‘Sommeliers are the rock gods, independent merchants merely session musicians’

Our regular columnist Adeline Mangevine is tired of being put in her place …

It’s a quiet Monday afternoon and I’m “catching up” on Instagram. As I scroll through picture after picture of unicorn wines consumed over the weekend by people I don’t know, something grabs my eye. It’s a post by one of my suppliers of a group of four fresh-faced sommeliers from Michelin-starred joints standing in a vineyard on Santorini. “Awesome start to the trip!!” says the caption. “Time to taste some Assyrtiko!!!”

I am more than a little annoyed – and not just by the overuse of the exclamation mark.

I probably shift more of this producer’s Assyrtiko in a week than do all four somms combined in a month. I’ve championed it and built up a loyal following. Yet I have never been invited to visit the place where it is created. Why? Because independent wine merchants are not rock stars. We’re the uncredited session musicians. We don’t get showered in glory when we commit to buy six bottles of an obscure, skin-contact Spanish mountain wine that will impress other members of the wine trade (but will move slower than a snail wearing lead weights). We don’t get hard-to-come-by wines reserved for us (unpaid) for months on end. A suburban shop is just not as sexy as saying your wine is listed by hot new London joint The Bathing Pool or super-cool country retreat Doghouse Manor.

Yet collectively, we independent wine merchants are worth hundreds of millions. We are the alternative to supplier-squeezing multiples; we’ll take risks on unknown grapes, wines and regions; we are the people who convince consumers week in, week out to part with their hard-earned cash on a white that isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc and a red that is more than £10. But often, it feels like we’re the office juniors of the industry.

If somms are the rock gods, then wine writers are the movie stars. They’re always complaining about how few parts are available to them (for parts, read column inches) – but then act as if the nation stops in its tracks to read what they write.

Suppliers and producers swoon like fans when a well-known writer glides to their table at a tasting in the hope that these critics might write a glowing sentence about one of their wines. They’ll drop everything, including any merchant who might be tasting their wares. Instantly, we are reduced to being unpaid extras, holding empty glasses aloft.

I will be kinder to wine writers who are also MWs – and MWs in general. Same goes for Master Sommeliers. They’ve had to pass all those big, nasty exams to get to a level of expertise. I am happy to play house doctor to their consultant surgeon.

As for the buyers from the multiples and behemoth distributors, I see them as government ministers. Lots of attention is paid to what they say and do, much of it irrelevant to a major part of the industry: independent wine merchants.

This article appears in the June edition of The Wine Merchant.


Win fabulous bottles of Château Palmer

sichel winesCelebrate 130 years of fine wine with Maison Sichel and you could win one of the following:

1st prize: 1 Impériale of Château Palmer 1982

2nd prize: 1 Double Magnum of Château Palmer 1989

3rd prize: 1 Magnum of Château Palmer 1990

In 1883 the British line of the Sichel family set up shop as wine négociants on the quayside of Bordeaux.

Maison Sichel is still on the Quai de Bacalan in Bordeaux and is still a family company, managed by five Sichel brothers.

In Bordeaux it owns the much-respected Margaux property, Château Angludet and, since 2002, Château Argadens AOC Bordeaux Supérieur, its latest property.

In 1967 Sichel was the first négociant and producer in Bordeaux to build its own winery and Bel Air remains the only one of its kind in the region today.

In the 1990s, the Sichel family was in the vanguard of wine producers from outside the Languedoc who saw the potential for quality in the region. The visionary Peter A. Sichel bought Château Trillol in the Corbières in 1990 and the wines are now winning more major awards than ever.

Last but not least, of course, the Sichel family is the proud co-owner of one of the world’s finest estates, the Margaux 3rd Growth, Château Palmer.


Submit your answers to winemerchantmag@gmail.com before December 15th 2013.

1. Maison Sichel set up its offices in which part of Bordeaux in 1883?

a. The Quai des Chartrons.

b. The Place des Quinconces.

c. The Quai de Bacalan.

2. How did Maison Sichel break new ground in 1967?

a. It acquired a property in the Southern Hemisphere.

b. It established its own winery in the Corbières.

c. It built its own winery in the Bordeaux region.

 3. In which part of France is Château Trillol?

a. The Languedoc.

b. The Roussillon.

c. The South West.

 4. In which year did the Sichel family acquire its latest property?

a. 1990

b. 2000

c. 2002

5. Château Angludet is in which AOC?

a. Margaux

b. Moulis

c. Médoc


What were the first names of the Sichel who married Isabella Rothschild in 1802?

First name 1:

First name 2:

Competition open only to UK-based independent wine retailers.

Issue 9: yoga, safaris and Tom Hanks

When independents get the chance to visit California, they usually return with stories about the amazing wines they discovered on their travels. Why, they wonder, aren’t more of them available in the UK?

The strange thing is that many of them are already being imported, but suppliers don’t necessarily give them as much attention as they could. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the California Wine Institute for a two-part special, highlighting some of the most interesting wines that the Golden State can offer, and which are available to order now. We’ve started with whites, sparkling and rose wines and continue the series in issue 10 with reds.

This issue also features a special report on Brazil, a country whose wines are increasingly hard to ignore, and a report from the Languedoc, where there’s a real confidence among producers about the quality of their wines. Tried any Bourboulenc blends lately? You probably should.

We don’t like to brag about our little fanzine but as usual it is jam-packed with news from the independent sector, and wine reviews and talking points galore. There’s a three-page profile of Bristol independent Clifton Cellars, an excellent David Williams appraisal of Hedonism, and, as always, a busy Supplier Bulletin section with updates from the likes of Louis Latour Agencies, Pol Roger Portfolio, De Bortoli Wines, Emporia Brands, New Generation Wines, Mentzendorff, PLB Specialist, JJ Brands and Le Bon Vin.

What else? A man in a pith helmet, a Tom Hanks lookalike, the truth about Oz Clarke and Superman, the world’s oldest vine, yoga lessons, Germolene aromas and a man with a flamethrower. And how much do we charge for all this? Not a penny. It’s yours with our compliments. Thanks for reading, for your feedback, and for selling such nice wines.

Graham Holter