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Lymington wine shop the Solent Cellar stars in Helen McGinn novel Just One Day

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IT is already one of the stars of Lymington high street but now the Solent Cellar wine merchant has achieved fame in a new novel.

In writer Helen McGinn’s latest book, Just One Day, two characters run a shop loosely based on what is one of her favourite stores in the town.

As part of her research, Helen spent hours with the shop’s owners, Simon and Heather Smith, picking their brains about why they created it and how they run it. She also wanted to know about some of their more interesting customers.

Heather and Simon Smith with their daughter
Heather and Simon Smith with their daughter

The trio already knew one another as Helen, of the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, hosts some of the tastings at the Solent Cellar.

Simon said: “We just love her enthusiasm and the knowledge she brings. She first came into the shop when we were halfway through renovations, and it was damp and cold.

“But she was so full of enthusiasm about it. Helen has always been very supportive of the shop, recommending us to people she knows.

“She has also done collaborations with us, including the Helen McGinn Christmas Wine Case.”

Heather said: “We feel quite honoured, really, that she based part of the story around us. It made us smile when we read the book.”

Like Helen, Simon and Heather started out in the trade with Majestic Wines, which is where they first met each other.

Heather had spent a gap year working in New Zealand in hospitality where she discovered a love of wines. Simon had time out in Australia where he worked on the wine harvest and, like Heather, developed a similarly keen interest.

Helen McGinn
Helen McGinn

In fact, they love the business so much their honeymoon was spent in the Chianti wine area of Italy.

Heather said: “The wine trade is such an exciting industry to be in. What is nice about it is that it is constantly changing. There is always something new to learn about, new vineyards to visit, new wines to discover.

“Even with established vineyards going back hundreds of years things can change when new generations take over and bring fresh ideas to the business.”

Simon agreed: “I could never work in a business that I wasn’t enthusiastic about. It’s such a nice trade to be in. I love wine, food and travel and in this industry, I can do all three.”

Their vision was always to open their own wine shop and they settled on Lymington as Heather is locally born. This year they celebrated the St Thomas Street shop’s 10th anniversary on Valentine’s Day.

The Solent Cellar is full of bottles bearing interesting labels and many unfamiliar names. There is certainly no supermarket plonk or brands likely to be under the “three for a tenner” shelf.

That is not to say it is all expensive though – wines range from just £7 to around £100 for something really special.

Simon said the vision for the store was “not to replicate what you get in a supermarket”, adding: “We wanted to feature smaller producers. One we have only releases 1,000 bottles a year. Small producers offer something unique that is handcrafted and put together with real passion.”

Among the wines featured at the Solent Cellar are local ones including Langham from Dorset and Black Chalk from Hampshire. They also stock Charlie Herring’s cider produced in Pennington, where there is also a vineyard which, Simon says, “is really impressive”.

The pandemic caused difficulties for the business, but they overcame those by offering free local delivery, something they still do. They also supply several local independent restaurants and offer customers other services like free wine glass hire. Something they also specialise in is advice on holding events such as parties and weddings.

Heather is a trained chef, having attended the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Since then, she has gone on to work for 2009 MasterChef winner Mat Follas and has enjoyed a brief stage with Michel Roux Jnr at Le Gavroche, so she is well placed to offer excellent food and wine-matching advice.

Wine tastings had to be cancelled due to Covid restrictions but they are now back hosting them again.

They are also hoping to take part in a collaboration with a local restaurant to mark the famous Beaujolais Nouveau Day on 18th November – as long as supplies of the famous red wine manage to get to the UK.

For more information, visit www.thesolentcellar.co.uk

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