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.

The rewards of a 90-hour week

Julian Kaye doesn’t mind working hard in a trade he loves and has a great relationship with his customers. But just occasionally he’s forced to dress up as a terrifying voodoo character to call in debts. Nigel Huddleston meets him in his more traditional attire

The Wright Wine Co’s postal address is the Old Smithy in Skipton in North Yorkshire. It will come as no surprise to learn that it’s a former blacksmith’s, but the gradual expansion of the footprint of the business over the years means the current premises also include the town’s one-time fire station (from the horse-drawn days), two former dress shops and a knock-through to an old flat.

One of the dress Wright Wine 1shops was owned by Ros Fawcett, one of the original WI Calendar Girls, since immortalised in the 2003 film. Wright’s was a £50 sponsor of the very first calendar.

“We said it would never work,” says owner Julian Kaye, “but, begrudgingly, we gave them 50 quid. It turned out to be the best 50 quid we ever spent because they went on to raise £20m and she became so busy with the charitable foundation that she didn’t have time for her shop and asked if we’d like it. Miss October. She was the short one.”

The first wine merchant on the site was Peter Hopkins’ Manor Wine Shop in 1975 before Bob Wright took over in 1983 and gave it the name it retains to this day.

Continue reading “The rewards of a 90-hour week”

Onwards and upwards

Here is is – our last issue of 2018. We live in interesting times and sometimes negativity gets the better of those of us who try to write articles making sense of it all.

The indepThe Wine Merchant issue 75 page 1endent trade had a patchy summer (good weather and a World Cup aren’t necessarily great news for all wine retailers) and hopes are now pinned on a successful Christmas.

What will the New Year bring? At the time of writing, we can more or less guarantee duty increases, Brexit, more gin launches, hundreds of thousands more vines going into English and Welsh soil, research that proves that wine is killing us, and research that demonstrates why it’s the key to a long life.

Meanwhile, store numbers go on increasing. We’re now past the 900 mark and we know of several merchants who are about to explode onto the independent scene – as well as some that are ready to expand, if they can secure the right sites.

So there’s no negativity around these parts. In fact we’re raring to go for 2019. See you then.