Extending her family’s heritage into the 21st century, Abigail chats to Evie Kissack about the bar’s unique atmosphere and the broad range of wines, spirits and fine beverages available.

Arch 13 

Wines Without Ego

Having launched a brand new wine bar showcasing unique wines, great cheese and meat, Connolly’s Wine Merchants have created an ideal space for clients to enjoy perfect pairings between the two. Headed by certified sommelier Abigail Connolly, the only certified female sommelier in Birmingham, Arch 13 aims to create an unpretentious environment for customers looking to enjoy a cosy drink on an evening, or experiment with new grapes and flavours. 

The ever-evolving wine list has launched alongside a delicious cocktail menu, as well as a menu devoted to Madeira wines showcasing vintage bottles dating from 1968. The Connolly family has been shipping wine into Birmingham since 1906, meaning customers wholly trust their expert reputation. 

You recently launched your new wine bar Arch 13. How has this venture been?

Yeah, I mean it’s going really well! We’ve had great reviews from everyone that’s come in, which is great when you’ve first started. In terms of what we are doing now, it’s much more exciting – well, for me anyway [laughs]. The shop has been here since 1991, so it was just a way really to renew it a little bit and bring a bit more excitement to the brand. 

 

You’ve also launched a new cocktail menu and have an initiative to encourage people to order via emojis on social media – it seems really forward thinking?

The general representation of a wine bar is quite stuff and full of business types drinking Bordeaux…whereas we are not like that. We want to be accessible and bring people out of their comfort zones in what they would normally drink. 

For customers who may not know much about wine, it can sometimes be rather daunting to know what to order. What makes the environment at Arch 13 different from other wine bars?

I think we can cater to everyone – we can obviously cater to the people that know everything, but it’s more about getting people to try things that they wouldn’t normally try. We always give tasters of drinks to people if they aren’t sure what they want to order – we just talk to people on a level really, rather than having to talk to people on a sommelier prestigious way that people perceive it. 

 

What’s your favourite part about your job? Is it this interaction with customers?

Yeah, massively. When we’ve talked about the family business before I always said I would never go into it, because I don’t like retail – which is why we opened a bar! [Laughs] But watching people as they take their first sip of a wine they wouldn’t normally try, and seeing their reaction as they think, “Oh this is really nice!”…I think this is definitely one of my favourite things. 

You’ve been very open about the challenges you have faced being a female wine sommelier. What changes do you think the industry needs to see, and what advice would you give to other women hoping to enter this profession?

I think the industry needs to change in general, because I think we need to get more young people into it. I don’t think it’s only about getting just more women into it – although this would be great as well…it’s about encouraging younger people that are training. It’s difficult because it’s often not seen as a ‘proper job’ in this country, whereas when I’ve worked abroad before in France it’s seen as a professional career. Over here, hospitality seems to be just what you do when you study to do something else. Really it’s a such a good career opportunity for young people to get involved with – I think it’s more about pushing it in that way. In terms of women, it’s important just not to be deterred. The industry is still very male-dominated and sort of perceived as red-trousers-and-tweed-jacket-types…[Laughs]. But just be yourself. You don’t have to drink really expensive wine to be a sommelier – that isn’t what it’s about. 

 

How do you select the wines for your ever-changing menu?

We change the wine list every 10 days or so – for us it’s just about getting the right balance. Whether it’s balancing the budget, flavours, the profiles of wines…we try to have something for everyone. The best part of the job is drinking it! [Laughs] 

Do you hold a good relationship with the vineyards you work with?

We work a lot with wineries in France and we’ve just started importing products from South Africa as well. We try out best to get wine makers down over to see people to explain why the wine is so good – we do have really good relationships with people my granddad started working with back when he was running it. 


Head down to the annual Winter Wine Tasting organised by Connolly’s Wine Merchants on Thursday 1 November at The Library of Birmingham from 5.30pm – 8.30pm. Over 100 different wines and spirits (but mostly wine) will be available for tasting with a line up of special guests as well – the perfect place to try new beverages and buy Christmas presents for loved ones! Head to connollyswine.co.uk for more details. Tickets priced at £16.00. 

 

Connolly’s Birmingham, Arch 13, 220 Livery Street, Birmingham B3 1EU

0121 236 3837 

Connolly’s Solihull, 379 Warwick Road, Solihull, B91 1BQ

0121 709 3734

#arch13 @connollyswinejq arch13bar.co.uk

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