Meet the MD: Graeme Sutherland, Good Brothers Wine Bar

Meet the MD: Graeme Sutherland, Good Brothers Wine Bar

Graeme is the behind the scenes half of the Sutherland brothers, who stock over 100 wines at their Edinburgh.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

Within the business I am the gatekeeper. My business partner (and younger brother) is more involved with the day-to-day operational running of the business and I look after everything back of house, including finance, contracts etc. I also act as a mentor to our staff.

My 20 years of working in the industry has given me a great insight into how things operate most efficiently. That being said, I still get involved with the fun stuff like menu choices, wine listings and venue design.

What is it the company does?

Currently we are a small wine bar and bistro in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Our ambition was to open a bar that focuses on the very best wines we can find. A particular passion of ours is wine that has seen as little manipulation and interference as possible (natural wine), but our real driving force is trying to make the Scottish wine scene better for everyone by introducing small production, hand crafted, boutique wines that excite, fascinate and pair beautifully with food.

We have a wine list of over 100 wines, 50+ of which are natural. We also offer a refined menu of small and large plates with a strong focus on locally sourced food.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I started out collecting glasses in a pub aged 18, and over the last 20 years I’ve progressed through positions in London, Sydney and Edinburgh to gain senior management positions within top end bar and restaurant groups. In the last 10 years I’ve also worked within the wine industry as Regional Sales Manager for Scotland, with Enotria & Coe, a role that I am still currently in.

The diversity of where I have worked and what I have done (working in kitchens, operations, on the bar and on the floor) has grounded me completely.

With the drinks - more specifically wine industry, being a constant throughout my career, it’s meant I’ve gained a thorough knowledge of wine. Both this knowledge and my genuine like for natural wines was the motivation behind opening up Good Brothers Wine Bar. I have also recently been a spokesperson on the growing natural wine trend in Scotland for The Times and BBC Radio Scotland.

What do you believe makes a great leader? 

Honesty, openness and fairness. I am a big believer in including the people around me in everything I do, be that buying decisions, finance or sales. The more you empower those around you, the more they grow and the easier your life can be, as long as they don't over step the mark!

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Balancing work vs. family life. I am sure everyone says a similar thing but balancing my time spent on our start-up bar, my job with Enotria & Coe that I continue in (to ease the financial burden) and my young family is difficult. Luckily I have a very understanding wife who understands the hours demanded of me at this time.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Spending time with my family. Getting out for a simple walk around Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens with my 4 and 6 year olds is a wonderful escape. I love seeing the very different, carefree world that they live in (and sometimes get very envious!).

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A fighter pilot for the RAF. I was luck enough to fly right through school and into University and was very close to signing up as a fast jet pilot, however I was talked out of it. Do I regret it? No. If I had joined up I probably would not have met my wife and experienced everything I have. I do not believe in regrets, just lessons learned. 

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

Having to ask for something to be done twice. If I ask for something to be done, it is because I want it done. Just do it the first time and we eliminate any difficult conversations.

Where do you see the company in five years time?

We are currently a small company, but we have big aspirations. The world of wine is changing. More and more people are becoming engaged with wine in a similar way to the craft beer movement five years ago. We want to be at the front of that surge in the UK, with several small, beautiful venues that are focused on the location that they are in.

I also am considering the importation and distribution side of the business and off the back of this, I see a retail element in the future as well. However, ultimately I want to get back into production. I spent 6 months in Burgundy as a young man working with Jacques Lardier at Louis Jadot and I have always had the bug for making wine (or more precisely, growing grapes).

We talk about the concept of farm to plate with food, so why not with wine. Total control over our supply chain. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Ask, ask, ask. There are never too many questions to ask. I wish I had asked more. Oh, and do not be stubborn. There are a lot of very knowledgeable people out there who have good ideas and feedback.