London wine store has huge Bermuda following
Reinsurance helped Andrea Viera lead a glamorous life globetrotting and wining and dining in fine restaurants.
Today she doesn’t care if she never sees another airport. In London, England she’s happy on the Kings Road in Chelsea, rarely travelling more than half a mile from Last Drop Wines, the store she opened 12 years ago.
Although there are insurance companies in Bermuda that sometimes use her services to send gifts to clients in the UK, she’s surprised by the number of people with a connection to the island who actually walk through her door.
“People just come in,” she said. “Some of it is purely accidental. It was certainly very accidental when my second cousin showed up; he didn’t know I was here. His son was the one who recommended it.
“It just seems that somehow, we became a magnet for Bermudians and a lot of people who do business in Bermuda. I know Bermudians are very well travelled, but it’s just extraordinary how many of them accidentally end up in the shop, how many people with Bermuda connections end up in the shop. And I don’t do anything at all.”
The property housed a wine store for about a century until the British family that owned it lost interest. For about two years the building sat empty until it captured Ms Viera’s attention and she hired a wine merchant friend to help her through.
“I always joked that I knew a lot about reinsurance, but the only other thing I knew an awful lot about was probably drinking,” she said.
“I went and did all my exams through the wine courses; I studied and read, tasted, all that sort of stuff, and then I threw myself out [there] thinking anything had to be easier than working as a female in finance.”
To her dismay she soon discovered it was just as much a boys’ club. And then her wine friend “decided that he was going to do other things with his life and ran off”.
Stuck with having to run the shop completely on her own, she quit her job in the City and got to work.
“Obviously, I couldn’t juggle the two of them,” she said. “When I first opened the business I was doing both. I was working in the mornings at the shop until 8 then going into the city and then coming back at 6 and working until 8pm.
“I was doing the financial background, all the legal stuff, the licenses; I wasn’t on the sales floor. And then one day I was on the sales floor perpetually, which was sort of an interesting concept, since I had never really worked in retail before.”
She found she really enjoyed the “great community experience”. Ironically, part of the reason why she’d decided at the age of 20 that she had to leave Bermuda was because it was too small. She wanted to be somewhere where nobody knew who she was.
“I actually now work in an environment where I probably don’t go more than a kilometre from the shop – in any direction. I walk down the street and it’s just like being back in Bermuda – everybody knows me. So I’ve recreated my own little island around the shop in an odd way.”
Her love of competitive dancing had also encouraged her departure – first to the US and then to the UK where she worked with Lloyd’s of London. For about 25 years she competed in ballroom and Latin dancing at the national level, often finishing in the top ten of the renowned Blackpool Dance Festival.
“I loved dance so much and there wasn’t enough [in Bermuda],” said Ms Viera, who stopped about eight years ago after she twisted an ankle and suffered a herniated disc. “I worked in reinsurance, so it was pretty easy to get a job.
“I was doing claims and underwriting there and then I came back to the UK to work for a broker, largely because I speak a couple of languages and I’d been trying to find a job that would allow me to use them. Speaking French and German is very helpful in the wine world. I finally ended up with a job where my languages have some use.”
Ms Viera guesses she tastes about 8,000 wines a year, most of which she doesn’t buy. Customers have more than 700 bottles of wine to choose from at Last Drop Wines. For champagne lovers, there are between 30 and 40 on offer.
When Covid-19 hit she sent the staff home, but kept the wine flowing.
“We were allowed to be open. In good English fashion, alcohol was deemed necessary and since I was the only place that was open, everybody came here.”
She created a “champagne terrace” that allowed people to linger. As the government hadn’t put a stop to wine tastings, she was allowed to open bottles and present glasses to customers as well.
“We were allowed over here to have pavement licenses,” she said. “You literally dragged some garden furniture and put it outside and put some flower pots around it and made it look pretty.”
The terrace was a test. Ms Viera has an investor in place and is working on opening “a series of champagne bars”.
“It’s a project I’ve been working on for a while. I thought: we love champagne; we import a lot of our own champagne. I drink lots of champagne.
“I was looking for what one of my niches would be and I found a couple of small champagne houses to work with, and out of that sprang the champagne project. We sort of tested serving people on the pavement. And that became a really sort of big thing, it became a community.”
Having met at the wine shop, many of her clients are now friends who socialise together, even when not at 492 Kings Road.
“It’s unusual on a Friday night not to have all sorts of people drop in and drop by. I had my birthday party during lockdown – which probably wasn’t one of my best ideas. People dropped in and brought flowers, bought a bottle and put it on the table. Everybody knows everybody. The ear, nose and throat surgeon was giving people advice; somebody else was advising us on financial matters. We ended up having this extraordinary community of people here.
“I think it probably kept my sanity up and it just developed the real community of the wine shop, which is what we wanted to bring it back to.”
Despite all the traffic, she never got Covid. As a daily test she took her temperature “and smelled coffee”.
“I was really, really fortunate,” Ms Viera said. “I did take precaution, staying really, really healthy and training outside even through the winter and the snow and rain and ice and everything. I also cook all my own food and took vitamin supplements all the way through.”
An article that promoted “microdoses of champagne” as a way of boosting immune systems came in handy.
“We probably had a glass of champagne every day just in case,” Ms Viera laughed. “But, it was a bit of a joke. I might just have been extremely lucky or it did actually help. We sold a lot of champagne.”