high streets of Wigan and elsewhere.
Dougie enjoys retail and the inter-action with customers - “service and personal contact are everything”- and organises frequent wine-tastings around the region.
And we are sure many people would drink to that.