A £421m trade. Yes, some of that is cheese.

So how are independent wine retailers doing? What do they need from us? Do they prefer to ship direct or deal with UK suppliers? Is the internet a big deal for them? How many of them sell cheese?

These questions are asked with almost monotonous regularity. It’s not surprising that there should be so much interest in a sector that just keeps on growing, despite all the whispers that “these people really aren’t making any money” and “lots of them are going to have to close”.

Such dire predictionpage 1 april 2013s have been circulating for at least a decade, in which time the population of independent specialists has gone from below 500 to almost 700 now. True, the number of millionaires this has created is approximately zero, but that’s hardly the point. It is possible to make a living running a wine shop, especially if you have enough time and imagination to bolt on a few extras: some wholesaling perhaps, tasting events almost certainly, some specialist food retailing, an area for morning coffees, a regular wine school. (This list is by no means prescriptive, or exhaustive.)

The Wine Merchant has carried out its first reader survey and the results are published in the April edition. It is probably the widest-reaching survey of the sector, and it reveals much about the health of the independent wine trade.

The financial side of things is particularly revealing. The average turnover of an independent wine specialist is £864,553. If that sounds a little high, bear in mind this is the figure for the business as a whole, and that business may well have more than one shop. In fact we calculate there are 689 specialist wine shops in the UK, run by 487 operators. That’s about 1.4 shops per business.

In other words, each shop is turning over an average of £617,537 and the independent trade in its entirety is worth around £421 million.

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The Wine Merchant Top 50

The Wine Merchant is launching a unique wine competition. Not only is it restricted to wines sold in the independent trade, it will be judged by independents, too.?????

The Wine Merchant Top 50 is open to anyone who sells or imports wines aimed at independents. We don’t want supermarket wines, or wines that aren’t already available in the UK. This is a competition for wines that independents can get their hands on, now.

The judging process is being overseen by the esteemed Olly Smith, and David Williams, who readers will know writes a column each month for The Wine Merchant and is also the Observer’s wine critic.

We’ll be putting the wines through their paces in July and announcing the 50 winners in the autumn, before embarking on a national tasting roadshow to show retailers the wines which came out on top.

If you’re interested in entering, or are an independent yourself and could maybe join the judges in July, take a look at the website. All the information you need is right there.