Wine, good food a labour of love for Macdonald
This is the first of a weekly series of features focusing on participants in the second cohort of Ignite Bermuda, the island’s first privately funded business accelerator.
As someone who appreciates fine wine and good food, Mathew Macdonald has found his calling.
Mr Macdonald is a co-owner with John Sharpe of Two Rock Wine Company Ltd, an importer, wholesaler and retailer of wine, beer and spirits.
The company’s retail location on Harvey Road, Paget, also carries a wide selection of food including olive oils, sauces and pestos, pasta, chocolate and snack foods, as well as glassware.
But it’s wine that is the main focus, with a largely organic, biodynamic selection that includes red wines from 14 countries, white wines from 13, dessert/fortified wines from ten, and roses from six.
Prices range from $12 for a modest wine from Languedoc to Grand Cru burgundies that cost considerably more.
Most wines are in the $15 to $35 range “because that is what most people drink every day of the week”, Mr Macdonald said.
Two Rock also offers higher-end wines “if people want to crank into something special”, he said.
Mr Macdonald added: “We are focused on smaller, family producers, grower champagnes, burgundies, wines from around the world, by doing something that the big brands can’t do, which is offer customers wine that comes from a place, not from a factory.
“In the last five years, I have travelled to every winery that we carry. I know the people who make the wine, and I know their properties. Most of them live on their properties, the vineyards surround their house, so they take care of the land, and the vines, and they are often farming in an organic, sustainable way because their children are playing in the vines.”
That, he said, is in contrast to large-scale commercial operations that often use pesticides during the grape-growing process, and add the wine additive “mega purple” to “colour correct” red wines.
Mr Macdonald said: “If wine companies put an ingredient list on the back of their wines, people’s buying habits would drastically change.”
Today, Mr Macdonald has cut down on travel, but still makes an annual pilgrimage to the ProWein trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.
He said: “You can taste a ton of wine there, a lot of producers from around the world are present. In three days, you can taste wines from 800 producers if you want to push it. I try to get to about 100.”
The personal touch that the Two Rock co-owners favour was recently evident when Mr Sharpe returned from a trip to Australia having picked up eight new producers for the company. “We have a wide Aussie selection now,” Mr Macdonald said.
Over the last couple of years, Two Rock has expanded its food and craft beer offerings as well.
Mr Macdonald said: “If you care what you drink, you often care what you eat. We try to bring in the things we love, and hope that resonates with our customers.
“I found a mustard factory in Beaune, in Burgundy, and brought mustard in. It was the first thing we brought in, food-wise, and it flew off the shelves.
“It is the best dijon in the world, in my view, and it opened our eyes to bring in olive oils from the various wine producers. Some of them also make olive oil for their personal use, but they sell us 60 bottles so that we are able to bring it in.”
He added: “We keep expanding what we offer and running out of rack space, mainly because I like new things.”
Aside from the retail operation, Mr Macdonald said Two Rock has been building relationships with restaurants, hotels and grocery stores. The company’s wines can now be found at The Loren, Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, Huckleberry, Waterlot, Fourways, Little Venice, Harbourfront, Miles Market, Harry’s, Devil’s Isle, Sul Verde, and Coral Beach Club.
The 41-year-old Bermudian came to the wine business in 2013 after a career in finance that saw him work in Chicago, New York, and on island.
But it was while studying international political economy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, that he became interested in wine. “There is a substantial food and wine presence in Washington state,” Mr Macdonald said. “People there are very proud of their wines.”
Two Rock’s success is attributable, he said, to a focus on customer service by its three full-time and two-part time staff as well as “pricing that I think is the best on the island, a selection of wines that is one of the largest in Bermuda, and I know we have the best selection of burgundies and champagnes”.
Seeking a fresh perspective on the business, Mr Macdonald applied and was accepted into the Ignite programme. Two Rock is one of 33 businesses taking part in the initiative.
He said: “Bermuda can be a tough place to start a business and do something outside of accounting, finance or reinsurance. The Ignite programme is a great opportunity for all of us to work together, and learn from each other.”
Two weeks into the cohort, having been through Ignite’s two-day boot camp, he attended a session on “know your numbers” led by four accountants from professional services firm KPMG, and met with executive director Sean Reel who shared his experiences in business, Mr Macdonald said: “I wish I had this 20 years ago.”
Two Rock Wines is located at 8 Harvey Road, which runs between Ord Road and South Road in Paget. The business is open Monday through Saturday from 10am until 6pm. See the website at www.tworockwines.com</i>
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