Michael Smith and Jess Scarratt (picture by Simon Booth)
People are visiting Hastings these days to take a look at its award-winning pier. It’s pretty good. But not as impressive as the wine shop just around the corner.
We say “wine shop”, but Borough Wines, Beers & Books is much more than that, as its name suggests. Not many merchants host gigs in their basement featuring a bloke playing free jazz on a sax while hitting himself on the head with a tray, or welcome Faust and their angle grinder for a midweek performance.
Jess Scarratt and Michael Smith embody a truth that is becoming more self-evident in the UK trade: there’s no such thing as a “typical” independent, and attempts to analyse the sector through generalisations and averaging-out will only ever take you so far.
For some merchants, wine has to be the focus, at the expense of all other distractions. For others, it’s simply part of the mix, but that doesn’t have to mean that such retailers lose their specialism. You’re allowed to specialise in more than one category.
Borough Wines, Beers & Books is very definitely a wine specialist, as a glance at its range will attest. But its owners are interested in other things too. And so, it would seem, are its customers.
The number of specialist independent wine merchants in the UK has hit a new high.
There are now 855 shops operated by 624 businesses, according to the latest data compiled by The Wine Merchant, a net increase of 31 premises on the figure recorded in January 2017.
That figure is below the net growth of 40 shops seen in 2016, but encouraging news for an industry which is feeling the effects of the weaker pound and faltering confidence in much of the retail sector.
Twenty-three new wine merchants appeared last year, with the rest of the growth accounted for by existing businesses opening new branches. There were a number of closures, but these were easily outnumbered by the number of openings – and for once several indies were sold as going concerns.
Although last year’s Wine Merchant reader survey found that just 28% of independents sell wine for consumption on the premises, 13 of the 23 new entrants have some form of on-premise offer, which may offer clues about the future direction of the trade generally.
Just over half of the new shops – 16 – appeared in London, while three were opened in Wales.
The Wine Merchant annual reader survey is the most important study of the independent wine trade in the UK.
The responses that we get help us put together a detailed picture of how independents are faring, and how the trade as a whole is approaching the year ahead. It allows us to monitor trends, take stock of the relationship with suppliers, and keep tabs on the way retailers are adapting their businesses.
Once again our partners are Hatch Mansfield and they have kindly donated five Coravins which will be presented to five participants selected at random.
If you’d prefer to stay anonymous, that’s fine. All we insist on is that participants are UK independent merchants with at least one bricks-and-mortar sales premises.
You don’t see many TV ads for wine these days, and these examples may partly explain why.
Premier Estates Taste the Bush (2015)
An ad so bad it got banned. Whether that was deserved more for its feeble humour or the general inappropriateness is a moot point. We detect the paw-prints here of a couple of male 20-year-old interns whose brains short-circuited when they made the bush/pubic hair connection. Chortle!
Orson Welles likes Paul Masson California Champagne (Outtake)
Never work with children, animals or ageing film icons. It appears that a lubricated Orson Welles has been unwittingly parachuted onto the set of Abigail’s Party. He emits a fabulous Shakespearian wail, Brian Blessed-style, before scratching his nose and falling asleep. Cut. Take 21.
Bolla Valpolicella (1978)
Straight from the Mills & Boon school of wine commercials. When a lone “soft” woman is drinking wine made for “people who are in love” and catches the eye of a “full-bodied” moustachioed man who is also drinking wine made for “people who are in love”, it’s obvious: they fall in love. Who needs Tinder?