There aren't too many wine merchants in the UK that can lay claim to supplying Madonna with her plonk - she drinks white Burgundy, since you ask - but premium independent wine merchant Philglas & Swiggot can. One of its three stores is round the corner from her home in Marylebone.
Madonna isn't the only celebrity customer. Pirates of the Caribbean star Jack Davenport and Gary Lineker have also called into Mike and Karen Rogers' stylish shop in New Quebec Street for a bottle.
The clientele have to be well heeled. Philglas & Swiggot focuses on the top-end wine category. The average price for a bottle of its wine is £14, and the most expensive more than £200. More than 1,000 different wines are stocked and turnover now approaches £2m.
"Eighty-five per cent of wine is sold through the supermarkets so the remaining 15% deserves to be treated differently," says Rogers. "Oddbins and Thresher are not thriving because they are trying to compete with the supermarkets. You have to do something different."
The premium positioning of the business was, however, a gamble when Rogers opened his first shop on Battersea's Northcote Road in 1991. The UK was in the grip of a recession and demand for fine wine was low. "It was a leap of faith that Battersea was becoming upwardly mobile," says Rogers. "Residentially it had turned a corner but retail was still run-down so it was a risk."
The first decade of trading was tough. Rogers had to take a full-time job with a wine exporter, leaving Karen to run the business. "We started off with all the right attributes, concentrating on customer service, making sure the shop looked great," he says.
Rogers also wanted to put people at ease with a humorous name that pokes fun at the double-barrelled titles of the more established wine merchants. "When we started there were many off-licences around that wanted to be regarded as a proper wine merchant, but they were scary places," says Rogers.
"We wanted to sell people good wines without scaring them - though admittedly some people don't get the joke!
"But all this wasn't enough. People were looking around, mouths open, and walking out again. People said we were too expensive. It was discouraging at the start."
But money started to move into the area, turning Northcote Road into one of the best streets for food shopping in the country. Philglas & Swiggot flourished and in 2001 Rogers opened a second store in Richmond, followed by the Marylebone store in 2005. Points of difference that have helped grow the business include a wedding list service and a four-option cellar plan. For £1,000 or £3,000 the company picks wines for drinking now, those for two or three years, some for five years and a couple to drink in a decade.
The pair have also recently teamed up with an Australian wine maker to produce their Rogers and Petersen (Karen's maiden name) brand, which includes a 2006 Shiraz and a 2006 Yawa Valley Pinot Noir, although it will only produce the Shiraz next year because last year's yield was "pants" says Rogers.
But the retailer's biggest point of difference is that you can only buy the wine in their shops. You don't get more different than that. n