More indies go the wine bar route

The proportion of independent merchants selling wine for consumption on the premises has hit a new high.

Just over 37% of respondents in this year’s Wine Merchant reader survey report that customers are able to drink on their premises, up from less than 23% four years ago.

Just over 7% of respondents say they have only started selling drinks for on-premise consumption within the past year, and another 4.3% say they will definitely go this route in the coming 12 months.

Although the majority of newcomers to the independent trade now incorporate a wine bar or restaurant element within their business plans, many established merchants are resistant to the idea – with some restricted by licensing regulations, particularly in Scotland, or lacking suitable space. The survey found that 41.5% of merchants have no plans to offer on-premise sales, the lowest figure recorded in the history of the survey.

Exactly a quarter of respondents serve food, with a further 3% saying they will start doing so soon.

Eight pages of survey analysis appears in our April edition and concludes in May.

Boutinot is still number one

Every year, our reader survey asks merchants which suppliers they most enjoy working with. We allow them three choices, in no particular order, and offer no prompts.

And, every year, the top of the leaderboard looks much the same. Boutinot, Liberty Wines, Alliance Wine and Hatch Mansfield occupy the first four places once again this year. Indeed Boutinot and Liberty have taken first and second spot respectively ever since the survey began in 2013.

Yet all four have seen their share of the votes slip a little, partly because more and more suppliers are receiving votes. This year 130 suppliers were nominated by survey respondents, an all-time high for the survey.

The effect of price hikes is clearly visible in the average sales price in the independent trade, which rises from £12.25 to £12.99, compared to the off-trade average of £5.73. Yet transaction values have fallen to a five-year low.

More survey analysis appears in our March edition and continues in April.

Indies reach a new high

The independent trade is now worth just under £560m, according to findings in this year’s Wine Merchant reader survey.
Although the figure represents an all-time high for specialist indies, and comes at a time when store numbers are continuing to set new records, the total is just 2.5% above that registered in the 2018 survey.
Per business, average revenue now stands at just over £832,000, down from just over £869,000 last year. The median figure is £435,000, not far off the £431,500 recorded last year.
The figures equate to takings of around £612,500 per shop, down from £634,700 in the 2018 study. The numbers illustrate that independents have largely struggled to make progress in the past 12 months and that the growth in the category is essentially being driven by the contribution of new arrivals and new stores.
This year’s reader survey, organised in partnership with Hatch Mansfield, had a record response, with 189 independent wine businesses taking part.

• Full survey analysis begins in our March edition.

Pol Roger Rising Stars: Emily Silva, Oxford Wine Company

Emily arrived at the Oxford Wine Company with a degree from Cambridge in English and a “phenomenal wine knowledge”, according to owner Ted Sandbach. She had started “a very ill-advised law conversion course”, in her own words, but fancied a career in wine.

“I said to her, everyone who joins the wine trade has to do the hard yards – working in retail for a couple of years so you really understand the wine business and the people,” says Sandbach. “She did that for two years and was very good at it.”

Emily was later fast-tracked into a marketing and PR role. “Just as with my role as a shop manager, I came into my marketing role with pretty much no experience, and both have been a steep learning curve – although that’s what I enjoy,” she says. “I have just taken on a new responsibility as a co-ordinator of the retail side of the business.

“I also spend time talking to journalists, attending tastings, as well as organising events and travelling between our shops to make sure the managers are kept in the loop about what’s going on in the company.

“I still spend one day a week in the shop serving customers. It’s really important – as someone involved in marketing – that I’m familiar with what our customers are asking about and buying. Ted has given me the freedom to sort of build my own role, which is fantastic.”

Emily is currently redesigning the company website and, having gained her WSET Diploma, is considering the “rather terrifying and exciting prospect” of studying to be an MW.

“Emily’s got modern ideas, she’s got energy, she’s got enthusiasm – all those things you want in young people,” says Sandbach. “And I’m a massive believer in giving young people their head and letting them do what they want to do.

“The whole secret is having people who are brighter and sharper than you are, and that’s exactly what I’ve got with Emily. She communicates beautifully, she’s hard working, very well organised, very thorough and very clear. She’s brilliant.”

Emily wins a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne.  To nominate a rising star in your business, please email

Reader survey 2019

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 Thank you.