Not just selling drinks but making them too

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There’s a lot of chatter these days about independents importing direct (yes, we’re responsible for some of that). But what’s less reported is the decision of a small but growing number of indies to sell their own exclusive brands.

The August edition of The Wine Merchant focuses on three merchants who have gone this route, in their own way.

There’s Aimee Davies, of Aimee’s Wine House in Bristol, who has installed a microbrewery in one of her two shops. Sounds expensive and fiddly, but the kit is paying for itself and Aimee reports that brewing beer is nothing like as complicated as she’d been led to believe.

We also talk to Toby Peirce of Quaff, with stores in Brighton and Hove. He’s just launched an exclusive beer brand called Lost Pier, which creates a nice point of difference in store and may also boost his local wholesale business.

Finally, we hear from Archie McDiarmid at Luvians in St Andrews, whose team have been working with local distillers on bespoke whisky and gin projects. Beer is the next project on the horizon.

He describes the activity as “a natural next step” for the business. There will be plenty of independents who feel the same.

Crowd funding could unlock independents’ potential

Crowd funding is a useful way for small businesses to raise a bit of extra cash. In the wine trade the money might be channeled into a new sampling device, or perhaps a second branch. Those who make donations get a nice thank-you and an invitation to the launch party, but often not much more.

Taurus Wines in Surrey has gone a step further, raising £275,000 via Crowdcube to finance a move to larger premises and to open a second branch. The benefactors in this case have become shareholders in the business, with a combined stake of 10%. In time they will probably receive an annual dividend of 6% and even be able to trade their shares.

It’s an interesting business model and one that could work for dozens of independents who are looking at expansion plans. Read all about the Taurus experience in the July edition of The Wine Merchant.

‘Sommeliers are the rock gods, independent merchants merely session musicians’

Our regular columnist Adeline Mangevine is tired of being put in her place …

It’s a quiet Monday afternoon and I’m “catching up” on Instagram. As I scroll through picture after picture of unicorn wines consumed over the weekend by people I don’t know, something grabs my eye. It’s a post by one of my suppliers of a group of four fresh-faced sommeliers from Michelin-starred joints standing in a vineyard on Santorini. “Awesome start to the trip!!” says the caption. “Time to taste some Assyrtiko!!!”

I am more than a little annoyed – and not just by the overuse of the exclamation mark.

I probably shift more of this producer’s Assyrtiko in a week than do all four somms combined in a month. I’ve championed it and built up a loyal following. Yet I have never been invited to visit the place where it is created. Why? Because independent wine merchants are not rock stars. We’re the uncredited session musicians. We don’t get showered in glory when we commit to buy six bottles of an obscure, skin-contact Spanish mountain wine that will impress other members of the wine trade (but will move slower than a snail wearing lead weights). We don’t get hard-to-come-by wines reserved for us (unpaid) for months on end. A suburban shop is just not as sexy as saying your wine is listed by hot new London joint The Bathing Pool or super-cool country retreat Doghouse Manor.

Yet collectively, we independent wine merchants are worth hundreds of millions. We are the alternative to supplier-squeezing multiples; we’ll take risks on unknown grapes, wines and regions; we are the people who convince consumers week in, week out to part with their hard-earned cash on a white that isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc and a red that is more than £10. But often, it feels like we’re the office juniors of the industry.

If somms are the rock gods, then wine writers are the movie stars. They’re always complaining about how few parts are available to them (for parts, read column inches) – but then act as if the nation stops in its tracks to read what they write.

Suppliers and producers swoon like fans when a well-known writer glides to their table at a tasting in the hope that these critics might write a glowing sentence about one of their wines. They’ll drop everything, including any merchant who might be tasting their wares. Instantly, we are reduced to being unpaid extras, holding empty glasses aloft.

I will be kinder to wine writers who are also MWs – and MWs in general. Same goes for Master Sommeliers. They’ve had to pass all those big, nasty exams to get to a level of expertise. I am happy to play house doctor to their consultant surgeon.

As for the buyers from the multiples and behemoth distributors, I see them as government ministers. Lots of attention is paid to what they say and do, much of it irrelevant to a major part of the industry: independent wine merchants.

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

The Wine Merchant Top 100 2017

We’re delighted to confirm this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100. We had a record entry this year of just under 700 wines which meant it was tougher than ever to be a winner. Congratulations to all the producers and suppliers who made the cut.

All of the wines are available to taste this week at our stand (V76) at the London Wine Fair. Competition director David Williams and Wine Merchant editor Graham Holter will be happy to discuss how the competition works and what the judges – a panel of 18 independent wine merchants – were looking for in the winning wines.

Look out for our winners supplement, which will feature profiles of all the winning wines and a run-down of our Highly Commended wines too.

Meanwhile, all this year’s Top 100 appear below:

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Top 100 Trophy winners revealed

Diversity is theme of this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100, as the judges in the fifth edition of the annual competition for independent-only wines gives places and trophies to an unprecedented range of suppliers, countries and styles.

A total of 14 countries share the spoils, including first-ever appearances from Croatia and Slovenia and a strong showing from Greece, which provides a trio of high-scoring whites including the Best White Trophy for Ktima Gerovassiliou Malgaousia, Macedonia 2016, imported by the 2017 competition’s leading supplier, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines.

France is well out in front, however, providing a quarter of the Top 100, and trophies for Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus Champagne NV (Best Sparkling Trophy; Hatch Mansfield) and Les Domaines Paul Mas Côte Mas Frisante NV (Best Value Sparkling Trophy).

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Spain is second with 13 Top 100 places plus three trophies: Best Value Red Trophy, Familia Castaño Hecula Monastrell, Yecla 2015 (£9.99, Liberty Wines); Best Fortified & Dessert Trophy, Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado NV (£35.55, Boutinot); and Best Value Fortified Trophy, Equipo Navazos I Think Manzanilla En Rama 2017 (£9.95, Alliance Wine).

The remaining trophies go to Argentina’s Sottano Judas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, 2014 (£49.99, Vindependents), awarded Best Red Trophy, and Man Family Vineyards Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc, Coastal 2016 (£6.59, Enotria & Coe), Best Value White Trophy.

Among suppliers, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines is comfortably the year’s star performer, with 19 entries in the Top 100, followed by Les Grands Chais de France (nine entries), and Enotria & Coe (seven).

The only competition for wines aimed exclusively at the UK’s independent wine merchants, The Wine Merchant Top 100 2017 was as ever judged by a diverse panel of 18 independents from around the country, chaired by David Williams, wine correspondent of The Observer.

“With almost 700 wines, this was the best year yet for entries, and the final list – including the 117 Highly Commended wines that just missed out on a place in the Top 100 – is a brilliant reflection of the quality and variety on offer in the UK’s independent trade,” says Williams.

• All winners will be revealed and showcased on The Wine Merchant’s stand at the London Wine Fair and featured in a supplement published with the magazine in July.