Wine war – rival sommeliers engage in seaside squabble

The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk
The picturesque harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk - SWNS/Denise Bradley

Plans to open a new wine bar in a well-to-do seaside town erupted into a “wine war” after a rival sommelier raised objections to the council without disclosing that he was the owner of the town’s only other wine bar.

Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk is home to a single existing wine bar, Wells Wine Shop and Bar, owned by Richard Turfrey. But plans by Bert Blaize – nominated as Young Sommelier of the Year in 2018 by GQ magazine – to open a second establishment in the town, only 250 metres away, resulted in the squabble.

Mr Turfrey was one of eight objectors to the proposal made to North Norfolk council but he failed to disclose to authorities that he owned Wells Wine Shop and Bar.

He said Mr Blaize’s new bar, to be called North Norfolk Cellars, would threaten the “tranquil environment that has been enjoyed in this part of the town for hundreds of years”.

It was claimed Mr Turfrey also encouraged other locals to complain about the proposal.

Bert Blaize plans to turn these premises into a new wine bar in Wells-next-the-Sea
Bert Blaize plans to turn these premises into a new wine bar in Wells-next-the-Sea - Google/SWNS

Councillors last week approved Mr Blaize’s proposal when Mr Turfrey withdrew his objections after his identity was made public on the council planning portal.

It has since been claimed the argument was “blown out of proportion” and that Mr Turfrey believed his name would not be published.

At the meeting of North Norfolk district council on Tuesday, Mr Blaize, a self-described wine consultant, said he had received an apology and claimed Mr Turfrey had been trying to drum up further objections for fear of loss of trade.

“Richard, the gentleman who removed his objection, he actually came to see me,” Mr Blaize told councillors.

“He’s the owner of the other wine bar in Wells and he admitted that he objected because he thought that it would affect his trade and he also encouraged others to object on his behalf, which is why a couple of the objections say ‘we already have one wine bar in Wells, we do not need a second’.

“He apologised to me and came to me face-to-face, which is pretty respectful of him and then he phoned me later to say he removed his objection.”

Mr Blaize, 35, received a total of eight objections around noise, excessive booze, and closing times.

Among them was the one from Mr Turfrey, who did not disclose a connection to his bar, but wrote that a second wine bar could destroy the “tranquil environment” of the town.

“All drinking establishments are unavoidably noisy and therefore the addition of a licensed premises will change the above mentioned environment forever and this is an absolute fact that can not be denied,” he said in his application.

Speaking after the council meeting, Mr Blaize said he held no ill-will towards his wine rival.

“I wish Richard all the best and I think this has all been hugely blown out of proportion really,” he added.