Charlotte (or Charlie) Brown is a wine merchant and wine importer.
She opened Vino Vero, a specialist wine shop, tasting room and importer of wine in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex with her husband Sam in 2013. Charlie is 31.
How did you end up doing the job you do?
A drunken conversation at 2am. My husband Sam and I were working in London but pretty miserable, both with our jobs and living in the metropolis. I was working for Mind, the mental health charity, but wasn’t working in a position that I enjoyed. We’d both been getting more and more into wine, blogging about it etc and we made a decision, just like that, over a few bottles of wine to move to Leigh-on-Sea, where Sam is from and open a shop. Eight months later, we moved to Leigh and six months after that, we opened Vino Vero. We had a lot of support, but we also had a lot of people who thought we were crazy. The words ‘you’re very brave’ came up a lot. We didn’t feel brave, we just saw it as black and white, we don’t like our lives, and so we’re going to try something different.
Describe your first job
My mum is an artist who exhibited at a lot of agricultural shows and craft fairs in Norfolk and then Wales, where I grew up. I worked from her from when I was about 8, doing things like putting her greetings cards into plastic wraps, and also selling to the public. My first proper job was working in a sword shop (yes, they exist) when I was 16, in my home town of Conwy in North Wales, opposite the castle. I guess selling is something I’ve always done!
What would was your B plan if this career didn’t work out?
Without a doubt, I would stay in the wine industry, but if the shop folded, I have two plan Bs – one is to work a few vintages and learn how to make wine ideally in France or Spain. Or I would hope to develop the importing arm of our business and live off that, rather than the shop. Perhaps I could even amalgamate the two! Retail is a tough game and I can’t see myself in it forever, so these plans may well become reality in the future.
Who would you most like to work with?
There are so many winemakers I’d love to do a stint with – one that really stands out is Dirk Niepoort, who is a Port producer but one of the most interesting winemakers I’ve ever met. He works not only in Portugal but Germany, Austria, Spain and everything he does tends to be magic. If he mentored me, if and when I finally get to make wine, I feel that I wouldn’t go far wrong.
Where do you feel most inspired?
Travel is a hugely important part of my life – I find myself at my happiest when in Europe, particularly France and Spain. They are inspiring places and visiting wineries over there really reminds me why I do what I do, why I love the industry I’m in. Sitting in the sun drinking beer is when the inspiration really hits and things crystalise in my mind.
What did you want to be when you were little?
I wanted to be a journalist. English was the subject I enjoyed the most, so much so I studied it at university. I changed my mind when I did work experience at BBC Bangor when I was 16 and decided it might not be for me! Wine is far more fun…
What advice would you give your children (or nieces/nephews/young people)?
You don’t have to go down the path that schools and society lay down for you. You don’t need to go to university if you don’t want to. Live abroad, do something different. I think so many young people – especially now with the lack of affordable housing, jobs etc – are scared of the future and want to secure it. I’d say that having less money is actually more liberating than having more, so try not to worry so much about it. Learn a different way of living that isn’t shackled to the linear path of: go to uni; get a job; get promoted; have a family; retire; die. There are so many more opportunities out there once you forget about doing the ordinary and learn to live on less.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t let the bastards get you down. That was from my usually clean-mouthed father who said it to me when I was about 18. There is so much negativity in the world, and unfortunately it seems, a lot of people who want to see other people fail. It’s taken all of my 20s to actually believe the advice, and really spend no time thinking about negative people. It works – one’s wellbeing vastly improves once one stops caring what others think!
What has been your career highlight to date?
We won Newcomer of the Year at the Drinks Retailing Awards in 2015. It was amazing to get that recognition as we felt like we were just a small shop, outside the wine bubble of London, just working our butts off but not knowing if it was something that would be respected outside of the local area. We were shortlisted with two other shops that are much bigger than us, both in physical size and turnover, but they chose us due to the innovative nature of the business, and the ethos that we stick to when it comes to choosing our wines (we’ll only work with small independent wineries). The buzz from that is was pretty big.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day to day?
Motivation to work on wider projects and goals when it’s quiet in the shop. Retail means long periods of time where no one is in the shop, particularly during the week when people are at work and not drinking. Motivation when you work for yourself can be difficult – Facebook gets looked at a lot. It’s a bit of a battle every day. I’ve learnt as time has gone on to accept that some days will be more productive than others and that’s OK!
Right Now I’m….
Watching: House of Cards
Reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck – by Sarah Knight
Listening to: Spending a fair bit of time in southern Spain means that I’m a bit of a Flamenco addict. My current playlist is full of Cameron de la Isla and Jose Merce.
Pass it on:
Jo Overfield from Beep Beep Pop. She’s another local entrepreneur who has a local pop up food business in Leigh-on-Sea and the food is excellent!
Laura Conlon from Made @ 94 just a few doors up from us. It’s a great furniture and gift shop that showcases local talents
Elisa Adams, a jazz singer from Leigh who also juggles a day job – I love people who manage to do that!