The oldest wine bar in Wales is raising a toast to a special vintage.
The highly-popular Gales of Llangollen is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The anniversary also marks a 40-year association between Richard Gale and his accountant, Michael Coxey, who is now a firm friend too.
According to Richard, the success of the business was in no small part due to the sound advice he had received from both Michael and his colleague Peter McVeigh.
He said: “There is a difference between book-keepers and accountants - Michael is an exceptionally good accountant.
“He is a business partner in the sense that gives you good advice that is to your advantage and not necessarily to the tax man’s advantage. Michael’s expertise is invaluable.”
For his part, Michael said that Gales had been very good for the area.
He added: “There’s nowhere else like it. It’s known throughout North Wales and people from abroad come in all the time. People now know of the wine bar worldwide.”
It was back in 1977 that Gales Wine Bar in Llangollen opened its doors for the first time in one of the Denbighshire tourist town’s most historic buildings.
And on hand to help the business mark its fourth successful decade was Michael Coxey, Director of Coxeys Chartered Accountants which has offices in Wrexham and Saltney, Chester.
Richard, now 70, recalled that he founded Gales, which also has a hotel, a wine and gift shop along with cottages to let, as the result of a joke.
He said: “Back in the seventies I was working as a marketing manager for a big tissue manufacturer. I was based on Wrexham Industrial Estate but I used to have regular meetings in the south of England with a fellow manager who also lived in Llangollen and became a very good friend.
“We used to meet up at a wine bar in Windsor and often shared a nice bottle of Muscadet. One day he joked that I seemed to like the wine bar idea so much that I ought to start my own – and he told me he knew just the place to do it.
“That turned out to be the cellar of a property in Bridge Street, Llangollen. I went to have a look at it and decided it wasn’t suitable for our requirements but the building opposite was just right and happened to be up for sale at a good price.
“I didn’t have any money but the bank helped me to buy it and create what I believe to have been the first wine bar in Wales.
“Using my marketing background I came up with a very strong business plan which was calculated right down to the last half waitress.”
Richard, who is originally from Dorset, added: “We opened up the wine bar in a building which has its origins in the 13th century and was rebuilt in 1775.
“As the Lion Inn it was one of the hostelries which for hundreds of years served the needs of travellers taking the road from London to Dublin. Eventually, in the 19th century, the inn became an ironmongers shop.
“When my wife Gillie, who then did all the cooking, and I took over we did the conversion work ourselves and I lost two stones in weight because I was working so hard. I recall on the night before we opened being down on my knees scrubbing and polishing the floor.
“In the early years we worked ridiculously long hours, seven days a week but it’s all been worth it and I’ve enjoyed myself very much.
“Although I still come in seven days a week to help out, my son Pip is now in charge and Gillie runs the wine and gift shop next door to the wine bar.
“Coxeys been our accountants since day one and are really important to us. Michael is also a great friend and was actually a neighbour of ours in Llangollen for four or five years,” he said.
“While Michael took care of us in the earlier years, Peter McVeigh, is now looking after us and bringing the same level of professionalism to the job. I think that without Coxeys we wouldn’t have enjoyed the success we have.”
After graduating from university in 2001, Pip Gale travelled extensively to expand his knowledge and understanding of wine before joining the family business. He continues to explore, tasting and travelling around European wineries. In 2013 he was admitted to the prestigious Academie du Champagne.
He said: “I’m very proud that Gales is still going strong after 40 years. While still keeping to our original principles of quality and service we’ve introduced lots of new elements to the business such as bringing in our fantastic chef Jack Hatley and introducing a whole new style of menu.
“We’re still in the same marvellous old building but we’ve been able to change with the times and Coxeys’ professionalism has helped us to do that.”
Michael Coxey said: “It’s great to help Richard and his family celebrate 40 years in business in Llangollen.
“We’ve been with them every step of the way since they opened and I remember when Richard first came to my office and virtually interviewed me about what I could do for his business.
“I have my home in Llangollen and lived right next door to the Gales for a few years.
“When I heard he was planning to open a wine bar I thought it would be a good thing for Llangollen and was about time that somebody did. I know that many of its regulars call it the best pub in Llangollen.
“Taking care of their accountancy needs over so many years has been fantastic and also a real pleasure and I wish them continued success.”