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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers

Issue 91, May 2020

Dog of the Month: Poco Last Drop Wines, London

One of the independent trade’s most popular promotions, 31 Days of German Riesling, returns this July. Participants will receive a pack including digital as well as physical promotional material and have the chance to win £1,000 towards wine listings. For more information on how to get involved, see pages 28 and 29.

Better than we dared hope The picture still looks bleak for the on-trade, but for many indies the past eight weeks have triggered a sales boom

A

s the UK gradually starts plotting

We speak to 16 indies in this month’s

its route out of lockdown,

issue of The Wine Merchant, and find that,

from the early days of Covid-19 not

sales increase is as high as 60% and there

independent wine merchants are

breathing a sign of relief after emerging merely unscathed – but perhaps in a

better position than they were before the pandemic disrupted life for everybody in the country.

despite the challenges they all face, the

mood is broadly upbeat. In many cases, the are hopes that merchants will be able to hang on to their new customers.

Tensions still exist, with retailers uneasy

about suppliers going direct to consumers

to make up for lost on-trade business, and suppliers nervous that many indies have

shifted their focus of late to wines selling for £10 and under.

For indies reliant on drink-in sales, the

picture looks gloomy until July 4 at the earliest – and landlords have not been showing much sympathy.

Our coverage starts on page 4.


EDITORIAL

Inside this month 12 tried & tested Four orange wines, and a delicious Argentinian fizz that’s the same colour as Tizer

20 adapt and survive How Tivoli Wines analysed its new-look customer base, and responded accordingly

26 DAVID WILLIAMS Is the wine trade having a ‘good’ Covid-19 crisis?

30 going ballistic Trade tastings could be superspreader events for coronavirus

32 the secret cellar New ownership meant a fresh approach to buying for the Kent independent merchant

48 focus on LANGUEDOC France’s fruity answer to the New World is now competing at the cru end of the market The Spirits World, page 55; Supplier Bulletin, page 58

Our entry-level wines aren’t cheap options for most drinkers

R

ight, let’s see who’s been paying attention. What’s the average selling price of a bottle of still wine in the specialist independent trade? If your answer is £13.71, you’ve either made a very educated guess, or possibly you’re looking at page 27 of our March edition, where we reported that exact number as part of our reader survey coverage. The figure has been steadily rising since 2017, when it stood at £11.62. The average for the off-trade as a whole – which is, as we know, dominated by supermarkets – is just £5.93. Imagine if we asked those 179 respondents that same question today, based on the trade they’ve done over the past two months. What would their average be now? Below £13, almost certainly. Below £12? Below the £11.62 of three years ago? Below £10? When the panic buying began in supermarkets, independents found themselves catering for a new kind of customer – one that has been trained to think that decent wine costs £5.93. They’d be lucky to find anything at that price – even the scruffiest bin-end – in a specialist shop. We may think of £9 or £10 as entrylevel, but for vast swathes of the winedrinking public, that’s 50% or 60% more than they’re used to spending. The big question being asked by all

indies right now is just how many of these new customers will stick around once life gets back to some kind of normality. The answer will depend in part on how much value the Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s refugees have found in the sub-£10 wines they’ve bought from their local merchant.

A

number of suppliers are dismayed at the way their independent customers have pandered to the new wave of low spenders. “What about us?” they ask. “Are you going to delist our £15 wines – and risk your reputation as destination retailers – purely to hoover up some short-term volume?” For many indies, the situation doesn’t have to be quite as polarised as that. This pandemic is giving the trade the opportunity to carry out a unique experiment: to see how much broader its customer base can become if price points start slightly lower than we’re used to. For many, the early results are exciting. The strategy only really starts to hit problems if the £9 wines are no better than the £6 alternatives in Asda, or if the merchant starts to make reckless decisions about listings further up the quality and price ladder. These are modern-day wine retailing skills. Specialists have to sell special wines – whatever the price point.

THE WINE MERCHANT MAGAZINE winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag Editor and Publisher: Graham Holter graham@winemerchantmag.com Assistant Editor: Claire Harries claire@winemerchantmag.com Sales and Business Development: Georgina Humphrey georgina@winemerchantmag.com Accounts: Naomi Young winemerchantinvoices@gmail.com The Wine Merchant is circulated to the owners of the UK’s 920 specialist independent wine shops. Printed in Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2020 Registered in England: No 6441762 VAT 943 8771 82

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 2


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NEWS: COVID UPDATE

LAST DROP WINES, CHELSEA

‘People are bored and they’re making cocktails’ Andrea Viera has kept her shop open. “It’s one in, one out. We’ve got enough room to social distance,” she says. “I’m grateful for the help I’ve had, and I

can just about keep up with the work.

“People around here are actually walking

now – they’ve come into the shop and said, ‘I’ve lived around the corner for 10 years and never knew you were here’.

“Some people who normally shop in

supermarkets have come in and said, ‘we want six bottles, not more than a tenner each’. I explain that I’m an independent

sales, but I don’t think it is quite as sexy as I thought it would be.

“We took a hit before this started

because a lot of our clients left for Brexit. I think we have gained some customers

around here, but I’ve had to cut margins to

make it a little bit more palatable for them. “We even sell water now, and beer – just

Beck’s. Our spirits have gone through the

roof, and vermouth – people are bored and they’re making cocktails.”

and my other bills – I can’t afford to sell at £10 a bottle. We start at around £13.50.

discount price, because at that level it gets interesting. He’s put in two orders now,

for 42 bottles each time, and he’s said the

quality is so much better than what he was

a couple of black-cab drivers who have

delivered for us for years. They carry quite

Andrea Viera: “My paperwork has doubled”

There have been inevitable ups and

houses and we’re delivering to places like

some cases of Bordeaux.

Northumberland, Yorkshire, mainland Ireland, East Sussex, High Wycombe.”

Viera is not sure how much sales have

increased. “I can’t even get through my

paperwork – my paperwork has doubled,” she says. “I have over two weeks of credit card invoices I haven’t even put on the system.

“There have been some good days of

who drink wine are illiterate because nobody’s been able to read one yet!

“People are really thankful to have

somewhere to come and have a chat and see somebody, and just feel that there might be some sense of normality.”

The long hours and extra work have been

taking their toll. How is Viera managing

to keep going? “Try to eat really well and

to get as much sleep as you can,” she says.

“Yes, I would love to go and take a walk, but most nights I get home and I’m in bed by 9.30pm and I’m up at 6am.

Lundy. “We are trading, which is the most important thing, and doing so safely.

downs with suppliers. Viera recounts a

“A lot of our guys got out to their country

arrow, and I’m convinced that most people

“Business is OK,” says owner Andrew

a lot of insurance, so I don’t have to pay for that.

“I’ve tried four different signs outside the

shop, like ‘please ring the bell’ next to a big

Trading cautiously but staying safe is fine with Lundy

Prosecco’ and I could do a reasonable

happy with some of the couriers. We have

manage it themselves.

VINO, EDINBURGH

“One man said, ‘I need 42 bottles of

“We are delivering. I’m not sure I’m that

people’s social distancing if they can’t

“How long I can go on, I don’t know.”

wine merchant and I’ve got to pay my staff

getting in the supermarket.

stock,” Viera says. But we do manage other

frustrating and protracted saga back in

early April when she was trying to source “Where the relationships are working

best are where I can still get hold of

my rep,” she says. “When I’m talking to

somebody who doesn’t know me at all, it gets a little bit more difficult.”

By and large, customers are being

sensible. “People can come in and use the sanitiser on the desk, but we don’t make

them use it or stop them from touching the

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 4

“We have closed the doors on all stores

but operating with one-hour delivery

through Drinkly from one shop and web sales as usual through the other.

“This way can we take the same level

of sales but keep people inside and safe without over-stretching our workers

covering the shifts of distancing staff as they get sick.

“It’s a bit over-cautious, perhaps, but it

is certainly less stressful as deliveries have been getting delayed arriving with us.

“A fully-stocked, accurate website is a big

deal.”


The courtyard at Astley Park

BARRICA WINES, CHORLEY

‘If we hang on to 10% or 15% of new customers, that’s great’ Covid-19 came at a particularly unwelcome time for Barrica Wines, which had just started settling into its new home at Astley Park, Chorley, Lancashire. “I’ve furloughed all the staff and I was

actually going to furlough myself,” says owner Jane Cuthbertson. “But then I

realised I just wouldn’t be able to do

anything – no planning, no social media to keep us in people’s minds. If I do that, I’ll

have no business left in three months. We’ll just go completely off the radar.

“I’m just doing deliveries and mail order,

but because there’s only me, I’m knackered. I’m sort of covering costs.”

Cuthbertson has being doing her best to

offer customers the drinks they want.

“I either ring people

or Facetime them

and give them a tour

of what we’ve got, or

find out what they like and I can recommend something.

“I can never

remember people’s

names, but I can remember what they

drink. I say to them, ‘give me £50 or £100

and I’ll put something together for you’. I’ve had really good feedback from doing that

– but that’s what I’ve done for the past 15 years anyway.”

Supplies are “really sporadic”, she

reports. “We sell quite a lot of beer, and quite a lot of small brewers just aren’t brewing at the moment.

“I’m also doing milk, cheese, eggs,

and loose tea and coffee, and chutneys –

produce from all the other partners who

obviously aren’t here at the moment. I’m just trying to do my bit for anyone who’s housebound and can’t get out.

“My aim at the moment is still to have

a business in three months’ time when hopefully things relax a little bit.

“We’ve put so much work into this and I

think we’ve found our forever home. We’ve had such a good reception and such good

feedback. Some people say, ‘this is amazing, we never knew you were there – we’ll

continue using you once things are back to

normal’. Even if we hang on to 10% or 15%

of the new customers, that would be great.”

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 5

“Our Man with the Facts” • Valpolicella, the region located just east of Lake Garda in Italy, is said to take its name from a combination of Greek and Latin words which translate as “the land of many cellars”.

....... • John Lennon once described French rock music as having similar credentials to English wine. It was not intended as a compliment.

....... • It would be impossible to float in a swimming pool filled up with whisky, gin or any other 40% abv spirit. Even with lungs full of air, the human body is denser than the liquor and you would sink if you made no effort to swim.

....... • White Zinfandel was invented in 1972 by Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home Winery in California. Originally it was a dry wine, but a stuck fermentation in 1975 (in which yeast dies before all the sugar is converted to alcohol) gave the wine its now-familiar sweeter taste. Despite critical indifference, it became a big commercial hit.

....... • The results of The Judgement of Paris, Steven Spurrier’s famous California v France tasting in 1976, were not reported by the French press for three months despite a prompt report in Time.


NEWS: COVID UPDATE

CAMBRIDGE WINE MERCHANTS

GRAPE & GRAIN, CREDITON

Owner Hal Wilson estimates that 80%

Grape & Grain owner Bruce Evans says

of sales volume normally goes to trade

that “business is pretty good.”

Solidarity with producers whose orders are down

An opportunity to show what little businesses can do

customers – “or at least credit account customers”. With that revenue stream all but dried

up, Cambridge is focused on consumer business.

“We are getting lots of repeat customers,

which is great, but also word is being

spread in communities around Cambridge

MCNICOLL & CAIRNIE, DUNDEE

‘Run off our feet, but it’s proving to be worth it’

through community noticeboards,

“Business is good,” reports owner Euan

their way to us and maybe, just maybe,

delivery to the mirror opposite.

Facebook groups etc,” says Wilson.

“Lots of new customers are still finding

there will be a shift in buying habits back to local businesses.”

The company tends to deal directly with

producers rather than buy from UK agents. “We imported our own wines to have

a true point of difference from the large

importers, most of whom were competitors anyway,” Wilson says.

“We are starting to reorder again and are

trying to extend the sense of solidarity that we are experiencing to our family grower

supply base. They are very grateful as they are seeing orders slow down.”

McNicoll. “We’ve had to change the way we do business, from 95% shop and 5% “In fact we’re not technically open for

customers to come in – we didn’t think it

was the responsible thing to do – but if I’m in sorting things out and the lights are on I’ll not turn people away.

“It hasn’t helped that some suppliers

furloughed their reps, but we’re finding

ways to deal with it. A couple have adjusted

prices to our advantage so we can put cases together at a decent price.

“I see many other merchants are doing

fixed-price and fixed-content cases. I’m not seeing a demand for that – my customers

prefer to contact us and have a chat, even

“We don’t have massive wholesale side,

so the uplift in retail is noticeable,” he says. “We can’t get enough cheap Sauvignon and Merlot for the Tesco customers.

“Most of the suppliers are being great

about flexibility on orders and payment,

but I have always paid on time, so have a good relationship with them.

“We’re having a minor fight with a local

independent on-trade supplier, who is

trying to muscle into retail sales, which will cost them with their pubs in the long run. “To be honest this is an opportunity to

show what little businesses can do. We

have been delivering veg, bread etc along with wine. I’m hopeful of getting 10% of these new customers in the long run.”

BENTLEY’S OF LUDLOW

Trade down 50%, but it’s better than it might sound “We have had to shut the shop,” says

if just to say, ‘you know my tastes, give me

owner Will Bentley. “Like many

price per bottle they’re willing to pay. I just

social distancing, proper safety etc.

I’m right.”

every Friday.

nine of X and surprise me with three of Y’. “It’s giving us the chance to edge up the

didn’t think the one-size-fits-all-everybody-

independents in Ludlow who could legally stay open, we just can’t guarantee “Staff have been furloughed. Helen and

gets-the-same-dozen was really us. I hope

I are doing local deliveries and collections

period was up about 25% on the same

trade, which is actually better than it

McNicoll says that the March-April

period in 2019.

“We are also run off our feet,” he says.

“But it’s proving to be worth it.”

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 6

“We’re doing about 50% of usual total

sounds in terms of retail as 30% of our

business historically was local on-trade, and that evaporated overnight.”


handful of orders than was sensible.

VINTOTO, WAKEFIELD

Social distancing is not an option for a small shop like us Vintoto is one of a small number of indies who opted neither to open their doors or to offer deliveries. “Being located on the station, a large

percentage of my customer base is

commuter traffic, which is now non-

existent,” says owner Carolyn Skeels. “Plus

the shop is a small unit, so not conducive to social distancing at all.

“The other units on the station, including

WH Smith and Greggs, are all closed too

and the landlords LNER have incentivised this by offering three months’ free rent. That, together with the government

“Given what I’ve read since, though,

about the upturn in figures for many

independents, maybe that was a mistake. “To be fair, the government wanted

business rates grant, will tide me over financially for a short time.

“I am in the ‘fortunate’ position too that

my partner is able to continue working

from home, and while some belt-tightening is necessary, we aren’t wholly reliant on income from the shop.”

Deliveries aren’t a practical option for

Vintoto due to the lack of storage space.

“I did do a few doorstep drops in the run-

up to closing, but at that point – the same

time that three of my suppliers temporarily suspended their services – I reckoned it

was likely to be more difficult to service a

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 7

people to stay at home – it all felt like the right approach to adopt. The longer it

goes on, though, the more of a concern it becomes.

“I am starting to think long and hard

about how I can take things forward. As I mentioned, social distancing in the shop

isn’t realistic and I can’t see that a ‘one in,

one out’ approach is going to work either –

commuters scurrying in on their way home aren’t likely to wait outside.

“And that’s even if there are any

commuters ... it could be a long time before people start fully returning to work, as

previously. There are going to be some real challenges for the shop ahead.”


Keeping your staff and customers safe in store

measures. The signage kits include

you can rest assured prices haven’t

A-frame pavement boards complete with

been hiked up to take advantage of new

Merchants who are thinking about re-

chalk pens and cleaning spray. Its floor

guidelines and practices.”

opening their doors to the public have

safety tapes and stickers will help direct

to be ready to operate a safe working

and control customer flow.

and retail environment with clear

Food guards will protect countertop

All Back to Business lines along with standard lines of mobile shelving, storage and protective packaging is

signage kits, safety tapes, food guards

displays and the company will have

in stock and available for next-day

and till point separation screens.

Perspex separation screens for use at till

delivery.

WBC has put together some merchant essentials to help retailers comply with social distancing

points available soon. WBC says: “To support retailers we are just covering our costs on this range, so

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 8

There’s no minimum order and free next-day delivery is promised on orders over £150.


A small thank-you to some very big-hearted people

Last month we announced a partnership with Hatch Mansfield to deliver two cases of wines to 20 independent merchants, to be given away – singly or in pairs – to the Covid-19 Heroes in their communities. These are the people buying groceries for vulnerable people, taking their place on the front line as key workers, or perhaps devoting their time to making PPE equipment. We left it up to individual merchants to choose some worthy recipients. The offer was over-subscribed so Hatch kindly agreed to send the wines to 48 merchants rather than the 20 that we’d originally planned. So there are some very happy (and surprised) people now enjoying complimentary bottles of Vidal Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Errazuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir from Chile. Check out our Twitter feed for updates on some of the worthy recipients – and please keep your pictures coming too.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 9


INDEPENDENT VOICES: CHRIS CONNOLLY

Frightened, but perhaps enlightened Chris Connolly of Birmingham independent merchant Connolly’s takes stock of a nerve-wracking few months – and begins to plot a path to recovery out of the coronavirus wreckage

F

ML, where do you start?

I remember just after Christmas

being seriously brassed off by a

customer who had had umpteen samples and demanded endless list re-writes

before announcing that someone else was marginally cheaper so they were going to transfer the business to them.

I was bloody fuming, incandescent,

beyond seething. But I wasn’t scared. Now I’m spending a lot of time feeling scared. Not worried as in “business is a bit slow, how are we going to pay the VAT?” but

“are my loved ones going to survive this?” scared. Business worries come in a very distant second. Even Brexit pales into insignificance.

Life for the vast majority in post war

Britain has been pretty good, all things

considered; the occasional economic blip but largely pretty good. We’ve got used to being safe and secure. SARS, bird flu and Ebola were all things that affected

other people – then midnight struck on

December 31 and 2020 knocked on the door with a scythe over his shoulder saying “here’s Johnny!”

So, January was OK; we had a sale which

went well, shifted a lot of “slower moving stock” and made way for the tidal wave

of new arrivals that we went in search of.

Connolly’s branch in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter

Heard a few stories about Wuhan (WTF

And then it hit Italy and suddenly things

is Wuhan?) and dismissed them ‘cos it’s

started to feel a bit more real, particularly

something and nothing. Mind you, you’ve

three months previously had been telling

on the other side of the planet and it’ll

be just like bird flu that turned out to be got to wonder how on earth they shut down a whole country, haven’t you?

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 10

if you were running short of bog paper.

But interestingly, although those folk who, us that “we’d got through two world wars

so Brexit will be fine” were now scrapping


in supermarket aisles over the last tin

the case to date – albeit we are starting

and, if anything, retail started to gather

the small but perfectly formed team that

to put measures in place in preparation

of chopped tomatoes, the hospitality

for re-opening shortly. In the meantime,

industry remained reasonably buoyant momentum.

remain at the coal face are running a

ridiculously busy home delivery service.

M

How much longer it can continue is open

oving into March, it became

to question and the end of lockdown will,

all too evident that this was

presumably, sound its death knell but, for

not something that would,

the moment, it is keeping the tills ringing

somehow or other, miraculously disappear,

and bringing us to the attention of a lot of

whatever the leader of the free world

new customers.

might have to say on the matter.

Lockdowns that had initially been

restricted to Lombardy were extended to cover the whole of Italy, numbers from across the globe edged frighteningly

higher and, by the middle of the month,

the hospitality business was in freefall and sleepless nights were spent rehearsing the difficult conversations that needed

to be held. The sense of relief when Rishi

NOT YOU AGAIN!

Chris Connolly

sure is that hospitality is a vaccine away

from returning to its former glory, so those of us who have spent the past 40 years

Sunak shook the magic money tree and

the furlough scheme fell out was almost overwhelming.

Where do we go from here? Ask me in

12 months. One thing of which we can be

When the lockdown started, we took the

decision to close both shops which remains

building businesses to service the industry are going to have to get creative. Which I

actually find quite exciting. And maybe just a little bit scary.

customers we could do without

© Prostock-studio / stockadobe.com

12. Brendan Tankard ... You did a jolly nice ready-mixed case for us three weeks ago, super stuff, and we’d like exactly the same thing again … that’s right, for delivery … that’s super – such a useful system and it must save you a hell of a lot of time … any day at all, we’re going nowhere, hahaha! Oh – and do tell me if I’m being awkward here – could we maybe have two rosés this time instead of one, and skip the orange wine? Not really our thing … yes, and the Franciacorta was nice but we’re actually big fans of crémant, so … one other tiny thing, do you do any Picpoul? You see we quite like our Picpoul and perhaps that might be a better bet than the Muscadet. That’s grand. Well, see you Tuesday! Oh, there was one wine in that box – might have been a New Zealand Syrah – that didn’t seem quite right. Swap it for anything you like – wife would prefer a Mendoza Cab Franc, but not oaked … loved the Amarone, by the way, though it was maybe a touch young – could we have the ’14 this time instead of the ’15? Gorgeous wine, unless Azienda Zenato is an acceptable substitute? Oh, that box you left in the garage last time was a bit saggy, do you have anything sturdier? And instead of the very nice Dão red, do you by any chance sell Quinta do Casal Monteiro Forma de Arte Reserva 2018 ...

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ANAGRAM TIME Can you unscramble the names of the following Bordeaux châteaux? If so, you win a computer for your school.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 11

1. Leeds Croutons 2. Content Pâte 3. Bagel Synch 4. Acid Filth Holster 5. Cava in Belch Mark Matisovits


Community Champions

TRIED & TESTED

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana En Rama 2020 Release Some of us have walls disfigured by score marks,

Jen Ferguson Hop Burns & Black, London

counting down the days to the release of this annual

D

espite the general apocalyptic vibe, there are many reasons to stay positive and upbeat. Public generosity towards worthy causes has contributed to the feelgood factor. Hop Burns & Black, whose own website tagline reads Reasons to be Cheerful, may have temporarily closed its physical shops in Peckham and Deptford, but it’s doing a roaring online trade. Co-owner Jen Ferguson explains how the business is, along with its customers, doing its bit to raise some much-needed funds with a proportion of its revenue going to deserving causes. “We’ve always contributed to charities but like a lot of businesses we don’t shout about it,” she says. “Currently it seems that we are in a fortunate position, benefiting from off-licence sales, when a lot of others aren’t able to work, and it only seemed right for us to share the love with charitable donations. “We’ve made it easy for customers to contribute – once they get to the payment part of the website there is an option there to donate and it’s been really popular. When people click the donate button, the default payment is £1 but there is a slider allowing people to donate up to £100. We have seen donations at the higher end, which is fabulous. We are getting a huge number of repeat sales and it’s really nice to see that customers are donating every time they shop with us.” All the staff nominated their favourite charities, so a decision was made to have a support a different one each fortnight. Back in March staff were reading about the particular struggle of The Trussell Trust – an NGO that supports a network of food banks nationwide – so that seemed like an obvious place to start. “There was so much stockpiling and less food was being donated, and it was harder for them to get hold of the supplies they needed. It was looking treacherous for them at one point,” Ferguson says. Two weeks later £525 was raised through the donate button and because Hop Burns & Black is matching the money raised each fortnight, it was able to send a donation of just over £1,000 to The Trussell Trust last month. The current chosen charity, Refuge, is set to meet a similar sum with £506 raised to date – and next up is The Samaritans.

Jen wins a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Rouge 2016 If your store is a community champion, email claire@winemerchantmag.com

exercise in unadulterated hedonism. This year’s wine

– unfined and very lightly filtered, but essentially raw – is punchy but not pungent, with the yeasty, briney, savoury elements balanced by a zesty seam of fruit. RRP: £13

ABV: 15%

Mentzendorff (020 7840 3600) mentzendorff.co.uk

Georgian Sun Mtsvane 2017 Gvino’s portfolio includes a broad selection of orange or amber wines that cater for specialist tastes. Here, we’re perhaps on the nursery slopes (and the more

affordable end of the price scale) with a qvevri wine full of tropical sweetness but some pleasingly rustic

edges that would no doubt work well with a range of spicy Asian dishes or as an aperitif. RRP: £13

ABV: 13%

Gvino

gvinouk.com

Herència Altés Trementinaire 2016 Here we’re almost in vermouth territory with a big, bold, musky Garnacha, aged oxidatively in

Terra Alta, Catalonia, for two years. It’s a carnival of mountain herbs and bitter orange, lovingly crafted by Núria Altés and husband Rafael de Haan, with a little help from Frenchman Claude Gros. RRP: £19.45

ABV: 15%

Bancroft Wines (020 7232 5450) bancroftwines.com

Rosell Boher Rosé NV There’s something deliciously decadent about

pouring a sparkling rosé that’s almost a Pantone

match for Tizer, and the cherryade sweetness from the aroma and first sip add to the naughtiness. But you’ve been fooled. This traditional-method Uco

Valley Pinot Noir is actually structured and elegant,

with a refreshing sourness countering the rich fruit. RRP: £33.50

ABV: 13%

Las Bodegas (01435 874772) lasbodegas.co.uk

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 12


Ver Sacrum Glorias Garnacha 2016 There’s a delicateness and lightness of touch to the Ver Sacrum range and it’s embodied in this deceptively

simple Uco Valley red. The winemaking involves semi-

DEDICATED TO THE VALUATION AND AUCTIONING OF FINE AND RARE WINES

carbonic maceration and a proportion of amphora

ageing, which adds vividness and vivacity to the red

cherry and raspberry flavours. Superb summer wine. RRP: £32.50

ABV: 13%

Las Bodegas (01435 874772) lasbodegas.co.uk

Loveblock Orange 2019 Like so many Marlborough Sauvignons, this one

oozes confidence and juicy richness, but most of the similarities end there. Biodynamic and made with green-tea powder instead of sulphur as a natural

antioxidant, it’s a complex amalgam of eastern spices, bright citrus fruit and peach flavours with an earthy bass note. Exotic, sure, but oh so accessible. RRP: £24

ABV: 13.5%

Graft Wine Company (07940 056014) graftwine.co.uk

Johannes Trapl Karpatenschiefer Orange 2018 Trapl is a devotee of stripped-down winemaking on his Lower Austrian estate. Biodynamic viticulture,

foot treading and amphora ageing are the order of the day and this Grüner Veltliner tastes positively alive.

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Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs 2016 This East Sussex estate has the scale to be a dominant player in the English wine business – but first its

wines have to live up to the hype. The current crop

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kick. Here we find brioche and lemon aromas, tight grapefruit flavours and a long, consistent finish. RRP: £38

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BELGIAN BEER SPECIAL

The detail is in the Duve

Belgium’s beer heritage is unrivalled. Duvel Moortgat’s extensive portfolio offers specialist independents a rang from the traditional to the exotic, representing a cross-section of the styles that have enthused beer lovers the wo

D

uvel Moortgat is a family company, based in Belgium. It owns a glittering collection of quirky breweries all over the world. These are beers for beer lovers, beers for wine lovers, and beers for contemplation – or for food. They don’t do watery. They do balance: and the quality of their ingredients, and of their brewers, shines through. The hero of their range of beers is Duvel, an iconic blond ale with a billowing head. Since it was brewed for the first time, the recipe has never changed. Even the original Scottish yeast is still being used. At 8.5% abv, it is best served in its own Duvel tulip glass with a nucleated bottom which releases an impressive tornado of bubbles. This golden beer has both power and elegant spice, so it pairs very happily with a wide range of foods and dishes. Its backbone of barley sweetness means that Duvel is a fine contrast for cheeses as diverse as parmesan or stilton, or for tandoor curries or chilli con carne. This beer sidles sinuously beside tempura vegetables, chicken pies, apple or pear tarts and many other pastry delights. Pork of any persuasion is heroic. Duvel Tripel Hop Citra (9.5% abv), Duvel’s more exotic sibling, is based on the same Duvel recipe. The brew is then dry hopped late in the process with a third hop – the aromatic American Citra – to enrich the flavour palate with hints of fresh grapefruit and tropical fruits. Tripel Hop can be treated as a full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, and paired with similar foods: goats’ cheese, seafood, grilled fish, veal, white or green asparagus and spicy vegetable curries.

Vedett Blond is Duvel Moortgat’s premium pilsner (5% abv). It offers full-bodied, thirst-quenching refreshment, with a slightly bitter aftertaste to keep you on your toes. This Belgian lager combines gentle malt sweetness with hints of lemon and a satin-like texture. Vedett Blond’s best food accompaniments are similarly delicate, such as salted nuts, crisps,

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 14

humous, salads, vegetable tarts, quiches, white fish, veal, chicken pies and Thai dishes. The other three beers in the Vedett range include Vedett Extra White, a 4.7% abv wheat beer, with delicious haziness and notes of coriander and orange peel. Vedett IPA, at 5.5% abv, is a juicy IPA using three in-your-face American hops.


In association with Duvel Moortgat

el

Fermented teas are perfect for summer drinking

ge of brews, orld over

bit of bottle age. This golden beer leaves citrus notes on the palate, followed by a refreshing, reassuringly spicy note, giving it a lovely lightness. With its 8% alcohol content and slightly spicy hop taste, La Chouffe has a fan club of beer lovers from all over the world. Like Duvel, La Chouffe is best with bigger or spicier flavours such as powerful cheeses, garlic chicken, grilled pork, tandoor cuisine, spicy curries and cassoulet. Its sister McChouffe (8% abv) is like liquid chocolate, with yet more colourful goblins on the label. Liefmans Fruitesse 4.2% is a very modern fruit beer – a party-time beer which is great served over ice. Ice kills most beers, and makes the hops taste like shards of rusty metal; but the sweet Gamay-like fruitiness of this beer is great served on ice, and has taken Belgian bars by storm. The addition of cherries, bilberries, elderberries, strawberries and raspberries to this traditional sour brown 4.2% abv Belgian beer make it something special.

Vedett Session IPA, with just 2.7% alcohol, is the new kid on the block, offering a lower-alcohol option without compromising on taste.

La Chouffe is an undiscovered gem, a standout beer with red-hatted goblins on the label. It has the same creamy mouthfeel as a brioche-laden Champagne, with a

Liefmans Kriek Brut, at 6% abv, is fermented using both cultured and wild yeasts. It carries a vintage statement and ages beautifully, if it gets the chance. Most drink it with dark chocolate, but Michel Roux at Le Gavroche serves it with a ginger spiced tuna tartare, with black pepper, chilli and sesame oil.

• The Duvel Moortgat range is available from a range of UK wholesalers. For more information call 0203 7408479 or email info@duvelmoortgat.co.uk.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 15

JARR Kombucha, the fermented tea drink, was launched in 2015 – and has since partnered with Duvel Moortgat to pave the way for further expansion throughout the UK and Europe. JARR, which has been at the forefront of the UK’s surging interest in kombucha, began life as a small operation, brewed and bottled by hand in Hackney Wick. Since then, the team have opened the UK’s first dedicated kombucha bar, their bottles of kombucha have been stocked in restaurants across the country as well as Soho House, Selfridges, Planet Organic, Harrods and Sourced Market. JARR Kombuchas make really great aperitifs, as well as being happy partners for salads, quiches, fish and white meats, Moroccan tagines, and pies. JARR Kombucha Original With a perfect balance of both sour and sweet, JARR’s Original kombucha is reminiscent of green apples and citrus fruits – a refreshing kick at any time of the day. JARR Kombucha Ginger Imagine your favourite ginger beer, but healthier, with more zing, and even more delicious. Freshly juiced ginger root is added to JARR’s original recipe for a zesty and fiery delight. JARR Kombucha Passion Fruit JARR’s delicious Passion Fruit kombucha is made by blending their classic kombucha with just the right amount of 100% pure Ecuadorian passion fruit purée for a burst of tropical flavour. JARR Kombucha Raspberry Deliciously tart and fruity, JARR’s Raspberry kombucha is made by adding sweet and juicy raspberries to their tangy original brew. Enjoy summertime in a bottle, year round.


BITS & BOBS

Magpie

M&S launches £5 wine range Marks & Spencer has launched a range of 15 wines arranged by style, with all but two of them priced just £5 a bottle. Created by M&S winemaker Belinda

Kleinig, the This Is range is comprised of 15 supermarket staples with labels that

make it easy for consumers to understand exactly what type of wine is in the bottle. Using label colours indicative of their

Andrew Gray Grays & Feather London Favourite wine on my list Penley Mythology Sparkling Pinot Noir. It’s a gateway drug to the world of red bubbles.

style, each wine has a two-word descriptor, such as “crisp and fruity”, “vibrant and

zesty”, “light and refreshing”, and “ripe and juicy”.

Among the wines in the range are an

Italian Pinot Grigio, South African Chenin Blanc, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon,

Argentine Malbec and Australian Shiraz. The Drinks Business, April 28

Favourite wine and food match Fish and chips with English or any dry sparkling, or figs and gorgonzola with fizzy Moscato.

problem will emerge only when the

lockdown is eased later this summer.

“My feeling is that in the stress, the

anxiety of this whole thing, it’s very easy to want to go and

drown your sorrows in a bottle of beer or

a bottle of wine,” she said.

Office of National Statistics figures

showing a 31% annual increase in alcohol

sales in March led the British Liver Trust to urge people to drink responsibly.

London Evening Standard, May 11

Sick hackers leave tasters distraught Dozens of wine enthusiasts were left shocked and in tears when an online tasting event hosted by Zoom was hacked by cowardly internet vandals who posted a sickening child porn

Favourite wine trip A hilltop winemaker tasting at a Verona estate during a lightning storm last year; lovely smallproduction wines tasted while sat on hay bales with homemade gardiniera and cheeses. Favourite wine trade person Joe Wadsack. He is an endless journeyman, forever welcoming with bottles of energy and sagelike knowledge.

video. Not so easy to understand the profit margin

Londoners on the lash in lockdown The amount of alcohol being drunk by Londoners in lockdown could lead to an “explosion” in liver disease, a top doctor has warned.

Favourite wine shop It has to be Hedonism as the museum for viewing godly things; and then The 10 Cases, our neighbour in Covent Garden, for beautiful wines mortals can buy.

Professor Debbie Shawcross, of King’s

College Hospital, fears the “well-to-do

middle classes” are developing excessive drinking problems and underestimating how much they are consuming.

She said several months of daily drinking

will lead to habits that are difficult to break, and that the true scale of the

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 16

Police are investigating the attack on an

event that was held by Prestwch-based wine merchant Grape to Grain.

Owners Tom Sneesby and Barry van

Gothen were hosting a wine-tasting

evening from their premises, joined by

about 60 or 70 customers on Zoom as well

as others on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

About 25 minutes into the session a

hacker posted the first of a series of vile child abuse videos.

Tom and Barry tried in vain to stop the

videos and in the end had to abandon

Zoom, with them and many others who

had watched the clips left distraught and in tears.

Manchester Evening News, May 7


Crisis distillation likely in Europe

?

THE BURNING QUESTION

What have been your best-sellers during the coronavirus lockdown?

Our entry level is £7.99 and the vast majority of new customers have been happy with that. We’re selling less cheap Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon than we were a month ago and we’ve encouraged people to have a bottle of the rosé or the red or white we import from the Languedoc – for £8.99 they’ve been pleasantly surprised and come back to buy cases. People have been willing to try new things and our Greek stuff has gone down really well. We’re also getting requests for more Portuguese.

Cellars across Europe are sitting on surplus wine for several reasons, including lost sales due to the coronavirus epidemic and a sharp dropoff in orders from the US due to new import tariffs.

France’s agriculture minister, Didier

Guillaume, said he envisaged draining the country’s stocks through a “crisis distillation” scheme.

If approved, wineries would be able to

apply for funding to turn excess stocks into industrial alcohol.

There are around 1 billion litres of

excess wine across Europe, according to

Eric Andrieu, a member of the European Parliament representing the Aude wine-

Duncan Murray Duncan Murray Wines, Mkt Harborough

What we’re selling the most of is mixed cases of wine and we’re getting a lot of repeat orders. We do a range of them; easy-drinking, everyday entry-level wine, then we do bestsellers and we’ve been doing cases of rosé, which have been flying out. We have had a lot of new customers, who really like the speed and personal nature of the service. I’ve been selling some of my wholesale-only wines to customers in value boxes, and that’s worked really well.

producing area of France’s Languedoc-

Jane Salt Hay Wines, Ledbury

Roussillon.

Decanter, April 23

In terms of what people are spending money on it’s our online cheese and wine tastings, which are £65 with cheese or £55 without. This week we are doing Italy and we have had 200 purchases – it will be mostly couples so you can double that in terms of viewers. We’ve managed to get the Barolo producer Giuseppe Vaira to introduce his Dolcetto ’19. We started with a general one then realised that focusing on one country was better. So far we’ve done Greece, Portugal and after Italy we have Spain and France.

• The Wachau has become Austria’s newest DAC region, making this part of the country the fifteenth to achieve such recognition. The Drinks Business, May 11

Ponting joins the cricket wine club

Paul Creamer Loki, Birmingham

Australia’s most successful ever captain, Ricky Ponting, has opened up his own wine company. Ponting and award-winning Australian

winemaker Ben Riggs toured Australia to source and blend a series of wines.

“Ben and I spent time together in

South Australia and travelled to Northern

Tasmania to personally select this range of

wines,” Ponting says on the official website. “We are proud to bring to you our first

release under the Ponting Wines label, with more exciting wines coming on line soon.”

Our spirits sales have completely dried up and we’ve suddenly started selling a lot of sub-£10 wines, which historically we couldn’t shift for love nor money. That range of wines has gone from making up 5% of our sales to more like 40%. We had maybe three reds and three whites at that price point but we’ve expanded that now to about seven of each. We’ve been able to find some special promos that suppliers have put on to keep things moving. I think we’ve covered the key styles and flavour profiles within that range. Simon Griffiths Phoenix Wines, Cirencester

Champagne Gosset The oldest wine house in Champagne: Äy 1584

GQ Australia, May 14

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 17


ight ideas r b 11: Instant Customised Champagne

. T H E D R AY M A N .

Andrew Lundy, Vino, Edinburgh

Quaffable IPAs

L

ike a government pandemic response, beer definitions are notoriously fluid and

uncoordinated. Ten years ago, the beer-drinking world had never heard of a session IPA; now it’s one of the most widely consumed styles on the planet. Initially led by influential American

craft brewers, it was in essence a response to the massive popularity of their spin on traditional IPA while acknowledging that expecting the mass market to keep consuming vast quantities of 6%-plus beer on an ongoing basis was unrealistic. The session IPA has cascaded through the UK brewing community with the pace of boy racer on a motorway during lockdown. The relatively innocuous alcohol levels of such beers allows for tasting a few back-to-back, an exercise that can reveal a pleasing spectrum of styles. Some ramp up the use of zesty, resinous American hops to soften the traditional IPA bitterness, turning “session” into a description of more accessible flavour as well as moderate abv. Walthamstowbased Wild Card’s Session IPA is a good example at 3.7% abv that mimics the relatively forward citrus character of the producer’s “full fat” IPA. Magic Rock’s Saucery tips the scales the other way, packing surprising levels of authentic IPA bitterness into a 3.9% abv hop bomb. Sitting somewhere between the two is Oakham’s Citra. It dates back to 2009 when brewer John Bryan discovered Citra hops on a trip to the US and set about creating a single-hop beer that’s since twice been best in class at Camra’s Champion Beer of Britain. Its labels have only relatively recently started to

In a nutshell … Tap into the personalised gifts market. All you need are chalk paint pens and unlabelled Champagne bottles. Voila – a thoughtful present with extra Instagrammable appeal.

Tell us more.

“The idea is someone can say anything they want to a friend or a loved one on a bottle

of Champagne. It’s really easy; the customer just comes up to the counter and writes or

draws whatever they want straight on to the bottle. It takes about five minutes, basically,

while the transaction is happening. There’s no hanging around waiting for printed labels.”

Not everyone is a budding Banksy. Do you lend a hand if they ask?

“I think people in retail are all quite arty, so anyone that had a problem we could do it for them and we didn’t charge extra.”

Is this a seasonal trend?

“We initially took the bottles over Christmas and promoted it as the

Champagne to open for your guests – at £25.50 it worked really well.

Then with Valentine’s coming up we thought it was a great way of saying

something nice. I mean, you can do a

big Valentine’s window and not everyone has someone at that time of year to share

it with, so it doesn’t have to be all hearts and

bows – it can be about celebrating friendships.

“Giving people the opportunity to express what they like and avoid the traditional

seasonal sentiments really appealed. It was popular for Mother’s Day too. Anything that is a bit different or interesting becomes something that people might talk about and share on social media, so this is a good thing to do even during the quieter times of year.”

What was the most unusual piece of handiwork you saw?

“Well there were a lot of customers who opted for just drawing a heart and the person’s

name. ‘I love you mum’ was probably the most popular message, but my favourite is still ‘I hate you!’ Tongue in cheek – that’s brilliant!”

position it as a session IPA, hopping on a trend, but it deserves the opportunity, harmoniously balancing a subtle spicy bitterness with attractive citrus zing. Like all the best beer trends, the rise of session IPA thrives on brewers’ collective freedom of expression unbound by definitional straitjackets.

Andrew wins a WBC gift box containing a bottle of Hattingley Valley sparkling wine, a box of chocolate truffles from Willies Cocoa and a half bottle of gin liqueur from Foxdenton. Tell us about a bright idea that’s worked for your business and you too could win a gift box. Email claire@ winemerchantmag.com or call 01323 871836.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 18


SPONSORED EDITORIAL

STRONGER IN ADVERSITY Covid-19 may have derailed Maison Joseph Drouhin’s anniversary plans, but the family business has a tradition of riding out crises, and emerging in a better place

T

his was meant to be a special time for Drouhin: a celebration of 140 years as a family-run Burgundy

négociant. Events were planned in

France, the UK and further afield, to thank customers for their ongoing support.

Those events won’t now be taking place,

for obvious reasons. But Frédéric Drouhin remains philosophical.

“For an anniversary you look behind

you and you look in front of you,” he says.

“We’ve been through many crises over 140 years.

“The first began just four years after

Joseph Drouhin set up the company –

phylloxera struck and all the vineyards were being destroyed. So he had very

limited access to wine because he owned

no vineyards. But he managed to find wine and he kept the business going.

“Then came Maurice Drouhin, who went

through two world wars. And he kept the business afloat.”

Later, in 1993, the company faced a

financial squeeze and needed to sell a

portion of its equity to a Japanese partner. But, as always, adversity only seemed to

bring the Drouhin family closer together,

with an increased resolve to work harder to achieve their goals.

One of the biggest challenges faced by

Drouhin was the decision in 1988 to switch to full organic viticulture – 80 hectares

all at once. At the time, organic vineyards

were far from commonplace and the move was not enthusiastically received by all

of Drouhin’s neighbours, who feared the spread of disease.

But the family pressed on, accepting

lower yields as the vines adjusted to a lack of fertiliser, and were vindicated when the wines started to recover the finesse and vivacity that previous generations had

come to expect. “We had probably been

From left: Frédéric Drouhin, Philippe Drouhin, Véronique Drouhin-Boss, Laurent Drouhin

losing the connection between the terroir

and the wine,” Frédéric says. “We made the right decision.”

Covid-19 aside, Drouhin’s 21st-century

challenges centre largely around climate change.

“We see the weather getting hotter, we

see the spring coming sooner; we see

extreme weather like heavy rain, heavy

hail, late frosts … we don’t have a solution but we are experimenting with different

options to make sure 30 years from now we will still produce wine in Burgundy. “We are a family business and that

differentiates us from the big corporations that don’t have the same vision or short and long-term expectancies.”

Frédéric speaks warmly about the

extended Drouhin family – the workforce of 80 whose efforts and loyalty are regularly rewarded with long-service medals. And

he has high hopes for the next generation, who are studying at university as well as

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 19

working within the business.

“We are giving ourselves 10 years to

train them to take the lead maybe 20 years from now,” he says. “They can go to great

universities, but they also need to learn the ethics and the style of Drouhin.

“The most important thing is to keep

the consistency of the Drouhin style.

Customers often talk about the elegance

and balance of our wines. That cannot be trained at Davis or Dijon University. It’s

something that you learn in the cellar, and in the vineyard with the oldest generation of the Drouhin family.”

Find out more Visit www.polroger.co.uk or www.drouhin.com Twitter: @Pol_Roger


ANALYSIS

Adapt and

survive Like hundreds of independent merchants, Tivoli Wines in Cheltenham experienced a tidal wave of orders in the early weeks of lockdown. But where were these orders coming from? Who were these new customers, and were they different from the regulars that the team was used to meeting and greeting? Could they be persuaded the stick around once Covid-19 was in retreat?

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 20

Š zakiroff / stockadobe.com

Owner David Dodd describes how the business changed its own buying behaviour as a response to the pandemic – and assesses whether his strategy has paid off


ANALYSIS

A

s I sat in the shop an hour after Boris Johnson’s lockdown

announcement, boxing up stock

for what I believed would be a lengthy

period of inactivity, I could hear my phone beeping away in my pocket.

I ignored it, putting it down to the

over-excitement of a group of friends

exchanging messages on Whatsapp or my wife informing me that our 12-month-old

had woken up for the fifth time in an hour.

At around midnight, as I was locking up, I

glanced at my phone. What I saw surprised,

presented to us.

Understanding the new

you’re already hurtling down the runway.

online customers, we felt that we needed

The first week of lockdown was intense –

customer

akin to trying to build the aeroplane when

With little experience of dealing with

website was not updated with our latest

purchasing behaviour and started to

We were not ready for the demand: our range, nor was it aligned with the EPOS used for stock control.

We had no processes in place to update

stock records and pick, pack and deliver at short notice. We don’t own a business van to make deliveries or even have business

insurance on our cars. We didn’t even have

to try to understand more about their

cluster the transactions in similar missions or behavioural segments.

Just from eyeballing the transactions

made over the first few days, three groups stood out.

The One-hit Wonders

enough shipping boxes. But we were taking

The first group we termed One-hit

derived from our bricks-and-mortar

U

the first week or two of lockdown.

we viewed it primarily as a window to

just happened and adjust our processes

excited and terrified me in equal measure. It wasn’t text messages coming in. It was the notification of online orders – more than we’d ever had in a single day.

Like many small independents, the

majority of our sales, around 95%, are

channel and, even though we developed an e-commerce website back in 2018, promote our hybrid business model.

I was quite happy with our website, but

it had suffered from months of neglect as

we focused our investment on growing the more profitable aspects of our business, particularly the wine experience side.

As rumours of a forced closure of retail

circulated, it hadn’t crossed my mind that

the website would become our life support. We felt re-energised; we had a form of income flowing into the business.

But as the orders stacked up over the

next 36 hours, I became less excited

and more terrified at the opportunity

money, from faceless customers we knew very little about.

nfortunately, though, we just

couldn’t keep up with the pace. We needed to take a breather

and get ourselves organised, restock

the empty shelves, reflect on what had

accordingly. Most of our stock of sub-£10 wine disappeared within the first few

days as the nation was in full panic-buying mode. Frantic calls were made to try and get new lines delivered within 24 hours

(no chance!) so 72 hours would have to do. But the backlog of orders kept building

up and, fearful that our levels of customer service would drop, we made a conscious decision to close the website to non-local customers. Although we lost sales in the short term, it gave us time to plan and to strategise on how to maximise the opportunity presented to us.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 21

Wonders and they ended up representing

around 40% of the orders coming in during These were clearly the supermarket

overspill customers on a panic-buying

mission. We expected them to only make a single order in the month: they purchased items in cases, or in multiples of six

bottles, and were price-sensitive – rarely

purchasing lines above £10 after discount. Continues page 22


© Krakenimages.com / stockadobe.com

ANALYSIS

One-hit Wonders: looking for sub-£10 bargains

From page 21

They focused on recognisable grapes

over regions or countries – Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc –

and ordered 12/18/24+ bottles for each transaction.

One customer, clearly stalking our

website for the moment we restocked,

purchased all our cheapest Pinot Grigio

within minutes of it going live. I envisaged

him gleefully carrying it into to the nuclear bunker he was clearly building in his back

garden, waiting for the end of the world to happen. Going out in style. The Onboarders

The second cluster group I named The

Onboarders – a phrase from my corporate

days which reflects an employer’s desire to upskill and retain employees.

These Onboarders were new customers,

not recognised by our website or EPOS loyalty scheme database, who were

prepared to purchase from lesser-known

Onboarders: possibly Wine Society refugees

grape regions, or less familiar grapes and

virus stop them from buying your wine.

choice and less price-sensitive, and not

they hit the website – laser-focused on

styles.

They were more experimental with their

fussed about triggering the case discount thresholds. These customers typically purchased between five to 12 bottles

priced between £11 to £17, selecting from multiple lines.

Some of these customers possibly

migrated from the multiple retailers or

The Wine Society, which had temporarily closed. These were our target customers

who, due to our existing price proposition and range, we felt we had a better chance of converting to a repeat purchase. This

group represented around 25% of orders

in the early days of lockdown and were our key focus for retention. The Dependables

The final group we identified were

our Dependables. These are the loyal

customers who you already know and love. The lockdown may keep them from the

shop, but they won’t let a little-known

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 22

These are the customers who already

know what they want to purchase before buying bottles already tried and tested,

but sometimes calling the store asking you to remind them of the name of the wine

they’ve been drinking every week for the last two years (“the one with the funny-

sounding grape (Treixadura) and a flower on the label”).

These customers are the are the

social media sharers, word-of-mouth

spreaders and fully-fledged supporters

of your business. They’re also willing to spend more per bottle than the other

groups, an average of £16 to £22, and are happy to select your Mystery Box given the trust they have in your judgement

(unfortunately for one poor customer, the biggest mystery was why we only put five bottles in his six-bottle case).

These customers purchased small but

frequently, between three to nine bottles, and they represented around 35% of all

orders in the first few weeks of lockdown.


© Afshar Tetyana / stockadobe.com

© Goran / stockadobe.com

Dependables: big spenders who will also big you up on social media

We opened the floodgates to Languedoc Pinot Noir and Sicilian Nero d’Avola. It didn’t matter how many we ordered. They flew out the door

O

nce we understood more about the customer missions, we

started adapting our processes

accordingly.

With no trading shop, stock

replenishment had to be driven by the website analysis, which resulted in a

significant shift in our approach. Usually just 15% of bottles sold in the shop are priced under £10 and there’s a similar

percentage for bottles priced over £25.

Like many other independents, our core range was the £12 to £25 range.

But in the first week of lockdown, more

than 50% of bottles sold were below £10, and less than 5% of bottles sold priced

over £25. Average spend per bottle had

dropped from £16 to £11. With a limited budget, and with uncertainty over how

long the lockdown would last, we felt that we should tread carefully and increase

our investment in new, sub-£20 RRP lines,

pulling back from the more premium lines. Embracing change

Once we knew a little more about the

customer, we started making some changes to our business model.

To satisfy the One Hit Wonders we

needed stock, and lots of it. Cases and cases of entry-level sub-£10 RRP lines, but we

had the dilemma of satisfying the demand while managing cash flow.

The supermarkets, experiencing sales

equivalent to their best 15 Christmas Eves in a row, were not likely to accept empty

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 23

shelves for long.

Would our One Hit Wonders disappear

as soon as the shelves were replenished? Would I be sat on hundreds of cases of

entry-level wine without a trading shop to sell them in or, worse still, continue

trading but with my existing customers

rejecting the lower-priced options? Would

it not be better to just sit it out and not risk destroying our cash flow? Paralysed with

fear, resisting change … it’s an easy trap to fall into.

So I did the sensible thing and asked

my wife for advice. She’s a rare breed: an accountant and a risk taker. She told me

to go for it. She’s in charge of the company books, so who was I to argue? We opened

the floodgates to Languedoc Pinot Noir and Sicilian Nero d’Avola. It didn’t matter how many we ordered. They flew out the door as soon as they came in.

Focusing on the Onboarders, the new

customers experiencing the website and Continues page 24


ANALYSIS

From page 23

our customer service for the first time, we wanted to keep them interested. Ignoring all the talk about SEO, PPC, bounce rates and conversion, we felt that we’d have

a better chance of retention and repeat

purchase if we followed the old adage of “give them more of what they want, at a price they want to pay”.

So we set about expanding the range of

wine styles from regions they frequently searched or purchased from. I was

indebted to a member of my team here,

who made extensive tasting notes from the winter trade fairs and transferred them to a spreadsheet (who does that?). This

meant we could react faster, and our hit list

David Dodd: lockdown experience stands business in good stead

of new wines was “oven-ready”, as a certain (untrustworthy) politician would say.

I credit those suppliers who agreed to

split cases and lower minimum spend so we could stretch our budget and de-risk our approach. With their help, and with

a marginal increase in budget, we moved

from a “invest in depth” model to a “invest in breadth” model, providing more choice for this customer group.

A

s mentioned above, I love our

Dependables – those customers

who’ll be with you through thick

and thin. But Calum, our diligent, hard-

working, “I transfer my tasting notes into

spreadsheets” colleague, didn’t love them

as much as me when I told him we needed to upload 100% of our current range onto the website.

With our loyal customers wanting to

order their favourite tipple online, we

needed to ensure that they could. It’s a time-consuming and mind-numbingly

boring process which would take a long time. But we were willing to put Calum

through hell to ease our loyal customers’ pain. Sorry Calum.

Of the customers ordering in the first five weeks of lockdown, 55% have re-ordered, which, in my mind anyway, justifies our investment in entry-level wines Encompassing all of the above was a

focus on providing excellent customer

service. By only accepting orders within

30 miles of Cheltenham, we put ourselves

under pressure to fulfil our own deliveries, but we could be flexible, deliver at a

convenient time to the customer, ensure a contactless approach and offer to remove packaging. All the things that larger

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 24

companies struggle to achieve would become our USP.

We try to personalise their experience as

much as possible – using our first names on newsletters, hand-writing delivery

notes, introducing ourselves when making deliveries, thanking them for supporting a local family-run business. We focused on committing to a delivery timeframe of within two to three days versus the

Majestic Wines turnaround of 10 days.

We threw in a packet of Haribo here,

some artisan chocolates there. Anything to set us apart; anything to force the

customers to remember us, to nudge the

retention rate up a few points higher. And crossed our fingers.

But did it work? In summary, I have no idea. Of the


© Stolenpencil / stockadobe.com

customers ordering in the first five weeks

of lockdown, 55% of them have re-ordered, including some of the One-hit Wonders which, in my mind anyway, justifies

our investment in the entry-level wines

purchased in the early days of lockdown.

Not being too familiar with what would

constitute a successful retention rate, I’m not sure if 55% is good or bad, worthy of all our efforts or not at all.

What I do know is that we’ve got a large

group of new customers, local to our shop, who know we exist, what we can offer and are hopefully pleased with the wines we provided.

As I write this, six weeks after lockdown,

new orders are still coming in daily, but

at a much reduced rate with around 20% from new customers and the rest repeat purchases.

Online sales have reduced by circa 60%

from the first two weeks of lockdown, but they’re still up considerably from where we were.

Do you complain about the wind – or adjust the sails?

The reduction was expected, as the shop

re-opened for a few hours a day, so our

Dependables have reduced their online

presence as they switch back to our bricksand-mortar channel. Some of our faceless customers now have defined features as

they’ve popped in to top up, thanking us for our service. We’re starting to build relationships with new customers.

The majority of the One-hit Wonders,

having shone brightly for the first few

weeks, started to fade soon afterwards.

But from my calculations, we generated

enough profit from this group in those few weeks to cover our rent for a month or

two. That’s what it’s about now: covering costs, getting by.

W

ith the shop now re-opened, we’ve had to change our

working practices again,

restocking more expensive lines, but the last six weeks has provided us with the

confidence to make some of the temporary

queuing in the wind and rain, making or

strategy on what we want to be and who

website or not.

changes to our working practices

permanent, and question our previous we want to work with.

I’ll remember those suppliers who

support us, even though their cash flow

was tight, and those who didn’t. But the

largest benefit, without doubt, has been the learning experience for my small team and myself.

We’ve learnt so much about a side of the

business we had yet to stress test and have come away with some ideas, and a steady

pool of customers, to test these ideas upon. I shudder at the thought of social

distancing measures being imposed during the Christmas peak, with two customers

in the store at any one time. I fear this will

force a lot of customers online rather than

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 25

breaking independents instantly based upon whether they have a operational For us, the experience of the last six

weeks will place us in good stead. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve

been given the warning sign, and intend to prepare for the whatever’s heading

our way. We may not thrive, but I’m now confident we’ll survive.

I’ll leave you with a nautical metaphor

from William Arthur Ward which I

found inspiring in those first few weeks of madness. I felt it was particularly

appropriate for the times we find ourselves in:

“The pessimist complains about the wind;

the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”


JUST WILLIAMS

Are you having a good Covid-19 crisis? That’s an outsider’s perception of the wine trade in the time of coronavirus. Look closer and it’s clear that not everyone is seeing a sales boom – and there are challenges and tensions for us all to deal with

C

ovid-19 already has a rich

vernacular. So rich, apparently,

that the Oxford English Dictionary

felt the need to make an intervention in

its latest publications to take account of all the new words that suddenly came

into ubiquitous currency in February and March.

Alongside such new – to most of us

– terms as WFH, PPE, social distancing

and self-isolation, however, a handful of

existing stock phrases are also enjoying a boom.

The king of the Covid-19 platitudes is

without question “when all this is over”.

Have you managed a single exchange – on

or offline – of more than a few words in the past two months that hasn’t at some point involved one or both of you saying “when all this is over”?

Not that I object: repeating WATIO is

really just a means of sharing a certain

wistful longing – a way of talking about

the kinds of things we used to do and want

to do again, in a hopefully coming-soon,

you’re in the midst of another long lonely

you’re ill, repeated thousands of times a

credit card bill now that your gig economy

healthy future. It’s the kind of thing your

loved ones say to you to cheer you up when

second all over the English-speaking world. Rather more troubling than WATIO – if

equally understandable – is the widespread use of the subtly resentful “it’s all right for some”.

IARFS has always had a slightly passive-

aggressive feel to it – the kind of thing a

colleague who you’ve never quite trusted

would say when you leave the office early for a dental appointment.

In the current moment, however, the

radically different experiences we are

having of lockdown can make the implicit

sarcasm of IARFS feel particularly pointed. IARFS is what you might write under

the Instagram post of the golden happy family on “furlough vacation” with

their “quarantine groove” garden party, complete with homemade sourdough

bread and “lockdown sundowners”, while

Those working in wine need to be careful not to be labelled with another phrase from the Covid-19 dictionary: pandemic profiteers THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 26

night in your one-room flat fretting about how on earth you’re going to pay your

jobs have disappeared between the cracks where Rishi Sunak’s support don’t shine. The resentful feeling isn’t just about

social division between individuals. There’s a real imbalance between sectors of the economy, too.

And this is where those working in

wine need to be careful if they’re not to

be labelled with another phrase from the

Covid-19 dictionary: pandemic profiteers. You only need to look back on the

reaction on social media (which, if it wasn’t already, is what passes for public space at the moment) to know how a large sector of the population was appalled by the

inclusion of alcohol in the essential goods

definition that allowed off-licences to stay open. As the journalist Dawn Foster put it

in a tweet on March 24: “So @majesticwine are claiming they’re an essential service

and jeopardising the health of staff for pure profit”.

S

uch sentiments are unlikely to

have been assuaged by headlines talking about how alcohol sales

have boomed since the lockdown: up


© DisobeyArt / stockadobe.com

David Williams is wine critic for The Observer

A doomed attempt to maintain public health and support local wine merchants at the same time

31.4% according to an ONS report. In

sympathy over and above other devastated

consumer sales at trade prices has shown

forgiven a lot more than a bitterly envious

that any talk of “booming” sales should be

aggressive pricing of some of the more

these circumstances, a bookseller, his store shuttered for the foreseeable, could be

IARFS at the booming trade at the wine shop next door.

sectors of the economy. And if you are

doing well, it almost goes without saying

banned from anywhere in your business.

the one sector of the economy that really

N

sales – or orders via phone and email –

have had the sense not to complain as

Never mind that the rise in the off-trade

has overwhelmingly fallen at the feet of doesn’t need any help right now: the

supermarkets. Or that the rise in online

experienced by so many indies, large and small, doesn’t always compensate for

the complete loss of their wholesale or

on-premise business. If you’re in the wine business, you’re perceived to be having a good crisis.

All of which means that, if you feel you’re

not doing well, it will take a great deal of delicacy to explain why life isn’t all right

for some merchants – and why you, who can continue trading, deserve help and

ot that many in the wine trade

seem to need reminding of any

of this. Indeed, for the most part,

I’ve been heartened by how the trade has responded to the crisis. Most merchants they’ve struggled to meet delivery slots.

And the support given by many retailers to various causes – local and national – has been truly impressive. There have

been many stories, too, of mutual support and intra-trade solidarity, with extended

credit from suppliers providing a potential lifeline for the independent off-trade.

Only the bad feeling provoked by the way

some suppliers have attempted to replace

their restaurant customers with direct-to-

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 27

how fragile that solidarity can be.

Although we could do without the

desperate of those suppliers (sometimes

dramatically undercutting their own longterm independent retail customers), I’m

inclined to be a little forgiving about this, however.

If you’ve lost, in some cases, 90% of

your business at a stroke – when you’re scrabbling to stay alive – I don’t think

accusations of short-termism carry quite

the same weight as they would in normal times. At the very least, we might want

to practice a degree of empathy, however justifiably pissed off we may be. In other words, let’s not be too judgemental or

resentful. Rather than constantly looking

to shame those some for whom it seems to be all right, better to think constructively about how we get to that beautiful, mythical time when all this is over.


31 Days of

German Riesling is back this July Calling all independent wine merchants across the UK: please join us this July in celebrating Germany’s king of grapes, the gloriously aromatic, expressive and versatile Riesling!

What is it? A month-long promotion of German Riesling for independents. Participants promote German Riesling through increased ranges, discounts, tastings, and decking out shops. Last year, over 200 retail outlets, importers and restaurants in over 70 cities in the UK took part. This year things might look a bit different and events might be hosted online and promotions offered on social channels, but the message that Riesling is king remains!

Why get involved? This campaign is well-known by wine lovers and enthusiasts around the country and they look forward to it each year! The Wines of Germany team will provide POS kits to help deck out your shops, and these kits will also offer items you can include in online orders such as flavour profile wheels to enhance the customer at-home experience. There will also be a digital pack available to download on the Wines of Germany website with artwork and imagery which you can use in newsletters or social media. 2019 participants reported on average a 336% increase in sales volume of German Riesling compared to the previous month. We will be spreading the word over social media and via a dedicated press office. Last year 7,320,486 people were reached on social media and the #31DaysofGermanRiesling hashtag was used more than two million times. The best retailer promotion will win ÂŁ1,000 towards new German wine listings, and there is also a ÂŁ500 prize for the runner-up.


Get creative Entrants should carry out the promotion for at least one week during July. We will supply POS materials such as German wine maps, corkscrews, Riesling brochures, and more, but we encourage all entrants to think outside the box and promote German Riesling in a way that will best suit their customers! Activities might include mailings to your database with a special German Riesling promotion, online competitions, or (virtual) events.

Join the movement! To

register, please visit winesofgermany.co.uk and click on the 31 Days tab, or contact the Wines of Germany team on germanwine@thisisphipps.com. We look forward to hearing about all your plans!

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 29


ANALYSIS

Event organisers are hopeful that at least some tastings will take place as normal this autumn. But these ritual trade gatherings have the potential to become superspreader events for coronavirus. Report by Graham Holter

I

f you could somehow be parachuted

into a London trade tasting tomorrow – taking public transport out of the

equation – would you be tempted to go? Little by little, it seems likely that

the country will become less locked

down, and a degree of normality will

return to our work and life routines. The

suggestion among various academics and commentators is that we may not be able to eliminate Covid-19, at least not yet,

so we’ll just have to find ways of living

side by side. Minimise risks, take sensible

precautions, and avoid that dreaded second (and maybe third) wave of infection.

Scientific understanding of Covid-19

Covid-19 could go ba

transmission is evolving all the time, and

it’s possible that the picture may look very different by the time the autumn sipping

and spitting season gets under way. But as

things stand, wine tastings don’t look like a great idea.

A

recent article published by

Canadian science writer Jonathan Kay, in the journal Quillette,

analysed so-called superspreader events (SSEs) in 28 countries. He was looking

for patterns in the way large outbreaks of

Covid-19 occur, and he certainly managed to find them.

It turned out that 70% of the SSEs

included in the research involved one or

more of the following activities: religious services or missionary work; parties

and celebrations; funerals; and business networking.

Kay notes that all these occasions

“seem to have involved the same type of

behaviour: extended, close-range, face-toface conversation – typically in crowded, socially animated spaces”.

Most of the events – just like wine

tastings – took place indoors. Many

involved the kind of embracing and cheekpecking that’s part and parcel of so many wine trade gatherings.

Kay goes on: “High levels of noise do

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 30

seem to be a common feature of SSEs, as

such environments force conversationalists to speak at extremely close range.

“Three of the SSEs involved mass sports

spectacles, during which fans regularly rain saliva in all directions as they communally celebrate or commiserate in response to each turn of fortune.” Perhaps the wine

trade equivalent is the spittoon splashback moment. Or the slightly shouty exchanges between pourer and taster in boisterous, echoey rooms.

There are various ways in which the

Covid-19 virus is thought to spread. The

most important, according to Kay’s article,


© DOCa Rioja

notorious, destructive, and widely reported cases of mass Covid-19 infection,” he says, “virtually all of which feature forms of

human behaviour that permit the direct

ballistic delivery of a large-droplet Flüggian payload from face A to face B.

“If fomites were a major pathway for

Covid-19 infection outside of hospitals,

old-age residences, and homes, one would

expect restaurant cooks, mass-transit ticket handlers, and FedEx delivery workers to be at the centre of major clusters. They’re not.

“If small-droplet airborne concentrations

in unventilated spaces were a common

vector for Covid-19 transmission (as with measles, for instance), one would expect whole office buildings to become mass-

infection hot spots. That doesn’t seem to have happened.”

K

ay’s article may be based on

limited data and his conclusions can certainly be challenged and

debated. But his argument was sufficiently well reasoned to be re-tweeted by Trisha

allistic at tastings speaking.

Smaller droplets can travel long

distances as aerosols, and their impact

is not yet wholly understood. Then there

are the contaminated surfaces – known as

fomites – which have also been implicated.

K his study.

ay claims no expertise as an epidemiologist and

acknowledges the limitations of

“But even a layperson can see that

there is a fairly clear pattern in the most

Oxford University, whose observations on the coronavirus pandemic have become required daily reading for many.

If Kay is right – and if Covid-19 is going

to remain an inconvenient fact of life for the foreseeable future – then it would seem reckless for anyone to enter an

is the transmission of large “Flügge”

droplets via coughing, sneezing and loud

Greenhalgh, professor of primary care at

If Kay is right, it would seem reckless for anyone to enter an environment in which almost everyone is spitting, bodies are funnelled together and voices are raised THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 31

environment in which almost everyone

is spitting, bodies are funnelled together, voices are raised and glasses may be accidentally shared.

Compulsory face masks might solve

part of the clinical problem, while creating other, more practical, difficulties for

attendees. We’re meant to be sniffing and slurping, after all. And, on top of all that, there’s another concern to factor in. As

far as we know, the technology does not yet exist to circumvent the wine trade’s

alarming predilection for man-hugs and double kisses.


MERCHANT PROFILE

Adam Clarke and John Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, February 2020

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 32


THE SECRET CELLAR

Parental guidance The Secret Cellar is the retail strand of Milton Sandford Wines, which bought the Kent-based indie in 2016. Being part of a bigger entity has changed the way the company sources most of its wines, thanks to its new owner’s relationships with producers. Graham Holter reports

M

aybe a funnier name would have been Degustation

of Tunbridge Wells, but

what The Secret Cellar lacks in Franglais wordplay it makes up for in alliteration.

In reality, the business, founded by Mike

Watson in 2003, needs no gimmicks. Now with four branches – in Wadhurst and

Forest Row in East Sussex, and Oxted in

Surrey, as well as the famously disgusted Kent town – the company can justifiably stake a claim as one of the independent trade’s big names.

It was a founder member of

Vindependents, with Watson playing a key role in transforming the group from loose association of merchants into an agency business in its own right.

In the autumn of 2016, Watson sold up

to concentrate on property development. The new owner, Milton Sandford Wines, was an established importer and

wholesaler, based in Berkshire, that had been bought by telecoms entrepreneur

John Winchester five or so years earlier. The other company he considered

purchasing at that time was a surf business in Newquay. By his own admission, he had no experience as either a wine merchant

or as a surfer. He was just looking for a way

winemaker event) but its full implications

between all the segments in the UK wine

What appealed to you about The Secret

out of a rather early retirement.

“I think there’s a tremendous difference

market,” says Winchester, seated at a table

were yet to become clear. Cellar?

in an area of the spacious Tunbridge Wells

John: As with Milton Sandford, it needed to

are retail companies out there and there

creations and a segmentation in the market

branch that was briefly used as a wine bar. “There are agencies out there, there

are the supermarket suppliers as well.

I just thought, I wouldn’t mind being in

retail – it just adds a different element to the Milton Sandford mix. Let’s be in two markets. That’s when I started looking

for companies on the retail side and came across The Secret Cellar.”

Our meeting, also involving Wadhurst

store manager Adam Clarke, took place in

mid-February, at a time when coronavirus was certainly on the company’s radar (it had recently forced the cancellation of a

be a business that had a sustainable model,

margins that worked, IPR in your own-label that worked.

This was adding another element to it

and ultimately, I can see an agency model. We have developed many, many direct

supplier relationships. The way Milton

Sandford worked was always directly with wineries; 1% would have been sourced from a UK agent.

When we acquired The Secret Cellar, a lot

of the business was through those agencies Continues page 34

‘The way Milton Sandford worked was always directly with wineries; 1% would have been sourced from a UK agent’ THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 33


MERCHANT PROFILE

From page 33

and over the last three years we have been flipping them to family producers that

Milton Sandford has had a relationship with for 20 years.

‘We are trying to strike that balance of having wines that the customers recognise, without the ridiculously big names that you can buy everywhere’

At the time of the takeover, how much of the Secret Cellar range was being supplied by UK agencies?

If you’ve got a customer who wants

sell more New World; more Australian and

Adam: Probably about 65% to 70%, maybe

to buy a Sancerre and can name the

agents and we are trying to strike that

we keep working with that producer. At

The Secret Cellar run as separate

credentials speak for itself, and that’s

that we are sharing the back office between

even higher than that.

We still have about 40% through UK

balance of having wines that the customers recognise, without the ridiculously big names that you can buy everywhere.

A lot of our customers travel the world

and they know their wine so it gives them confidence in us to see some of those

brands they recognise from their trips to

Australia or Italy, for example, but they are also alongside our producers from whom we buy directly.

John: If you carry just agency wines you

become an extension of that business – a Boutinot shop or a Liberty shop. What’s

the value in the country having all these

independent retailers that look the same?

producer that they want because they’ve been buying it from us for 10 years, then

Are Milton Sandford Wines and

Milton Sandford we have a great Sancerre

companies?

a producer that we’ve had a long-term

the companies but the front offices are

that’s sold to Buckingham Palace, so its

John: Yes. A good way of describing it is

relationship with.

separate, both very customer related,

I like to think that our shelves have the

Chablis and the Sancerres that everybody wants but they are from partners that

we’ve had long-term relationships with, and that does make us a bit different to others.

What would you say are the core strengths of your range?

either to dazzle and delight a restaurant customer or a customer in the shops.

We’ve got 70-80,000sq ft of tunnels

below the Berkshire countryside that’s

a bonded warehouse, so there are some advantages to cash flow and portfolio management.

What’s the difference in margins if The

John: We are customer driven, so for the

Secret Cellar is buying a New Zealand

find that wine. So rather being an agency

direct from Milton Sandford?

seven containers from us this year, we have

Sauvignon Blanc is the right example,

last three years it’s been Adam and the

Sauvignon Blanc, for example, from a

that is stuffed full of wine from a producer

John: I think there can be a significant

always cherry-picked and worked with

because you could see that we have a

guys saying, “we need this” and we go and

major UK agency as opposed to buying it

because the contract says you have to buy

difference but I’m not sure if New Zealand

producers on wines that we wish to carry.

For example, we work with a winery that

has 27 wines but we only buy four because that’s what our customers have asked for. Adam: There’s only about five miles

between our shops in Tunbridge Wells and Wadhurst and often there’ll be similarities The original shop opened in 2003

New Zealand.

in what we sell, so lots of Bordeaux and

Burgundy. But the demographic does differ slightly so here [in Tunbridge Wells] we

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 34

10% advantage there but some of the

Burgundian suppliers you might be up at

25%. So by having the direct relationships and being able to import pallets and containers, it does give you some

advantages because you are fundamentally removing a stage in the distribution.

Continues page 36


THE SECRET CELLAR

New World sales are strongest in Tunbridge Wells

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 35


MERCHANT PROFILE

From page 34

Have you cut back on the number of suppliers you were dealing with or are you buying fewer lines from all of them? Adam: Some naturally just fell by the

wayside, so we don’t deal with as many

and the levels of wine we were bringing in we tweaked. We are still part of the Vindependents.

John: They are an important part of the

portfolio, but they are more esoteric and

they tend therefore to be the ones that we need smaller volumes of. They make our shop shelves more interesting.

Is every one of the shops a profit centre in its own right or do you judge performance over the whole group? How do you measure it? Adam: Certainly we look at each shop and how it’s performing. We look at the data

year-on-year; we look at customer growth

and sales. I think 2019 was a challenge for

most independent wine shops, and it was a challenge for us, but we were happy at the end of it.

John: We work with Vend on the tills and for the stock system at The Secret Cellar

and the reporting of it is pretty useful. You

can drop it down to every cost centre, shop

and line – there’s an analysis you can do on a daily basis if you really want to.

We tend to do a deep dive on our data

every six months and Christmas is a key part, as it is for most business, so we’ll

look at what we did in the last six months of each year and it helps us develop the portfolio.

Adam: You can bring wines that you hope customers will like and sometimes the

wines you think are going to be amazing don’t sell so quickly – that might be

because there’s another wine at a similar

price point – so it’s important to look at the data.

The average selling price is around £13 a bottle

‘If the sales guys aren’t behind a wine, it can end up sitting in the cellars for two years. We do taste by committee, so you make sure everyone is behind it from day one’ THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 36


THE SECRET CELLAR

How democratic is the buying process? John: Pretty much early on I decided not to

buy wine under my own belt again because if the sales guys aren’t behind it, it can end up sitting in the cellars for two years. You

can find wines, but you bring them back for the team to taste before you buy them. We do taste by committee, so you make sure everyone is behind it from day one.

Where do you stand on UK-bottled wines? John: We do bottle some in the UK; we

work with Greencroft. We bring in a South

African Chenin and, apart from the obvious environmental benefits, there are also cost advantages to bottling in the UK, which is

really why business has embraced it for the last few years. Those are truly the bread-

and-butter wines that we sell to hotels and restaurants who look to market something below £20.

How much in this shop is UK-bottled? John: Two per cent. Not much, but it gives us that entry point of £7.

Clarke and Winchester at the bar of what is now the events space

Does it appeal to you going forward? John: It has been an important part of

Milton Sandford for the last 10 years and I don’t think that will change. At The Secret

customers aged from around 35 who are

that we were recently considering. We’ll

What’s doing particularly well for you in

customer, and I don’t think the younger

draught wines and we’ve had bag-in-box

Cellar people are not coming to us for £7 wines.

the shop? Adam: Certainly our range of Italian wines.

engaging with these wines. There is a slight difference between certain generations of ones drink as much.

Has natural wine caught on here? Do

We’ve always had a strong portfolio of

you sell orange wine?

Burgundy and Bordeaux.

wines, but we haven’t really found a pick-

Italian wines and customers will come

Adam: Not so much in a couple of shops.

Is this the older, moneyed customer?

up for natural wines. If we found one that

to us for that and our reputation for

Adam: We are finding a new market in the shops, and obviously the clientele over

the years does change. We do tastings and

dinners and we see there is a demand from

We have a range of organic and biodynamic would sit in the range and at the right price point, we would have it.

Is draught wine on the agenda for you? Adam: Not yet, but it was something

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 37

probably look at it again.

John: Milton Sandford has looked at

for 15 years I guess. In the early days if you took it to a pub and it had its piping down

into the cellar, the wine that sat in the pipe made it uneconomical.

So you then saw people withdraw from

it and now, if you look at it, the economic metrics remain unattractive. But I think people are doing it now because of the

theatre of it. Some outlets will go with it for that element of theatre and you’ve got to

make sure that draught wine is better than Continues page 38


MERCHANT PROFILE

From page 37

the customer expects it to be.

Adam: It’s like with Enomatics. It’s all

about location. The shops where it works have the footfall and people coming in all the time.

Do you do wholesaling in your own right from this shop? Adam: Yes. We’ve got a few little wholesale accounts – we do some local farm shops, restaurants and pubs. It is only a small part of the business and many people

wouldn’t necessarily know that we’ve got access to a bonded warehouse. We’ve got a softly, softly approach to wholesale but

I’m confident it’s part of the business that will grow.

How’s the website doing? Adam: We have two different websites. It

works for us – 8% of turnover comes from web sales – but any customer buying wine online, who they will buy it from comes down to pricing.

John: We find with the online business,

around 70% is return. We play the ongoing Google AdWords game.

Adam: We use Vivino and that works for us. If someone is in a restaurant and they are

enjoying a wine, they scan it and see we’re

Around 8% of turnover came from the website, before the coronavirus crisis

the retailer for it.

John: We have Deliveroo as well. The

You’re in the heart of English wine

our sales channels.

Adam: It helps if you have a shop in a hilly

Adam: We have a strong range of English wine and with four shops you can have

convenience factor for consumers is one of

country. How are your sales going?

town!

wines local to each shop. We work directly

‘We did well with gin for many years, but eventually they started filtering through to the supermarkets, so there’s no point stocking those ones’ THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 38

with quite a few local producers. We don’t sell massive volumes. People will come in

asking for it because they want it as a gift, or for themselves. But they very rarely

walk away with six bottles or a case of 12 of English wine.

John: I think the metrics are still against

it. If you offer someone an English Pinot

Noir at £24 and they taste it against an £8

Chilean Pinot Noir and yet the Chilean has more characteristics – that’s a tricky one.

You can sell one case because everyone

is willing to try it, but yet it still has to


THE SECRET CELLAR

perform better. They are getting there,

there is the goodwill and we would all buy British if we possibly could.

I think the English winemaker is a

different beast to the French or Italians

who have been farmers and growers for

generations. Ours tend to have been very successful in other industries and have come to it from a different perspective. I’m not sure it’s a mature enough

industry for them to have worked out their go-to market models and the percentages they need to provide for the layers in the distribution channels.

Adam: There are so many more players in

the market now. Every few months we are invited to taste a new English sparkling wine.

How about craft beer and spirits? Adam: We did well with gin for many years, but I think our figures are telling us that we’ve reached peak gin.

People did such a fabulous job of getting

their product to shops like ours, and we

got behind so many of them. But eventually they started filtering through to the

supermarkets, so for us there’s no point in continuing to stock those.

We dabble with craft beer – again

because we have shops in four different

‘We crowdfunded the wine bar and thought it was better as a private tasting room, and we use it for winemaker dinners’

section we can accommodate 20 to 26

the years will get a newsletter including

John: I think we learned early on that it

John: We do two big tastings a year, in June

people and sometimes we can extend that into the shop.

was not going to be a wine bar open every day that was going to help us, it was an

event space. We have a monthly wine club that we run and we host dinners with winemakers.

Adam: It’s great for us when we get the

winemakers here for an event. We use a local company to provide a four-course

meal. Usually we charge about £65 a ticket. We’re not hard-sell on the night, but

events. We use Instagram.

and December, and we do that in all four shops.

The dinners are more shop specific.

When referring to a hybrid model, lots of independents think that is their future – but I say location, location, location. You

have to be in the right place for it to work for you.

You promote a fine wine scheme called

there are order forms and case deals

The Cellective. How does that work?

the sales off the back of that were fantastic.

designed to be laid down. Some customers

available. The most recent one we did with Chateau Musar was really successful, and We’ve got our regular mailing lists

so customers who have signed up over

locations, we can’t just put them in all the shops. It wouldn’t work.

We’re probably doing more [Scotch]

whiskies … in the spirits portfolio we stick with the main categories – gins, vodkas, whiskies – but it’s not the main part of what we do.

You had a wine bar here, that you closed and incorporated within the shop. What happened there? Adam: We experimented with that. It was crowdfunded in 2015-16. It was a wine

bar and we looked at it and thought it was better as a private tasting room and we

now use it for winemaker dinners. In this

information on those kinds of deals and

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 39

Adam: It’s a wine scheme for people who

are stocking their cellar, so it’s wine that is Continues page 40


MERCHANT PROFILE

From page 39

who have been part of the scheme for the past six or seven years have a hell of a lot of wine!

How do you keep the team spirit going in a business spread across different locations? Adam: We’re not a big team. There’s only

about nine or 10 of us across all four shops so it is hard to get together regularly.

I go and visit the other shops. The guys

who have been running the shops for a while do have autonomy.

The shops are all different – this is the

main one. The Forest Row shop is great

Neale Tyler, manager of the Tunbridge Wells branch

because it has a big space and we do lots of events there too.

John: We try and manage the portfolio – you don’t want unauthorised additions

of, say, 25 Australian wines just because

one person likes it. We attempt to buy by

committee so that everyone is behind the wines.

Are you keeping your eyes open to expand the brand? Open some more shops? John: I don’t see we need to have 50 shops

but ultimately having a dozen shops will be a good thing. You’d then get the economies

of scale to buy a pallet and move it through efficiently. It’s about finding and selecting the right towns around the M25.

Adam: This is a very good example of a

town where four or five years ago, there

would have been an Unwins, several Wine Racks, Oddbins and now none of those

guys are here, but we are still here. There’s a couple of wine bars locally.

John: You certainly see the town struggling. There are many empty units, just like any

town in England. We are fortunate that we have a good long-standing reputation in a town like Tunbridge Wells.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 40


THE SECRET CELLAR

Stores close for Covid-19, but sales rise by 60%

English wines on display

C

oronavirus is, not surprisingly, making life difficult for wholesale businesses like Milton Sandford. In the current circumstances, the company’s acquisition of a retail arm looks more and more like a masterstroke.

All four Secret Cellar branches have closed during lockdown, concentrating on

local deliveries organised from each store. Stock is being sourced from the Milton Sandford cellars, but Adam Clarke is keen to make the most of what’s already available in the shops, even if that sometimes means that customers have to settle for an alternative to first-choice items. Sales in March and April were up 60% on the 2019 figure, Clarke reports. “I made a decision when they first announced that we could stay open that, if it didn’t feel comfortable the week before, when people weren’t overly respectful of the social distancing guidance, then it wouldn’t be right now,” he says. “Customers were reaching over the tills to get stuff.” Local deliveries are free for all orders of £100 and above, and the company will typically organise 30 or so drops each day. The business is seeing a flow of orders from new customers, while many existing clients are buying more during the lockdown period. “A lot of people in their 20s and 30s moved back to their parents’ home – they’re buying alcohol, and lots of it,” says Clarke. “We’re obviously picking up people who are spending at the cheaper end and they’re buying mixed cases and the like. They’ll ask for 12 bottles of our cheapest wine and things like that.” Once the stores reopen, Clarke expects significant changes to the shopping environment. “We’re going to have to limit the number of people in the shops and having markings on the floor … we don’t want to go through all this for nothing.”

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 41


SPONSORED EDITORIAL

HONEY: I’M HOME Forget all your preconceptions about mead. Get those medieval images out of your mind. Gosnells offers a range of premium products that have more in common with craft beer and pet-nat wines than they do with Game of Thrones

G

osnells is London’s only mead maker. With a meadery which

launched in 2014 in downtown

Peckham, Tom Gosnell exports the highest percentage of his meads to Asia, with

recent distribution for his cans and bottles in every state in America. And now he is

turning his attention back to the untested market of the UK.

“Mead’s time has come,” he declares. “In

the USA, it is enormous, and with a wide

range of pricing and styles. It is like craft beer, a real growth area, with over 500 meaderies.

“In the past, mead here in the UK was

often high in alcohol – up to 12% or 15%. It tasted like rich honey and had none

of the delicacy of fine wines; and as the agricultural crops from which the bees

harvested their pollen changed every year, so too did the flavour and consistency of the meads.”

In contrast, the majority of Gosnells’

honey comes from Spanish orange groves, and this provides a consistent Chablis/

Viognier flavour profile for its Gosnells 5.5% sparkling Classic, in its 75cl bottle. It combines elements of sourdough bread, a floral richness

and an edge of

gentle orange. Made from just honey,

water and time, it

is a thoroughly modern mead – light, crisp and sparkling – but with the elegance of sparkling or petillant naturel wines.

“Every one of our meads is sparkling,”

says Gosnell, “and recently we have

extended the offering by bringing out four new cans at 4% abv and a kombucha-like

LOW ALC variant at 0.5%, with a backbone of Assam tea. Launching our four cans has

sky-rocketed us into new territory and led to export orders way in excess of anything we dreamt possible.

“The quartet of Sour, Hopped, Pink

Hibiscus and Citra Sea in brightly-

coloured 33cl 4% abv cans has completely separated us from the old perception of

high-alcohol meads in 75cl bottles, great as some of them can be.

“The cans are part of our attempt to

revolutionise the word ‘mead’ and to

demonstrate the amazing range of flavours which bees of all nationalities, regions and postcodes can create.

“This is something we’ve been

exploring with a series of limited releases, which demonstrate

how Saffron Walden honeys are

different from those from Biggin

Hill, Finchley, or Hackney Marshes.

“Our new canned

meads have

good mouthfeel

and texture, and

show the extreme

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 42

opposite of the cloying sweetness that many would expect.

“Our Hibiscus is bright pink as we use

10 kilos of Asian Hibiscus petals in each 1,000-litre brew. It’s my favourite. Then

our Citra Sea – with American Citra hops

and sea salt – is my can for the shower, as

the steam sort of accentuates its citric edge and says freshness and zing.

“Then our Hopped is for beer lovers,

using a grist of mainly American hops – it

is also great with a barbecue as it confronts the slightest suggestion of oozing fats. And

Gosnells Sour is for all the edgy brigade. It’s made with a blend of a super sour mead, like a lambic, and a sweeter mead, to get the perfect balance.”

The Gosnells range shimmies in strength

from the new 0.5% LOW ALC up to a lineup of monthly Postcode Specials at 6% to

9% abv, and a vintage at 12%. These meads demonstrate the flavour of the nectar

from the flowers of individual hives across suburban locations – which have a more

steady planting of pollinating flowers than in the countryside.

The 4% cans retail at around £3 for

a 33cl can, while the 5.5% Classic in its

75cl bottle retails at around £10, and the

Postcode meads of the month start at £20. Visit www.gosnells.co.uk or email sales@gosnells.co.uk.


THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 43


WSET WINE WORKOUT

The pick of Portugal

With a wealth of local grape varieties, there is always something new to discover in Portuguese wine. The coun coastal regions, affected by strong Atlantic cooling influences, contrast with the dry, hot interior, producing ve different styles of wine. WSET educator David Martin takes a look at six distinct Portuguese regions

Vinho Verde This region sits in north west Portugal. Close to the Atlantic, it has a moderate

maritime climate and high annual rainfall. These conditions are responsible for

the fresh, zesty white wines which are synonymous with the region.

The key grape varieties are Loureiro and

Arinto which are usually blended along with other local varieties. The style is a

low-alcohol wine between 8% and 11.5%, with light body and high acidity. Often the wines are carbonated before bottling to give them a slight spritz.

The DOC of Vinho Verde has nine sub-

regions. The most famous is Monção e

Melgaço, which is warmer and noted for its high quality Alvarinho (Albariño). Douro

Noted for being the oldest demarcated

wine region in the world, this region’s style

of wine is usually robust and full-bodied

The native grapes used are the ever-

with high tannins.

popular Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz,

important. Thanks to warmer recent

0.5 hectares.

There are many varieties to blend

from, but Touriga Nacional is the most

vintages, varieties such as Sousa – with its high acidity – are becoming more popular. Vineyards with a north-facing aspect,

higher altitude sites and vineyards to the

west of the region all give cooler conditions which can be advantageous in hot years. Dão

Dão is a mountainous area around 50 miles south of Douro. Most vineyards sit at 400m to 500m above sea level and benefit from cooling influences.

Up to 80% of production is red wine and

the style is generally more delicate and

softer than the wines of the Douro, with

naturally high acidity resulting from the altitude of vineyards.

THE WINE MERCHANT MAY 2020 44

Alfrocheiro and Jean (Mencia). Over 90%

of Dão vineyards have an area of less than Grapes from these vineyards were

traditionally made at local co-operative

wineries, but now many private producers exist.

Bairrada Between the Dão and the Atlantic is the region of Bairrada, which has a strong

coastal influence. The region has enjoyed a rapid rise in reputation as some

remarkable wines are produced here. Baga is the dominant black variety.

Although it is known for being rustic, in the right hands it has a bright fresh character.

It is late ripening and, carefully managed, it gives wines which have richness and fruit but fresh, high acidity.


© Luis / stockadobe.com

ntry’s ery

Autumn vineyards in the Alentejo

Bairrada whites are made from the

Alentejo

local varieties Bical and Maria Gomes (aka

This large region is split over eight, non-

citrus and floral aromas.

season is generally warm, though the north

Fernão Pires – the most planted white

grape variety in Portugal). Its wines display Lisboa

The coastal regions around Lisbon produce fresh wines.

The DOC, which is around 100 miles

long, is split by a mountain range. The

western side of the region runs alongside the Atlantic coast.

Wet weather and strong winds make

grape growing more challenging. However, a number of producers wanting to make

lighter-bodied, fresher styles of wine have been attracted to these sites by Lisboa’s climate and clay-limestone soils.

The eastern side of the region is

more protected and better suited to the

production of riper, fuller-bodied wines.

continuous subregions which spread over

the southern half of Portugal. The growing

is cooler and wetter compared to the south and interior, which is hotter and drier. Blends often include Aragones

(Tempranillo), Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet (high in colour and tannin).

International varieties are also popular; Syrah is particularly successful.

This article covers the six key regions,

but there is so much more to discover if

Portuguese wine law and challenges • Portugal has 31 DOCS. Both the traditional term Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) and the newer Denominação de Origem Protegida (DOP) are widely used for Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wines. • Vinho Regional (VR) is the widely used traditional term for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) wines. There are 14 VRs in Portugal and their regulations are less stringent than those for PDOs.

you can take the time. Look out for our

• Drought has been a notable factor in recent years, especially in continental, inland regions such as the Douro, Dão and Alentejo.

To find out more about our qualifications

• The Douro has suffered from hail and storms in recent years. In 2017 yields in Dão were reduced by wildfires.

article on the wines of the Rhône in next month’s issue.

(both off and online), alongside a great range of free resources and learning tools, visit www.wsetglobal.com.

THE WINE MERCHANT MAY 2020 45


SMALL BUSINESS MATTERS WITH WBC

What goes up must come down Whatever the peaks and troughs of the economic cycle, commercial rents never seem to stop rising. A little flexibility in times like these would go a long way, argues Andrew Wilson of WBC

W

ith the stock markets

crashing around our ears and many businesses having to

shut down with little or no notice, I have

once again been amazed by the commercial property sector.

I may be being unfair, and there may

well be good landlords out there. But I

thought it would be interesting to share

our experiences over the last few years and more importantly days.

Over the 30 years we have been trading,

we have leased a number of properties –

from small serviced offices to much larger

industrial warehouses – and invariably our experiences have been poor.

We have been through many ups and

downs in the economy in that time, but the

one thing that never goes down is our rent. We dream of owning a modern warehouse, but our current home is a couple of very

tired 1970s buildings with poorly-designed gutters that overflow into the building in heavy rain and are almost impossible to heat in the winter.

They are based in a

rather desolate industrial area behind IKEA in

Croydon, and when the

wind is blowing in the wrong direction

the local sewage treatment plant

adds a whiff of the farmyard.

one of these is owned by our pension fund.

November 2018 this was increased by over

from it before he retired. He has always

Up until recently we were charged a

reasonable annual rent for these but in 30%. We argued against this, but there are always local comparisons that are

used against you and even though these

properties are hardly like for like, it seems that there is little recourse to argue. So we have had to grin and bear it.

Don’t get me started on rates, but we are

paying close to £100,000 per annum for

pretty much nothing. On top of all of this

are the management charges for running

the estate which again, seem to be an awful lot for nothing tangible.

S

o having got that out of my system, how have our dealings with our

landlords gone in the last couple of

weeks? Let’s start with the good news. We have two small units that serve as our HQ:

‘The problem with commercial property is the power has swung so far to the landlord that the market is not functioning’ THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 46

and the other one is owned by a private individual who used to run a business

been more than reasonable, and the rent is broadly his pension.

Without me even asking, he offered

us 25% of the next quarter and we were

happy to accept. Our much larger units in Croydon are owned by M&G Real Estate

and we approached them recently with a

well-costed plan to see us through the next 12 months. This broadly involved a 30%

reduction in rent which was commensurate with the decline in business levels we were seeing and expecting to continue.

Their response was that “whilst they

accepted there was a problem in retail,

they saw no issue with industrial premises” and the best they could offer was to switch to paying monthly or to defer payment of this quarter to next quarter. So in a nutshell, absolutely nothing!

I pointed out that this stance would

make it very difficult for us to continue

functioning and would lead to problems further down the line, but they said

that they had to protect their investors’ income. I found this strange at a time

where investment companies like this have seen the value of their funds plummet

and dividends cut everywhere but they

seem to think that commercial property is


© Sylverart / stockadobe.com © Hesam / stockadobe.com

Klein Constantia: always a favourite stopping-off point

unaffected by the chaos.

and possibly a grant. They have also made

comparison, against the same month in

power has swung so far to the landlord

tried to be reasonable and offer solutions

some enlightened landlords are looking

It perfectly sums up the problem with

commercial property in my mind. The that the market is not functioning.

W

hilst not perfect, the

government’s response has been extremely helpful and

we have been able to take advantage of a

few of the initiatives with rates reductions

it impossible for a landlord to evict a

tenant for the next three months, so having to our landlord we have now decided

not to pay this quarter’s rent and to start

negotiating again towards the end of June. At that point we may well try to argue

for a turnover-based rent until April

2021 with us paying between 70% and

100% of our rent, depending on turnover

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 47

2019/20. I think that a retailer has a better chance of getting a deal, but I have heard favourably at arrangements like these.

Hopefully they will come to their senses

and realise that the pain has to be shared.

I am not holding out much hope. It is hard

to know what to do, so any information or feedback that you might have in dealings with landlords would be great to hear.


FOCUS ON LANGUEDOC

David Williams takes a look at France’s most dynamic wine region, where cheerful varietals have been joined by serious cru wines with a true sense of terroir

F

lexibility. Market-sensitivity.

Reliability. Those are the three

distinguishing qualities that the

wine producers of Languedoc-Roussillon

have sought to bring to international wine markets since the 1980s.

These are not – it almost goes without

saying – qualities that have always been

associated with the French wine business.

And that’s why – along with its embrace of varietal wine and flying winemakers – the

region earned the epithet of “France’s New World”, when Australia et al were riding

high and dictating terms in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Wine has moved on since then, of course.

And the somewhat caricatured boundaries between supposedly New World and Old World practices have blurred. But the

Languedoc-Roussillon has retained its

ability to move with the times in a way that remains elusive in more traditional French regions.

Take, for example, the region’s response

to one of the most significant wine trends of recent years, rosé.

Languedoc-Roussillon have exploited the

alongside the richer, darker-hued pinks of

years, of course, with the Languedoc-

in a similar style from a similar varietal

variety of rosé style), it’s easy to see why

Demand for wines in a Provençal pale

and interesting style has been rising for

Roussillon’s neighbours managing to both

increase sales and hold on to a remarkably high average retail price of £8.50.

Increasingly, however, winemakers in the

significant potential of making wines of a

similar – in many cases, higher – standard, blend, but at significantly lower prices (and, in recent years, with a similarly

stylish, high-quality line of packaging). With these wines taking their place

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 48

local tradition (the Languedoc-Roussillon

has the edge on Provence when it comes to production of rosé in the region increased by 25% in the two years to 2019, so that the region now accounts for some 34% of rosé wine production in France (and


© arenysam / stockadobe.com

France’s New World a remarkable 11% of the world’s pink wines).

A

no less compelling story can be

told about organic winemaking. The region’s decision-makers

were quick to grasp that their climate – long, hot, dry summers, moderated

by the breezes of the always-nearby

the past decade, more than 10% of the

parts of France.

for around a third of all French organic

Mediterranean – meant that disease

pressure was much lower than in other

Even so, the scale of organic production

in the region is quite something: with a consistent flow of new vineyards

transitioning to green practices over

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 49

Languedoc-Roussillon is now certified organic, and the region now accounts

vineyards, and some 6% of the global total. With many consumers looking for

Continues page 50


FOCUS ON LANGUEDOC

affordable organic wine – and many more unwilling to buy products made with

conventional winemaking – the LanguedocRoussillon’s ability to produce organic

There are currently a Heinz-eclipsing 58 varieties allowed for use in the vineyards that stretch from Nîmes to the Spanish border

wine at a scale beyond other European

© DOCa Rioja

regions has proved enormously useful for retailers.

New varieties, old terroirs No less useful has been the southern French ability to produce affordable

varietal wines that coincide with current

consumer interests. The region produces in the region of nine out of every 10

varietally-labelled bottles of French wine, and the composition of the IGP Pays d’Oc

vineyard in particular tells the story of the shifting fashions of the past 30 years.

There are currently a Heinz-eclipsing 58

varieties allowed for use in the 118,000ha

of vineyards that stretch from Nîmes to the Spanish border. There is, even now, more Merlot planted here than anywhere else

cap

on earth, and plenty of Chardonnay and

Cabernet, too, as well as a rising amount

of local Mediterraneans such as Grenache,

Syrah, Mourvèdre and Vermentino (Rolle). But what’s striking in recent years is

the successful integration of Pinot Noir

(the fourth most widely planted Pays d’Oc variety), and the presence of successful (aesthetically and commercially) wines made from the likes of Malbec and Albariño.

But if the Languedoc-Roussillon has

done a superb job of casting itself on

international markets as France’s varietal king, much of the past 10 years has also

been focused on ensuring it doesn’t miss

out on that other more niche but, in terms

© DOCa Rioja

of value and prestige, no less important contemporary vinous trend: terroir.

Continues page 52

Green harvesting at Château de Paraza

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 50

© Lozz / stockadobe.com

From page 49


© DOCa Rioja

FOCUS ON LANGUEDOC

A case of LanguedocRoussillon wines Baron de Badassière Picpoul de Pinet (Liberty Wines) Benchmark Picpoul from one of the region’s best producers. Château Maris La Touge, Minervois-laLivinière (Armit) Rich, supple, savoury biodynamic cru SyrahGrenache. Calmel & Joseph Faugères Terroirs (Daniel Lambert Wines) Exemplary spicy red from an innovative producer. Domaine les Caizergues Les Amoriers Terrasses du Larzac (Vindependents) Characterful, evocative, garrigue-infused terroir red. Mas Janiel Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Enotria&Coe) Luscious, poised, balanced red from François Lurton. Domaine Paul Mas Clos des Mûres, Languedoc (Domaines Paul Mas) Glossy, classy single-vineyard red from the ever-versatile Paul Mas. Les Oliviers Grenache Cinsault Rosé Pays d’Oc (Boutinot) Great value, elegant modern rosé from Boutinot’s French team. Antech Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Eugenie (FMV) Superb example of cool-climate Limoux’s sparkling talent. Felicette Grenache Blanc IGP Pays d’Oc (Alliance Wine) A rising-star variety, attractively made and presented. Gérard Bertrand Château Sauvageonne Blanc (Hallgarten) Show-stopping single-vineyard white blend from the ex-rugby playing maestro. Viranel Rendez-Vous, Saint-Chinian (Bancroft) Superbly bright, fresh vin de soif blend of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon. Domaine Mas Belles Eaux Petit Verdot (Les Grands Chais de France) Crunchily drinkable single-varietal Petit Verdot? Only in the Languedoc. Château de Paraza Cuvée Speciale, Minervois (Jackson Nugent Vintners) High-class and classic, terroir-driven SyrahGrenache-Mourvèdre blend.

Gérard Bertrand: a Languedoc pioneer

From page 50

Commercially speaking, the most

successful AC wine of the Languedoc (and one of the most successful anywhere) has arguably been Picpoul de Pinet. Having

gained full appellation status in 2013, it

is now firmly entrenched in the minds of

consumers in the UK (which takes around a third of all the area’s production) as the

seafood wine of the south, and it produces more than 60% of the Languedoc’s white wine total, its vineyard and production

having grown by a factor of five since the early 1990s.

But awareness is growing, too, of the

Languedoc’s handful of crus, established (in local marketing, if not formal French

wine law) in the early 2010s. Consumers are coming to understand the quality

available from the region’s best vineyard sites, and start to identify what makes

a wine from, say, La Clape or Pic Saint-

Loup differ from a wine from Corbières-

Boutenac; or why the cru of Minervois-la-

Livinière stands out from the surrounding AC of Minervois.

Ironically, in returning to what seems like

a very French concept of wine marketing,

the winemakers of Sud de France are in fact cementing the reputation they began to

acquire 30 years ago. By adding a vanguard of new, exciting, terroir-driven producers

to a portfolio of consistent, crowd-pleasing varietal wines, the Languedoc-Roussillon

of the 2020s sounds a lot like the new New World.

Awareness is growing of the Languedoc’s handful of crus ... consumers are coming to understand the quality available from the region’s best vineyard sites THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 52


THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 53


Š ImageArt / stockadobe.com

Languedoc-Roussillon now accounts for around a third of all French organic vineyards, and some 6% of the global total THE WINE MERCHANT april 2020 54


THE SPIRITS WORLD

Rude awakening for Boutinot gin

compiled by our master blender, Samantha

Vineyard Gin is the first release from

• The Scilly Isles has inspired a new

Bailey, who simply has one of the best palates we’ve come across.”

a new venture calling itself Rude

small-batch rum, infused with locally-

Mechanicals. It’s the new specialist

grown samphire and sea salt.

spirits division of Boutinot, promising a small portfolio of premium drinks aimed at the independent trade. The gin, with an RRP of £25, has a base

of English wine but maintains a dominant juniper flavour, complemented by

botanicals including mandarin, cardamom, clementine peel and lemon zest.

Its suggested serve is with tonic, black

grapes and a fresh basil leaf.

“Everything Rude Mechanicals does

involves collaboration,” says commercial director Tom Whiteley.

“For Vineyard Gin we collaborated with

Dr John Walters at English Spirit, who is

an award-winning distiller with decades

of experience, while our botanical mix was

Daymark 1683 takes its name from the

highest point of St Martin’s, the earliest surviving example of a beacon in the British Isles.

Oli Strong of Daymark says: “Having

spent many years drinking and enjoying

This drink combines the number one chattering class preoccupation of our times – drinking gin – with the second, going animal-free. A gin fizz normally has a decadent frothy top from egg whites, but the same effect can be achieved by using aquafaba, the starchsaturated juice from a tin of chickpeas. Generally, two tablespoons of that equals one egg white and it works across all manner of cocktails that usually contain egg white. Play about with the lemon and syrup balance to your own taste.

50ml good quality London dry gin 25ml lemon juice 15ml maple syrup Two tablespoons of chickpea juice Soda water

rum on family holidays, we were inspired by our roots in the Scilly Isles to create a

sipping rum that appealed to whisky and

gin drinkers. We tested, tasted and taught ourselves from scratch.”

The rum is distilled from a base of

Venzuelan molasses, triple distilled in copper stills and aged in oak to take on its deep golden colour. The rum is available at

daymark1683.co.uk, RRP £37.50.

THE WINE MERCHANT april 2020 55

Put everything except the soda water in a dry shaker (no ice) and give it a good hammering for 15 seconds. Fill it with ice and shake some more until it feels cold. Strain into a glass and top with soda water to watch the foam form on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.


GUEST COLUMN

To B2B or maybe B2C? With the on-trade shut down, a vast chunk of revenue has evaporated from the order books of wine importers. Many have tried to plug the gap – or at least some of it – by selling direct to consumers. It’s not exactly a new concept, but in these nervous times, it’s a practice that many indies find unsettling

T

here is something that’s been swimming under the surface

for a long time: the blurry lines

between wholesale and retail.

Let’s broadly define “wholesale” as

selling wines to other businesses, definitely not directly to actual people. As for retail: let’s frame that as selling to the people doing the drinking.

As is always the case with the wine

industry, here 1 + 1 = 3. Wholesalers plus retailers, who can then generally be split into on-trade and off-trade, make for an interesting trio.

My mind initially jumps to the vibrant

indie retail scene. Traditional bricks-and-

mortar retail, on/off hybrids, and digitally focused e-commerce sites. Lots of indies

cover all three of these and most can tick two off the list.

It’s obvious too, that the 900+

independent retailers in the UK largely rely on imports from wholesalers to keep their businesses going, to keep wines on the

shelf, and keep their customers happy. It’s not that either directly selling to

consumers or primarily selling to the trade is better or worse than any other model. It’s a model.

Here’s where the ripples of this

industry may turn in to waves. It’s not a

new scenario: a wholesaler with a retail

operation. No matter how niche, or obscure your small parcel of unfiltered, skin-

contact Assyrtiko may be, if it’s available online directly from the wholesaler, it makes the retailer’s life harder.

The wholesaler will always be in charge

of the retail price. I know, albeit anec-

factually, indie merchants who don’t buy

from such wholesalers because competing on price and transparency is very difficult. Is there an argument to me made that

this has been going on forever? Yes, but.

Businesses thrive on opacity, and a little

leverage over the consumer is valuable. If

it’s not obvious where a wine comes from, the price is … priceless.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 56

If your business is bui and then selling it to t businesses that have simply str


ilt on importing wine, thousands of on-trade e now closed, do you ruggle on?

© Natalia / stockadobe.com

DAN KIRBY

T

here are those who have got this conundrum spot on. They’ve figured out the balance and

that is fantastic. It took patience and a

considered approach to the market with

an appreciation of other business models.

We are all in this industry together, and in

order to appeal to everyone your offer has to be balanced.

In the bizarre situation we find ourselves

now, many wholesalers have had their models ruined. While retailers crack

on, deliver, trade, and by all accounts

continue to thrive, there are suddenly

many wholesalers left shockingly, and understandably, confused.

These circumstances have multiplied the

conundrum, currents have turned awry,

and the seas are getting choppier. What is

a wholesaler to do? Ponder a state of being versus a state of not being.

conversations because of it.

I don’t think we’ll return to “normal”; the

conversation is more out in the open that

it’s ever been. Refreshed business models that are working now won’t be changing back. Businesses that have always had a

multi-channel operation will continue to do so.

It might be that in future everyone will

do more of everything, but conscience may make cowards of us all. In order to look to the future, whilst continuing to run viable businesses, wholesalers know that their

customers’ cleverly-sourced wine ranges may have suddenly become a whole lot more transparent.

There’s no right answer to the question

posed. But it’s going to be fascinating to

see how many different answers we get.

If your business is built on importing

wine, and then selling it to thousands of

on-trade businesses who are now closed, do you balance survival and prosperity

or simply struggle on? The only sensible option is to confidently switch models.

Selling directly to the public is, for many, now the only option. We’ve seen many

businesses quickly launch online stores,

offering mixed cases and wholesale prices to the general public.

T

hat said, I’m anticipating many hotels and restaurants taking

arms against this sea of troubles.

Here’s the rub: a relationship with an ontrade focused supplier, who, while your

operation has been closed, is now selling directly to the public. Once re-opened,

many restaurant wine lists will be all the

more transparent and I’m sure that many suppliers will be facing some awkward

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 57

Dan Kirby splits his time between investment specialists Corkr Fine Wines, fine wine auctioneer Taversham’s, and running the The Suffolk Cellar


SUPPLIER BULLETIN

AWIN BARRATT SIEGEL WINE AGENCIES

OPEN FOR BUSINESS, FULL OF IDEAS!

28 Recreation Ground Road Stamford Lincolnshire PE9 1EW 01780 755810 orders@abswineagencies.co.uk www.abswineagencies.co.uk

@ABSWines

It’s been terrific to see the innovation in the independent sector recently. ABS are open for business as normal and are here to assist, do let us know if there is anything specific you need. We are offering the following measures to aid immediate sales to consumers:

Reduced minimum delivery – 3 dozen

10% Discount for Upfront Payment

Limited Time Offers

Our Curated Selection – 15% Discount

Isolation Case Tastings on Instagram Live. Get your customers involved and taste along.

For more information please contact your Account Manager or email us at orders@abs.wine

Free case of Crémant for our loyal independent friends

Famille Helfrich Wines 1, rue Division Leclerc, 67290 Petersbach, France cdavies@lgcf.fr 07789 008540 @FamilleHelfrich

Famille Helfrich is exactly that – a family owned business, and the family are doing all they can to protect its family, namely its workforce.

This crisis is affecting us all, whether you’re a producer, supplier, retailer or consumer.

I’m so impressed with the can-do entrepreneurial spirit shown in the indies sector, and I wanted in a small way to show our appreciation.

We have launched our Sparkling Relief initiative in

which we are offering a free case of Crémant with every mixed pallet order during the crisis.

This can be delivered with the order or sent direct to a

relative, friend or customer to put a little fizz into their life at this awful time. For more details and to see a few of our winemakers talk about the eight different Crémants on

offer, head to our new YouTube: Famille Helfrich Wines & Spirits.

Finally, thanks as always for the continued support and

They’re all smiles to your faceloyalty … of our friends in the independent sector. We wish

you all good health and hope that you continue to provide the excellent services you do so well.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 58

Chris Davies


LOUIS LATOUR AGENCIES 12-14 Denman Street London W1D 7HJ

0207 409 7276 enquiries@louislatour.co.uk www.louislatour.co.uk

Introducing Bellevue Pinot Noir: a new wine from Louis Latour Bellevue Pinot Noir comes from Louis Latour’s Valmoissine vineyard in Provence’s Verdon Hills.

Valmoissine’s low-yielding vineyard is 500m above sea level and is

meticulously managed following sustainable viticultural practices. It is the combination of the complex clay-limestone, ferruginous soils, altitude, the

fresh Mediterranean air and careful handling in the cellar that creates a wine with balance, depth and great intensity, expressing the area’s special terroir.

Bellevue joins Louis Latour’s newest vineyard project Les Pierres Dorée.

The high-altitude Pierres Dorées area in the south of Beaujolais, with claylimestone soil, provided the perfect location to establish more Pinot Noir

vineyards. Louis Latour has 20ha of land between Morancé and Theizé, north west of Lyon. The resulting wine combines richness and freshness with a beautiful and evocative aromatic quality.

To celebrate these two wines we are holding a live event on Wednesday,

May 20 with brand ambassador Florian Migeon. For more information about how to take part please contact Rebecca.Fraser@louislatour.co.uk.

hatch mansfield New Bank House 1 Brockenhurst Road Ascot Berkshire SL5 9DL

M.CHAPOUTIER now available from Hatch Mansfield Domaine Bila-Haut Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc AOP Côtes-du-Roussillon Fresh & aromatic Roussillon from hand-harvested grapes in the Agly Valley - a classic blend of southern French varietals.

01344 871800

Château des Ferrages Roumery Rosé AOP Côtes de Provence A classic, elegant Provence rosé with aromatic notes of strawberry, grapefruit, citrus and peach - a perfect summer sipper!

info@hatch.co.uk www.hatchmansfield.com

M.Chapoutier Prestige Les Meysonniers Rouge AOP Crozes-Hermitage 100% organic Syrah from sun-drenched vineyards, full of black fruit, floral notes and fleshy tannins on the round, ample palate.

@hatchmansfield

Hatch Mansfield are donating £10 to The Drinks Trust on every order placed in their May/June Independent activity to assist those impacted by COVID19.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 59


SUPPLIER BULLETIN

richmond wine agencies The Links, Popham Close Hanworth Middlesex TW13 6JE 020 8744 5550 info@richmondwineagencies.com

@richmondwineag1

New agency for RWA! Deep Down Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand Organic, small-batch, wild ferment, single-vineyard wines crafted

with honesty and low or no additions. Wines of transparency and place.

A boutique Marlborough company founded by Clive Dougall and

Peter Lorimer who share a love of organics, exceptional wine and a life well lived.

Deep Down offer a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

(sulphur free) produced with intuition and heart. From land farmed with care, and vineyards managed with respect, in an incredible region deep down in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Do get on contact if you would like to: • Receive a copy of our new 2020 list

• Be sent our Château d’Esclans summer offers - including a cracking price on Whispering Angel!

• Join our database and receive all our offers – value wines sub £10 RRP, rosé offers, Winesolution pre-packed cases and much more.

fine wine partners Thomas Hardy House 2 Heath Road Weybridge KT13 8TB 07552 291045 info@finewinepartners.co.uk www.finewinepartners.co.uk

Established in 1836, Houghton is Australia's third oldest winery. It is also the most awarded winery in Western Australia. A fine wine of elegance, fruit flavour and power balanced by firm fine-grained tannins, Jack Mann is the finest Cabernet produced by Houghton. Accordingly, it is named after legendary Houghton winemaker Jack Mann, who presided over the winemaking for 51

consecutive vintages. Jack’s unrelenting search for flavour and character and his desire to make wine to exacting standards was legendary within the industry.

Jack Mann Cabernet evokes a sense and scent of

place, with crushed-blackcurrant and herb-garden aromas, beautiful concentration, and perfectlyripe tannins and tremendous drive. Jack Mann

Cabernet Sauvignon is a single-vineyard wine from the Justin Vineyard in the Frankland River region

of Western Australia. This region is characterised by cool winters, warm summer days and cool

summer nights. The Cabernet grapes for this wine were hand-picked from a small patch

of 45-year-old vines. The particular clone of Cabernet Sauvignon is an original Houghton clone selected by Jack Mann.

Please contact Fine Wine Partners for further details on all of the Houghton wines.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 60


liberty wines 020 7720 5350 order@libertywines.co.uk www.libertywines.co.uk

@liberty_wines

Freshness in the far south

by David Gleave MW

Both the Languedoc and the Roussillon have a reputation for exuberant, ripe wines.

However, a growing band of producers are adapting their winemaking and seeking cooler vineyard sites to deliver wines with more freshness and elegance.

Domaine Gauby of the Roussillon is renowned for its wines of exemplary freshness.

Not only do their organic and biodynamic vineyards benefit from cooling breezes from both the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, they combine up to 125-year-

old vines and limestone, marl and schist soils, yielding grapes with the

perfect balance between flavour intensity and a lifted acidity. Judicious use of Stockinger foudres means that the precise flavours and minerality of the wines are not overwhelmed by the oak.

In the Languedoc, coastal sites such as the Picpoul de Pinet vineyards

of Domaine La Croix Gratiot and Baron de Badassière benefit from sea

breezes that ensure the grapes retain a lively acidity. Not only are their

white wines aromatic and refreshing, their elegant reds such as Domaine La Croix Gratiot’s ‘Les Zazous’ Pinot Noir and ‘Rouge Cerise’ Syrah can ably compete with their more northern cousins.

Atitude can provide relief from the heat. The Syrah, Grenache and

Mourvèdre vineyards of La Croix de Saint Jean sit in the north east corner

of Minervois at up to 300m above sea level and produce a refined style of Minervois which marries brooding black fruit flavours with silky tannins and a vibrant acidity.

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 61


SUPPLIER BULLETIN

walker & Wodehouse

During these difficult times, we remain open for business, and are committed to offering our support and guidance to customers navigating the challenges of the current situation.

109a Regents Park Road London NW1 8UR 0207 449 1665 orders@walkerwodehousewines.com www.walkerwodehousewines.com

@WalkerWodehouse

With travel limited to essential journeys, the public are increasingly turning to local

independent retails for wines, beers and spirits. For independent merchants who can continue to trade while observing government guidelines, home delivery and click

and collect services have become absolutely essential. We recently launched LOCAL: an app designed to help our customers offer these services, with no setup costs or upfront charges.

All joining fees will be covered by us, so merchants have nothing to pay upfront, and

will be able to start trading as soon as they sign up. Customers will only be charged a minimal 2% transaction fee per order.

Using LOCAL to support independent merchants in serving their communities might actually bring us closer together than ever.

buckingham schenk Unit 5, The E Centre Easthampstead Road Bracknell RG12 1NF 01753 521336 info@buckingham-schenk.co.uk www.buckingham-schenk.co.uk

@BuckSchenk @buckinghamschenk

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 62


mentzendorff The Woolyard 52 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3UD

TAYLOR’S, FONSECA & CROFT PORTS TO MIX THIS SUMMER Explore the world of White and Pink Port this summer for simple, refreshing cocktails

020 7840 3600 info@mentzendorff.co.uk www.mentzendorff.co.uk

Taylor’s Chip Dry Taylor’s was the first to pioneer dry white aperitif port in 1934. Serve over ice with a slice of lemon and a sprig of fresh mint as a refreshing long drink. The ultimate Port and Tonic. Fonseca Siroco Named after the warm wind that blows over the Mediterranean from North Africa. Enjoy as an aperitif, serve chilled or as a traditional white Port and tonic over ice. Croft Pink A versatile, unique pink Port, perfect for cocktails. Try Croft ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’: 60ml Croft Pink, 30ml vodka, served over crushed ice, topped up with Ginger Ale and a squeeze of lime juice. for further information, please contact your account manager

enotria & COE 23 Cumberland Avenue London NW10 7RX www.enotriacoe.com 020 8961 5161

E&C is the UK’s leading drinks supplier, and we have delivery hubs around the country. We own and operate our own fully integrated, state-of-the-art supply chain and systems, enabling us to deliver on target and support your business. We recognise that during this tough time, there is a lot of pressure on your business. As people are limiting their travel, your community is increasingly turning to you as their local wine and spirits supplier. E&C is ready to supply you with an alternative range of wines, spirits, beers, ciders and softs to meet this new demand. Please call 020 8961 5161 for our latest indies offer. Or email customerservices@ enotriacoe.com.

@EnotriaCoe

THE WINE MERCHANT may 2020 63


Profile for The Wine Merchant magazine

The Wine Merchant issue 91 (May 2020)  

The May 2020 edition of The Wine Merchant, a trade magazine for specialist independent wine retailers in the UK

The Wine Merchant issue 91 (May 2020)  

The May 2020 edition of The Wine Merchant, a trade magazine for specialist independent wine retailers in the UK

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