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

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”

Independent numbers continue to grow

The Wine Merchant issue 65The 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.

Analysis in the January edition of The Wine Merchant.