Third branch for Le Vignoble

Le Vignoble is set to open its third and biggest branch in the coming weeks as part of a regeneration project in the heart of Bristol.

Owner Yannick Loué has had his sights set on the city for some time and his latest move, to the high-profile Finzels Reach development, looks tailor-made for Le Vignoble’s hybrid model.

“We have one or two hurdles but we are hoping to open in six weeks, maximum,” said Loué when The Wine Merchant spoke to him at the beginning of October.

The waterside location encompasses a range of residential properties as well as retail and office spaces.

Le Vignoble will take its place among an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes and shops on the ground floor of the Fermentation Buildings.

“It’s exciting,” said Loué. “I love the property – it used to be a brewery and it’s got a lot of history behind it. It’s perfect for us and I’m looking forward to it.” But he admitted the move is “a massive gamble”.

At 223 square metres, the branch will be more than double the size of the Plymouth or Bath sites and will offer 64 wines from Enomatics. Ten new staff will be recruited, with some moving from other stores.

Finzels Reach has gradually bedded in and already hosts a popular weekly street food market. Left Handed Giant has a brewery and brewpub on the site and there are a number of independent cafes and restaurants including a vegetarian wood-fired pizza offering provided by Mission Pizza.

Channel 4 and English Heritage also have a presence on the development. “The vendors have been very picky – they wanted independent people as well so it’s going to be a nice mix,” said Loué.

The 6-acre site will include 737 homes and a 168-bed hotel as well as 375,000 square feet of office space. Its developer describes it as “one of the largest and most significant mixed-use regeneration projects in the south west”.

Bristol boasts a broad range of independent drinks specialists, including Corks of Bristol, Clifton Cellars, Davis Bell McCraith, Grape & Grind, Aimee’s Wine House, Weber & Trings and Little Tipple.

Most specialise in retail, though Corks has a branch called Corks at Cargo at Wapping Wharf where wines can be enjoyed by the glass on the premises.

The first branch of Le Vignoble opened at Royal William Yard in Plymouth in 2012 and a second venue appeared in Bath in the spring of 2018.

In an interview with The Wine Merchant in early 2015, Loué said he ultimately wanted five branches in the south west of England.

This story appears in the October edition of The Wine Merchant.

Trade counts the cost of no-deal Brexit

With the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely, independent wine merchants are braced for disruption – and potentially increased costs – during their busiest trading period after October 31.

The government has pledged a 12-month suspension of World Trade Organisation tariffs on wine in the event of no deal. These tariffs could eventually add up to 7p-10p on a bottle of still wine and 21p on a bottle of sparkling.

But Whitehall has given no such reassurance on the introduction of VI-1 forms – the paperwork accompanying wines imported into the EU, which include mandatory laboratory analysis of each wine.

Borough Wines sold for just £60,000

Borough Wines, which collapsed into administration at the end of May with debts of almost £1.3m, has been bought in a pre-pack sale for just under £60,000.

Administrator Mazars said there had been “no reasonable prospect of rescuing the group in its existing form as a going concern” and that the deal, secured with Borough founder Muriel Chatel and a French backer, represented a better outcome for creditors than liquidation.

The biggest chunk of debt (£779,000) was actually to Expression du Terroir Ltd, a business within the Borough group which sourced and supplied stock.

Many of Borough’s other creditors included small French wine producers, some UK brewers and distillers and a number of logistics companies. Armit was owed £4,867, Ehrmanns £4,720, Boutinot £3,058 and Sipsmith £3,652.

Mazars reported that Borough Wines, which started on a stall at Borough Market in 2002, had expanded to nine units but recently closed six sites “as a result of declining turnover and increasing losses”.

The sale of the business to Spirits of Borough, owned by Muriel Chatel and Arthur de Chalus, includes £43,760 of stock and all equipment, along with goodwill, intellectual property and customer records. The company has secured an initial three-month lease at the Stoke Newington branch.

Chatel said that rent demands had been “like a hoop around our neck”.

She added: “It’s been tough but what I would say is that at least we were extremely proactive and we took control while we could. We didn’t wait for the landlord to fold the company because we couldn’t keep up with the payments on empty shops for the next 20 years.

“We are doing everything by the book. We had to send out letters to people we work with in order to keep the trading name, to inform people that the previous company had to go into administration, but that Borough Wines was still very much trading.

“We have a French investor backing us, which requires faith in the current climate. They are an extremely serious investment company who invest in all sorts of businesses and they decided that our project was extremely strong if we managed to get out of retail and keep the strategy towards wholesale. They love the idea of the franchises and of wine on tap.”

Chatel said that relationships with some creditors had been maintained.

“We haven’t been able to write cheques left, right and centre straight away but we are trying to find solutions to maintain relationships with those who have been supportive of us for many years and will hopefully be part of the next chapter.

“In some ways what we are doing and putting together with the Borough Wines franchise is more interesting than the few shops we closed.”

More AWRS fun

A merchant recently raised an interesting point with us. What happens when an independent takes advantage of some crazy discounting in a supermarket to stock up on spirits or Champagne at prices that beat those of regular wholesalers?

There’s nothing illegal about this kind of activity. It’s happened on and off for decades. Except that things have changed: merchants are now only allowed to buy from UK suppliers who are accredited under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.

So could independents face fines, impounded stock and licences if they continue to load up at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons when they spot a chance for some extra margin? The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think, as we try to explain in the July edition of The Wine Merchant.

Wine and book shops in sync

The number of independent wine merchants and independent book shops appears to be settling into some sort of correlation, after years of growth in one sector and decline in the other.

According to The Booksellers Association, there are 883 independent book shops. The Wine Merchant calculates there are 912 specialist independent wine retailers, many of which thrive in the sort of locations that also sustain small book shops.

In 1995 there were 1,894 independent book shops, according to the BA, a figure that had almost halved, to 987, by 2013. But since 2015 numbers have seen a modest recovery, and the trade body is confident that the industry has stabilised despite an “increasingly challenging landscape” characterised by “unequal business rates, unfair competition from online retailers and post-Brexit uncertainty”.

It is calling for the Government to “take the steps needed to protect the future of book shops and their high streets”.

Meanwhile the number of independent record shops is also on the rise, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association.

It reports that store numbers now stand at 425, with the Record Store Day initiative having a positive effect on the sector.

This article appears in the June edition of The Wine Merchant.