Mark Buckenham joined The Society in 1973. He buys Port, Madeira, beer, liqueurs and spirits, along with The Society’s English wines. He also sources accessories for sideboard and cellar, and oversees Quality Assurance.
Did you always plan to work in the wine business?
I was brought up on a farm, quite a small arable and livestock farm, about 250 acres. I started off doing accountancy for a couple of years, but gave it up and went into wine. I guess it was by accident.
How did your career progress?
I started working for Ingleton's of Ilford, a wine merchants based in Maldon, Essex, then I went to work for The Society. It used to have an office in London, which I managed. It was a collection station for London members, and we would run tastings for members there, too. Then I moved up to Stevenage, and managed the bottling operation and the bonded warehouse, as well as shipping and forwarding.
Wine was bottled in Stevenage in those days?
We used to bottle a lot of wine here - about 60%-70%. The Society's Claret, Burgundy and Rhône were all bottled here, and we also used to bottle Ports and Sherries here, which were shipped over in cask. I had to check the levels of the wines and a Customs official would often come up and check with you. The wines would then have to be filtered. We finished bottling here in about 1992.
How did you find the transition into buying?
In my previous role, I had been tasting from tanks and casks, so I learned a lot about our wines from that side of things.
You look after spirits for The Society - do you think most members are aware of the range of spirits on offer?
I think we should make more of a song and dance about it. What we're now doing on the spirits side is pulling out the occasional special cask, like the Exhibition Islay whisky. We also offer some fine single-vintage early-landed Cognacs.
Port is more versatile than some people give it credit for...
We do sell an awful lot of Port, and we're one of the few people still doing a crusted Port. But a glass of chilled tawny is absolutely delicious, and the single-quinta Ports are coming along beautifully.
The quality of English wine is very dependent on the weather, isn't it?
To some extent, but you do get these little areas that escape frost, so it is important where vineyards are sited. England is capable of terrific sparkling and dry white wines. I'm not convinced by the reds - they are quite pricey for what they are.
What hobbies do you have?
I play a lot of tennis. Pierre [Mansour, Society buyer] and I are unbeaten as Wine Society doubles players.