Our Wine Merchant Top 100 winners for 2015

The wait is over – and visitors to the London Wine Fair have already had a sneak preview. We can announce the winners of this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100 and a very deserving lot they are too.

Let’s be clear – this year’s winners had to work very hard to get their reward. Our entry field was the biggest yet. And our judges – all of them lovely people – were pretty ferocious in their judging. It wasn’t enough for a wine to be “good” or even “excellent”. Our judges are all independent wine merchants and we asked them to approach the competition entries in the same way as they wWine Merchant Top 100 tasting 2015ould with any wines vying for a place on their shelves.

This inevitably leads to the questions: is this wine worth the money? Do I already list examples of the style that offer better value? Is it a wine that I’d be happy to put my name to? In short … would I sell it?

Full descriptions of all the winners, and why they won, will appear in our special supplement in the early summer. Meanwhile, here’s the list of those who made the Top 100. Congratulations all.

Ambitious independents to open more shops

Established independents are leading growth in the sector with Oeno, Planet of the Grapes, Vagabond Wines and Bottle Apostle all planning to open new sites in the next few months.

In August wine shop-cum-wine bar pioneer Planet of the Grapes is to close its original location in London’s New Oxford Street and replace it with a bigger site nearby in Holborn’s exclusive Sicilian Avenue.

This story appears in the new edition of The Wine Merchant

This story appears in the new edition of The Wine Merchant

It also aiming for a July opening for a shop and bar in the former home of Fox, an iconic City umbrella retailer and gents’ tailor.

The listed building has a famous art deco frontage and neon sign featuring the name of the original business, so Planet of the Grapes will trade from there under the Fox name with secondary signage to emphasise “fine wines and spirits”.

Other notable features include a curved bomb-proof window installed in World War II and pre-war interior cabinetry.

“We’re very excited to get our hands on it,” says owner Matt Harris. “It’s a beautiful building. You can’t change the sign, so it made sense just to use the name rather than go with something like ‘Planet of the Grapes at Fox’.

“But in terms of the wine, the buying and the operation, it’s very much owned and run by Planet of the Grapes.”

The shop, at 18 London Wall, will be over five floors: a kitchen in the basement, shop on the ground floor, dining on the first floor; a less formal lounge bar on the second; and an office at the top.

“We’re still retail,” says Harris. “We don’t want to lose what we’ve had at Holborn over the last 10 years but we want to be somewhere where you can come to buy wine and stay and have some food and a drink if you want to.

“There’s a pocket in that part of the City where there’s nowhere you can go to buy wine unless you’re going to a supermarket.”

The changes bring the group up to four locations, with its sites in Bow Lane and Leadenhall staying unchanged.

“That will probably be it for me for at least two years,” says Harris, “but I’d never say never and if the right site came up we could do it.”

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Mission accomplished

Jim Dawson and Archie McDiarmidYesterday 16 of the independent wine trade’s finest gathered in west London to put this year’s entrants in The Wine Merchant Top 100 through their paces.

Do we know who the winners are yet? Almost. But not quite. We’re just doing a final check of the spreadsheets, scores and tasting notes, making sure all the technical stuff is in order, and then we’ll be ready to announce. Come along to Stand A10 at the London Wine Fair to see what wines came out on top, and more importantly to taste them.

Thanks to all our judges who gave up a day of their valuable time to take part. They did a sterling job as always. The wine trade is in safe hands.

Issue 35: Blurring the distinction between on and off-trade sales

Just under a quarter of independent wine specialists are now selling wine for consumption on the premises, according to a Wine Merchant poll.

This year’s reader survey reveals that 18% of independents have been serving wine to their customers for at least a year, while another 5% have started doing so within the past 12 months. A further 5% say they have definite plans to start offering wine for on-premise consumption this year, while a further 14% have yet to make a decision.

Corks Out, which is about to open its sixth branch, embodies the trend towards this hybrid wine shop/wine bar format: the new Knutsford store is expected to be weighted 70-30 in favour of on-premise sales (see page four of our April editionThe Wine Merchant issue 35 page 1). The company already allows customers to drink on the premises in other branches and owner Ruth Yates says this has contributed to a 20% increase in take-home trade for the company.

However the proportion of independents rejecting the idea of on-premise sales has risen from 48% last year to 58% in this year’s survey.

There has also been a marked increase in the proportion of retailers dismissing the concept of offering food of any kind, but the survey reveals that 87% of independents are now selling beer.

• More survey analysis starts on page 21 of this month’s issue.

Issue 34: measuring the boom

page 1By now, even the cynics are convinced that independent wine merchants are booming, if only because there are always more shops opening than closing. Numbers keep on climbing.

But how do you quantify a boom? Our annual reader survey offers some important pointers. We asked independents about their turnover, their forecasts for the year ahead, their relationships with suppliers, the areas in which they specialise … and much more. Read the first instalment of our analysis in the March issue, and the second in the April edition.

Congratulations once again to Boutinot, voted the supplier that independents most enjoy working with. It’s no mean feat to top the poll three years in succession, especially when it’s clear that retailers are broadening their horizons and using a larger number of suppliers, including some with very niche offers – and also doing more of their own importing.

Do you have a licence for that Parker quote?

Issue 33 page 1Retailers who quote scores and tasting notes from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate are being warned they have to pay for the privilege.

Shops must obtain a commercial subscription, at $199 per store, in order to borrow quotes from Parker or any of the Wine Advocate’s seven other reviewers, or even to quote the points that wines receive.

Mark Wrigglesworth of The Good Wine Shop in west London has been contacted by the publisher and asked to stop quoting Parker reviews on his website as he does not have a commercial licence to do so.

Wrigglesworth says: “I am somewhat surprised that it is possible to to copyright something that is in the public domain.”
Using the words of wine critics on shelf-talkers and other marketing material is an issue that can create headaches for independents.

Although Matthew Jukes argues that Parker points are in the public domain, he himself charges for the use of material he self-publishes on his website. Martin Isark, who has taken legal action against Majestic and Direct Wines for using his quotes without permission, demands £15,000 for his words to be used in marketing.

Anthony Rose and Victoria Moore, meanwhile, do not charge a fee.

See the February edition of The Wine Merchant for more.

News flash: independent trade rises by almost 5%

The independent trade grew by 4.8% in 2014 and is now worth more than £500m for the first time.

Early results from The Wine Merchant’s 2015 reader survey value the independent market at £506.2m, up from £483.2m a year ago.

But the figures reveal that, as store numbers have grown, the amount of revenue that independents are achieving per shop has dipped very slightly.

The data applies to UK independent merchants that operate retail premises and have a genuine specialism in wine. It does not include chains such as Oddbins or Wine Rack, general off-licences or convenience stores.

Full details will appear in the March edition of The Wine Merchant, along with other findings from the survey.