We’ve moved

berwickThis is the view from our new office in deepest Sussex. It almost makes up for the appalling mobile phone signal – we’re working on that problem and should make some progress in the next couple of weeks.

We’re keeping the same postal address as before but the office landline is now 01323 871836.

Issue 37: bang on time

issue 37 page 1The June issue of The Wine Merchant is now online, coinciding neatly with the arrival of the printed product on doormats across the land.

Plenty going on as always including some excellent analysis by David Williams on the way forward for Italy in the independent trade; a look at how vodka can give gin a run for its money on the spirits shelves; and an interview with Patrick Jouan of Le Bon Vin in Sheffield.

We also welcome our new regular columnist Adeline Mangevine, offering hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing. She’s a lovely lady but doesn’t mince her words … in her debut column she has a few bones to pick with wine critics.

In this issue we’re looking for examples of the best independent wine websites in the business. The ones that we select will win some fantastic goodies from Boutinot.

Trophy winners unveiled

All winners in The Wine Merchant Top 100 are equal, but a handful are more equal than others. Every year we reward the wines that have particularly impressed the judges and award some Trophies to the highest-scoring wines in selected categories.

Here are this year’s Trophy wines … congratulations to them all.

Sparkling Wine Trophy: Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV

White Wine Trophy: Gaia Wines Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece 2014 (Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines)

Red Wine Trophy: Bodegas Navajas Gran Reserva, Rioja 2005 (Walker & Wodehouse)

Best Value White Trophy: Azienda Agricola Contesa di Rocco Caparrone Pecorino, IGT Colline Pescaresi 2014 (£8.63, Boutinot)

Best Value Red Trophy: Cuatro Pasos Mencía, Bierzo 2012 (£9.99, Liberty Wines)

Dessert & Fortified Wine Trophy: Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado Sherry NV (Gonzalez Byass UK)

Full details of all our winners will appear in a special supplement with the July 15 edition of The Wine Merchant. There will also be an online version available on the website.

Roberson quits retail to focus on ‘new ideas’

roberson frontRoberson is closing its iconic shop in High Street Kensington but insists its faith in independent wine retailing is as strong as ever.

The decision was partly driven by escalating costs but managing director Cliff Roberson says the time is right to steer the business, founded in 1991, in a new direction.

This includes the creation of a dedicated off-trade wholesaling division, led by current shop manager Jack Green, offering independents a bespoke range.

The intention is to provide a specialist selection, focusing largely on Californian and French wines. The company also intends to put extra resources behind its online activities, which have started to overtake sales in the shop.

But Roberson himself is keen to see the business move into new territory, as it did when it launched the London Cru urban winery.

Speaking to The Wine Merchant, he said: “We have younger people getting involved in the business and they see the future in a different way. Which is fair enough – I’m very happy with that. I would sooner that happens than say ‘oh yes, we’ll carry on the same as we’ve always done’. What’s the point of that?”

The shop – which attracts business rates of £45,000 a year, has no parking facilities and was due for a rent review – will close at the end of August.

Roberson himself expects to scale down his involvement with the business over the next five to 10 years “or maybe even before”, but continues to work full-time from the west London headquarters which are soon to be extended.

• An exclusive Cliff Roberson interview appears in the next edition of The Wine Merchant, which will appear online on July 15.

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.