France leads the field

France has confirmed its position as the leading supplier for UK independent wine merchants after taking a quarter of the positions in the 2019 Wine Merchant Top 100 selection.

The competition, which is now in its sixth year, was judged by a panel of 25 independent merchants led by Wine Merchant Top 100 chair David Williams in London in April, and featured the largest-ever field of entries – 837 wines from more than 40 UK suppliers were submitted for blind tasting.

A total of 276 wines made it through into the final round of judging, with the 176 wines that just missed out on the final Top 100 earning a Highly Commended award.

Other countries to fare well in the final Top 100 were Italy with 16 wines, followed by Spain with 10 and New Zealand and Australia with eight apiece, while Hungary made its first appearance in a Top 100 selection with two wines, and Greece once again punched above its weight with three Top 100 wines.

TROPHY WINNERS 2019

Best Sparkling: Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve, Champagne, France NV (Liberty Wines) RRP £67.99

Best Value Sparkling: KWV Laborie Blanc de Blancs Methode Cap Classique, South Africa 2011 (North South Wines) RRP £14.99

Best Red: Fèlsina Berardenga Fontalloro, Toscana IGT 2016 (Liberty Wines) RRP £52.99

Best Value Red: Boutinot Brisa de Verano Garnacha Tinta, Catalunya, Spain 2017 (Boutinot) RRP £9.49

Best White: Diamantopetra White, PDO Dafnes, Kato Asites, Heraklion Crete, Greece 2018 (Vindependents) RRP £16.50

Best Value White: Casa de Vila Nova Vila Nova Alvarinho, Minho, Portugal 2018 (Boutinot) RRP £11.49

Best Rosé: Domaine Gavoty Cuvée Clarendon Rosé, Provence, France 2018 (Laytons) RRP £18.95

Best Value Rosé: Caves Languedoc-Roussillon Rosé des Plages Premium, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2018 (Vindependents) £11.99

Best Fortified: Henriques & Henriques 10 Year Old Bual Madeira, Portugal (Mentzendorff) RRP £20.75

Best Value Fortified: Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal 2012 (Mentzendorff) RRP £16.50

This year’s winners will be unveiled and available to taste at The Wine Merchant Top 100 stand at the London Wine Fair from May 20 to 22, with a full list of the Top 100 and Highly Commended winners published in a supplement to The Wine Merchant in July.

More indies go the wine bar route

The proportion of independent merchants selling wine for consumption on the premises has hit a new high.

Just over 37% of respondents in this year’s Wine Merchant reader survey report that customers are able to drink on their premises, up from less than 23% four years ago.

Just over 7% of respondents say they have only started selling drinks for on-premise consumption within the past year, and another 4.3% say they will definitely go this route in the coming 12 months.

Although the majority of newcomers to the independent trade now incorporate a wine bar or restaurant element within their business plans, many established merchants are resistant to the idea – with some restricted by licensing regulations, particularly in Scotland, or lacking suitable space. The survey found that 41.5% of merchants have no plans to offer on-premise sales, the lowest figure recorded in the history of the survey.

Exactly a quarter of respondents serve food, with a further 3% saying they will start doing so soon.

Eight pages of survey analysis appears in our April edition and concludes in May.

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 claire@winemerchantmag.com