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Shaping the UK drinks trade

Vol. 01 No. 04

Living Wage | 7 Bristol Roadshow | 14 Surfing SA’s Wines | 26


28 30 34 38

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Cocktail Trends Agent Wholesale Oxford’s Finest Millennials’ Mores


CONTENTS & COMMENT NOVEMBER 2016 ISSUE 4 REGIONAL FOCUS ON THE SOUTH WEST INSIDE THE NEWS 4 Adapt to survive: the lines are blurring between eating and drinking occasions

22 Drinking clever: keeping the wine list fresh




Alcohol Wholesaler Registration: the latest on how the HMRC scheme is progressing

Fortified wines: Chris Wilson on how the elder statesmen are reinventing themselves



Exchange rate bites: upward pressure on pricing sets in

South Africa: a younger, hipper type of winemaker is making waves in The Cape, finds Andrew Catchpole



Living Wage: takes its toll on the hospitality trade

DATA INSIGHT 10 On-trade view: our poll of operators shows Brexit jitters




12 London life: West End star Soho Wine Supply profiled



Double act: Angela Mount unlocks the secrets of the combined wholesaler/agent

14 Bristol debate: our roundtable discussion in the south west



In the Spotlight: Oxford Wine Company

Sparkling talk: a masterclass in fizz at the Bristol debate


20 Regional heroes: round-up of the best wholesalers in the south west




– when it comes to marketing. Andrew Catchpole digests Diageo’s latest report

40 Prospectors’ Corner: newbies and willbies on the UK restaurant and bar scene


Signed, sealed, delivered: Simon Jack on the critical business of being the main point of contact

28 Cocktails: Jo Gilbert finds the most adaptable of drinks perfect for seasonality

34 Cocktails leading the way: it’s all about fluidity – not gender

August 2016






DRINKING CHEEK BY JOWL “Change is the only constant,” mused the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and that has certainly never been more apt than in the current drinking and dining scene. There has been an ongoing breakdown of clearly defined drinking and eating occasions. People graze more, moving from cocktail to craft beer to wine, also sharing smaller plates of food while venue hopping. And all the while they take their cues and recommendations from peers via social media and by immersing themselves in the world through the myriad possibilities provided by their ever-connected phone. This, in turn, is clearly reflected in the evolving drinks offer in the restaurant and bar world, where a blurring of boundaries continues apace. Hybrid venues – mixing up off-trade and on, serving coffee, wines, beers, spirits, cocktails and quality soft alternatives – continue to open and thrive. And the drinks lists (and retailers’ shelves) reflect this, with different drinks categories increasingly being offered cheek-by-jowl as old barriers are broken down. So far, so much we know. But the big question for the drinks trade is how to best meet and capitalise on this evolving scene. The spirits and cocktail-driven, quality-focused bar world is ahead of the game in recognising that a new individuality is necessary in terms of the way that brand owners, on-trade operators and bar staff engage with drinkers today. This sector is clearly leading the way, with innovation and personality to the fore. And it’s something that all drinks categories, in this deconstructed world, can take and learn from. Such a theme pervades this issue of The Drinks Wholesaler. On these pages we consider – in some depth – the trends driving the cutting edge of the cocktail and spirits world, along with the ways in which consumers – and especially a younger generation of drinkers – are engaging. On the wine side, in a category that is widely seen to still be lagging behind, we hold up examples of several areas where producers and suppliers are getting this right. These range from the ongoing and exciting transformation of South Africa’s hip young industry to the resurgence of two of the most traditional regions going – namely sherry and port. There’s also a focus on the hybrid Oxon-based, wine bar-retail-wholesale operation that is the


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A snapshot of the Drinks Roadshow in Bristol

Oxford Wine Company for good measure. Meanwhile our most recent regional Drinks Roadshow, convened in Bristol’s inspiring Cosy Club, addresses a related topic, bringing differing quarters of the trade together to debate the benefits of collaboration. Again, one of the key issues identified here was the need for the trade as a whole to come together to better meet the mores and expectations of an evolving and upcoming generation. The answers typically revolve around taking a more inclusive approach. But with the proviso – as the Diageo report examined on p38 makes clear – that those brand owners, bar and restaurant operators and staff running the venues, focus on their points of individuality and interest, rather than trying to follow inevitably fickle trends. Which makes for a much more interesting drinks world. And a wholly more engaging trade.

Andrew Catchpole, Editor Follow us on Twitter @DrinksWholesale


HMRC ALCOHOL WHOLESALER REGISTRATION SCHEME UPDATE ANDREW CATCHPOLE All legitimate drinks wholesalers operating in the UK should by now have signed up to the HMRC Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme, the deadline having passed at the end of March. The legislation is designed to combat an estimated £1.2bn in duty revenues lost to the Treasury each year because of illegal trade in non-duty paid alcohol. This, in turn, undermines those selling legally at full duty-paid price, which, on the face of it, is to be welcomed by the wholesale trade. The onus is on those buying from wholesalers to check the company against its Unique Reference Number (URN) and ensure that it is registered and selling legally. However, with the full implementation of the

THE DRINKS WHOLESALER EDITORIAL Editor Andrew Catchpole 01293 590055 Contributors Jo Gilbert, Chris Wilson, Angela Mount, Simon Jack, Jaq Bayles DESIGN Group Art Editor Acting Art Editor Christine Freeman Peter May Designer James Down


ADVERTISING & SALES Publisher Lee Sharkey 01293 558136 Commercial Director Samantha Halliday 01293 590053 Senior Account Manager Stuart Sadler 01293 590054 Account Manager Erica Stuart 01293 558132 Account Executive Marc Lanaway 01293 558137

scheme due to go live on April 1, 2017, some companies are still not signed up despite the threat of big fines and stock seizure, and some companies that have registered are still not in possession of a URN, which will allow them to trade, generating concern that the backlog may not be cleared in time. A director of a major wholesaler, who asked to remain anonymous, has voiced concerns to Drinks Wholesaler about these delays. “Many companies, the big ones, still have not got their registration through yet, while many smaller companies have, and it may be that HMRC is waiting for a big trophy catch of a big player.” For most, though, the scheme makes sense, and most can see the potential benefits. “We have registered and we have a number, it was very straightforward, HMRC came to Telford Wines and Rodney Densem for half a day and there were no issues,” says managing director Nick Gent, whose companies were asked to register early as part of a tester for the scheme. “It does involve a little more administration when there is a new supplier agreement, and we will need to make sure we do all the checks because anyone can come up with a number,” he continues. “But the potential benefits are that it should help eradicate a situation where people are bringing products into the UK without paying duty. Those selling wines for £3 or less out of the back of a white van – hopefully that will stop.” Others are less convinced, though, including John Chapman, operations director at Oxford Wine Company. “We are fully registered and have our number, and the interview with HMRC was fine as it was mostly common sense,” he says. “When the benefits become visible, after April 1, there is potential for more business, as rogue traders should be forced to stop, but the inherent problem is that HMRC does not have the resources to police this.” Chapman adds: “Like all law abiding companies, we have embraced the extra paperwork and due diligence checks and are jumping through hoops to please HMRC. Unfortunately not everyone will.” Peter Sotiri, of Soho Wine Supply, takes a different view, however. “AWRS has been quite good, opening our eyes to a few things, making us more vigilant about who we are dealing with,” says Sotiri. “It’s common sense. The whole thing is about due diligence, running checks on anyone we are buying from, but you can also reverse that and check the financial health of businesses you are working with,” he continues. “It makes it more acceptable to ask for that information, whereas before it felt like you were asking for personal information, so that is a good outcome.” EVENTS MANAGER Sarah Burnett 01293590049 ACCOUNTS Annette O’Connell 01293 590051 Carol Cureton 01293 590045 AD PRODUCTION CC Media Group Kevin Porter 0207 216 6449 Mark Crinnion 0207 216 6407 MANAGING DIRECTOR Russell Dodd

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November 2016




EXCHANGE RATE BITES AS STERLING’S FALL STRESSES TRADE ANDREW CATCHPOLE With the pound down some 18% against the euro and similarly depressed against the dollar, it has been inevitable that price rises will have to feed through the supply chain to the end consumer. The big question for most suppliers has simply been ‘when’ and not ‘if’ this will occur. The upward pressure on pricing was most vividly described by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association in a recent warning that the depressed value of sterling is having a “punishing effect” on importers. The trade body warned that if the full costs were passed on, the average bottle of wine coming from within the EU would rise by as much as 29p, while wines from outside the EU could see an extra 22p on the bottle. Even with some current easing of this worst-case scenario (as Drinks Wholesaler goes to press), with the pound edging slightly up against the euro and also gaining against the US dollar postDonald Trump’s election, it is clear that increases will have to be fed through. Where the trade has been split is over the timing of when those costs can be passed on, with some holding out until after the Christmas trading period, while others announced increases well in advance, often as hedged monies ran out. Wine is likely to be particularly hard hit in comparison with other drinks categories. “Wine at this point is our major concern. Our margin’s taken an understandable drop and we need to pass this on,” said Sean Jarvis at St Austell Brewery. “The only course of action being that we are already competitively priced will be an early price increase. We have seen many of our competitors already take this action and those who have not will, I’m sure, be joining us.” Price rises of between 3% and 5% have been typical from many suppliers, though some, such as Christopher Piper Wines, have added incremental increases as new


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imports arrive, rather than a blanket rise. Simon Thomson at Talking Wines, which has also implemented “small price rises”, highlighted a further factor with regard to orders from the on-trade. “Demand from the trade has become more erratic, with some customers doing less volume,” said Thomson. What all agree on, with some signs that the pound is undergoing a slight recovery

as “soft Brexit” hopes rise, is that the market needs stability in the months ahead. As our Drinks Roadshow debate in Bristol touched on, once Christmas is over, with rising food and other costs eating harder into household budgets into 2017, the trade will have to redouble its efforts to make the case for consumer spend on wine.



LIVING WAGE HITS THE ON-TRADE JO GILBERT When the latest minimum wage increase – dubbed the ‘national living wage’ to bring it in line with the cost of living – was introduced back in April, we were still two months away from the currency freefall which saw the pound plummeting to a 30-year low. Accumulative effects such as these have put significant pressure on the on-trade, particularly in the likes of the pub sector, where high overheads, duty rises and the living wage have all contributed to pubs closing at a rate of 21 a week, according to The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Last week, the consumer group called on the government to ease these pressures by freezing beer duty in the upcoming autumn statement and considering a cut in next year’s April Budget. Until things become clearer, Paul Jenkins, purchasing director of D&D London, said the hospitality group is doing its best not to pass on additional costs to the customer. “We’ve been working with suppliers on how to make savings, which customers won’t notice but will save money, such as receiving fewer larger deliveries or getting deliveries on slack days when they’re not busy. “The important thing is to maintain the quality of product. The last thing we want to do is dumb down, as customers quickly notice that.” Christopher Cooper, from consultancy firm Drinkonomics, said Brexit and the national living wage are the “two biggest pressures facing the hospitality and on-trade at the moment” – which is taking its toll on large and small businesses alike. One response is the way that lines are becoming blurred between front and back of house staff. As staff become more expensive, their roles are adapting too.“I don’t want to say the days of the sommelier are gone, but in smaller restaurants especially, people are having to be more flexible.

“It could be a sign of the times as well. Hospitality is becoming more relaxed and informal. It doesn’t matter if servers have tattoos and a beard any more as long as they make good cocktails,” he said. As of April 2016, workers aged 25 or over and not in the first year of an apprenticeship have been legally entitled to at least £7.20 per hour. Could this lead to a situation where employers favour younger talent than those, say, over the 25-year threshold? “Absolutely,” Cooper said. “Without knowing, the government has created a situation whereby its OK to be discriminatory when employing people of a certain age.

“It’s going to drive employment of younger people but, in the same respect, those people who possibly need secure employment the most (the over 25s who possibly have families and responsibilities) are going to be less attractive as potential employees.” In the current environment, it means consultants such as Cooper have to “earn their crust”. He said: “It’s make or break for a lot of people at the moment. It’s easy to write a great wine list when the sun is shining, but when you’ve got the living wage and currency fluctuations to consider, things become tighter.”

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WHOLESALERS STILL ROBUST POST-BREXIT A recent report has said that wine wholesalers and distributors are in “good shape” to withstand the challenges posed by Brexit. The report, which checked the financial health of the UK’s top 1,223 wine wholesalers and distributors, found that 483 firms are performing well in current market conditions. “Since the decision to leave the European Union, the market has been dogged with speculation and uncertainty,” said David Pattison, senior analyst at Plimsoll Publishing, which collated the data. “However, our latest research suggests the majority of wine wholesalers and distributors are surprisingly well placed. Having said that, that’s not to say there will not be an impact, but they are in good shape to cope and respond to any upheaval.” The study identified the key areas of business performance that led to success or failure then applied them to the 1,223


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companies, which were given one of five “health ratings”. The majority of businesses placed in the ‘mediocre to strong’ category, with 483 businesses considered to be in strong financial health. One hundred and 14 rated as good and 168 firms rated as mediocre, in need of ‘fine-tuning’ their businesses. One hundred and 68 were given caution ratings, while 219 businesses found themselves in the danger category for displaying signs of serious financial weakness. Pattison advised businesses to be aware of the “warning signs”, and for directors to be prepared to act. “Nobody at this early stage will know the consequences of the Brexit vote. However, companies which are rated as ‘danger’ have two options – they can hold their nerve and hope to trade their way out, or they can put a survival plan in place and look to consolidate their business,” he said.

We haven’t yet seen any real changes in pricing for our customers so our customers are still enjoying the prices that have been put in place and they will certainly see that right through Christmas, although there will be changes when we look to increase prices as we would normally do in February. So we will see Christmas through, it will cost us a little money, but certainly we’ll protect our customers through that period.

WILL CONSUMERS ACCEPT PRICE INCREASES FROM THE TRADE? Changes in prices won’t just be in wine, they will be part of the changes everyone will see when they go shopping. That is the point where we may see people hit a little harder and perhaps change the number of times that they go out. We have seen the bad times before. But so long as you are an operator at the top of your game, while people may not go out as often, when they do they will go to the places they really like.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THE SUPPLY CHAIN TO PULL TOGETHER OVER PRESSURE ON PRICES? We have already started. Our [recent] visits to our key partners in South America were to help them understand the position we are in with regard to margin. But they have already helped us put the prices we have in place, so to ask for more might be presumptuous. However, it is important that everyone understands and agrees that prices coming into the country can’t really go up, so we had to have an understanding about this. But we are not the kind of company that would look to cut our suppliers’ margins because of issues here in the UK. We will look to ride this one out, but can’t take on board any further increases. Looking to the future, things should become more comfortable with other currencies against the pound – perhaps not so much the euro, but the conditions in the US may help us with pricing from South America.


he on-trade’s 124,000 or so outlets in the UK are currently viewed by many in the supply side of the drinks trade as the most fertile channel for driving growth. But for many operators an already tough trading environment has been compounded by the fear of uncertainty among consumers and trade over Brexit as rising living costs begin to bite following sterling’s 18% fall. Against this backdrop, Drinks Wholesaler surveyed UK on-trade businesses to assess the mood of the sector, delivering some interesting insights into how healthy – or otherwise – the channel is and the trends affecting their sales of drinks.

TOUGH ENVIRONMENT The headline insight in response to the question “year on year, has the trading environment become tougher, better, or stayed about the same”, was that more than 70% say it has become tougher, with only 18% saying it has become better. The factors affecting this response were numerous, too, showing quite how many challenges the on-trade faces in the current climate, but with a clear hierarchy of hurdles emerging. Unsurprisingly, exchange rate was the most cited challenge, coupled with general uncertainty over the economic climate. Respondents were split between those holding prices and those that were being forced to push price increases through ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period. Those maintaining prices are concerned about the effect on customer spend and business if and when they have to raise prices, with many expecting a tough new year. The next biggest concern centered on increased staffing costs as the minimum living wage filters through, with respondents already feeling the effects, described by one large, multi-estate operator as “a killer” in terms of the impact on costs for the business. Another, independent, operator added: “We need good staff with experience.


If we dumb down and employ younger people they lack experience and generate a lower income.” Elsewhere, the main ongoing challenges included supermarkets and discounters continuing to drive a low cost ‘drink at home’ and ‘pre-loading’ culture, which continues to eat into on-trade profitability and consumer spend.


CHANGING DRINKING CULTURE Asked “are you seeing a trend towards ‘less is more’ - customers drinking less but spending more?” (some 36% reported that customers are spending up, but drinking less.) However, despite this widely reported trend, a majority 46% said customers are spending and drinking about the same, while 18% said customers are drinking and spending less, with no one reporting that customers are spending up and drinking more. On balance, the above responses suggest the widely held view that people are, on average, looking for quality and a ‘bang for their buck’ when they do spend on a night out, holds true for a majority. Moving on to the styles of wine that people are drinking, the survey delivered mixed answers to the question: “With

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regard to wine, are customers opting for ‘safe’ classic name options, or being more adventurous in their choices?” A narrowish majority said that customers are definitely open to being more adventurous, with varieties including Albariño, Godello and Riesling heading up the whites mentioned, and Grenache and Tempranillo among the reds. However, many reported that customers are being less adventurous, with comments such as: “Eighty per cent go for the safe option, with a few prepared to be more adventurous.” Of that latter group, the two strongest performers were ‘safe classics’, but with ‘quality branded’ wines also doing well, providing a reassuring and recognisable stepping stone for those wishing to trade up without risking an off-piste adventure.

NEW STYLES Many respondents said they had looked to improve (or hold) pricing by sourcing wines from less well-known regions, with a bias to European wines, allowing for better margins coupled with maintaining quality. An increase in own-label and a reduction in choice also featured, possibly to ensure that outlets and their staff could focus on better selling a simpler range with better margin. In response to questions asking whether the business had plugged into the ‘craft’ beer and ‘spirits boom, the reply was an overwhelming ‘yes’. However, respondents were evenly split over whether saturation point has been reached, or those categories, including artisanal gins and whiskies, will continue to grow.







Stayed about the same?

Asked how many drinks suppliers their business uses, very few respondents to the Drinks Wholesaler survey cited just one, perhaps reflecting the bias in replies from independent operators and smaller or quality-drinks driven groups.


also high on the list. “Many do support us really well, however there are many that could do better,” perhaps best summed up the replies.


36% 46% 18%

Yes, customers are spending up but drinking less

Customers are spending and drinking about the same Customers are drinking and spending less


Answers were fairly evenly balanced across the options of 3-5, 6-10, 10-20 and, perhaps surprisingly, 20+, suggesting that the premium on-trade is still shopping around and keeping its options open. Replies to the question “do suppliers offer enough support?” produced a split between those satisfied and those dissatisfied, though with a bias towards the former. To accentuate the positive, the typical support that proved most helpful including a well-versed list covering samples, support with staff training, plus incentives and events such as winemaker dinners and educational trips. Flexibility with pricing, delivery, transparency over coming price increases and general good communication were

A final word on “how to keep the quality-focused drinks sector strong and buoyant” delivered many suggestions, with ‘focus on quality’ and ‘delivering points of difference’ to the fore. “We need to focus on innovation, quality, quality serve, value and a great experience across all of our drinks portfolio,” summed up the overarching message, echoed in comments such as “interesting range, sensible pricing and quality service”. Addressing the negatives, a need for greater economic and political stability, along with an easing of the currency situation, were understandably stressed. Beyond that, a collective need to fight to reduce staff costs, cut red tape, reduce high overheads and operating costs, address a perceived bias towards favouring off-trade retailers, plus the challenges of cheap off-trade drinks, and cashflow were cited as the major headaches.





6 - 10

10 - 20



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rothers Peter and Kyri Sotiri are familiar faces to many on London’s burgeoning restaurant and bar scene. With a retail outlet tucked away just north of Soho serving as the HQ for a thriving wholesale trade, the company’s West End location gives it an edge on many rival operators. In many ways it is testimony to the importance of smaller operators finding a niche in an ever more consolidated world. As with many long-established food and drink businesses in this central neighbourhood, the original Tottenham Court Road shop was founded in 1890 by an Italian family. Peter and Kyri’s father joined the business in 1956, initially working while studying as a student, and ended up managing the business in the early 1970s. Now operating in its present Fitzrovia site, the premises were then sold to a developer, but a fortuitous block on planning permission for the street allowed it to survive and Sotiri senior made an offer and bought the company. Almost 40 years on, Peter and Kyri are now at the helm.


WEST END WINES central London, split 80% wholesale and 20% retail through the shop. “It’s a double-edged sword, because we pay a premium for the location we are in. And then we have constraints of space, but then we can deliver quickly,” says Peter. “We like to say we offer a five-star service to a five-star industry. If a hotel or restaurant runs out of a particular brand, we can walk it through the door or have it couriered that afternoon.” Kyri adds: “Service is key to everything we do, and we offer an eclectic and incredible range of spirits, gins and whiskies, for example, and interesting wines that appeal to sommeliers, that they can make margin on and won’t find anywhere else.”

CENTRAL SERVICE “We joined as students and it gets into your blood a bit, the on-trade,” says Peter. What marks Soho Wine Supply out today is its ability to offer a very personal – and fast – delivery service to the extraordinary concentration of restaurants in central London (and beyond), including stretching to walking a bottle of premium spirit or wine to an outlet that has been caught short during service. “We pride ourselves on the service we provide, because being based centrally we can deliver the same day if needs be – even twice a day with some businesses,” says Peter. “And that serves them well, because West End space is prime and they’d rather use it for another table in the restaurant Top: Peter Sotiri than storing 10 cases of wine.” Above: Kyri Sotiri The company has more than 300 accounts, of which around 10% use Soho Wine Supply daily, another 50% buying at least monthly and the rest ordering sporadically – often to cover when other regular suppliers cannot meet an emergency shortfall of stock. Its distribution stretches to some accounts beyond the M25, but the overwhelming majority of business is in


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The company bonds at EHD, which drops off to the shop twice a week, and Soho Wines redistributes, with Peter saying: “We find that using thirdparty distribution isn’t always the best relationship, and for your clients – our drivers are ambassadors for our business and they do a very good job.” Both brothers are shy of giving a figure for turnover, but while they do admit that the market is tough, they also say



THE CHALLENGE IS ALWAYS THAT MANY PEOPLE DON’T SEE [FRONT OF HOUSE OR RESTAURANT WORK] AS A CAREER, BUT A STOP-GAP this offers opportunities for a nimble, smaller-sized business in an environment where consolidation continues apace. “For us to survive, we need to find niche and value wines and spirits – things we can transfer to the on-trade,” says Peter. “People are going away from fine dining to places where they can have and share a couple of dishes, there is less pressure on them to spend, but they will still spend in the end, just in a more relaxed way.” This translates as a necessity to sell more wines at the volume end, still quality focused and individual, but with around £10 a critical price, allowing restaurants to put these wines on at £30-£40 (or even higher if it’s a highmargin outlet), falling within the new comfort zone of many consumers. Higher-end wines and spirits are also in abundance, selling well through the shop and allowing top-up deliveries for restaurants and bars. “We are sole supplier to a few places, but tend to be a secondary supplier to a lot of places and that can work really well, because as sole supplier [the business] goes out to tender and margins can get eroded,” Peter continues. “So we tend to be a bit smarter than that, offering convenience that regular

suppliers can’t always deliver and, rather than listing fees – which we never do, people will give you the money and then take it all back and more anyway – we speak with people who know that you need to make a profit too and build longer-term relationships.”

SOLE DISTRIBUTION Intriguingly, Soho Wine Supply doesn’t go in for exclusive agencies itself, but tends to look to have sole distribution on its patch, also working with smaller producers that haven’t signed up to a sole UK agent. The Sotiris argue that everything has become much more accountantdriven in the on-trade, but that this, in turn, benefits their style of business as sommeliers especially look to fill gaps with interesting wines and spirits. “Because it’s a such a competitive market out there, with so much consolidation, smaller merchants have less to offer, and bigger suppliers want to give a one-stop-shop, so it’s easier to offer something different,” says Peter. “Sommeliers don’t like [the one-stopshop] because they are restricted

on what they can buy. So while the accountants like the retrospective discounts and savings on volumes, the sommeliers will top up from someone like us.” This service comes with its own costs, though, for the smaller supplier. “We offer staff training, tastings, winemaker dinners and take people out to see winemakers,” says Kyri, whose role also covers the educational and training side of the business. “The challenge is that many people don’t see [front of house or restaurant work] as a career, but a stop-gap. “But there are more people now coming through who are exceptions, who are passionate about food and wine, and we need to engage those people and build loyalty.” With regard to current currency issues, the Sotiris say that, while the whole trade is operating on “paper thin” margins, they will be maintaining prices on most wines and spirits until the end of the year, also suggesting that stability will eventually return. And when it does, those who continue to work closely with accounts to explain when and where price rises will come will be best placed to secure their ongoing business. For Soho Wine Supply, it’s all about staying nimble, keeping it personal and making the most of its expensive, but enviably located, hub in the thick of London’s restaurant and bar scene.

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The Panel: Stephan Barrett, chef and consultant Pablo Chaundy, manager, The Library Nik Darlington, managing director, Red Squirrel Wines Louisa Fitzpatrick, wine buyer, Walter Hicks Wines (part of St Austell Brewery) Ben Franks, owner, Novel Wines Rebecca Fraser, Louis Latour Kate Hawkings, consultant, Bells Diner and Bellita Louise Hawkins, co-owner, The Library Roman Jarana, sommelier, Casamia and Pi Shop Angela Mount, consultant, panel chair Andy Poxon, national account manager, Grand Chais de France Nathan Sherwood, Wines of Navarra Steven Whibley, owner, Pinkmans Bakery Andrew Catchpole, editor, Drinks Wholesaler

ow apt, then, that our Bristol event, in the inspiring surrounds of The Cosy Club, brought together all sectors of the drinks trade to explore ways in which businesses can collectively better work together to deliver mutual benefits and, ultimately, an uplift in sales. Angela Mount: In these challenging times we need a conversation about how we can work better together, as all sectors of trade. In the past we’ve always heard about restaurants saying suppliers are not helping, or suppliers saying that


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VENUE The Cosy Club 15-16 Lower Park Row, Bristol BS1 5BN Drinks Wholesaler would like to thank The Cosy Club for hosting our Bristol Drinks Roadshow.


THE SOUTH WEST restaurateurs are not helping, but we now all do need to pull together. It’s easy to sell a bottle and think that’s job done. But that sale is just the first step – selling the second bottle is the crucial one. So what do we need to develop as a trade and how do both sides work closely together in order to match the opportunities? What do you people who face the consumer, in the on or off-trade environment, really look for in a supplier?

Good suppliers Pablo Chaundy: Longevity [of staff] – a lot of drinks suppliers throw someone into the job, they last six months and then they’re gone. Longevity is very important. When people come in new and green, that’s fine, but we need to know that they are going to stay around and get to know our business. Kate Hawkings: Service. It’s like it is in restaurants – service is more important than chefs (but don’t say it to them because they hate it). People who approach me need to look at the list and have an idea of what I want. They have to do their research. There are hundreds of wine companies out there, all trying to make a buck, as are we, so your service has to be immaculate. Louisa Fitzpatrick: It goes right up the chain. Whereas before people have typically bought in the UK, now more companies are going direct. There used to be set channels of distribution, but in the past decade people have reduced stockholding, so really good service is also something we look for in our suppliers right up the supply chain. AM: Logistics is frequently brushed under the carpet because it’s not the sexy side of wine, but if it goes wrong, then everything goes wrong. Is that a problem? LF: Some are better than others and if a company has really good communication, if that is in place and something goes out of stock, then that really helps.

Getting logistics right Nik Darlington: When I set up Red Squirrel, I thought I was setting up a wine company. I didn’t realise I was setting up a logistics company. It’s about getting wines from Columbia in Canada to our bonded warehouse, then all the way down to Land’s End. Everything like that is outsourced, which makes it easier for small companies to work on a national scale, but it’s a large part of our costs and distribution costs have soared massively. AM: That raises a point about automated ordering systems. Some people just want an automated order system, but others want to speak to a person. ND: Smaller companies are more agile and can be a little more haphazard. But you always know who you will talk to with a smaller company – there’s someone who knows your business at the end of the phone. Companies such as Enotria have

November 2016




very clever ordering systems and if you are a busy bar, with a transient workforce and no knowledge of what they are ordering, that can work well. But at somewhere like Bells Diner or Bellita, you want someone who knows what you are ordering. Roman Jarana: That can work really well if I’m busy and have a chance to place an order at any time of the day, quickly, without having to speak with a supplier on the phone. Minimum orders can be hard, that’s one thing I have a problem with. And 80% of a supplier’s portfolio will be the same as 80% of the next portfolio, but we are Italian and don’t want [to be shown] the French wines in portfolios. And sometimes prices aren’t the same, labels aren’t the same, so we need a little flexibility on orders and care [on these other] things.

Big vs small ND: The big and small thing comes down to distribution and logistics. If you want interesting wines from smaller producers, you are never going to have the same distribution, it will be more difficult to get those wines, so there is a pay-off. Andy Poxon: we are opposite in scale to Nik, with 700 SKUs in our business from 15 wineries in France, so we have to manage all of that scale with offering our on-trade customers a minimum 300-bottle order from one consolidation point in France. Our customers rely on a system that has enough wine for the rest of the year, and with smaller [companies] you can’t always get that. AM: It may be different with a smaller wholesaler, but with larger wholesalers, as a brand owner or importer you are one step removed from the customer at the end of the chain. How do you then impact or influence where the wines go and support those wines in the market? AP: Only by working closely with the wholesale partner, incentivising or working with the team, by education and communication with that team – you can’t spend the manpower every day to be out on the road with those guys. And at events such as this, at consumer events – there are dozens of events a year where we are face to face with the end consumer.

Supporting the trade AM: As a customer, how you select a wholesaler is absolutely paramount because the danger is they are they selling what they are being incentivised to sell. How do you know if they have done their research and are offering what is right for your business? AP: If you are selling the right product at the right price, then it will find its way to the right people. LF: We sell Alsace sparking, but how do you find the extra places on the list with so much Prosecco or Champagne? It might be by building loyalty, on top of obvious things such as price and quality. It might be winemaker visits, staff visits to the wine region – staff training is absolutely key. PC: Staff training, whether you are a big or a small place, is difficult, because restaurants and


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bars are hiring people aged 20 and 21 and most of these staff don’t drink wine, so that makes it very difficult to train them. KH: I agree. Most young people don’t drink wine – not the way that we did. They just drink beer instead, so they are coming to wine without any impetus to learn. Louise Hawkins: Wine comes and goes. We’ve had a gin resurgence and craft ales, but wine has yet to capture the imagination of many people, so we need to make wine lists work. I try to find managers and staff who have an open mind. They may not know anything about the subject, but want to learn about it. But you can invest a lot of money, teaching them, then they disappear somewhere else.

Reaching millennials LF: The wine trade needs to understand millennials in the way other drinks categories have. Steven Whibley: I have a bakery-cafe and I started


THE SOUTH WEST do you start?’ But people do like quality and if you start with quality, and people like the wines, then they will try more.

Keeping it simple

putting alcohol into the bakery a few years ago. It was complicated at first. I found the way to get staff engaged was to get them to understand the product, just as they know all about the breads. If you put on several whites and reds each night, it might be difficult to get staff to understand them, so it’s perhaps better to put on one white and one red, then they can taste all the wines you introduce. So now we’ve built up to six whites and six reds, making sure staff taste and know about the wines. I find wine far too large [a subject]. There’s just too much choice, which can be overwhelming. The staff don’t really drink wine and I think people sometimes overcomplicate it. LH: It’s almost worth shutting the list, asking whether people like fruity or full-bodied styles. I opened a list the other week with 800 wines and even I am like: ‘Whoa, where


Rebecca Fraser: I’ve been a sommelier, and also been selling wine [to the trade], so I understand what people look for when you are selling wine. Now my main job is providing training and support, so people can understand the product better. You have to say to people that wine doesn’t have to be complicated. Put wines in the context of things such as pop music – more exuberant or more shy. What you sell is a story, rather than explaining the wine, which is important. Stephen Barrett: Limiting wine lists is important. If you don’t have a sommelier then two sides of an A4 sheet is all you need. A grand list needs a grand person [to sell it], but I’ve been a bistro chef all my life and in my restaurants the wine list should always be relative to the food. I didn’t buy wines because I liked them, but because I liked them with my food. And all wines should be ‘house wines’– not the dreadful selection in most places, but wines that reflect the food and are accessible for people. You have to have that interaction between the food and the wines to make a restaurant really work and increase sales of the wines, which is where the profit is. You have to engage in different ways. Believe me, millennials do want to know about wine, but they want to find out for themselves. Ben Franks: As a 22-year-old millennial myself, part of the thing with wine is that even though the trade is very welcoming it’s also completely dismissive of young people. The common wisdom is that 18 to 20-year-olds know nothing about wine, but it only took so long in the wine trade for someone to turn to me and take an interest. And I thought it was great and I now have my own business, but focused on unique and wonderful wines. The consumer buys from us online, and while the wine must be good, it’s really important to have a good label and a story. This is a huge factor for selling online as you can’t taste or talk about the wine in the same way. Nathan Sherwood: It’s important for companies to understand they are not just selling wines to consumers. They need to understand the general environment where they are selling. It’s easier to sell unusual wines to millennials – they are always looking for something new, so we need to create new markets, in modern environments doing great food and drink. I’ve loved sherry for a long time and teach classes on sherry. People are interested in these wines, the newness makes it interesting, and most people who engage with sherry are in their twenties. We can create new markets with wines that are forgotten. AM: What is really clear is that we need to think outside the box, look at different ways of working and think about what the needs are of the consumer and those selling to those consumers and all pull together on this.

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parkling wine sales are on a high, continuing to grow against a backdrop of sluggish still wine performance, but there is a gap in the middle when it comes to fizz, with sales polarised between Prosecco and Champagne. This suggests that, by being more inclusive of alternative styles, restaurants and bars could provide a clearer ladder for consumers to experiment and climb with regard to a host of differently styled and variously priced sparkling wines. The catch appears to be that consumers, even when offered a great list of sparkling wines, tend to shy away from the unknown, sticking with those aforementioned tried and trusted styles, plus the more recently popular English fizzes that have made an impact in the restaurant world. Against this backdrop, Drinks Wholesaler invited Angela Mount to host a Sparkling Masterclass at our South West Roadshow in Bristol, offering a tantalising taste of how a mix of less well-trodden styles could build an engaging list, along with the possibilities that these wines offered the bar owner or restaurateur.

and texture than Prosecco, but without the sometime aggressive acidity of Champagne. “In a restaurant, where you have a captive audience, you can lead a little and explain that, for a similar price, this wine offers more character than a lot of Prosecco, and once people try this they are likely to come back again,” said Mount. Staying with the ‘Prosecco alternative’ theme, the next sample was a Cleto Chiarli Pignoletto Brut NV at £9.53, made by the charmat method (as with Prosecco), delivering a similar taste profile, but allowing the customer to discover something new, without scaring them off with a radically differing wine style. Making a bigger jump in price and style, but still tapping into the public’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for Italian fizz, was a Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Gran Cuvée Brut NV at £21.80, described by one taster as “more Prada than Versace”. The challenge with this wine, from Italy’s most premium sparkling region, suggested Mount, was to “offer it as beautiful, elegant, and better than most cheaper Champagne alternative”, perhaps taking a lesson from the growing popularity of similarly priced English sparkling wines.

Price & style The session began with Metz Cremant d’Alsace Cuvée 1904 NV, retailing at £7.63, made from Pinot Blanc in the same traditional style as Champagne, and delivering floral notes and a gentle creamy roundedness, with more weight


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Next up was a high-end Cava, Gramona III Lustros 2007, retailing at £39, from a beleaguered category with a cheap image that nonetheless is now beginning to be noticed and create a buzz around its higher-end wines. “Cava has a chequered history and has been losing out to Prosecco, but there are some really fantastic examples, offering maturity and toasty richness with the complexity of Champagne, and often at great comparative value,” argued Mount, reminding the tasters that Cava is still popular and this could be tapped into – with a hand-sell – at the premium end. A superb, elegant, fresh Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée NV at £30 followed, needing little argument to be made as to why, especially given the upsurge in popularity of English fizz, our home-grown style should appear on every list. Champagne appeared in force too, but with wines from smaller producers and growers, both Champagne Levasseur Rue de Sorbier NV at £21.65 and Champagne Gobillard Premier Cru Grande Reserve NV at around £26 making an excellent case for the value offered by such wines. “These are wines that really show what smaller producers can do when they stop selling their best grapes to the big Champagne houses,” commented Mount. The session finished with a weightier, food-leaning Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs 2006 (€17 pre-shipping), completing a ladder that, in just eight wines, could deliver a host of styles and price points to really make any list sing. And keep both customer and margins happy while doing so.



NECTAR IMPORTS Contact name & job title: Hilary Morgan, head of sales. Split of business: Wholesaler to the trade. Regional reach: South of England. Specialisms & strengths: Craft beers, premium spirits, wines and soft drinks with a next-day delivery service. Key areas of growth (drinks): Craft beers and premium spirits. Key areas of growth (accounts): Independent outlets across the on-trade.

VIADER VINTNERS Contact name & job title: Gilbert Viader, director. Split of business: 85% restaurants, 14% private, 1% online. Regional reach: Swansea to Bath.


Specialisms & strengths: Split cases, wines from small to medium-sized producers, 80% Old World, 20% New World, strong selection of clarets. Key areas of growth (drinks): More specialised growers from Old World, in particular Spain. Key areas of growth (accounts): Small, independently and family-run restaurants, boutique hotels offering fine-dining.

CHRISTOPHER PIPER WINES christopherpiperwines. Contact name & job title: Chris Piper, director. Split of business: 90% wholesale. Regional reach: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Bristol, Bath. Specialisms & strengths: Estate-bottled wines, imported direct from around the world – split orders, own-vehicle delivery. Key areas of growth (drinks): Artisan spirits, beers and ciders. Key areas of growth (accounts): Quality pubs, local restaurants, wedding venues.

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REGENCY WINES Contact name & job title: April Marks, sales director. Split of business: 99.5% wholesale. Regional reach: Devon and Somerset. Specialisms & strengths: Wines, fine wines, premium spirits. Key areas of growth (drinks): Wines and premium spirits, particularly premium gins. Key areas of growth (accounts): Great food outlets that want to stand out from the crowd.

ST AUSTELL BREWERY Contact name & job title: Sean Jarvis, purchasing manager for drinks. Split of business: 60%

wholesale, 40% estate. Regional reach: South west. Specialisms & strengths: Comprehensive range offering spirits, beer, cider, wine and soft drinks. 700-strong bin wine list that offers ranges under our own labels. Lists supplied and printed. Craft, cask and ciders offered racking, tasting notes, banners and barrel ends, along with a full range of draught stocked and supported by supplier partners. Order on Monday for Wednesday delivery, with backup emergency overnight delivery available. Wines and spirits sold individually. Key areas of growth (drinks): We are seeing good growth across our business with cask and draught cider producing the best results. Key areas of growth (accounts): With a strong focus on premium brands we are seeing good high street accounts working well with us. Generally it’s across the industry that we are winning.


AVERYS Contact name & job title: Mimi Avery, brand ambassador. Split of business: In the shop 20% is wholesale. Regional reach: Deliver nationwide through Yodel. BS1-9 postcode area in Bristol is serviced by the company’s own van. Also visit Bath on a weekly basis. Specialisms & strengths: We have a very good Bordeaux range with 60% of sales being Bordeaux. 75% of our range is unique to us. We also have a broad fine wine range. Key areas of growth (drinks): English is about to be expanded along with local spirits and local craft beer. Key areas of growth (accounts): We are always on the lookout for new accounts, from caterers to venues, restaurants to bars. Our list has a number of small parcels of unique wines so venues that like quirky and monthly specials are of particular interest.

TANNERS WINES Contact name & job


title: Hannah Schwarzer, marketing manager. Split of business: 60% wholesale. Regional reach: Shropshire, Wales, Hereford. Specialisms & strengths: Quality driven wine producers, bespoke design and print service for your wine list. Key areas of growth (drinks): We specialise in wine and will continue to excel in this area. Key areas of growth (accounts): Qualityminded hotels restaurants and hotels.

the team in Cumbria. Our trade division has also developed business with other regional wholesalers who are based in areas where we don’t have our own distribution.


Contact name & job title: Liam Steevenson MW, buying director. Split of business: 70% wholesale, 30% retail. Regional reach: South west. Specialisms & strengths: Quality, fine and artisan wines. Craft beers and spirits. Key areas of growth: Wine and spirits. Key areas of growth: Hotels, restaurants, private customers, corporate. Contact name & job title: Janette McLaughlin, sales director. Split of business: 75% wholesale, 25% trade sales. Regional reach: North west/south west/London. Specialisms & strengths: We supply wine at all levels and act as UK agent for key wineries from all areas of Spain and northern Italy. We have exclusive wines from most countries, specifically made for the on-trade. Key areas of growth (drinks): We have had great success developing mid-price ranges from Italy, Spain and the Languedoc over the past 12 months. Key areas of growth (accounts): We have employed two new sales executives working east and west of the M5 in Gloucestershire in addition to strengthening

Specialist in wine, spirits, craft beer and local products. Key areas of growth (drinks): Wine and craft beer. Key areas of growth (accounts): On-trade.




Contact name & job title: Simon Thomson, managing director. Split of business: 90% wholesale. Regional reach: Cotswolds, Gloucester, Wiltshire, Bristol, Bath, north Somerset, west Oxfordshire, south Worcestershire. Specialisms & strengths: Knowledgeable and friendly staff, personal service, outstanding range of wines, many wines sourced direct from the vineyard. Key areas of growth (drinks): Wines and spirits – especially gin. Key areas of growth (accounts): Ownermanaged restaurants and pubs.

GET IN TOUCH Contact name & job title: Sean Mardell, director. Split of business: 100% wholesale. Regional reach: South of England. Specialisms & strengths:

November 2016


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What are the main on-trade trends that your accounts are reporting? “We find people drink less but definitely better quality. The bulk of wines sold in the on-trade fits between the £25-£40 price points. Wines of character, provenance and a story are what sells best.” MINDFUL OF THE ONGOING Miriam Spiers, sales director, Alliance Wines NEED TO INNOVATE TO “One of the biggest positive factors to emerge [after the lowering of STAY AHEAD, DRINKS the drink-drive limit in Scotland] is that the trend of ‘drink less but WHOLESALER ASKED better’ is very much on the increase SEVERAL KEY SUPPLIERS and demand for higher-priced, better-quality wines is reflected in FOR FEEDBACK ON ONour sales, while at the cheaper end of the market demand is static or TRADE TRENDS AND slightly declining. KEEPING THE LIST FRESH “Experience-led visits to the on-trade are now very popular, with people expecting a bit more theatre and glamour from their evening. That means as well as decent wine, as Shiraz/Mourvèdre and Chenin/ people expect drinks and cocktails to be Viognier, etc. expertly mixed and presented in premium “As consumer confidence grows glassware. In Scotland a lot of operators are around the wine category as a whole, embracing this trend wholeheartedly with we can introduce more varietals to great success. the market with a confidence that “Quick midweek drinks after work are they’ll sell. It’s a cyclical process – we becoming a thing of the past though, so introduce different varietals, the traditional venues are missing out and if they consumer enjoys them and wants are not food-led they are often struggling more.” Mark Roberts, head of sales, to survive.” Toby Sigouin, wine buyer, Lanchester Wines Inverarity Morton “In pubs, the increasing popularity of spirits, What new varieties, styles or regions especially gin, and single-serve Prosecco are you offering to customers to help is popular, as are wines by the glass – with rejuvenate their lists? reluctance to buy bottles even if there is a “There are so many quirky wines price incentive. People are visiting less often out there, interesting varieties and there are now serious enquiries for that provide fantastic and value draught wine-dispense systems. alternatives to the more predictable “Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, ones. The challenge is selling them Shiraz and Malbec remain the main sellers, – simple and friendly wine lists with with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc still a meaningful descriptions make it easier.” ‘must list’.” Alastair Marshall, senior wine MS buyer, Adnams “Because of the craft beer and spirit “Our customers are increasingly looking at movement, operators and consumers introducing more diverse wine lists. We’re now expect a story behind the label seeing the resurgence of varietals which, and are far more interested in learning while always offering excellent wines, more about what they are drinking. This had gone out of favour with consumers. has definitely fuelled demand for less These include Picpoul de Pinet. We’re also mainstream varieties such as Godello, distinctly seeing a demand for more unusual Mencia, Sauvignon Gris, Verdejo, Fiano, and interesting blends and varietals, such


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Negroamaro and Grenache Blanc. We now sell a lot of these for by-the-glass lists. All countries are performing well but regional France, Spain and Italy are doing particularly well. Also there’s a lot more demand for organic and biodynamic wines and natural wines, and we’ve added quite a few of these to our range.” TS Romanian wines offer great value and these are doing well in the on-trade. Picpoul de Pinet and Sicilian varieties are gaining more traction here in East Anglia, and some Portguese and non-Rioja Spanish wines are gaining sales.” AM “At present, the UK consumer is open to both ‘different’ varietals or wines from ‘different’ regions. Our buying teams are now looking for further interesting wines from countries such as Moldova and Australia, which we find are creating excellent varietal blends. “With the continued growth of ‘super-varietals’, we’re constantly looking for relevant sources to deliver continuity of product combined with value for money for our customers. Within this, we’re seeing a resurgence of ‘alternative’ wine areas producing excellent wines. For example, we’ve found one of the regions producing consistently strong quality Pinot Grigio is, surprisingly, Moldova.” MR What advice do you typically give to accounts in terms of frequency of updates to list and how to get the right balance between mainstream sellers and more esoteric ‘icing on the cake’ listings? “It all depends on the style of bar or restaurant. Frequent changes are often driven by the sommelier and the owner rather than by the customers. As long as the list covers a few classics, textbook examples of known varietals, a few quirky, different, indigenous varietals and varied price points, there is no need to change more than twice a year. You can use blackboards and specials to add something funky every month.” MS “I suggest seasonal updates and also updating in harmony with menus to increase food and wine-matching opportunities. Listing mainstream wines by the bottle only and offering quirkier wines by the glass is working well for bolder operators, as is offering premium cava by the glass and only selling Prosecco by the bottle.” TS “We advise customers to update twice a year, although most (especially pubs) only review once a year, with the better


and food-led pubs doing so more often. Those outlets printing their own lists review more regularly, though the ‘icing on the cake’ wines tend to be French. We encourage accounts to try non-mainstream grapes and regions by offering them as ‘wines of the month’ and/or by-the-glass.” AM “We invest in ongoing training for our sales teams throughout the UK and Ireland. They are our greatest asset and provide real-time feedback to the market. We believe this allows us to keep our buying teams on-point and on-trend, and provide relevant insight to our customers. “However, it’s just as important to look forward. We’re developing our in-house insights company, Vintrigue, which will track global wine and consumer trends, keeping both Lanchester Wines and, more importantly, our customers, relevant in the UK wine market.” MR What about advice on changes to the structure and layout of the list? “Keep it simple – remember that most customers want to be able to choose quickly and enjoy the drinking rather than browsing a complicated and long wine list.” MS “Listing wines by taste profile is becoming more popular, and far fewer lists are compiled in price order, which is a good thing. Also, fewer people have a ‘house wine’ any more, preferring to give a good range of affordable options.” TS “We have modernised the layout and quality of our wine lists, but there is a tendency to list in increasing order of price, despite encouraging a different approach. We have increasingly absorbed by-the-glass wines into the main section of the list and in our hotels we have moved away from region-based lists to style-based lists.” AM “The wine list over the past 10 years has seen some dramatic changes, moving from the classic regional and pricebased wine lists to wine lists based on style of the wines. Sustained growth in the wine category continues to be driven by entry-level wines, but now it’s equally important to offer diversity on a list. We’ve also noticed the increased importance of both noting wines’ awards on the wine list and highlighting key nutritional information, such as vegan and vegetarian.” MR November 2016





BREATHING LIFE INTO FORTIFIED WINES espite the emergence of hipster bars serving sherry cocktails and colour features in the weekend papers about artisan vermouth production in north London, the reputation of fortified wine among UK drinkers can still conjure images of Emily Bishop from Coronation Street, cravat-wearing Oxbridge types and their grandparents. It’s true that fortified is a tricky category to make cool, but there is an antidote to the fusty image of port, sherry and the like and many producers, importers and businesses are on a mission to inject verve into fortified wines. One such importer is Gonzalez Byass, which specialises in Spanish wines, with a strong sherry and port offering. Its senior brand manager for fortified, Sarah Pollard, believes that any negative image the category has is largely anecdotal. “Those connotations lie increasingly with an older generation,” she tells Drinks Wholesaler. “Many younger consumers are encountering fortified wines for the first time and are eager to learn. It is important that we move on and continue


to portray fortified wines as diverse and exciting.” It’s this younger generation of drinkers who are embracing one of the most exciting trends in the UK wine market, the ‘sherry revolution’. “It’s a real phenomenon,” says Mentzendorff managing director Andrew Hawes. The importer, which boasts a portfolio studded with famous fortified brands, including leading sherry producer Bodegas Hidalgo, is seeing a huge interest in fino and manzanilla sherries with its Hidalgo La Gitana brand leading the growth of bone-dry sherries. “This sherry revolution has begun in the on-trade and independent wine merchants but it is spreading into the mainstream, encouraged by a growing interest in Spanish food,” he believes.

SPANISH LOVE AFFAIR This is a view shared by Gonzalez Byass. “The rising popularity of these styles has gone hand in hand with the UK’s love affair with Spanish food and culture. We have seen an explosion of quality Spanish restaurants in London and around the country with many of these bars and restaurants offering dedicated sherry lists,” says Pollard. One of the leaders of the London Spanish scene is Barrafina. With three

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sites across London it boasts a formidable sherry list and is one of the capital’s go-to destinations to enjoy tapas and sherry. The group’s general manager, Jose Etura, is keen to stress that sherry is no longer seen as the ‘granny’s choice’ among drinkers and there’s an understanding among most customers that it’s not all sweet and overly rich. “Adventurous eaters and drinkers of all ages are discovering how versatile sherry is and enjoy discovering the tastes,” he says. “It takes a bit of time and experience to appreciate, but I actually think more Londoners drink sherry than many Spaniards do. Londoners are more open-minded than we think.” And it’s not just London that’s experiencing a renaissance. Lunya is an award-winning deli, restaurant and bar with sites in Liverpool and Manchester, and it’s seen a real upturn in interest in sherry – by the glass and with food – over the past 12 months. “ Sherry has been becoming more popular for a few years now, but in the past year or so it’s been increasingly popular with a younger crowd,” says executive chef and owner Peter Kinsella. The restaurant has 28 sherries on its list and uses three main suppliers – Gonzalez Byass, Liberty and Martinez Wines. “One of the reasons sherry works for us – and for any deli or restaurant, really – is that you can find a sherry that’s a fantastic match for most food. It makes things very easy from a food pairing point of view,” adds Kinsella.

PORT OF CALL Meanwhile, port is on a high. It is the fastest growing fortified wine category in the UK with sales of £79m – exceeding sherry, vermouth and Madeira. It also has the largest market share of fortified wines in the UK (Nielsen) and it alone has bucked the trend of long-term decline in volume sales of fortified wines, delivering consistent volume and value growth over the past decade. “This is down to a different pattern of consumption and a broader selection of styles and price points,” says Hawes. “Port is extremely diverse, ranging from accessible ruby ports, through late-bottled vintage to aged tawnies and ultimately vintage ports, which are recognised as being among the finest wines in the world. “This leads to a greater versatility of usage, from casual to formal dining, to relaxing with friends and family or the most serious of fine wine dinners.” This versatility is a clear strength, as is the willingness and ability of top


port producers to innovate with their products and the way they market and deliver to the customer. “Cocktails are opening up a new opportunity with younger consumers,” says Pollard, who is seeing more and more interest from mixologists and bars for fortified wines as ‘ingredients’. “They are incredibly versatile with a diverse range of styles and sweetness levels and are also much lower in alcohol than many of the spirit bases traditionally used in cocktails,” she adds. Mentzendorff, meanwhile, is working with key mixologists from some of London’s top bars to create cocktails using sherries and ports as primary ingredients. Hawes is particularly excited about the trend of white port as a long drink with tonic water, and the emergence of pink port. “Croft has invented an entirely new style of port, Croft Pink – which is incredibly versatile, being excellent with mixers or in cocktails,” he says. “White port is enjoying a renaissance too, mostly being drunk with tonic water as an alternative to a gin and tonic.”

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE Elsewhere, fortified wines are being served out of their traditional context. Examples include aged tawny ports being matched with desserts and drunk slightly chilled, and Californian fortified producer Quady Winery producing a series of cocktail recipe books featuring its portstyle wines and vermouths. It’s these out-of-the-box approaches by producers that are helping to change the category’s image and attract new, younger consumers. Churchill’s Port – founded in 1981, and the first port company to be established in 50 years – is very keen on this approach. Its aim is to “make port accessible and appealing to all”, but its marketing strategy has millennials at its very heart. “Being the youngest port wine company we decided to market our products with some irreverence and bold statements, but without forgetting the essence and tradition of the product,” says Maria Emília Campos, a director at Churchill’s. One of the company’s recent marketing campaigns, #RethinkPortWine, challenged consumers to rethink

moments and traditions connected with port. It featured slick, glossymagazine style imagery and ads, and heavily targeted social media. “We know that Churchill’s ports are appealing to young consumers,” says Campos, “and the campaign gives a fresh and fun image to port to shake up consumers’ old-fashioned perceptions of this traditional drink.” Another key fortified wine is Madeira, and while it isn’t quite making the waves that sherry and port are, it still has an important role to play in the on-trade, on both sides of the counter. Mentzendorff is seeing a “steady demand” for its basic quality Madeiras (mainly for use in the kitchen), but it has also seen a spike in interest for higher quality aged versions. “What is most exciting is the growing interest in aged Maderia (five, 10, 15-yearolds) of all styles, but perhaps the greatest growth is from Verdelho and Bual styles (these being drier than the previously dominant Malmsey style),” says Andrew Hawes. “This trend is evident in the on-trade and also across independent wine merchants.” With port and Madeira on the up and sherry chiming with a new, engaged crowd there’s plenty of interest around the fortified category. Twin this with a changing perspective among consumers of what fortified wines are and a willingness among producers to be versatile and innovative, and there’s plenty to be optimistic about. Whatever you do, don’t write the category off as a preserve of the over-65s.

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ransformation is essential for us,” says Wines of South Africa chief executive Siobhan Thompson. “We need to continue to be creative, to bring South Africa to life and tell the story of our wines and our intrepid winemaking nature.” To be fair, for those in wine’s ‘inner circle’ much of this message has arguably been delivered, with both trade and commentators turned on and tuned into the excitement that The Cape continues to dispense. At its cutting edge, South Africa has created a reputation for freewheeling, surf-riding, experimental winemakers who have not so much broken the rules as created a whole new genre of funky blends and exciting wines from a mix of onceforgotten old vines and exciting emerging areas. And, to back this up, the stalwarts (and newcomers) in more traditional areas – such as the Bordeaux blend-leaning and Chenin-producing Stellenbosch heartlands, plus Pinot Noir and Chardonnay champions of Hemel-en-Aarde – have continued to raise the bar in terms of the quality of their wines. Furthermore, the young guns have been inspiring the big players to strike out and be creative with their high-end wines, with producers such as DGB and KWV delivering individual and smaller-batch wines sourced from hand-picked vineyards across The Cape. “What’s always been engaging is the diversity. Everything is there,” says Greg Sherwood MW, senior buyer at Handford Wines. “If a winemaker or drinker has a favourite style they will be able to make or find those wines.”

INCREASED FOOTHOLD However, as Sherwood and others confirm, South Africa still needs to do much work to increase its foothold between the cheap and cheery bulk entry offer and the more highfalutin’ end. In terms of overall UK sales, the country has taken a hit at the lower level as a combination of supermarket range rationalisation and seemingly ever-rising duty have taken their toll. Higher-end South African wines are gaining ground, with CGA figures showing the category grew 9% annually in the on-trade to March 2016, while holding its value in the independent trade (South African government figures from the first half of 2016 show a 9% drop in volume, but 2% increase in value to the UK, suggesting premium sales are on the up). But it is still underrepresented in the mid-ground, where quality reputations are typically built. “It’s at this level


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where people start to look for real quality, wines with points of difference and interest,” says Sherwood. “So this price level is crucial.” A view from the influential multiple off-trade is worth taking on board, also revealing a gap in the mid-market. Mark Jarman, senior trading manager for wine sourcing at Morrisons, says: “South Africa has created its own challenges in the UK market by positioning itself as a country whose strengths lie in producing great value entry-level wines and premium estate wines. “It does both very well, but this strategy has left a void in the core £7-£10 sector, which is the bread and butter of UK multiple retailers and which Chile and Australia have been happy to fulfil.” Jarman continues: “South Africa’s ability to produce great-tasting Rhône varietals and a talent for creating multi-varietal blends represents the biggest opportunity for growing the category over the next few years and we are now starting to see the potential of the dry-farmed Swartland region manifested in a greater number of wines in this price sector. “This is starting to give South Africa a credible USP among its New World peer group and a genuine reason for customers to make the category a destination.” Swartland, of course, along with cooler climate regions such as Elgin, has been to the fore in creating the buzz around South Africa, driving that transformation which Thompson describes, but often with wines that are produced in small quantities and at prices that are just out of reach for those consumers looking to trade up a little and discover some of that excitement at the £7-£12 level. Inroads are being made, though, with wines such as Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs white and red brand positioned at around £12, allowing for a more affordable taste of the ‘revolution’ that Swartland’s feted producers have been delivering. “He’s one of our superstars and has really helped to open doors… Secateurs has really shown what the new wave of South African wines is about at a reasonably-affordable-for-most level,” says importer Swig’s Damon Quinlan. If the Swartland’s dry-farmed Rhône varietals and old vine Chenin-based blends have led the charge in raising South Africa’s cool quotient, then a host of other varieties and styles are now also making their mark. Sherwood cites Cinsault, the newly championed variety by producers as diverse as Boutinot and Alheit, plus Grenache as great contenders to deliver easy-going but characterful wines in this price bracket. And many more producers are now aiming at driving this middle ground with a host of varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, and red, Rhône and

Mediterranean-leaning grapes and blends. Exchange rate, with the rand typically yo-yo-ing over time, can also be an issue but, as Paul Boutinot points out: “Exchange rate isn’t a very sexy topic, but while the rand has been weak, producers have had the option to play on price or improve the quality of their offer and now you are seeing a lot more wines at the lower to medium end that are well made and good value for money.” Boutinot adds that many of the new wave of producers are not constrained by being tied to estates, being instead modern ‘negociants’, buying in and contracting vineyards, allowing them to be flexible with volumes in response to market demand. “At the higher end many [producers] have no land, so they can be flexible on volume and put more money into marketing,” he says. Barney David, head of commercial operations at Lanchester Wines, is upbeat about South Africa and the role it now plays in the portfolio. “For us, the excitement of South Africa is its ongoing evolution into a world-class wine producer with a strong, consistent offering,” he says. “South Africa is dynamic. The relative youth of the country’s winemaking, and indeed its winemakers, means we’re seeing new regions emerge, such as Swartland producing excellent Rhône varietals, and Elgin which is becoming renowned for Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic wines. He adds: “South African wines provide great value for money to the UK market. We’re evolving our South African range through aligning with key producers who can extend our access to a broad spectrum of varieties, and one of my key focuses is to further extend these relationships bringing new wines to the UK market. “We’re seeing South African winemakers particularly excel in dual varietals and tri-blends at a time when we’re seeing consumers learning to embrace different types of wine, which is where we see a key commercial opportunity.”

GREAT POTENTIAL Similarly, Kingsland Drinks, a major importer of South African wines, sees great potential for continuing to drive Cape wine sales. “The main factor has been the continual improvement in quality from this amazing country. We are seeing this at all levels, whether entry-level varietal wines, or the interesting wines that are being made in regions such as Franschhoek and Swartland,” says buying controller Kevin Wilson. “We have been developing a number of projects with Sauvignon Blanc in the Lutzville region, a cool-climate area, and also working with one of our wineries in the Swartland region on a number of red varieties from old bush vines, producing really interesting Pinotage, Malbec and Cinsault.” All in all, it looks as if South Africa has never been better positioned to capitalise on that middle ground. And the UK trade appears to be aligning to make this happen. That transformation and intrepid winemaking is now beginning to filter through at an accessible level. November 2016






ON SMOKIN’ FORM easonal variation is something every wet-led venue from here to Timbuktu is having to get their heads around at this time of year, and in no other category is there perhaps such demand for innovation than in cocktails. Some take it to heart more than others, however. The importance of seasonal difference clearly struck a chord with The Hedonist project in Leeds, which switches up not only its cocktail menu, but its entire outfit three times a year – from the decor and the name to the playlist and the staff uniform. As of October, it is officially the Mountain Lodge, having spent the summer decked out – literally – as a California beach hut. Project co-founder Dan Crowther illustrates just how much expectation there is for cocktail-led outlets to deliver fast-paced change and innovation: “On the day we launched the Mountain Lodge, all anyone wanted to know was what we were planning to do next. Literally on the first day.” It started out as a whisky bar, with whiskies and Scotches from Diageo


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Reserve’s portfolio forming the lion’s share of the menu. But this became too restrictive. “We became more concept led rather than category led. I didn’t want it to be the kind of place where people say: ‘Oh, it’s a whisky bar, if I want a vodka and coke I can’t go there,’” Crowther says. The team responded by becoming less specialised, and for its next season teamed up with a mixture of big guns and smaller companies. Its latest partnership is with Bacardi- Brown Forman’s spirits range, offering Bacardi, Patrón, Don Julio and others alongside picks from local indie retail/wholesalers to add a superpremium edge. Although its three-month redesign concept is a lot of work, (it has to turn the whole thing around in four days), in many ways it’s a security blanket, which the team can rely on to stop their offering from ever becoming stale.

SEASONAL RESPONSE “Everyone says they’re going to respond to the changing of the seasons. But doing it this way forces us to really think about what we’re going to do and offer a completely different experience every three months. It also makes it easier for us to react to trends,” Crowther says. In a category which is perhaps more

influenced by trends than any other, is it better to be driving the trend, or the first to jump on the bandwagon? Alex Harris, founder of independent bar Behind This Wall in Hackney, says neither. He tries to stay away from what he would describe as gimmicks as much as possible and instead concentrates on delivering authenticity. “There was a time recently when every new bar had a theme. There were these strange pastiches – a popular one was the speakeasy, where everyone’s wearing braces and smoking fake cigars. “But we don’t live in those times. London is strong enough – it doesn’t need to pretend to be Al Capone era 1920s Chicago.” If you had to impose a USP on Behind This Wall’s cocktail-heavy menu, it might be the bar’s approach to using ingredients which are low down on the glycaemic index. Harris eschews syrups which are high in sugar, preservatives, e-numbers “which give you a buzz but a terrible hangover”, not to mention the effect on long-term health, in favour of alternatives such as blackstrap molasses, which he considers a healthy alternative to unrefined cane sugar. Harris says he is leading the on-trade in this respect, but insists this is a point

of principle rather than a theme – and definitely not a gimmick. Instead, it focuses on creativity and small twists, for example adding a hint of orange to a dry vodka Martini. “With the Martini you don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” says Harris. “Adding orange amère adds a bit of bitter sweetness which you would usually associate with a Cosmopolitan. It’s functional, rather than a gimmick.” The team prefer to operate as a “blank canvas”, and work with suppliers with the aim of building a cocktail list which is both exciting and seasonally relevant. The New World Trading Company has a very different proposition to deliver. The botanical theme of the Botanist – one of NWTC’s top chains – helps to create a consistent message and identity across its 11 venues, where the company has recently launched its autumn cocktail recipes.


According to the Botanist’s Nick Whitby, its Botany Beertails are “going down a treat”, tapping into the hops and spirits movement also favoured by St Andrews’ gin distillery Eden Mill. At the Hedonist Project, Dan Crowther’s cocktail menu is the most important part of its offering. This season it has a number of festive cocktails, plus mulled wines and winter punches which change weekly.

WIINTER-THEMED SERVES This Christmas, around 10% of the 50-strong list will change to make way for winter-themed serves, a move which, says head of bars at NWTC Nick Whitby, is realistic when staff are selling almost 300,000 cocktails every three months across 15 venues (which works out at a cocktail every 13.5 seconds). For a chain such as the Botanist, not upsetting the balance between seasonal and core offerings is a must. “We’re essentially a modern-day pub, so when someone walks into one of our bars in December, there needs to be the smell of Christmas,” says Whitby. “But you can’t stray too much away from your obvious long drinks and crowd pleasers. You’ve still got to capture the girls who want a Porn Star Martini and the guys who want a Walnut Old Fashioned.” Rather than focus on seasonal variations, they concentrate on delivering year-round favourites and boosting them with quality ingredients. “It has to be able to demonstrate overall quality and the skill of what the bartenders can do in the time they’ve got,” adds Whitby. “We tend to go for a 70/30% split for premium and super-premium products. All core spirits are quality products, but we use the very premium spirits so the flavours really come through.” This year’s winter warmers include a couple of hot serves: mulled wine, spiced cider and even a warm G&T, alongside the botanically-inspired Blackberry & Thyme Martini and the Peach & Lavender Cosmo. The bartenders don’t work with heat


or fire and make the syrups beforehand so they are ready to deliver with “speed and style”. When it comes to sourcing ingredients, another key decision for those wanting to curate an engaging cocktail list is whether to embrace the influence of localism sweeping our nation in the polls and in supermarket ads, such as Lidl. Harris explains why he’s resisting the current trend which suggests that local means better. Speaking on the day of Donald Trump’s win to become the 45th president of the United States, he said: “It’s a bit Brexit – or to use a more relevant word for today, Trump-y. I’m big on ethics, but to say let’s use this producer just because they’re two miles down the road doesn’t make sense. “If it’s made in Italy or France but it’s of high quality and exciting, then we shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Working behind a bar is about encouraging creativity, not stifling it.”

Some of its winter warmers include the Deep Nectar, an eight-year-old Bacardi with honeycomb and infused Pedro Ximénez sherry, and an Aprés Flip, also made with Bacardi, including port, nut bitters and egg. The Botanist is also seeing promising sales of its Black Betty, a bourbon-based serve mixed with lemon juice, gomme (also known as gum) syrup and cassis liqueur garnished with mint.

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etting wine from producer to consumer in the UK can be a complex operation, with a plethora of modus operandi. With buyers across the sectors, from supermarkets to restaurants, reducing supply base to maximise cost and service benefits, and distributors looking at economies of scale, the distribution model continues to evolve, balanced between agents, wholesalers and those who do both parts of the job. In its simplest terms, an agent is a company that represents a brand or a producer, usually selling to large-scale retailers direct, but relying on a complex mix of national and regional wholesalers to sell their wines to independents and restaurants. However, a high proportion of the UK industry is that busy hybrid which does both, with separate business arms looking after multiple off-trade, independent retail, national on-trade groups and individual restaurants. This ‘double act’ approach is an extremely complex business model, requiring a formidable level of resource to provide the optimum mix of service to the customer. But it provides control, and first-hand knowledge of what is going where, and how it needs support. As Miles McInnes, sales & marketing director of Jascots, says: “It’s important for us to stay close to the end consumer. Our team need to know where each wine is going, what the pricing is and how each individual business operates. If we worked through wholesalers for on-trade, much of the magic would be lost in translation, and we also wouldn’t have control.”


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Andrew Bewes, managing director of Hallgarten Druitt, is rational about the model that he has been running for years. “It makes us masters of our own destiny and gives us better control of channel management right through the network to the end consumer,” says Bewes. “There are always frustrations for principals as to whether certain business models are sustainable, and they feel safer if we have control.” Marcel Moreno, of Moreno Wines, agrees: “We need to be really strategic in how we develop and grow in a sustainable way. The danger with relying on others is that you put the work in, but the guarantee of longevity of the relationship isn’t always there.” Jascots’ MacInnes also supports these views, saying: “Having control from

end to end means we have much more information about the end customer – we get qualitative insight into what is selling, at what price and why.” It’s also a vital piece of the distribution jigsaw for principals and producers. “Companies such as Antinori, Duboeuf and Norton want to see their wines in the right places, and want to know that we have direct reach ourselves,” says MacInnes.

DIRECT RELATIONSHIP These key listings are targets set directly with the distributors by the principals and are given priority based on this direct relationship. David Gleave, managing director of Liberty Wines, is very clear on producers’ views. “Many of them are farmers – they don’t understand the market, so they trust us to do a good job for them. We are their ambassadors in the UK,” says Gleave. “Loyalty and good service counts in spades. We thrive on that.”


There is a realisation and pragmatic acceptance by most agent/distributors that even with a flotilla of sales teams on the ground, reliance on regional wholesalers in areas where there is less strength – especially in the regions – is a must. But in this situation, treading carefully is key. “If a national distributor sells to us, then tries to undercut us by going direct to our accounts, we won’t work with them,” says Ted Sandbach, managing director of Oxford Wine Company. Alex Canetti, off-trade director for Boutinot (owner of Moreno Wines), reinforces this view: “Where we need to use regional wholesalers we are very careful that we don’t try to invade their established territory. We have to trust them to do the job.” Moreno agrees: “Producers also need to understand our strengths and limitations in terms of direct reach,” with MacInnes adding, “We are strong within the M25 area, so we put a huge focus on building strong relationships with regional wholesalers who can distribute our wines in other regions.” A further complication which

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concerns MacInnes is the development of restaurants selling direct to consumer. Companies such as Humble Grape and Deliver Me Drinks work in conjunction with Deliveroo to provide the immediate solution to drinking needs. “This complicates the picture and potentially undermines a lot of what we do,” says MacInnes. “It starts to blur the boundaries between on-trade and off-trade listings – it’s a potential challenge if the wines have no exposure in retail.” In the current climate, it’s all about people. Troy Christensen, chief executive of Enotria & Coe, is realistic about the commercial investment of having highly trained people on the ground, providing top quality service to customers. “When currency moves by 20%, yes we do take a hit. We have a big headcount, not just with the sales teams, but the back-up support – wine trainers, trade marketers, wine list designers and our order and warehouse staff,” he says.

POLARISING IMPACT Businesses operating this distribution model can’t switch headcount off and on during periods of uncertainty, resulting in a larger fixed cost, which then needs to be exploited to the full. Many distributors are concerned about the impact of the recent Conviviality acquisition of Bibendum, which is having a polarising impact within the on-trade. Two senior industry heads pointed to the ‘race to the bottom’, as Matthew Clark continue to slash prices and up the account investment. “Two thirds of their profit comes from beer and spirits, and all the associated benefits” commented one, “so they are less reliant on wine margin.” At the time of writing, Matthew Clark and Bibendum, which fall under the Conviviality umbrella, were not available for comment. Several believe the Conviviality strategy will have an impact on quality of product and a deterioration in service, together with a further lack of customer engagement. Distributors are relying on their own relationships and investment in high-calibre people to secure their business. “There’s never been a more important time to build relationships and deliver the ultimate in service,” says Gleave.


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The logistics of servicing accounts from multiples to individual restaurants is another complexity, one in which businesses such as Liberty over-invest, from delivery solutions to a strong order and customer support team. “I hate automated ordering services,” says Gleave. “So do many customers.” Mixed case picking adds further costs, but single case delivery, be it nationally or regionally, is what customers are increasingly seeking.

CHALLENGES So what are the greatest challenges facing this complex and multi-faceted breed of distributors in the current economic climate? Jascot’s MacInnes is pragmatic: “Everything is consolidating, even at restaurant level – smaller wine lists, fewer suppliers. We have to provide added value, sharpen our focus and also adapt our business practices. It’s all about the insight, support, training and customer service that we can provide.” Enotria’s Christensen is focused: “We need vertical integration, right through the process and providing day one to day two service to the customers. Never has there been a more crucial time to add value with professional, welleducated teams who can build relationships and

WORDS FROM THE TRADE “ We can be more nimble, move quickly and stay flexible.” Marcel Moreno, Moreno Wines “ Our producers rely on the fact that we stay close to each individual customer. This control helps us sell the wine more effectively in each separate context.” Miles Jacobs, Jascots Wine “Headcount is a big part of our investment. It’s a larger fixed cost during a period of uncertainty, which is why we need to have top-calibre people who are going to engage and build the business in key areas. It’s a volatile time and

offer outstanding service to customers. Premium casual dining is a focus area for us, so that we can add value. People are going out less, but when they do they are drinking better. We need to deliver that offer for them, in all its guises.” Wholesaling by national distributors remains a vital part of the mix, but there is increasing focus, via bespoke channel management strategies, on relationship building and mutual respect. “Regional wholesalers are a crucial part of our business and we need to look after them properly and build relationships and loyalty,” adds Boutinot’s Canetti. The focus has to be on the customer, and adding value at every level is where the challenge appears to be. “It’s all about what the customer wants from us, not what we need to do,” concludes Gleave. True words, indeed. we have to focus on building those relationships at all levels.” Troy Christensen, Enotria “We have to be far more professional now, and need to focus. We need to have closer business partnerships with a select number of customers, rather than taking a scattergun approach.” Andrew Bewes, Hallgarten Druitt “Service remains the biggest challenge for all of us. It’s the key driver, especially in the current environment. We invest in our warehousing and distribution solutions to provide our customers with what they need, when they need it.” David Gleave, Liberty Wines

he Oxford Wine Company was established in 1992 by Ted Sandbach, whose vinous career began after several years as a teacher of rugby and cricket at Magdalen College School. “Sport was my life,” he says. Sandbach recalls leading a cricket tour to the Caribbean (a school team which happened to include renowned film director Sam Mendes) and pondering his future. In the heady eighties, when supermarket wine was still in its infancy as an emergent sector for the general public rather than merely the elite, he developed an interest and was swiftly snapped up by Oxford-based Stevens Garnier. A few years later, and with entrepreneurial spirit in spades, he set up the Oxford Hamper Company. “We started off working from our garage,” he told me. The business evolved into the Oxford Hamper & Wine Company, followed swiftly by the decision to establish a standalone wine wholesaler. Twenty-five years on, the business is based on a trading estate in Witney, north Oxford, where Sandbach bought premises in 1998. It’s a warehouse with a network of labyrinthine vaults, which have been excavated for use as storage. Fronting up the office is a spacious retail shop, which manages to combine the tradition of wooden shelves and cut barrel displays with a crisp, modern impact.

TOUGH PROPOSITION The Oxford Wine Company now operates two retail outlets, with the second situated along the busy Botley Road. Until last year, Sandbach also ran two shops in Cirencester and Tetbury, hoping to repeat the success of his Oxford properties. However, retailing outside the home turf proved a tougher proposition than anticipated “It was just too difficult. There was too much competition and it proved the point that you really need to know, and be known in, your area.” Having publicly declared that he would not be looking at further expansion into retail, Sandbach has been tempted back by the proposition of a town centre shop, which he plans to open early in the new year. Why the change of heart? “This is Oxford. This is our homeland. We know we can make it work here,” he says. “We needed a presence in the city centre. There are no other wine shops, so it’s ideal for us. This is a vital part of our



TAKING A PUNT ON WINE overall strategy. It creates profile, which in turn provides more awareness and recognition for our wholesale business. It shows that we are a serious player in the city and gives our customers confidence. The two are inextricably linked.” Wholesale and wine bars is where Sandbach sees the future. Just under four years ago, he opened the first of his two wine bars, in the upmarket residential area of Summertown. Track forward and, with a further site close to the city centre, the wine bars, with their simple format of wine, charcuterie, seafood and cheese platters, and open all day for coffee and lunch, are proving highly successful. They have a turnover of £1.5 million, bringing in more profit in a month than the Cirencester and Tetbury shops did in a year. It’s a formula that appears to be working, with the company poised to develop more when the right sites become available.

COMPANY OBJECTIVES But wholesale is clearly where Sandbach’s priority remains, accounting for more than 70% of turnover. He is pragmatic about the company’s objectives. “When we closed the shops, we re-evaluated the business and regrouped,”

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he reflects, adding: “Eighty per cent of our wholesale business lies within a 20-30 mile radius of Oxford. That is where we are known. Therefore that is where we need to concentrate our business.” The majority of trade is with independent pubs, clubs, hotels and retail shops. Business with groups is a low priority – Sandbach and his team trade on relationship-building and loyalty. “You don’t get that from groups, it’s all about the best deal each year. It would make us more vulnerable.” In this age of consolidation, he views one of their biggest strengths to be the personal service offered to customers. The customer base stands at around 200 and in 80% of cases the company holds sole supply, supporting with designed wine lists, staff training and events. Unlike many larger operators, the business is holding prices until the New Year, taking the hit on currency exchange and price increases from bigger distributors. “Our customers know that price increases are coming and we are reserving the right to add a 5% post-Christmas surcharge, but we are helping them through the vital trading period,” he says. As well as choosing his customer base carefully, Sandbach is at pains to



emphasise the importance of his team, the calibre of the people he employs, and the mutual loyalty that evolves. “It’s all about the people” he insists. “There is no hierarchy. The drivers of our vans are as important as the sales people. I’m not interested in timesheets, I’m interested in results.” John Chapman, his operations director, is now in charge of the day-to-day running of the company, with Theo Sloot looking after events and marketing.


1992 Established

STRATEGY He is also very clear about supplier and buying strategy. The company deals with around 100 suppliers. Fifty per cent of wines, largely European, are sourced direct, with the majority of New World wine purchased via UK agents. “ We are a regional wholesaler – it doesn’t make commercial sense to ship directly,” he says. The company also boasts an impressive list of more than 1,100 spirits. While Oxford Wine Company is part of the Vindependents, only a small proportion of the range comes through this buying group, with the remainder selected by the team in regular blind tastings. “We focus on small-producer wines with a point of difference. We don’t deal with big brands, we won’t stock Moët or Veuve Clicquot.” While the business deals with some major importers, such as Les Grands Chais and Gonzalez Byass, Sandbach won’t work

Sandbach and his team keep it local

with many of the larger distributors, who are as likely to go and sell direct to his customers as sell to him. “I have no respect for them,” he says, bluntly. “We work with people who have clear channel management strategies, provide us with bespoke labels and who we trust.” In a climate of retrenchment and reduced margins, Oxford Wine Company has increased its turnover by half a million in the past 12 months, and impressively has moved its profits from £17, 000 to over £150,000. The wine bars operate as a separate business unit. Clearly, a considerable proportion of this is due to the sale of the shops, but Sandbach maintains that, as well as cutting overheads, profits have been boosted by better buying and a successful wholesale sales strategy. Add to this a clear emphasis on his team and loyalty from both suppliers and customers, together with a heavy dose of realism, and 2017 may just be looking bright for at least one regional wholesaler.

27 15 employees


of total business is traditional wholesale


Oxford Wine Company: £4.1 million – up from £3.5 million in 2015


Profits circa up from £20k in 2015

Turnover Oxford Wine Cafes: £1.5million

2 2


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cafe staff

wine cafes (trading as Oxford Wine Cafe)

More than

1,100 spirits

More than

1,000 wines




DELIVERING THE GOODS holesalers and wine merchants need to offer efficient deliveries and good customer service if they are to win and retain business. If they cannot provide this, even if they have the best wine and spirit product range imaginable they could still lose their customer base. One of the key issues for them is to decide how frequently deliveries should be made – some customers may want daily deliveries while others may not want to have to spend time taking orders in several times a week. Gary Wyatt, chief operating officer of Liberty Wines, says its customers vary greatly in what they need. “There really is no one-sizefits-all approach. Each customer has different requirements and we do everything we can to find the best way of working together,” he says. Liberty says it has a range of delivery methods and has more flexibility as a result of owning and operating its own warehouse. “We don’t have cut-off times, so we can process a late order and get it to the customer quickly,” Wyatt says. Davy’s Wine Merchants and Wine Bars also has a varied pattern of deliveries to its customers. It tries to maximise efficiency by identifying set days and times for deliveries, although it builds in a degree of flexibility. Having adequate lead times helps this process. However, chairman James Davy says: “This is not always possible in practice as about 50% of our customers want more than one drop a week, with little lead time.” The company promises it will always deliver even if it cannot do so using


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its own resources. “If it is beyond our abilities – we offer next-day delivery for pre-12pm orders – we will taxi or courier the order,” Davy says.

OUTSOURCING Many wine merchants and wholesalers outsource their distribution to logistics providers and will usually leave the product in storage until it is needed by the restaurant or bar – at which point they will expect a very fast turnaround. Brian Davis, director of London City Bond, says: “There is now an expectation of next-day delivery in London and major cities. Very often



restaurants will have no space to store stock and will re-order what they have sold through the day.” LCB’s main warehouse is in Barking but it also operates satellite facilities in Leeds, Cambridge, Glasgow and Melksham in Wiltshire, which take stock in then distribute it on a regional basis the next day. For urgent requests it offers same-day deliveries, mainly in the London area. Another wine distribution specialist, EHD London No 1 Bond, offers next-day deliveries to the London area from its base in Sunbury-on-Thames and a 48-hour service to the rest of the UK using a network of regular delivery partners. Managing director Michael Phelps says that, rather than wanting a regular delivery, most companies will wait until stock is needed then place the order. “ It is totally ad hoc once they want a delivery made. We never know in advance where our deliveries are going to be,” he says. When dealing with urgent deliveries EHD London will either use a courier or its own resources if there is spare capacity. “If we have a vehicle and driver available we will use that – although it would come at a premium,” Phelps comments. DHL Tradeteam finds the timing of orders depends on the type of outlet. Managed pub companies tend to place orders at the beginning of the week, whereas independent outlets place them at the end of the week. Taking these needs into account it plans its routes to maximise efficiency. James Gill, DHL Tradeteam’s managing director, comments: “We are able to use the combination of different ordering patterns to effectively deploy our assets and people throughout the week and create a smooth delivery process.” Wincanton finds a similar variety when delivering into the distribution centres of retailers and large wholesalers. Larger retailers tend to demand deliveries within three days and smaller companies within five – by looking at the delivery patterns it is possible to consolidate orders from smaller wine suppliers and to make better use of resources. “We are not seeing a push to

increase or decrease that frequency,” says Wincanton’s operations director, Ian Howe. Whether or not to outsource is one of the most important decisions wine companies face and there are arguments either way. Liberty Wines has a strong policy of keeping it in-house, as Gary Wyatt explains. “The superficial cost efficiency of outsourcing logistics may make it an attractive option to some, however we feel the loss of control, flexibility and agility of response is too high a price to pay. If we were wholly dependent on a third party, our ability to respond to the diverse needs of our customers would be greatly reduced,” he says.

COUNTER ARGUMENT Not surprisingly, logistics firms say there are advantages in outsourcing. LCB’s Brian Davis says that if companies opt for a shared-user facility they can benefit from a more efficient utilisation of distribution vehicles and adjust their warehousing space whenever they need to. “It gives companies complete flexibility. It means they won’t have a warehouse that is half-empty or one with not enough space,” he says. Tradeteam’s Gill says outsourcing allows small companies in particular to increase the geographic reach of their supply chains and to tap into specialist knowledge. “Outsourcing their logistics gives them access to expertise beyond their size,” he says. Whether or not companies outsource, encouraging delivery drivers to build a good relationship with bars and restaurants is an important aspect of customer service. “Regular drivers acquire valuable, practical knowledge for each outlet on their route, such as how to access a property, the best place to park, any restrictions and where best to place stock,” Gill says. Liberty Wines’ Wyatt says some drivers have been with the company for more than 15 years. “They don’t just offer continuity of service. They can also be a good source of information, feeding back from customers and helping us understand their needs better,” he says. EHD’s Phelps agrees that the role of drivers is fundamentally important. “They are critical to what we do – the drivers are dealing with an expensive and fragile product,” he comments. B

DOING BUSINESS IT SYSTEMS It is vital for those supplying wine to have good IT systems that make ordering easy and can provide visibility of where the orders are right up until the point of delivery. Logistics firms are keen to provide such technology as part of their service. DHL Tradeteam, for example, has been working with Bibendum to introduce real-time order tracking to help manage 2,500 deliveries each week. This includes electronic proof of delivery (EPOD), information about where consignments are and estimated times of delivery. “This technology gives Bibendum full visibility of its deliveries when out on the road and removes the need for delivery notes,” says managing director James Gill. LCB’s Brian Davis says 98% of orders are now placed electronically via various methods and are managed using a system supplied by specialist IT company Vision Software. In addition, it offers (EPOD) messages to confirm a delivery has been made. Wincanton also aims to offer as much information as possible to customers through its inhouse Winsight IT system. “Customers are demanding visibility across the supply chain. They want fast, accurate data from the point of dispatch to the point of delivery,” operations director Ian Howe says. Liberty Wines has invested in its IT system and in the next 18 months will be able to provide its customers with the ability to track their orders. But Gary Wyatt says human contact is still essential. “This doesn’t stop us continuing to deal with customers’ orders personally, whether by phone or email. Good communication builds good relationships, he says. VECTORSTORY/ISTOCK/THINKSTOCK

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| November 2016

he bar world is ever in flux, surviving on its talent for innovation and change, both in the style of venues and the substance behind the enticing façades. At the heart of that substance, of course, is the drinks offer. And while it is primarily the high end that is cocktail-led, the fashion for mixology, even at its most basic level, has seeped into the mainstream, meaning any respectable restaurant, bar, or even quality-driven pub should be offering its customers at least a basic but well-made concoction or two. Furthermore, given its cutting-edge

status, the bar and cocktail scene gives some great insights into consumer-led drinking trends that are likely to also filter out and shape the consumption of other drinks categories. All of which makes the reading of Diageo’s World Class: Future of Cocktails report an interesting starting point for those suppliers looking to pick up on trends sweeping the industry. Taking in feedback from a worldwide selection of opinion formers and trendsetters on the bar scene, including “bartenders, chefs, tastemakers and adventurous brands”, the report states: “The global cocktail industry is leading the way in experimenting with new ingredients and technologies to play with the senses and satisfy a growing consumer demand for fresh

FINE DINING and premium tastes…” It continues: “As consumers increasingly demand – and recognise – the best ingredients, bartenders are owning their supply chains and changing their training and strategies to supply what their opinionated and knowledgeable patrons want.” The findings, though, have a reach far beyond the cocktail scene, describing the ways in which modern-day (and especially younger) consumers interact with the drinks world. And this is as relevant to beers, wine and spirits as it is to the cutting edge of mixology. In a section entitled Beyond Borders – examining how “humanity has become a hyper-connected species with the explosion of the internet” – the consumer mindset of millennials, and the generation X coming up in their wake, is described. “These young consumers are characterised by a holistic world view that has given rise to a borderless mentality encapsulated by five big shifts in behaviour,” asserts the report. These “five big shifts” are also entirely relevant to the vibrant and 24/7-connected younger consumers who comprise the upcoming drinking generations defining the drinks scene in the UK.

THE BIG SHIFTS Those findings are: • Brand loyalty is waning fast as hyperconnected customers with constant access to information make more informed decision, searching across brands • Digital technology has made it cheap and easy to share goods and services, and millennials are increasingly using their online reach to gain access to what they want without feeling the need to own it • Local attitudes are being replaced by global concerns as all become global citizens • Younger consumers, especially, are expressing different facets of their identity across a range of social media platforms, with 5.54 accounts on average and actively engaging on 2.82 platforms (Global Web Index figures) • Traditional markers of identity are changing fast, with a ‘neutral culture’ taking hold, meaning that consumers are rejecting hard and fast gender definitions in favour of more fluid lifestyle choices. As for the impact on brand owners and how they are responding, there are many fascinating insights into what the report describes as a “backlash culture”. It suggests, in a world where patrons’ tastes are ever evolving, seeking the new and expressing their individuality through their own (interconnected) path of discovery, brands

ON-TRADE INSIGHTS certainties that bound the industry (and its acolytes) together – perhaps best described as a hierarchal structure with grand Bordeaux at the pinnacle and a rather proscribed view of what to drink, when and how – holds little pull for today’s consumers. So much so that the restaurateurs and bar owners at our Roundtable at the Bristol Drinks Roadshow (see page 14) described the difficulty of finding staff to support their great wine selections, because “young people simply aren’t drinking wine”, so have little reference as to how and where to begin describing it to customers.



can no longer please most of the people most of the time. Instead, they are having to respond to this new norm by “taking a stand, even at the risk of alienating some consumers [to] escape the blandness trap – and become noticed in a cluttered commercial landscape”. The argument is then made that chefs and bartenders need to reclaim their own individuality, making what they want to make, renouncing traditional rules and following their instincts, rather than trying to bow to short-lived trends and the fickle whims of fashion.

BROADER INDUSTRY CHANGES The report goes on to examine the broader changes in the industry, including how boundaries between restaurants and bars, plus the cross-pollination of ideas in terms of drinks, food, coffee and general drinking occasion and expectation, is all in flux. It also looks at the way that cocktail culture has moved beyond high-end venues to pubs and barbecues. While the report centres on cocktails and the culture, trends and mores surrounding them, the findings – rooted in the gamechanging way in which consumers now engage – are equally relevant to all sectors of the public-facing and serving drinks sector. This is perhaps especially pertinent to the world of wine where, in the UK at least, the category has fast been losing ground to the likes of craft beers, artisanal spirits and the cocktail scene. The old traditional

Conversely, with wine and other drinks, those consumers (and would-be staff) who are being turned on are clearly coming to the subject on their own terms, looking for new, individual and often more off-piste styles that reflect their individuality and tastes. Worth flagging up here, too, is that quality must be a given, but millennials are willing to spend up if they know this is so. The flourishing of hybrid wine shopcome-wine bars, reverse off-sales from restaurant lists, along with the blurring of boundaries between retail spaces, bars and food outlets generally – and with coffee chains now serving alcohol – shows that fluidity and individuality are key in connecting with modern consumers. Things are clearly moving in the right direction, but there is still much that can and perhaps needs to change. It wasn’t so long ago that our sister title, Harpers, received strong complaints after running piece that named a selection of quite high-end wines used as the base for cocktails. Fortunately times have moved on a little, and even the most traditional of wines, including the likes of sherry and port, are now pushing their cocktail credentials. And, intriguingly, the very individuality of drinks such as sherry have proved a boon when it comes to connecting with a new generation. “Fluid lifestyle choices” is a phrase that crops up in the Diageo report. With this in mind, as revealed by today’s grazing, individuality-oriented and adventurous consumers, the old boundaries between drinks categories and drinking occasions have begun to lose their meaning. Wine, intriguingly, has all the right credentials. It reveals endless individuality and diversity plus, of course, a truly global portfolio of flavours and cultural backdrops. Time then, perhaps, to join the party, by rediscovering wine’s simple yet myriad appeal, rather than standing somewhat aloof and perplexed on the sidelines.

November 2016





DIRTY MARTINI MINORIES AND CARDIFF Imperial Gate, 71-72 St Mary Street, Cardiff CF10 1FA 124-127 Minories, London, EC3N 1NT DIRTYMARTINI.UK.COM London cocktail chain Dirty Martini added two new venues to its growing portfolio last month, including its first outside of the capital. The renovation of the former Mary-Jane’s site on Minories marks the eighth bar for the company, followed by the creation of a new venue in Cardiff, bringing the total to nine. Both venues will offer a long list of ‘trend-focused’ cocktails until 3am, Monday to Saturday. A £1.2m refurbishment is currently underway at the Cardiff site, where customers can sample a list of 50 cocktails at the central bar or the 16 additional bar stations. The drinks menu features a wide range of spirits, including Brecon Botanical gin and Penderyn Welsh single malt whisky, as well as a selection of Welsh-inspired cocktails, including the Red Dragon.

STREET XO 15 Old Burlington Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 3AJ STREETXO.COM Three Michelin-starred Madrid restaurant Diver XO has opened a sibling outpost in London’s Mayfair. Street XO is aiming to deliver the same theatrical style as the original, with dishes such Pekingese dumpling with crunchy pig’s ear and strawberry hoi sin, and kimchi croquetas with tuna steak and burnt butter. Equally experimental are the cocktails. The Japo, Jerez contains smoked pea soda, shiso, miso, yuzu, sake and palo cortado, and is served with flamed street shrimp. Pronounced ‘show’, the recently opened restaurant has 100 covers and is the brainchild of David Muñoz, who previously worked in London at the likes of Nobu and Hakkasan.

POMONA’S 47 Hereford Road, London W2 5AH POMONAS.CO.UK This 120-cover Californian-inspired, all-day restaurant and bar is due to fully open on Thursday December 8 in London’s Notting Hill. Designed with the work of English artist David Hockney’s 1970s Malibu period in mind, the restaurant has an American bar which


| November 2016

will offer a drinks list inspired by America’s West Coast. Kestutis Stirba, former head bartender at Gordon Ramsey Restaurants, will be running the bar. Dishes on the menu will include steak tartare, shredded kimchi and lardo toast, Kumototo/Blue Point oysters, cocktail sauce, horseradish, mignonette, crispy pork belly and smoked polenta. Head honcho and executive chef Gareth Sanderson has recently returned from LA and San Francisco researching dishes for Pomona’s launch menu.




Borough Market has long had significance for the Hawksmoor restaurant chain. When Hawksmoor first opened 10 years ago, the market was the first port of call for founders Will Beckett and Huw Gott and now they are returning to their roots to open their sixth restaurant on their suppliers’ doorsteps. It doesn’t open until mid-February, but expect more of what other Hawksmoor venues offer, including big cuts of beef, Sunday roast, an express menu, BYO Mondays (£5 corkage) and reasonably-priced wines. Hawksmoor Borough will have 140 covers spread over two floors and will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Expect a wine list similar to that at the existing Hawksmoor Air Street, which includes white wines by the bottle ranging from £22 to £65. A newly refreshed cocktail list includes a marmalade cocktail made with Beefeater gin, Campari, lemon and marmalade, and a French House – strawberry-infused Beefeater, lime and tarragon.


Lobos Soho, the second ‘garito’ (Spanish neighbourhood joint) from the team behind Lobos Meat & Tapas in Borough, opened on November 14 next door to Ronnie Scott’s. Situated in a Grade II listed building, Lobos Soho is spread over three levels with approximately 75 covers. On the ground floor, the bar has a dedicated space for jamon carving and charcuterie and offers both drinks and a full menu. A more casual experience is in situ in the basement, where an intimate bar area serves drinks and nibbles. The food menu includes signature cuts of Iberico pork (presa, secreto, fillet) and chuleton from the Borough restaurant, alongside new sharing dishes lobster and chicken pot, grilled chorizo board and slow-roasted Castilian milk-fed lamb, exclusive to Soho. Executive chef Roberto Castro and Soho head chef Manuel Antonio Rey Esperón are behind the venture, expanding on the original Lobos opened in Borough in 2015.

THE HOLY BIRDS 94 Middlesex Street, London E1 7EZ THEHOLYBIRDS.COM Brothers Gerry and Jon Calabrese are launching a bar and restaurant on November 30 specialising in poultry and featuring locally-sourced, free-range birds from chicken to wood pigeon, quail and pheasant. Veteran bartender Salvatore Calabrese has collaborated with his sons to create an extensive cocktail menu set against a backdrop inspired by the 1960s Danish modernist movement. The brothers, who are behind Hoxton Gin and the Hoxton Pony in Shoreditch, are billing the venue as the city’s only restaurant to specialise in poultry. The ‘eating and cocktail destination’ is set over two floors with restaurant, bar, lounge and private dining rooms.

November 2016




The Drinks Wholesaler November 2016  
The Drinks Wholesaler November 2016