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Scotland’s oldest wine merchant reinvigorated with new premises in Edinburgh’s New Town

Cockburns of Leith

SCOTLAND’S oldest wine merchant – which counted Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and King George IV among its customers – has been reinvigorated with new premises in Edinburgh’s New Town.

The Cockburns of Leith shop at 48A Frederick Street, which is now open, will offer the very best of global wine and spirits, as well as advice and personal service from expert staff. The premises will provide exclusive sale of specialist stock alongside Cockburns’ online delivery business, including the award-winning Provençal rosé Chateau Routas. The shop will also offer in-store tastings and free deliveries to customers in Edinburgh and the Lothians. 

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Cockburns of Leith was established in 1796 by brothers Robert and John Cockburn who sought to supply the best of global wine and spirits to Edinburgh’s upwardly mobile social classes when the city was experiencing incredible growth during the Enlightenment. Cockburns is also remembered today through Cockburns Port, which was founded by Robert after serving as a soldier in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars, and Cockburn Street, which honours Lord Cockburn, one-time Solicitor General and an older brother to Robert and John.

The firm saw success in its early years, importing wine and spirits from across the world to the port of Leith that were then sold in Edinburgh, London and across the British Empire. Its eminence grew during the Enlightenment and continued for decades, and Cockburns later expanded to London, Glasgow and Punjab, India.

In the early twentieth century, drinking habits began to change, shifting private consumption to hotels, clubs and bars, a trend accelerated by the First and Second World Wars. This, aggravated by a challenging economic landscape and world-wide inflation, saw Cockburns struggle and the company was sold to Canadian conglomerate Seagram’s in 1973. It went on to change hands on a number of occasions, including a period of more than 10 years under the ownership of The Drambuie Liqueur Co Ltd.

In March 1993, the business was acquired by The Wine Company (Scotland) Ltd. However, in 2010, Cockburn’s entered administration and was rescued by Murray Capital, the private investment office of the Murray family, which has since made significant investment to maintain and grow the brand.

Keith Murray, director of Cockburns of Leith, said: “We are excited by this next chapter in the Cockburns of Leith story, building on a 200-year heritage of excellence and conviviality as we seek to supply the very best of global wine and spirits to our customers.”

“While online sales continue to grow, and are an important part of the modern Cockburns of Leith business, we also believe in the power of retail.”

“That is why we have decided to open our first bottle shop, which comes at an exciting time of rejuvenation for Edinburgh’s commercial core. Customers are keener than ever to experience the brands they purchase first hand – by seeing and tasting them in store or hearing the history for themselves.”

“Be it the worker who wants to pick up a bottle on their way home from the office, someone who prefers to browse the labels and hold the bottle in their hands before they buy, or a newer wine drinker who needs a little guidance – the best way we can serve these customers is through a physical shop, offering warm, personal and expert service.”

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