Wine merchants are flavour of the month


It turns out that the British public really like their local wine shops. The ones they’ve driven past so many times on the way to Waitrose. The ones they assumed would be overpriced and aloof. The ones whose ads in the local magazine said something about free delivery, but whose services somehow always seemed less convenient than a subscription to Naked.

It took a pandemic to introduce many wine drinkers to their neighbourhood wine merchant, but it seems that all parties are getting on famously. “Amazing wines!” gushes the social media feedback. “Really impressed to have my box delivered on the day of order!” “My first order with you but definitely not my last!”

The resulting sales boom has in many cases gone beyond a 60% rise in takings, which will typically be enough to compensate for lost wholesale and drink-in business. Just as in all recent economic downturns, when people stop eating out, they turn to decent wine merchants for treats to enjoy at home. In the current crisis, they’ve been joined by those who don’t fancy joining the masked queues outside Sainsbury’s – or waiting five weeks for a delivery slot.

Any merchant who’s enjoying this sudden influx of unfamiliar or half-forgotten faces knows that they have to make hay while they can. The question is, how many of these grateful, lovestruck newcomers will stick around once life starts getting back to normal?

One of the few benefits of the current lockdown is that many people have more time on their hands than ever before. They can plan discretionary spending. To a furloughed employee gazing at a cloudless sky, wine can seem like a very judicious purchase indeed.

But eventually, for most of us, time poverty will return. Life’s normal hectic rhythms will be restored and there’s a risk that people will snap back into old buying habits.

But by that time, the idea of having decent wine delivered to your door, from a friendly local merchant, will be ingrained in a lot of households. Now might be the time keep the momentum going by gently persuading eager new converts to sign up for a regular case. And maybe, for some traders, to invest in a nice new van.

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