Generalising about the independent wine trade is a dangerous sport. So it’s interesting that quite a few suppliers still seem happy to indulge in it.
“Independents really respond well to such-and-such,” they will tell you. “But one thing they struggle with is insert-a-concept-of-your-choice-here.”
We’re all guilty of it to some degree: falling into the trap of assuming that independents all have similar working lives, a fixed set of values, a common approach to sourcing and selling, and a shared vision for where their sector is headed.
The past few years should have exploded all of those ideas. There has long been a divide between the traditionalists and the newer breed in the independent trade – it began with rugby shirts in about 1989 and now extends to things like natural wine, free jazz and artisan bread. For some independent wine merchants, wine isn’t even the biggest part of their business, despite the fact you’d struggle to find a more specialist selection within a single charge of your electric car.
A glance through the pages of The Wine Merchant over the course of the past year will reveal that the bulk of new entrants offer wine to drink on the premises, and very often food. Lines are getting blurred. Is the business a wine bar that happens to do a bit of retail on the side? Is it really a restaurant that allows its clientele to take home a few extra bottles in a doggy bag? These are judgement calls that we make when calculating the total number of independent wine shops (a figure that typically changes several times a week).
For all these reasons and more, this year’s annual reader survey, once again sponsored by our friends at Hatch Mansfield, is going to be the most important one yet. With your help, we’ll be able to paint a picture of the independent trade of 2019 in all its nuances, capturing the texture and complexity – and perhaps contradictions – that will always elude those who trade in generalisations. For the past seven years the response we’ve had from readers has been phenomenal. Please make it so again this year by visiting winemerchantmag.com. Thank you.