Is direct importing an easier option?

The April edition of The Wine Merchant contains part two of our reader survey. How important are on-premise sales to independents? Or dispense machines? Or food? The answers may surprise you.

By and large we’re detecting a slightly more conservative streak among indies this year, perhaps not surprising given the price increases that are providing a jolt to the system, and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit’s effect on the economy.

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But there’s a definite surge in interest in direct imports. Almost half of respondents plan to increase the amount of wine they source directly from producers in the coming year, with around a quarter expecting to buy at current levels.

Just under 21% say they will continue to buy all their wines from UK suppliers.

Direct importing is often not as complicated as novices fear it might be. But it does leave merchants exposed to currency shocks, and it creates admin that many find fiddly and time-consuming. Logistics and storage can be a headache. Many who go down the direct-import route say they only really appreciate the value of the service provided by agency businesses when they try to do the job themselves.

Most merchants have no intention of importing 100% of their wines. But the proportion of what they do buy in this way looks certain to rise.

Wines of Germany Top 50 announced

Germany is the source of some of the trade’s favourite wines. Every year Wines of Germany assembles a panel of experts to sift through hundreds of bottles – some of which are alreaWines of Germany Top 50 2017dy available in the UK, others which are seeking distribution – to select their favourites.

This year’s top 50 will be featured in the April edition of The Wine Merchant – but here’s a sneak preview of the winners.

If you’d like to taste the wines for yourself, they’ll be available at the annual German tasting in London on May 9, which this year goes by the name of G String. Click here to register.

Confidence takes a knock

Independent wine merchants are an upbeat, positive and energetic bunch. But they’re not delusional. The pound’s capitulation against the euro and dollar(s), coupled with the chaos of Brexit, presents some big challenges for indies.

Our reader survey, reported in this week’s edition, reflects this. Just under 70% of respondents remain positive about increasing their trade in the coming 12 months, but this contrasts with 81% last year and 89% in 2015.

The results were compiled before last week’s 8p-a-bottle hike in wine duty, which hasn’t exactly lightened the mood. Throw soaring business rates into the equation and you have a recipe for gloominess.The Wine Merchant issue 56

But independent wine merchants are resourceful types, and experts at spotting opportunities. And if there’s an economic downturn, they’re often the beneficiaries, picking up extra business as consumers forego nights out in favour of home entertaining – in the company of better quality wine than they might previously have bought. It’s a phenomenon that Laurence Hanison, recently retired from Mill Hill Wines in north London, has experienced first-hand during three recessions.

Independent numbers grew, in net terms, by around 40 last year, bringing the total of specialist wine shops to 822 as we write. More shops are opening than closing. And the new entrants often have imaginative, wide-ranging business plans that go way beyond simply putting wines on shelves and waiting for punters to walk through the door. Take  look at the likes of Unwined in Tooting, Jaded Palates in Devon or Burgess & Hall in Forest Gate for some recent examples.

The coming year is going to be tough for many. But we’re willing to bet that the independent sector continues to grow – and thrive.

Coverage of this year’s reader survey appears in the March edition of The Wine Merchant and continues in our April issue.

Reader Survey 2017

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Every year The Wine Merchant carries out the most comprehensive survey of the UK independent wine trade.

It’s that time again and we’d love all our independent wine retailer readers to spend 10 minutes of their time to take part.

Obviously we don’t share individual responses but collectively the data we compile helps us build up a very detailed picture of the state of play in the independent trade.

Our friends at Hatch Mansfield are partnering us this year and have generously donated five cases of wine which will be sent to five respondents chosen at random.

Please click here to take part.

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Hello issue 53, farewell 2016

Where did 2016 go? We were just beginning to enjoy it – well, bits of it, anyway – and then it was all over. For The Wine Merchant, at least. This is our final edition of the year (there really is no point publishing on December 15) and so we hope it keeps you going until January.

This year we’ve set a new personal best for the number of trips, lunches and masterclasses we’ve organised for independent wine merchants and there have been memorable excursionThe Wine Merchant issue 53s to France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Germany.

We like to share these things around as fairly as possible so do keep an eye on our Twitter feed for details of what we’re getting up to in 2017. Many of our projects will also be mentioned in the email alerts that we occasionally send out.

We’re also on the hunt for judges in next year’s Wine Merchant Top 100. Again, we like to mix things up every year so as many independents as possible have chance to take part. Sometimes merchants worry that they “haven’t done any wine judging before” … but of course they have, as part of the buying decisions they make for their businesses. The judging process for our competition is remarkably similar to that.