More AWRS fun

A merchant recently raised an interesting point with us. What happens when an independent takes advantage of some crazy discounting in a supermarket to stock up on spirits or Champagne at prices that beat those of regular wholesalers?

There’s nothing illegal about this kind of activity. It’s happened on and off for decades. Except that things have changed: merchants are now only allowed to buy from UK suppliers who are accredited under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.

So could independents face fines, impounded stock and licences if they continue to load up at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons when they spot a chance for some extra margin? The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think, as we try to explain in the July edition of The Wine Merchant.

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.

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.

Merchants fear a Brexit disaster

Wine merchants rely almost entirely on an imported product. They thrive when consumers have a bit of disposable income. So it’s not exactly a surprise that an overwhelming majority voted to remain in the EU.

Our poll of 88 businesses finds that 70% of independents still want to stay in the EU, and most would favour a second referendum to settle the issue.

Some are sounding dire warnings about their prospects if Brexit goes ahead. One predicts that wine merchants of all shapes and sizes will close in their droves.

Are there some potential upsides? Some respondents suggest that they may be in a position to capitalise on the collapse of the importers who aren’t able to withstand the Brexit shock. It’s not the most positive way of looking into the future, but something to cling to at a time when optimism seems to be in short supply.

Read our survey report in the October edition. Don’t worry, there’s some funny stuff in this issue too.

Arch enemies

There’s a curious affinity between wine merchants and railways arches. It’s partly because they have a resemblance to cool, dark wine cellars. It’s also because rents have traditionally been pretty affordable.

Arches are home to all kinds of independent businesses, not just wine merchants, and as such they are a national asset. We don’t know for sure what will happen when Network Rail sells them off, but let’s not kid ourselves that rents are likely to stay the same.

Understandably, there’s a lot of nervousness among arch-based wine merchants about what will happen once their new landlord emerges. The lack of communication from Network Rail hasn’t helped matters.

We’ve spoken to a few of them in the August edition, where you’ll also find a profile of Corney & Barrow’s Newmarket branch, coverage of our Bristol Round Table Event, a look into the future of Rioja, and predictions about when, if ever, the gin bubble will burst.