It was the summer of 2010; Tony and I are sitting at el Sea Wave con los wives and other friends, contemplating life and enjoying summer…
G: Bro, si te dá por poné un wine shop, count me in!
T: Really? Cool! I actually applied for one of those new units que han salido ahi de Chatham Counterguard.
G: Chatham Counterguard?
T: Si where the fruit and veg y eso were kept, tu sabe, al final del market.
G: Ahhh donde tava el dog pound.
Tony calls me to tell me he has been awarded one of the units on his bid and asks if I’m in; “Of course!”
Months pass and we start to build our plan, find investors – begin a wine club called the WAC – Wine Appreciation Club. Our wine loving friends meet at different restaurants who kindly allow us to bring our own wine. The concept was for each member to bring along their own bottle for a tasting giving a 1st place to the winning wine.
Our first monthly WAC meet attracted 5 of us, our second 5 again, our third 6 and our fourth 30+!
By the time we opened our doors we had over 300 members and had organised countless tastings and even a wine Olympics, coinciding with the upcoming Olympic games of 2016. (Something we will repeat!)
Inadvertently but very fortuitously we had already garnered a client base which continued to grow.
Both Tony and I had customer service backgrounds and this, our drive to find a niche in the market, the challenges in acquiring the licences and breaking once and for all the false grip on Gibraltar’s wine market. Some stated that “Gibraltarians were more than well provided for”, despite offering less than 1% of what was available worldwide. This is what gave us that running start.
After a lot of behind the scenes work, we managed to open our doors on the 1st August 2012, making us 10 years old just a few weeks ago.
Our niche of serving wines at shop prices grew but we realised that clients would leave to eat shortly after having a wine or two. In we came with the obvious “pikoteos/pikirlabi “-Ham, Cheese et al and our culinary journey.
T: bro por que no hacemos un wine festival?
G: Donde aquí?
T: Si its only us and two more units here, vienen poca gente por aqui.
G: True, we can have marquees with our wines, BBQ, and even do some wine stomping, COOL!
The summer of 2013 was our very first wine festival, three marquees, some BBQ octopus legs and a lot of wine. The event was a much greater success than we ever imagined, and it put Chatham Counterguard on the map. We took any chance we could to celebrate something; 4th of July, Meat Festival, more wines, Live music, Halloween… until we finally established the Wine Festival as you all know it today.
Then disaster struck!
Towards the end of 2013 a perfect combination of severe thunderstorms and high tide flooded Chatham Counterguard to the extent that we barraged ourselves inside holding the doors closed. Whilst water was knee high inside it was waistline high outside, it was surreal.
Iain who had joined us as our accountant – come storeman – come vepo was now with us helping keep all our precious wines dry though admittedly we kept ourselves warm with some, lol.
When we were released from our watery prison by the kind and brave help of our local fire department, we found that the units at the corner where dry soooo -we applied for a swap.
We had just invested a not insignificant sum to furbish the existing unit and now had to do it all over again but doubly so as units 11 & 12 were uniquely interconnected. It also had another curious feature – a spiral staircase to nowhere with access to the roof blocked by over half a metre of cement and concrete.
More wine festivals and the appearance of a long-lost friend began weaving our future. Tyrone Moya inspired us, showed us avenues of co-operation and symbiotic relationships as he described them that are still strong to date. I could not pass the opportunity to remember him in this so important recollection of ‘My Wines’. Sadly, he passed away on the 6th November 2017, a huge man, huge in heart and spirit, who was taken far too early by the dreaded Cancer. We miss you everyday brother!
The Wine Festival grows and occupies the whole of the street at Chatham Counterguard. Our food offerings diversify, swapping our back of shop store/office for a kitchenette and we even launch new Mercedes Benz cars on our front door, hail the symbiosis! More importantly our wine offerings grow too with the bigger premises allowing us to offer more in-house events and the beginnings of our food pairings.
By this stage our Friday evenings are becoming legendary and we grow our kitchen even more stealing some more space from our tasting room. Guest Chefs and Michelin starred chefs join us for food pairings and we achieve a milestone – offering 33 different countries at ‘My Wines’, something never seen in Gibraltar.
Woohoo! We finally have a glass washer!
Tony and I had alternated Saturday mornings to wash Friday nights’ glassware. Hundreds of glasses washed and dried by hand no more, Yay!!!
We felt that the area for the wine festival was far too small, so we decided to go bigger and better. We move the festival to the parking at the end of Chatham Counterguard under the walls of Montagu Curtain. This is the wine festival as you know it today, thousands of people, hundreds of wines, full size stage and PA with live music from 5pm until the wee hours of the morning. Sweat blood and tears bring this event to fruition with the help of our sponsors, friends and family we managed to make it a day to remember and certainly one of the highlights of the ‘My Wines’ family!
Was the year our extended kitchenette became a full-blown Kitchen and we become a Gastro Wine Boutique. Food has always been, very obviously portrayed by the CV around my waist, a great love of mine. I always found that good quality food along with exceptional wine would make me extremely happy so why not everyone else? Here derives my passion, now, our passion for what ‘My Wines’ is becoming. Add to that ambience and good service and hey maybe we have a winning combo. My Daughter Michelle after having worked as a waiter and barmaid during the summers is now also taking over all marketing avenues. You see, she has become somewhat famous on Instagram and her skills are becoming uniquely useful for our family business…
Quite a busy year 2019 was. We introduce a new Chef to our team and the team grows, fast. Breakfast, lunch afternoon drinks and dinner, “Friyays” and more…
We decide to give that mysterious spiral staircase a look and lo and behold, we add a gorgeous rooftop terrace to ‘My Wines’!
Tony and I amicably parted ways, still BOM’s but the restaurant world wasn’t his thing and he opened his own Wine Shop.
Christmas was amazing, the vibes on the rooftop were inspiring and we are so looking forward to summer, but disaster strikes again, this time in little green aliens, weno, a little green virus more like!
It had to be a Friday 13th when the CM, Fabian Picardo, announces the first step to fight this pandemic that has taken over the world. With total and utter dismay, we had to close our doors at 5pm but promptly decided to remain open offering our full menu for home delivery.
Covid-19 had a silver lining for ‘My Wines’ as we began to deliver food we also delivered gifts, hampers full of wines, chocolates, cheese and ham, as well as, other lovelies. Michelle, who was on her finishing, run at UNI came home earlier than planned and here came the silver lining. She immediately immersed herself in all things ‘My Wines’ and we worked every single day during the months we were closed to the public. I think we put a big smile on many people’s faces with our gifts and it made us feel like we were helping everyone during those lonely months.
When we open again with limited seating, we have the advantage of extra space because of the rooftop, which also offered open air and safer dining. Things happen in very mysterious ways.
The Wine Festival is cancelled for the first time, but we plod along. Government help and perseverance keep us going whilst others flail but our sights are on the future.
We lose Antonio, Tony’s dad; he was like a father to me too, always coming for us after being out all night when we were in our teens. We miss him greatly.
Michelle has now become an integral part of ‘My Wines’ and new blood always brings new ideas. We grow, we better ourselves never conforming to what or where we are, we strive to achieve better service, better food, better ambience. I turned 50 this year, summer parties and my party are testament to our capabilities, and they mark another milestone in our journey. Unfortunately though, the restrictions still in place, make the Wine Festival a ‘no go’ once again. We could have done a smaller festival but why take a step back when we can just wait it out a bit longer…
As we head into this year ‘My Wines’ becomes sole ownership and a full-blown family business. Michelle is now Director, but family disaster strikes and after a hard-few month I lose my father.
He has been an inspiration, a rock, a shoulder to cry on and a father like no other. A grandfather with a permanent smile, he loved his grandchildren and could never have enough of them. Pops, you always used the term “the day I’m pushing up daisies” and I always dismissed it pero now that you are I miss you every second of every day. I will stop now; I don’t want to short the laptop.
For a third year running we had to put the Wine Festival on hold, this time for the reasons mentioned above but next year we will go all out, it’s a promise!
I believe the terrace has still a little way to go to reach the final picture that’s in my mind but I’m confident that we will get there too. Michelle and I along with our whole family of Staff and friends are here to give you the best experience possible. It’s a simple goal but it takes a lot of work and we sincerely hope we are getting there.
There is no I in ‘My Wines’, the ‘My’ implies yours so it’s everyone’s Wines. The same applies to the people that have helped grow it to what we are today, you know, who you are.
Finally but not least’ a very special mention to my wife, Lorraine, without whom, ‘We’ nor ‘I’ could have got here. From deliveries to decorating to hearing me out or advising me, even putting up with my absence whilst we were working late into the nights, thank you.
Thank you all!
MY WINES – Where Wine, Food & Friends come together!
Text By Glen Sanders with edits By Matt Mahtani