Clive Coates And The Malmaison Wine Club

This is an excerpt from THE GRAND CENTRAL HOTEL, by Jill Scott, and published by Waverley Books in February 2012. Reproduced with their kind permission.

The Malmaison's (the Grand Central Hotel's restaurant) reputation for excellence extended further than its fine food. There was also the Malmaison Wine Club which sold the British Transport Hotels' wine by mail order to discerning customers all over the country. Exactly how, and when, the club originated is unclear but its potential for development was apparent to Clive Coates, one of the world's leading wine authorities, who joined British Transport Hotels (BTH) in 1975 as Executive Director, Wines and spirits.

The Wine Club, named after the Central Hotel's restaurant, originally catered in the main for directors of BTH and British Railways, who could buy a fine Bordeaux at virtually cost price - a nice little perk! After discovering that there was an interest in buying other BTH wines for home consumption and finding a file with the names of some 12,000 or so hotel customers Clive dedicated some time to promoting the Malmaison Wine Club. The wine club had its own pink wine labels designed by up-and-coming designer Amanda Tatham.

Clive had worked for the Wine Society for six years so he knew how to sell by mail order and how to write up a wine so it seemed irresistible. The Club got great press coverage and within three years was turning over £1 million a year and had a mailing list of 10,000. To be a member all you had to do was place an order every year.

A number of hotels in the BTH group helped the Club to grow. There were about 30 hotels at this time and holding wine week-ends and wine-making dinners was a great way for them to attract more customers.

After the BTH hotels began to be sold off, the Club started to flounder and within five years it had been closed down for good.