Issue 29: are independents too lazy?

The Wine Merchant issue 29 p1Just about every issue of The Wine Merchant includes some criticism of suppliers from their independent customers. Issue 29 is no different, except that for once we’ve given suppliers the chance to have their say about retailers.

It’s not a mere exercise in mud-raking. The relationship between importers and merchants is generally pretty strong, based on mutual respect and understanding. But that doesn’t mean suppliers don’t think some independents could do things better. Or that independents won’t benefit by listening to their concerns.

Our conversations with suppliers revealed some familiar bugbears: late payment, wine left cooking in windows, and unrealistic expectations about the level of supplier support. But one topic came up more than any of these niggles. There is a sense – particularly among the smaller suppliers – that independents just aren’t adventurous enough with their ranges.

As one supplier put it: independents should have more time for businesses that share their values, and which can offer wines with genuinely specialist characteristics. Too many retailers are playing it safe with wines that are found in large numbers across the UK, and not giving enough opportunity to lesser-known countries, regions, producers and varietals.

Is the criticism fair, or just the voice of self-interest? Many independents might agree there is some validity to the suppliers’ argument, but point out (as Richard Shama of Wine Bear does very well in the same issue) that, outside of London, the logistics of dealing with a large number of specialist suppliers are problematic to say the least. It explains why many independents put a lot of eggs in the same basket and choose to deal with a small number of relatively large importers.

The other point is that many merchants are delighted with the service they’re getting from the sector’s big names. At Liberty’s tasting in London last week, the room was teeming with independents. Boutinot’s event this week is likely to be similarly rammed.

The task for smaller, more niche suppliers is to convince independents that they have wines that will deliver sales. They also have to understand the independent mindset and develop, as far as possible, a flexible approach to order terms. It’s already happening, often at local level, as small suppliers forge profitable relationships with merchants in their area. It’s an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace – but one that has the potential to become even more varied and vibrant.

Independents are just too good

At least two companies want to build retail empires that tap into a wine market that’s been built, to a large extent, by independents


Humble Grape is not a household name, but perhaps that’s going to change over the next few years. If this happens, the implications for the independent trade could be significant.

The business was established in 2009 by James Dawson: one of many ventures in which wines are directly imported from producers and sold to wealthy clients, without the aggravation of having to operate out of retail premises.

the wine merchant august front page

Click on image for the August 2014 digital edition

This year, the model changed. Dawson and new business partner Cameron Gordon decided to raise some money to create a wine bar in Shoreditch. Again, nothing mould-breaking about that, except that the crowdfunding goal of £250,000 was surpassed and the company began talking about four more sites, to follow in the next five years. After that, the plan is to open 60 franchised wine bars and to become “the Starbucks of the wine world”. The company wants to “democratise and demystify wine for all through the development of a high-street brand”.

So it’s not just Oddbins and Wine Rack that are on the hunt for franchisees. Humble Grape clearly sees a gap in the market, and it should embarrass the nation’s pubcos that it’s been able to do so. The on-trade wine offer, outside of certain metropolitan areas and well-heeled commuter towns, remains pretty dire. No wonder that Dawson and Cameron are picking up the heady aroma of consumer cash.

This is, of course, the exact same market that so many independent wine merchants are seeking to exploit at a local level, often with remarkable success. Barely a week goes by without a new start-up enoteca appearing somewhere, or an existing merchant knocking down a wall and placing orders for seating, and charcuterie.
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Issue 27: get it while it’s hot

The Wine Merchant issue 27 page 1Issue 27 of The Wine Merchant is here. The print versions are thudding on to the stripped floorboards of quality wine shops across the land, where they will be sniffed quizzically by Labradors, before being gently opened with the little knife on a Waiter’s Friend corkscrew. Amazing what you can train a dog to do.

Here’s the digital version. It’s exactly the same, though occasionally the spelling is better.


Congratulations to the Trophy winners

The Wine Merchant Top 50 2014 front pageEvery mailing of the July issue of The Wine Merchant includes a little green book that should prove very useful for all specialist wine retailers.

It describes all 50 winners in this year’s Wine Merchant Top 50, and also unveils our first-ever Trophy winners. They are …

Sparkling Wine Trophy: Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV

White Wine Trophy: Pazo de Senorans Albarino, Rias Baixas 2012

Red Wine Trophy: Chateau Paul Mas Clos de Savignac, Coteaux du Languedoc 2012

Best Value Red Wine Trophy: LGI Monastier Shiraz, IGP Pays d’Oc 2013

Best Value White Wine Trophy: Cavit Terrazze della Luna Nosiola, Trentino 2013

Congratulations to all this year’s winners, and also to our first-ever Highly Commended wines, all of which are also listed in the little green book. These are the wines that just missed out on a Top 50 placing but which have the credentials to add quality and value to any independent’s range.

Click here to access the digital version

Imbibe Live

The boundary between the on and off-trade gets increasingly blurred, and nowhere more so than among independents. Most specialist wine shops supply pubs or restaurants … and an increasing number are going the enoteca route, serving wine on their own premises.

So there are compelling reasons for a visit to Imbibe Live next week. The show runs at Olympia on July 1-2.

The event, unsurprisingly, has a strong spirits (and beer) element but wine is well represented too. Exhibitors include Berkmann, Concha y Toro, Enotria, Hallgarten Druitt, Louis Roederer, Negociants UK and Wines from Rioja.

Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn is hosting a wine faults masterclass; Ruth Spivey (of Wine Car Boot fame) is running a workshop on staff training; and Michael Sager-Wilde is offering advice on how to target the elusive Generation Y consumer.

As a reader of The Wine Merchant you can also register for the exclusive Sommelier Hub packed full of invaluable wine sessions, plus access to the UK film premiere of Jason Wise’s Somm.

Click here to register and to find out more about this year’s show.

June issue: winners and losers

June 2014 page 1Not surprisingly, we devote a lot of space in our June issue to the winners in The Wine Merchant Top 50. The full details will appear in a supplement in the July edition – along with the names of our five trophy winners and more than 100 highly commended wines.

But while we celebrate the success of these worthy winners, there’s the hint of a dark cloud on the horizon.

Independents are used to competition from online rivals. We hear a lot about the “race to the bottom”: punters can shop around the virtual marketplace and seek out the cheapest price for the wines they want. It’s a fact of life in modern wine retailing, and it’s part of the reason so many merchants have recognised the need to differentiate their offer using tactics other than price.

But if those prices are massively cheaper than those your business is able to offer, and the wines are being shipped direct from producers, the game changes. Amazon is currently talking not just to UK suppliers to boost its wine offer, but to producers themselves. Some of the prices that can be found online are so cheap that the conclusion has to be that either the shipper is selling at a loss, or avoiding the inconvenience of duty.

HMRC points out that distance sellers to the UK are obliged to pay duty and VAT in this country. But how exactly is this policed? How many boxes of wine will be opened, checked for compliance, or seized? What powers do the UK authorities have to go after overseas tax dodgers, and what kind of resources? We await answers.

Let’s meet the winners

WM Top 50 LWF tastingThe winners of this year’s Wine Merchant Top 50 awards were unveiled this week at a tasting at the London Wine Fair.

They are listed below. The winners’ supplement, which will appear with the July issue of the magazine, will contain much more information about all the wines and why they won.

This is also where the 100-plus Highly Commended wines will be named – along with a few Trophy wines.

Congratulations to all 50 winners. The wines attracted a ­­­lot of attention at the fair this week and the line-up was praised for its diversity and, in many cases, exceptional value for money.


Sparkling wines


Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, Champagne NV (£42, Liberty Wines)

Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve, Champagne NV (£55, Liberty Wines)


White wines


Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen, Wachau 2013 (£8.58, Alliance Wine)

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd, Achleiten, Wachau 2013 (£17.92, Alliance Wine)



Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills 2012 (£18.99, Negociants UK)



Viña Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc, Paredones, Colchagua Valley 2013

(£12.95, Jackson Nugent Vintners)

Cono Sur Los Gansos Gewurztraminer, Central Valley 2013 (£7.99, Concha y Toro)



Jean-Claude Boisset Les Ursulines Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 (£14.99, Liberty Wines)



Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagoussia, Epanomi, Macedonia 2012 (£14.99, Hallgarten Druit/Novum)



Agricola Punica Samas, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia 2012 (£13, Armit)

Cavit Terrazze della Luna Nosiola, Trentino 2013 (£7.80, Boutinot)



Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas, Beira Atlantico, Beiras 2012 (£12.99, Raymond Reynolds)


South Africa

Delheim Vineyards Barrel-Fermented Chenin Blanc, Simonsberg, Stellenbosch 2013
(£12.95, Jackson Nugent Vintners)

Jordan Unoaked Chardonnay, Stellenbosch 2013

(£11.90, Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies)


Sweet white

Glen Carlou The Welder, Paarl 2012 (37.5cl; £10.99, Liberty Wines)



La Bascula Catalan Eagle White, Terra Alta 2013 (£9.86, Boutinot)

Casal de Arman Blanco, Ribeiro 2012 (£15, Alliance Wine)

Pazo de Señorans Albariño, Rías Baixas 2012 (£17, Rhône to Rioja)

Santiago Ruiz, Rías Baixas 2012 (£14.99, Stevens Garnier)


Red wines


Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Classico, Mendoza 2013 (£12.99, Liberty Wines)

Matias Riccitelli The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree Malbec, Mendoza 2011 (£15.99, Hallgarten Druitt/Novum Wines)



Dalrymple Tasmania Pinot Noir, Pipers River, Tasmania 2011 (£28, Negociants UK)

Onannon Pinot Noir, Gippsland, Victoria 2011 (£34.11, Boutinot)

Teusner Riebke Shiraz, Barossa 2011 (£21.95, Hallowed Ground)



Domaine Bessa Valley Enira, Bessa Valley 2008 (£19.99, Alliance Wine)



Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 Viento Mar, San Antonio 2012 (£11.95, Concha y Toro)



LGI Monastier Shiraz, IGP Pays d’Oc 2013 (£7.99, House of Townend)

Les Domaines Paul Mas Clos des Mures, Côteaux du Languedoc 2012
(£12, Les Domaines Paul Mas)

Les Domaines Paul Mas Château Paul Mas Clos de Savignac, Côteaux du Languedoc 2012
(£17, Les Domaines Paul Mas)

Les Domaines Paul Mas Les Tannes Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc 2013
(£7.95, Les Domaines Paul Mas)

Château Viranel Le V de Viranel, Saint-Chinian, Languedoc 2011 (£13-15, Bancroft Wines)



Cavit Terazze della Luna Teroldego Rotaliano, Trentino 2012 (£7.80, Boutinot)

Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia, Bolgheri Superiore 2010 (£31.99, Liberty Wines)



Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley 2011 (£10.99, Hallgarten Druitt/Novum)


New Zealand

Crossroads Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet Franc, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2010
(£15-£20, Mentzendorff)

Delta Wines Hatter’s Hill Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2009 (£22.99, Liberty Wines)

Sileni Estates The Triangle Merlot, Hawke’s Bay 2011 (£14.09, Boutinot)



Aliança Vinhos de Portugal Aliança, Dão 2011 (£7.63, Boutinot)

Caves São João Porta dos Cavaleiros Reserva, Dão 2012 (£14.99, Marta Vine)

Quinta das Maias Maias Tinto, Dão 2011 (£9.99, Raymond Reynolds)

Quinta dos Murcas Assobio Tinto, Douro 2011 (£11.49, Barwell & Jones)

Quinto do Portal, Portal d’Ouro, Douro 2011 (£9.43, Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies)


South Africa

Eikendal Classique, Stellenbosch 2010 (£18.99, Barwell & Jones)



Azul y Garanza Graciano, Navarra 2011 (£12, Vintage Roots)

Bodegas Borsao Selección Tinto, Campo de Borja 2013 (£7.48, Boutinot)

Capçanes Peraj Petita Montsant 2012 (£13, Rhône to Rioja)

Evohe Garnacha, Bajo Aragon 2013 (£11-£13, Rhône to Rioja)

Finca Moncloa Cabernet Syrah, Cádiz 2009 (£14.49, Gonzalez Byass UK)

Perelada Finca La Garriga, Empordà 2008 (£22.50, Barwell & Jones)

La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva, Rioja 2001 (£35.99, Armit)