Cliff Roberson has always been a man worth listening to. He’s one of the British wine trade’s original thinkers and mavericks – and while there’s no doubt that he knows his wine, his real skill is as a businessmen.
When rumours reached us a month or so ago that the iconic store in Kensington was closing, the first instinct was raise a sceptical eyebrow. The shop was at the heart of the Roberson machine “and always will be”, the website declared – until the wording was changed quite recently. The rumour turned out to have substance.
The Wine Merchant was granted a rare (and exclusive) interview with the man himself, which is reported in a three-page feature in the July edition. It’s illuminating stuff. Roberson admits that the closure is emotionally challenging, but he’s allowing his business brain to dominate. Commercially, it makes no sense to persist with such expensive infrastructure, especially as the contribution it’s making to the business is diminishing. Roberson is itching for new challenges (including building up the wholesale side of the company) and is keen to point out that his decision to pull out of retail does not represent a lack of faith in bricks-and-mortar wine retailing per se.
As always, we’re publishing the online edition on the 15th of the month, which is the date by when printed copies usually arrive. There was a glitch this month with the printers, so the mailing happened on the 14th, a few days later than we’d normally expect, and most copies will be arriving tomorrow.
Roberson 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.
This 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.
The 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.
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.