The owner of an “intimate” local wine shop and bar said he believes the business brings something unique to the community and won’t be edged out by bigger high street players.

Sam Braybrook, 47, founded Grape Expectations on Marlow High Street in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a “calculated gamble” that paid off and has helped to grow a loyal and close-knit customer base in the Buckinghamshire town.

Sam, who lives in Penn, has since opened a second branch in Berkhamsted, Herts, and said that watching Grape Expectations fill a niche in both towns has been gratifying on multiple levels.

“I worked in financial services until 2019, but I had always had an interest in the wine industry. It’s something I’d been passionate about for a while, but COVID made me really re-evaluate what I was doing.

“We’re both retail wine merchants and a wine bar, so people could come in (during the pandemic) when the tiered lockdown system was in place, but it only lasted for three weeks after we opened - then all the drinking was going on at home!”

Over the last four years, Grape Expectations in Marlow has become part of the community’s fabric, with customers quickly bonding with manager Josh and assistant manager Lucy, who Sam said now have “great relationships” with many in the town.

So confident is he in the business’s enduring appeal, Sam is near-unfazed by the impending arrival of major retailer Majestic Wine in Anglers Court this spring, although he admits that is “never great news when a big company appears on your doorstep doing what you’re doing”.

Bucks Free Press:

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The two enterprises are distinctly different, the 47-year-old said, partly in the small-scale nature of Grape Expectations which affords it more flexibility and choice of wares, and in the “melting pot” of people the shop and bar attracts.

“We don’t have a big head office – it’s just me and the small teams in the stores – so we can switch up the wine list as much as we like and there’s no sense of being corporate or generic.

“We also do a lot of tasting sessions which sell out very quickly, and alongside our local fanbase, Marlow attracts lots of tourists, so you’ll always have a few people passing by and popping in for a quick drink.”

Bucks Free Press:

In true Marlow style, Grape Expectations also mucks in at the events filling the town’s packed social calendar and has served mulled wine in the High Street at the yearly Christmas lights turn-on every December since opening.

“We started serving mulled wine at the lights turn-on four years ago, and it’s grown a fantastic following since. The secret is Josh’s special recipe – something a Jamaican woman taught him back in a pub in Brixton.

"Grape Expectations does feel very established in the town now – I’m really pleased with the way it’s been received.”