The Wine Merchant issue 97

Page 1

THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers

Issue 97, November 2020

Dog of the Month: Poppy The Jolly Vintner, Tiverton

Web sales set for festive boom as indies focus on e-commerce Many merchants are already reaping the rewards of investing in their websites at the time of the first lockdown


he independent trade is gearing up for what could well be its

busiest-ever online sales period.

After a year in which e-commerce has

boomed for many merchants, indies have

already reported an upturn in web activity as the Christmas season approaches. Many independents are reaping

the rewards of putting extra time and investment into their websites.

Carl Evans, manager at Saxtys Wines

Secret Bottle Shop in Hereford, says:

“The website is sort of the jewel in the

crown before Christmas to make it easier for customers to see what we’re offering

and give more exposure to the extra things we do, such as Zoom tastings.

“We assumed there would be a second

lockdown, or at least further restrictions,

which would mean that people wouldn’t so easily be able to come into the stores. It’s

been a big project but it’s something we’re

very excited about.”

York Wines has “already done quite a lot

of Christmas gifts for people, particularly

from abroad,” says co-owner Alex Edwards. “When people who have friends and family in the York area are thinking of gifting, we come up in their online searches, so they order from us. We do have some really

great customer reviews on our website.”

Continues page two

“During the first lockdown we decided

to close the retail space and focus online, which took off dramatically.

“Our online presence was already quite

strong and now we’re focusing on letting

people know that we are delivering all over the UK for Christmas.

“I think people are worried that they’re

not going to get their Christmas shopping done in time, especially if the lockdown continues beyond the first few days of

December. So our message is ‘fear not, we will get you your gifts’.”

Theatre of Wine in London has made a

“significant capital investment” in its new e-commerce platform. “Before, we got by pretty well through handling things over

email and phone, but this is really designed to make it a better experience for our

customers,” explains director Jason Millar.

Lucy Chenoweth (left) and her team are celebrating because The Old Garage Bottle Shop & Deli is opening its second branch, this time on Cornwall's north coast. Read the full story in our Comings & Goings section on page eight.


Inside this month

Indies expecting online sales boom From page one

6 comings & Goings New faces at Vino Vero, a bottle shop in Battle, and natural wine

Edwards says the impact of Covid has

helped the York Wines team “take the

is coming to St Helens

opportunity to build better relationships

16 LIFE AFTER BREXIT A succinct guide to how things will change for EU wine imports

with customers old and new”.

She adds: “It has forced us to be more

communicative about the new wines and

vintages we are getting in and engage more

28 the great escape

with customers.

Chix Chandaria explores European vineyards in a vintage VW camper van

36 what's the damage? Three English winemakers take stock of a frost-ravaged vintage

40 ellis wharton wines The Cornish merchant's timely

April 2020 we did £114,000, so it was a fairly big increase of traffic on there.”

The independents who spoke to The

Wine Merchant were also upbeat about their retail and local delivery activity.

Evans at Saxtys predicts there’ll be a

higher spend per customer this Christmas. “People haven’t had their big holiday or

their meals out and weekends away,” he

says, “so they’ll be more willing to spend on their table wine and gifting to make

sure they enjoy Christmas regardless of the situation."

"Also, people are getting more confident

about ordering wine online. They see

that the packaging is robust and last time we kept our next-working-day delivery

schedule throughout – and that’s another

positive for us when people can’t so easily get supermarket delivery slots.”

Frank Dudley, retail director at The

Vineking in Surrey, says that the company’s

website was given a much-needed overhaul earlier this year.

relocation to a warehouse

“I think probably like a lot of other indies

56 spirits New launches galore, and news of how you can earn your own cask of bespoke malt whisky

we looked at our e-commerce and thought, ‘that’s the thing we should have put some money into over the last 10 years, and haven’t,’” he says.

“So in the space of a week we uploaded

64 supplier bulletin Essential updates from key suppliers to the indie trade

Jason Millar of Theatre of Wine

See you in 2021 This is the final edition of The Wine Merchant for 2020. Our next issue will

a couple of hundred extra products, added

appear on January 15.

about £4,000 through our website – in

and thanks for all your support this year.

mixed cases of wine and changed our

buying patterns. In April 2019 we did

Good luck to all our readers and

advertisers for the festive sales period –

THE WINE MERCHANT MAGAZINE 01323 871836 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag Editor and Publisher: Graham Holter Assistant Editor: Claire Harries Advertising: Sarah Hunnisett Accounts: Naomi Young The Wine Merchant is circulated to the owners of the UK’s 947 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 november 2020 2

NEWS Kisses – of the air variety or otherwise –

were off limits. “People were chatting but

they were doing it at a safe distance,” says

Hutchinson. “It’s a huge room, and we had all the doors and windows open.

“There was a one-way system in place,

and there was gel on every table. One

member of my team has done a lot of food safety and hygiene and said that it’s much better to wash hands than wear gloves,

unless you are going to have a new pair of gloves after touching each bottle.”

Tasters were essentially left to their

own devices. “We had a few winemakers The Vindependents event attracted 50 attendees, split into two sessions

Wine tasting in the time of Covid The autumn trade tasting calendar was effectively a write-off, thanks to Covid, but the Vindependents event managed to go ahead. Could it perhaps provide a template for similar-sized tastings in the new year? Taking place in the group’s familiar venue

of Cecil Sharp House in Camden – a spacious and airy building that’s home to the English Folk Dance & Song Society – the tasting

was divided into morning and afternoon sessions, each with a limit of 30 people.

“We had 50 people across the day, which

is great,” says Vindependents boss Jess Hutchinson.

Attendees travelled from as far away as

any tastings to go to had set in.”

The venue required a Covid risk

assessment. “There was a questionnaire

for people to fill in first,” she explains. “We

asked everyone to take their temperatures before they came. They are all sensible

people, so we trusted them. Nobody has any interest in going to a tasting and bringing Covid with them.

“No one was allowed to come in unless

they had pre-registered. We took contact details for track and trace.

“They were given two glasses – one

for red, one for white – and an individual spittoon. That worked really well. What we didn’t want was people spitting into

spittoons from a distance – it would just be a Covid-fest.”

I’d rather have customers in the room than winemakers.

“It’s great to have the winemakers there

but we hadn’t done a tasting since January and I wanted people to try the new wines and new vintages of current wines.” The day went well enough for

Hutchinson to start thinking about the next Vindependents tasting in January.

“We had a lot of thanks from members

for organising it, and not just so they could taste the wines – a big part of

Vindependents is people meeting up and seeing how each other are doing and

getting ideas. It was just nice for people to get together and in a safe place.

“It went better than we’d hoped, and I

was really, really pleased. We had great

feedback. We got lots of new business from it, the wines showed well – and nobody came away with Covid.”

A cardboard shortage threatens to create problems for wine merchants this Christmas, with some suppliers of wine boxes warning of extended lead times, particularly for printed outer cartons. “Demand for cardboard has exploded again,” says WBC boss Andrew Wilson. “This is partly down to material but also production slots on machines. We have huge stocks in the warehouse and in production and are not expecting to run out of anything for longer than a few days, worst case.”

first and we had about 25 people say

they wanted to come, and some people

from further away said they would like to come but they didn’t want to travel,” says

Hutchinson. “But actually in the end some of those people did come. I don’t know

safely, or if the boredom of not having had

over, but we were limited on numbers, and


Scotland and Cornwall. “I put out feelers

whether they felt it had been organised

wanting to come over, and offering to come

© Pigliacampi /

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 4

Museum Wines in Dorset has had its website hacked, with the criminal activity targeting its PayPal account. The scammers have managed to

redirect funds from genuine sales to their own PayPal accounts on three separate occasions. They have also thwarted

Museum’s attempts to disable PayPal on the website.

“That means they could go into anyone’s

website who don’t even use PayPal and add it,” says manager Daniel Grigg. “It’s

quite alarming that PayPal has been alerted to this fraudulent activity and they have

essentially said they don’t care and it’s not their problem. But they could find those transactions and reverse the funds back out.

“PayPal take a 3.5% fee for each

transaction and they’ve been informed

Indie enthusiasm for online tasting

“For now we have enabled a higher

grade log-in tracker so if someone forces

access again we might be able to get the IP address of the originating computer.”

Just under 200 independent merchants

The customers affected also flagged up

the issue with PayPal. But Grigg says: “They

signed up for the recent Independent

fact that it’s gone to someone else’s PayPal

that had to be cancelled this autumn.

that he will never use PayPal again.”

Merchant magazine and showcased a

closed the cases within an hour, saying

‘well, you authorised the payment – the rather than the intended one is not our

Grigg is hopeful that PayPal will be more

range of wines from nine suppliers to the

pro-active regarding the third fraudulent

independent trade.

transaction. It was from a regular customer

In addition to Condor, these were

who he knows quite well – and because

Alpine Wines, Daniel Lambert Wines,

it was a pre-order for stock that won’t

Delibo Wines, Milestone Wines, Raymond

be available until the end of November,

Reynolds, Southern Wine Roads, The

her complaint to PayPal will fit into the

Antipodean Sommelier and Top Selection.

prescribed problem of ‘I did not receive my

Guests were invited to select samples


that these particular ones are fraudulent, so if they are keeping that 3.5% they are profiteering from something they have

using up to 24 “credits”: each wine was

been told is illegal. They are just turning a

amazing 55% of those requested samples.

bank transfers.

Across the group of nine importers we’ve

It’s possible the hackers will keep

“But so many retailers use those sites

because it’s affordable,” he adds. “Our

developers have said they have heard of

this happening before, but we don’t know if it’s an individual person doing it or

whether it’s a virus they have let loose.

“My aim was to offer a selection of wines

nearly 200 registered for IVTT and an

is only accepting credit card payments or

site built from scratch”.

merchant in one delivery.

enthusiastically towards the initiative:

from the website for a second time and

can be more vulnerable than “a bespoke

Services, which sent out samples to each

“Wine merchants reacted very

now he’s removed the payment system

He acknowledges that sites built with

were then aggregated by Sensible Wine


his sales go through PayPal each year, but

systems like WordPress and Squarespace

three, based on its value. The requests

of the key regions,” says Condor boss Lee

Grigg estimates that around £35,000 of

“monitoring things really closely”.

given a credit value of between one and

exclusive to indies which represented most

blind eye.”

re-installing PayPal, so Grigg says he is

alternative to the many trade events

Wines in partnership with The Wine

problem.’ One of the customers told me

“We’re saying that we’re not releasing

Virtual Trade Tasting – an online

The project was put together by Condor

© madedee /

Hacked? You’ve got to pay, pal

sent out well over 1,000 sample bottles.” Hackers have diverted funds three times

her order until PayPal refund that money to her, and she pays us direct. The other

orders were sent out before we realised there was an issue so we’ll just have to

take it on the chin,” Grigg says. “I’m just

disappointed to find there is no protection if you get hacked or scammed.”

PayPal declined to comment.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 5

He adds: “During the registration process

we had many positive comments, and

IVTT has been very successful in terms of

engaging with many indies at a time when social gatherings and travel were difficult. “But the true success will be measured

through new listings and we are now going through the process of contacting the indies who requested samples.

“We have a meeting of the nine importers

to review the initiative, but we are already planning to re-run IVTT in the spring.”

New faces at Vino Vero in Essex Sam and Charlotte Brown, who started Vino Vero seven years ago, recently decided to move on and embrace a more “nomadic” existence. As they explained on their Facebook

post: “We are moving to Europe … working and living where the wind (or indeed the wine) takes us. Once we’ve rested and

recharged, we’re going to learn how to

make the product we’ve spent seven years selling. Wineries don’t know what they’re in for.”

The good news for the people of Leigh


on Sea is that the business has been bought by Jaime and Holly Fernandez who were

already running their own wine company, Copa Wine – a pop-up wine tasting

company with a focus on biodynamic, organic and natural products.

“We extended that to an online platform

and we were looking to open a bricks-andmortar shop,” says Jaime. “I knew Sam and Charlie really well – I’d been shopping

in Vino Vero for about five years and we became good friends.”

Vino Vero will retain its name, but the

new owners will put their own identity on

the business by developing a “new look and feel” with some new branding at the start of next year.

WSET course sparks new career Shekleton Wines opened during the first week of November in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Charlotte Shek had a career in finance

before she was lured into the wine trade by WSET. “I bought my husband and my

dad a WSET course about four years ago,”

she explains, “and then I got the bug. That

More indies put faith in Suffolk

Weber & Tring’s closes Bristol store

Holly and Jaime were running a tasting company called Copa Wine

Level 1 course became Level 2, then 3 and

currently I’m halfway through Level 4 – it’s something that’s grown from there.”

Shek is working with Dreyfus Ashby, New

Generation and Hallgarten and has sourced direct from some English vineyards

including Simpsons and Gusbourne. The

range will be organised by flavour profile rather than by country

Shek says the shop is her opportunity to

share her passion for wine and, once Covid is no longer an issue, she hopes to run instore tastings and events.

Battle gets a bottle shop at long last This month Sarah and Paul Truman opened their shop, Sarah’s Cellar, in Battle, East Sussex.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 6

Sarah’s love of wine started 20 years

ago when she did a stint at The Wine

Corporation before becoming a maths teacher.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a really

long time,” she says. “I’ve never stopped

enjoying wine and Paul and I have travelled around the vineyards of Europe and gone

to the cellars and tasted the wine – I’d say

that was my travel hobby and Europe is my particular passion.”

Battle High Street is full of independents

and foodie places including a “wonderful butchers and fishmongers, and Battle

Abbey Brewery has just opened a little

shop … there’s a great vibe,” Sarah says.

Any renovations to the quaint Grade II

listed building will have to wait until early next year as the couple concentrate on

fulfilling orders by delivery and click and collect.

Oxford Wine Co opens fifth store

Richard Davis of Davis Bell McCraith says

while they already had a shop in the same locality, they have “always dreamed of having the best shop in a top street”.

This month heralds the launch of

The new shop will be managed by “a

The Oxford Wine Company’s Little

proper retail manager,” Sebastien Squire,

Clarendon Street branch. Including the

and there has been a certain amount of

OWC’s concession at Millets Farm, this

TLC to get the premises up to scratch. The

is now shop number five for the iconic

desired result was “rich and warm, rather

merchant. Emily Silva, head of marketing and retail,

says the business had been looking for a new site for almost two years before

sealing the deal on the previous Oddbins

than shiny and brand new” – and the Elly Owen (left) and Lucy Chenoweth

Chenoweth will be joined on the

premises in Jericho.

north coast in Nansledan by sommelier

– really vibrant, full of independent

including Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Paul

“We’re so pleased to have it,” she says.

“Jericho is such a great neighbourhood

businesses and it’s just up the road from our Wine Café.

“As the crow flies it’s only a 10-minute

walk from the Turl Street shop, but because of Oxford’s mad one-way system it’s a

different section of town and taps into the wealthy north Oxford area.”

The large area on the first floor will

become a dedicated events space with the capacity – Covid restrictions aside – for around 50 guests.

Elly Owen, who has worked in some of the county’s most famous restaurants Ainsworth’s No6.

Nansledan is a picture-perfect town, an

extension of Newquay that is part of the

Duchy of Cornwall. The Old Garage will be trading alongside similarly home-grown independent shops and businesses.

Chenoweth says: “The branding, logo,

signage and interior will be in a style in

result of a lot of sanding down and oiling, deliver on that front.

“We didn’t want to spend a fortune and

the lighting was the biggest expense,”

says Davis. “It felt dark and dingy before, but it’s a remarkable transition without structurally changing anything.”

The bespoke artwork on the wall was

commissioned by Pol Roger to mark the

move to the new premises. The illustration features the Clifton suspension bridge in the background and the picnic party has DBM carrier bags.

keeping with the Roseland store and our online presence.”

Until the second lockdown is over, the

business will operate pretty much the

same as it did during the summer. The

Roseland shop will be closed to the public

but Chenoweth and Owen will be travelling all over the county making deliveries,

kitting out the new store and running

Bespoke Pol Roger artwork at the Clifton store

Zoom tastings.

• Manchester’s Hangingditch is the latest

that would be boring, right?”

The outside space was perhaps larger than

“It’s not quite the first year of trading

The former Oddbins in Jericho

mahogany shelves and shop floor, both the

we’d planned for,” Chenoweth admits, “but

Cornish merchant DBM relocates to heads northwards new site in Bristol

Covid casualty. Ben Stephenson opened the business as a hybrid bar and shop in 2008. the more intimate shop space – great for temperate weather but, as Stephenson admits, “it didn’t always work out so well in Manchester”. The arrival of Covid-19 sounded the death knell for Hangingditch,

Lucy Chenoweth of The Old Garage

Another Oddbins site has been

the small site making it impossible to open

Bottle Shop & Deli in south Cornwall is

successfully re-opened in a different

in a safe way. Stephenson will continue to

set to open her second site in December.

guise, this time in Clifton, Bristol.

trade at Blossom Street Social in Ancoats.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 8

Natural focus for St Helens startup So Far So Good, a wine shop and deli, is set to open in St Helens next year. The new venture is a collaboration

between Rory Pike and Scott Anderson, who already own and run a property

business, and Chris Hayes and Anthony Georgiou of Vigour Kitchen.

Pike explains: “Scott and I had taken on

the premises [formerly a farm shop on

Ormskirk Road] but because of the way the year has unfolded we had to monetise the space in a different way. So we thought of

what we’d enjoy and want to do and would also be able to pass the test of lockdown.

“We are both very interested in natural

wine and we’ve noticed that, certainly

outside the big cities, there isn’t much of an


awareness of it. So the idea is that we can

take the taste of the city into these smaller areas such as St Helens.”

Until the planning goes through and the

premises becomes a working reality, So Far

Fitzpatrick buys Old Chapel stake Louisa Fitzpatrick, formerly head of

So Good has been operating as a pop-up –

wine at St Austell Brewery, has bought a


contemplating her next career move

Vigour,” says Pike.

something we could do together,” she says.

and that’s where the relationship with local restaurant Vigour Kitchen has come into “We’ll be doing lockdown boxes to

Jamie [Tonkin] a call and see if there was

“We pretty much sold out of our first

batch of wines. Natural wine is so different to the standard wines that people are used to and even people who didn’t drink wine

“It’s good for us because we feel that we

are enabling people to have that experience – especially when everything at the

moment feels a bit mopey,” adds Pike.

Fitzpatrick says she had been

for about 18 months. “I thought I’d give

accompany the meats and cheeses from

before are enjoying the natural wines.

50% stake Old Chapel Cellars, Truro.

“I wasn’t really looking for a partner,”

says Tonkin, “but we’ve been friends for a

long time and Louisa's very highly regarded – if it had been anyone else making the

suggestion, it wouldn’t have been a yes. We have a 50/50 split – there wouldn’t be any point in doing it any other way.”

The business is reporting strong trade in

its wholesale accounts.

customers we could do without

© alphaspirit /

18. Roderick Sallow ... Hello! I say! Hello! Can you here me? Your. Door. Is. Locked! I can see somebody in there. Will you let me in? Please can you unlock the door? Ah, thank you. Yes, apologies, I can see you close at seven, but it is only 14 minutes past … I was passing earlier this afternoon and saw you had a special offer on some Champagne and I rather liked the look of it … I don’t suppose there’s any open to try before I buy, as it were? Oh … well, never mind … it was over there, in the window, priced at £14 a bottle … no, not that one … next to it … no, the other one … in front of the one you just knocked over … yes, that one … well that says £16, it must have gone up … not a Champagne? Then what is it? Cremated, did you say? So like a Champagne but not a Champagne? Might as well have a Champagne then! What do you have for £14 a bottle? Really? You always used to be able to buy Champers for that kind of money … oh, blast it, look at the time … I’m so sorry, but I am in rather a hurry, so please just find me your best wine for £14 with bubbles in it and then I must be on my way … my wife gets terribly cross if I’m late home …

Supplier of wine boxes and literature • 12 Bottle mailing boxes with dividers from £1.69p each • 6 Bottle mailing boxes with dividers from £0.98p each • 12 Bottle carrier boxes with dividers from £0.99p each Prices are subject to VAT • Delivery not included

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ANAGRAM TIME Can you unscramble the names of these spirits categories? If so, you win a week-long tour of European bottling lines.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 9

1. Sad Vocal 2. Ban Shite 3. Knobby UK Recount 4. Tingles Mawkishly 5. Dr Long Emu Mark Matisovits


t’s been really difficult to choose just one,” admits Christine, “as we have so many

Martinez Wines West Yorkshire Christine Austin finds herself spoilt for choice in her native county, but settles on an energetic and engaging indie who became a social media star during lockdown

really good wine merchants in Yorkshire –

they are all so friendly.”

But, we insisted, and Martinez comes up trumps for

a number of reasons. Christine explains: “What impresses me most about them is the way Jonathan [Cocker] engages with everybody – with his customers and the wider community.”

A perfect example of this would be the “slightly deranged” social

media campaigns that have garnered quite a following over the last few

months. “He’s been out delivering and people are hanging out of windows shouting ‘hi, we’ve seen your video,’ which is astonishing in Yorkshire because people don’t usually do that,” she says.

“He puts so much energy into everything – he is out there telling people

about the wines in all sorts of ways. He was really on the ball right at the

start of lockdown too. Mid-March, when we were all wondering what was going to happen, he sent out a funny email saying they had adopted a ‘knock and run’ approach to deliveries.

“I’ve been to many of his Extravaganza tastings over the years. It’s a

huge annual tasting he organises every spring, held at the Winter Garden in Ilkley and it’s always sold out.”


bviously that particular tasting couldn’t go ahead this year, but Jonathan and his team have worked hard to keep the Cellar

Wine Bar in Ilkley and the Bingley Wine Bar open and Covid


“They are down to two thirds of their usual capacity, but they have kept

going,” says Christine. “He’s got really serious wines on Coravin. He’s got 2010 Clerc Milon – you can buy a bottle for £107.99 or you can buy a

class for £21.95. It’s not extortionate – he’s encouraging people to trade up.

“There’s easy stuff there too – you can have a glass of sparkling rosé

from Torres for £7.25 – there’s stuff from South Africa … something for

everyone. It’s getting people interested in wine, and they can learn about it along the way.

“Martinez Wines really is a community hub, and the dinners and

Sunday lunches he runs all have a wine theme, like Rioja and paella, to encourage customers to try different wines in an informal setting.”

Christine Austin is the wine writer for The Yorkshire Post and a panel chair for the International Wine Competition Jonathan wins a bottle of 10X Pinot Noir, Ten Minutes By Tractor 2019, courtesy of Bancroft Wines

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 10


TOP OF THE GLASS Keep track of whose glass is whose without


leaving a trace of damage on the surface.

CellarDine has developed an aerator

These handy glass markers (left) from

called Rouge 02 that simply slots

Vacu Vin are little silicone shapes that

into the neck of the bottle ensuring a

attach themselves to any smooth surface

perfectly aerated pour each and every

with a suction cup. Choose from a pack of

time. Its airflow system allows bubbles

eight designed to look like wine seals or a

to gently drop into the wine as it pours

pack of 12 fun party critters.

into the glass – and the carefully

RRP from £6.99

designed pouring spout means a clean and drip-free serve. Fits all neck sizes. RRP £14.99

SIFT OUT THE SULPHITES Some drinkers report particular sensitivities to sulphites and Üllo (pronounced “oo-low”) claims that by pouring wine through its purifying system, sulphites will be successfully


removed without affecting the taste

Meet the newest edition to the Pulpsafe family from WBC. Pulpsafe Beer is made from

or aroma. Filter by the glass or blitz

the same moulded pulp as its wine packaging counterpart. An eco-friendly way to safely

an entire bottle. One disposable filter

transport up to 24 cans at a time, it is 100% recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. The

is designed to purify one 75cl bottle.

universal fit can be used for both the top and base and will accommodate cans of any height

There’s also a built in aerator.

as well as working with 33cl and 50cl bottles. Prices start from £1.69

RRP £69.99

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 12

© Horváth Botond /

Hungary gains momentum With 60 indigenous varieties and a growing tally of awards, the country is making big progress in the specialist wine trade


t’s a measure of the importance of wine in Hungarian culture that it makes an appearance in the country’s anthem, in which thanks is given to the nation thus: “In the grape fields of Tokaj, you dripped sweet nectar.” Tokaj is Hungary’s most famous wine region but the country is forging a powerful reputation for the diversity of the wine it makes across 22 wine districts within six wine regions and 60 indigenous grape varieties. In all, 223 varieties grow on Hungarian soil covering an area of 65,000ha, with a split of around 70:30 in favour of white, versus black, grapes. The bar has been raised in recent years by investment in vineyards, winemaking expertise and technology, and Hungary’s wines have been resonating with many independent wine merchants for delivering excellent quality at affordable price points. The Eger wine district – which, like Tokaj, rests on the same line of altitude as Burgundy – has been especially successful in international wine competitions but others are making their mark too. “Our regions reflect the country’s wine culture, being characterised by diversity, originality and uniqueness,” says Enikő Magyar, agricultural attaché at the Hungarian Embassy in London. “Whether it’s Tokaji Aszú or Furmint from one of the world’s oldest, most historically-celebrated wine districts, the traditional reds from Eger, Szekszárd or

Villány, or new varietals from emerging wine areas, Hungarian wines are finding their ways on to international wine markets and are up for being rediscovered.” Magyar says competition successes are a good marker of the advances being made by the country’s producers. “They are a professional recognition of excellence and proof that Hungary is a trustful source for a variety of outstanding wines – a country where new styles make their appearance along with centuries-long tradition. “From the momentum that Hungary has started to build in these competitions, we can ensure a permanent presence, market expansion opportunities and further success for Hungarian wines in the UK.”


ungary has a viticultural heritage dating back over 1,000 years, and is now marrying that tradition to modern winemaking skills. It has both cool and warm-climate regions, a great mix of boutique and larger wine producers, and a wide range of styles from easy-drinking whites through big and bold reds, vibrant rosés and traditionalmethod sparkling wines, to its famous naturally sweet wines. The popular UK trends for organic and biodynamic wines are also being catered for by Hungary as more of its winemakers look to cultivate their grapes organically as well as based on biodynamic principles,

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 13

and some even go further. Magyar adds: “Considerable sums have been invested in the last two decades in developing infrastructure, production, storage and logistics facilities; in stateof-the-art technology, in research and development, in vocational training, and in creating a welcoming environment and defining moments for wine tourists.” The country has also been benefiting from investment in marketing and promotion to help the wines come alive for retailers and consumers in key markets, including the UK. “Wine promotion projects have been launched and are running with funding from the Hungarian government and the EU,” adds Magyar, “with the opportunity provided for wineries to be present at international wine fairs – and we try to draw attention to the country and our wine regions through various media campaigns. “The Embassy in London has been committed to taking an active part in this process. Wine is a great door-opener through which we can build bridges, and get to know each other’s culture, traditions and countries.” Published in association with the Agricultural Section of the Embassy of Hungary in London. For more information on Hungary and its wines, visit the website at www. or contact any of the established UK based importers.

Rising Stars

Hannah Ford

StarmoreBoss, Sheffield A YouTube natural with a thirst for knowledge


annah arrived at StarmoreBoss with her WSET Level 2 and time working at both Corks Out and Mitchells Wines under her belt. “She had some really good experience, but at the end of the day it’s about the personality and the individual,” says co-owner Jefferson Boss. “Hannah was a customer of the shop for a while and used to say if ever a position became available, she’d be really interested. At the time it was just me and Barry with a bit of occasional, part-time help.” So the partners took a leap and invited Hannah to be their first full-time member of staff. “She’s been phenomenal,” says Jeff. “She’s very meticulous and when you have a team member like that, when you don’t need to check up on their work, it gives you the ability to carry on and do your own job. “She can run the store, do all the online stuff and keep track of systems. As well as being very personable, she has that thirst for knowledge and has that excitement about the products we sell.” Like a number of merchants, the business turned to online tastings during lockdown and beyond and Hannah has taken ownership of the whole project. Jeff says: “Hannah developed the platform and everything. It’s like a live studio broadcast that goes out on YouTube – to have that skill set and to do it so professionally is super-impressive. I was rubbish at it! Hannah makes it all look really natural and she puts people at ease.” “I think it just comes down to me being good at talking,” Hannah laughs. “I am a bit of a geek – I like knowing everything about wine. I’ve just started my Level 3 with Laura at the Yorkshire Wine School. My wine career really started in 2015 after I finished university,” she explains. “I had done a photography degree but had kind of fallen out of love with it, and then I started working in the wine industry and it just clicked. It’s such a big industry and there’s a lot to learn. You get to meet some really nice people and drink some nice stuff. “Barry and Jeff are both so knowledgeable. Jeff could tell you the history of rum off the top of his

head, which is pretty impressive, and Barry is really good at knowing exactly which vintage has done well and what’s not so great. It’s fascinating to listen to them. People always say that they are two of the nicest people in the wine industry and I would agree with that.” Two years into her role at StarmoreBoss and Hannah is running the tastings, she has buying responsibilities (two of the wines she has sourced and purchased are in the store’s top 20 wines), and according to Jeff, she is continuing to flourish. “It’s been really good to see that progression,” he says. “I would imagine at some point she’ll be picked up by one of the wine companies as an ambassador or something like that. Her future potential is huge.”

Hannah wins a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 Year Old. If you’d like to nominate a Rising Star, email

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 14


Walt Lø Riesling

Boina Branco 2019

Stoptober is over (did it actually get going this year?)

Even the winemakers aren’t exactly sure what grapes

taste much like wine. This one can be considered a

kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. It’s a jolt to the

and Dry January is on the way. De-alcoholised wines are notoriously problematic, mainly because they rarely

quite pleasant alternative to Shloer, with apple juice and peach flavours and not too much sweetness – even a hint

of petrol, according to some, with keener noses than ours. RRP: £8.99

ABV: 0.5%

Awin Barratt Siegel (01306 631155 )

have gone into this slightly bonkers Douro white: the

90-year-old vineyard that they discovered is full of all

system, fizzing with citrus tartness and a lovely sour

grapefruit edge. The texture is vaguely chalky, there’s a touch of salinity on the finish, and frankly we love it. RRP: £17.95

ABV: 12.5%

Swig (0208 995 7060)

Flora & Fauna Rosé Vin de France 2019

Font de Joubert Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017

Finding wines under a tenner that won’t disappoint

If indies are going to help rehabilitate Châteauneuf

Liam Steevenson MW, is worth exploring. This crisp

It wears its alcohol level lightly, thanks to its gently

after years of supermarket atrocities, here’s a wine,

is one of the essential skills of the modern wine

from the Charrier family, that will help the cause.

merchant and the Flora & Fauna range, created by

stinging acidity, while on the palate it’s all dark, dusky

Grenache/Carignan blend has a beeswaxy aroma,

fruits, with a touch of tar and a hint of candy. Fab.

gentle strawberry notes and a nice minty lift. RRP: £7.95

RRP: £32

ABV: 12.5%

ABV: 15%

Vindependents (020 3488 4548)

Global Wine Solutions (0117 915 4555)

Oedoria Crémant de Bourgogne NV

Moss Wood Amy’s Blend 2018

An exuberant crémant that wants to get the party

Sauvignon 76%, Merlot 8%, Malbec 8%, Petit Verdot

This Margaret River Bordeaux blend (Cabernet

started, this is 100% Chardonnay, with a good solid

8%) is taut and juicy, and still really a baby. That said,

structure. The first flavour you notice is unmistakably

the tannins are agreeable and the red fruit, black

citrus – perhaps even sherbet lemons – but there’s a

fruit, liquorice and oak flavours have melded pretty

deeper undercurrent of almonds and marzipan. Treat

successfully. So why take up valuable space in a wine

it seriously or just enjoy it – it’s great value either way. RRP: £19.99-£20.99

rack when you could unleash its charms right now?

ABV: 12.5%

RRP: £16.95

Daniel Lambert Wines (01656 661010)

ABV: 14%

Laytons Wine Merchants (01656 661010)

Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Ventopuro Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

From the Sonoma Mountain appellation, a cool, minty,

Ventopuro is part of Matetic, whose sustainable

rosewater and suggestions of something exotically

alive, with zippy acidity and a nice steely bite, but also

chocolatey Cabernet that glides across the palate

all too easily. There’s a little bit of smoke, a hint of

Middle Eastern, and then a cymbal clap of minerality on the finish. A cultured and compelling wine. RRP: £56

ABV: 14.6%

Top Selection (0845 410 3255)

winemaking credentials are appreciated by many an indie. This Casablanca Chardonnay tastes positively

lots of ripe tropical fruit flavours and a touch of orange on the palate.

RRP: £12.50

ABV: 13%

Vintrigue Wines (01207 521234)

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 15

Are we facing chaos in the freight system from January 1? The possibility is certainly there for “a chaotic few weeks”, says Chris Porter.

© Kalyakan /


That’s why importers are being

encouraged to make sure they are up to speed with the changes – and that the wineries they deal with are, too.

Porter adds: “Many importers are

stockpiling, but considering the impact of coronavirus, it’s difficult to gauge what is

regular ‘Q4 peak season’ and what is ‘safety

stock’ shipped to cover possible post-Brexit disruption.”

Is the Dover-Calais route likely to be a pinch point? It seems likely. “Whilst the latest Border Operating Model released by the

government represented a positive step

forward in terms of process detail, precise requirements relating to roll on, roll off

ferry ports, particularly the Calais-Dover routing, remain unclear,” Porter says.

One major concern is ensuring that all

relevant documentation is submitted in a

timely way. Another is the fact that Goods

Vehicle Movement System (GVMS, for nontransit shipments) will only be available from July 1, Porter says.

The shipping news VI-1s may be on hold, but there’s still a lot to take on board for a

in the European Union after January 1. Chris Porter o

Does that mean we can expect Rotterdam and then pick up a short-sea


from Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Moerdijk

What’s happening with the Excise

be scanned into the port system, closing

containers are craned on,” Porter explains.

by the EU. Suppliers will continue

to see wine shipments routed through other ports? Kukla expects to bring in more shipments and Rotterdam – “those ports where the

service into Tilbury or Purfleet.”

Movement Control System (EMCS)?

ship pulls up alongside the quay and the

Porter explains: “EMCS will be retained

and that gives the haulage, freight-

individual ARC number that follows the

“These are unaccompanied shipments

forwarding and broker communities a little bit more breathing space to handle the

customs formalities. For example, a typical routing from Italy into the UK, certainly

to the home counties area, would go into

to raise the eAD [which creates an

movement throughout its journey] with their Movement Guarantee, but it will

be consigned to the last EU exit port as

opposed to a UK tax warehouse [bond] – or REDS declarant, in the case of duty-paid

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 16

He adds: “As the container or trailer

arrives safely into the EU port, the ARC will the eAD and discharging the EU wine

supplier’s Movement Guarantee liability. The UK will retain EMCS for movements

between domestic ports, tax warehouses and bonds.”

How will duty be collected? The existing CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import & Export Freight) system

currently only handles New World wines.

What other paperwork is required? Along with the eAD, and commercial

invoice, an EX1 will be needed. Porter

says: “We are working with customers

and their producers to assist with the EX1 requirement. At the point of loading, we

will capture all three documents which will be saved to an ‘electronic envelope’ that

can be made available to all parties in the chain.”

A VI-1 (the controversial form which

describes the wine and includes lab

analysis) is not currently required, but the government plans to make this a requirement from July 1, 2021. What’s an EX1 form?

Porter explains: “The EX1 – otherwise

known as the EAD (not to be confused

with the eAD) – is a standard EU export

document that generates the Movement

s: life after Brexit ny wine merchant planning to do business with wine exporters

of Kukla Beverage Logistics explains the new process

The next generation system, the Customs

“There’s just not enough agents, brokers,

Declaration Service (CDS), won’t be ready

clearance and data entry clerks to support

upgraded and will be fit for purpose for

three years ago to bring our customs

until at least September.

“We’ve been told that CHIEF has been

Brexit,” says Porter.

Are there sufficient customs brokers and intermediaries? That looks highly unlikely. “On a

headline level, there are some 55 million

declarations pre-Brexit and there will be a

conservative 255 million declarations postBrexit,” says Porter.

what’s coming.

“We at Kukla took the strategic decision

clearance activity in-house. Having

achieved Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certification and secured all

necessary customs approvals, we opened

our customs clearance division in June and are scaling up our staffing to support the

year-end transition. In context of what we

need to do for our customers, we are Brexit ready.”

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 17

Reference Number. The MRN is another essential part of the arrival formalities

into EU ports, without which access will

be denied. Once safely arrived into the EU port, the EX1 is automatically closed.”

Is everyone in the supply chain aware of the challenges ahead? Put simply, no. There is a slightly

misguided view that negotiations between the UK and the EU will conclude with a free-trade agreement and that this will

simplify things. The reality is, irrespective of deal or no deal, the UK will leave the

EU customs territory and from January

1, export and import declarations will be mandatory.

“There will be some pain,” Porter

warns. “The key challenge is to encourage wineries and their customers in the

UK to engage and to understand the new export formalities. From there, a collaborative approach with UK forwarders and stakeholders to ensure compliance.”

Rathfinny’s vineyards are three miles from the Channel

The tasting packs fit neatly through letterboxes, with samples staying fresh for “at least a year”


BAG S O F Tring Winery sends out its wine samples in Capri-Sun style pouches, and they’re a big hit with their online tasting community


ring Winery was just hitting its stride as a wine shop and bar when lockdown hit. The team have put their considerable talents to the test and launched a virtual wine tasting programme complete with creative packaging and a YouTube channel. Co-owner Jamie Smith explains: “We only opened in the middle of February and our idea was that we’d be a winery, a wine shop, a tasting room. Then lockdown happened and we were like, ‘what do we do?’ We took big bottles of wine and poured them into little bottles and hand-delivered them in the local area and talked through the wines with people.” Customers loved the idea and started recommending it to friends all over the UK, and that’s when Smith and business partner Alex Taylor decided they needed to rethink. It took them six months to research and refine the packaging and the result is sample-sized bag-in-boxes that neatly fit through a letterbox. Smith admits that this has required a “massive investment,” but they are now the proud owners of a machine that allows them to repackage the wine from a bottle into foil bags, “a bit like a Capri-Sun”. A blast of nitrogen to get rid of the oxygen before sealing it up and putting inside a cardboard sleeve, and it’s good to go. “We’ve been told the wine will be kept fresh for at least a year, but we’re doing some trials to see for ourselves,” says Smith. “It’s lightweight, it’s better environmentally than shipping bottles backwards and forwards, but it has been a labour of love. We’ve still got a couple of tweaks to do with the machine – we know when we sent them out [for the pre-launch tasting] there were a couple of leakages from the pouches, so we need to have a play around with the gas pressure.” September saw the soft launch of the virtual tastings,

which comprised a very relaxed studio-style presentation by Smith and Taylor of the wines to an audience of 110 people who were invited to post questions and comments on the live feed. The broadcast ahad some help from Kiwi winemaker Hermann Seifried, who shot some footage on his estate with his iPhone especially for the event. “The wineries and makers are really excited to get on board,” says Smith. “We’re doing something a little bit different and they want to support us. Hamish Clarke over at Saint Clair sat down with me for an hour and a half to talk about his wines. Wines of New Zealand have some amazing content on their website and they let us use some of it. “What’s in the glass has to be good – that’s hugely important – but if we can tell the story at a tasting and give people a sense of place; a look at the vineyard, a glimpse in the cellar …” There are a variety of options that people can sign up for. The Discoverer is designed to “help people build their confidence so that when they go to a wine shop they are not frozen in the aisle,” Smith explains. “They can make an informed decision. “The Adventurer level is a bit more of a deep-dive. Either way, we never want it to seem like a wine lecture. We want people to get involved and ask questions. “I hope it’s a bit of excitement, not at all snobby, and I hope it helps them discover something new. “It’s a really good value wine tasting – if you opt for a couples’ pack for six months, it works out at £16 per person per month. Five wine samples is the magic number right now because you can keep it to around an hour to an hour and a half. Less than that it doesn’t feel like a night out – or a night in – and any more than that, people just want you to stop talking!”


Sales director Alastair Moss (left) with Akos Forczek Photo: Hoda Davaine


eing named Fine Wine Merchant

of the Year was a pleasing way for

Top Selection to celebrate its 20th

anniversary. The accolade, presented in the Sommelier Wine Awards, was a gratifying

recognition for Akos Forczek and his team, and the way they have tried to shape their business over the past two decades.

Of course, Top Selection won the same

prize in 2019, and 2018 as well. Clearly,

this is a business that’s getting a lot right,

In its 20-year history, Top Selection has put together an eclectic portfolio, full of quirky as well as classic wines. But there’s nothing random about the line-up. Look closer and the wines share some common themes: balance, freshness, and remarkable value for money, whatever the price point. No wonder Akos Forczek’s team are winning so many accolades

and not only when there’s a milestone anniversary to acknowledge.

“Yesterday, we had an independent

merchant here doing a tasting with us,”

says Forczek, speaking from Top Selection’s smart offices a short walk from the Thames.

“I lined up about 30 wines and asked

him, ‘why do you like working with Top Selection?’ and he said: ‘The reason

is because your wines live up to your company’s name. All the wines I try,

Sponsored feature

irrespective of the price point, the quality is always there’.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 20

“He also said that when he tries one of

a Romanian Ice Wine. These are the things

The Top Selection range spans the

Baltà in Spain it was just Parés Baltà in

our wines at £25 a bottle, he could sell it for £35 – the wines over-deliver.”

continents and includes quirky as well

as classic styles. But the common thread, according to Forczek, is freshness and elegance.

“We buy as a team,” he explains. “For us

it’s about the ease of drinking: freshness, good length in the mouth, not being

overwhelming or having too much of

that happen.

“When I originally started with Parés

Penedès, then they went to Priorat, and

then to Ribera del Duero, so now we have wines from all three wine regions from them, and they are equally excellent.”


op Selection has built up a loyal

following in the independent trade and is keen to expand its business

anything; well-integrated oak.

with the sector.

keep repeating it like a parrot to everyone:

– and we are not looking to be in every

“My friend told me one day that there

are three things that matter in wine and I balance, balance and balance.

“Honestly, I can’t put it better than that.

It’s true.”


op Selection works with more than 80

producers in 24 countries. “We try not to work with competing people from

the same wine region,” Forczek says. “That comes from my personality; I believe in something and I go for it.

“You go to some people and they might

have eight Riojas. I can’t work like that – if I have something that I believe in, then I

focus on that, and that’s what we work on.” The roster grows organically but is

essentially “very stable”.

“I think as a company we evolve with

our winemakers. Whether we are very

good judges of character or we are just lucky, I don’t know, but the people we work with tend to adapt their wine as the years go along.

“They do interesting things:

like Kracher [the Austrian

producer] went into a joint venture to make wine in

Transylvania, so now we have

“We are not looking to have short-term

ad-hoc partnerships with our retailers shop,” Forczek says.

“In other words, we have preferred

partnerships with retailers in different

areas – we don’t want relationships with

six or seven retailers in a small area. We’d rather work with a handful we can fully

support and not create competition with each other in the same region.”

The company believes it has every tool

at its disposal to help its independent partners, from samples to help with

tastings to video and social media content. Indies are already seeing their online

sales boom and Forczek is convinced the trend is here to stay.

“Consumer behaviour is

fundamentally changing,” he says.

“They say something like 20% of

shopping happens online and I think

this will massively increase and it is

SOME PORTFOLIO HIGHLIGHTS Alves de Sousa Domingos Alves de Sousa inherited his family’s quintas in 1987. After studying viticulture in Bordeaux and his native Portugal, acquiring additional properties and constructing a modern cellar at Quinta da Gaivosa, he released his first vintage in 1991. Egon Müller Müller produces Germany’s most acclaimed Rieslings. The combination of the fantastic Scharzhofberger terroir, the greatest Grand Cru in Germany, and Egon’s genius as a winemaker, result in wines of incredible minerality, fruit, acidity and perfect balance. Duckhorn Vineyards Co-founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976, Duckhorn has spent 40 years establishing itself as one of North America’s premier producers of Napa Valley wines. Istvàn Szepsy In 1631, Szepsy Laczko Mate was the first man to ever write down how to make Tokaji Aszú. Eighteen generations later, now under István Szepsy’s direction, the same standards remain. Kracher Located in the Seewinkel, an area in the Burgenland region of Austria, the Kracher Winery benefits from a microclimate perfect for the generation of botrytis.

here to stay.

“People are happy to receive food

and wine at home and we need to

be prepared for that. That’s why

having indies is paramount in getting

our wines out there to the consumer.

They are our ambassadors.”

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 21

ight ideas r b

17: pop-up cheese market Abi & Chris Connolly Connolly’s, Birmingham

In a nutshell … “Our thoughts are turning to lockdown and general misery, but we can console ourselves with cheese and wine. All being well we’re going to run our cheese market every Saturday up until Christmas.” Yum, yum – tell us more … “Our bar, Arch 13, has a very strong wine and cheese focus and we are quite proud of our cheeses – they are exceptionally good. “Like any other hospitality venue at the moment, our bar has struggled during Covid so we have just tried to come up with something a little bit creative. “We have about 15 cheeses for sale at the market at any one time and our team are really well versed in which cheeses go well with which wines – so we can make recommendations rather than sticking to the usual suspects, which can often be a bit of a myth. Things like port don’t necessarily always go well with cheese.”

Give us a top cheese and wine match. “Well, at the moment it’s Rioja month and so we have Riojas on taste every weekend anyway. Mature Cheddar and mature Red Leicester work really well with a red Rioja.

The cheese market has around 15 types to choose from every Saturday

“Birmingham doesn’t have many local cheeses but we try to focus on the UK. The odd French one gets in there sometimes. We have UK alternatives to classic European cheeses, so instead of a Pecorino we’ve got a Spenwood – a hard cheese from Berkshire – and we have British Brie and Camembert styles.” Does it involve a lot of prepping? “For us it is quite easy because we already stock the cheese and the staff are already trained. “Victoria takes everything over from

Arch 13 to the Solihull store to set up and there is equipment there, as before the March lockdown we had just geared up to start doing cheeseboards for the newly refurbished upstairs area. “I would suggest to anyone wanting to do it from scratch to get the cheese in pre-cut and pre-wrapped and have them ready for people to buy.” That sounds too Gouda be true! “Well, we did it for the first time a couple of weeks ago – and it exceeded expectations.”

Chris and Abi win a WBC gift box containing a some premium drinks and a box of chocolates. Tell us about a bright idea that’s worked for your business and you too could win a gift box. Email

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 22


SIXTY YEARS IN THE MAKING The latest Glenfarclas single malt dates back to 1959. It’s a magnificent conclusion to a story that almost started with a disaster at the Highland distillery


amily-owned distillery Glenfarclas has released a 60-year-old single malt.

Dating back to 1959, only 105 bottles

of this whisky are being released to the

market. The whisky is bottled in a handblown Glencairn Crystal decanter, set

within a hand-crafted presentation box designed by Royal Warrant Holder NEJ Stevenson.

For John Grant, fifth generation and

current chairman, this is a once-in-a-

lifetime whisky; he was a young boy in

1959, in his last year at the local primary

school, when his father put this whisky into a Sherry Hogshead cask in which to mature over the next 60 years.

The year 1959 did not start well for

Glenfarclas. At 2am on January 1 the

The presentation box is made from English oak and lined with suede

The single malt

stillman on duty had rather overindulged

Tasting note by George S Grant, sixth

was almost catastrophic. When the valve

• Cask: 1820 sherry hogshead

escaped everywhere. Fire hoses stopped

• Colour: A rich, dark golden whisky

in Hogmanay celebrations and forgot to

generation and sales director

was opened, the heat and volume of liquid

• Strength: 40.9% abv

open a valve on the wash still; the result broke the spirit safe and boiling alcohol

the alcohol igniting, but most of the wash had to be replaced.

The insurance company suggested that

the distillery might cease operations over Hogmanay in the future. Ever since, it has

been closed over Christmas and New Year.

• Number of bottles: 105

• Nose: Christmas cake steeped in

Scottish business Glencairn Crystal, the

ultimate manufacturer of bespoke crystal and glass.The Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

decanter is produced from the highest

quality 30% lead crystal, renowned for its ultra-clarity to allow the full colour and

richness of the whisky to shine through.

The box

Glenfarclas, spice, orange and dark

This presentation box has been hand-

the palate; Christmas pudding drenched

whisky inside. It was produced by royal


• Taste: Christmas flavours continue on in brandy butter and set alight. A silky-

smooth dram with rich, dark spice in the mouth

• Finish: A wonderful complex dram that

oozes flavours of marzipan and Christmas sherry. A traditional, old-style Glenfarclas.

The decanter

For this historical project, it was only

fitting to work with fellow family-owned

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 23

crafted from English oak and lined with

suede to create a keepsake worthy of the warrant holder NEJ Stevenson.

Find out more

Visit or Twitter: @Pol_Roger


Favourite Things


Fake Sassicaia ring raided near Milan Italian police have broken up a ring producing counterfeit Sassicaia wine, a variety considered among the finest in the world that sells for hundreds of

are set to get the chance to try Prosecco DOC rosé wines in the coming months. Decanter, November 3

euros a bottle. Officials from the Guardia di Finanza said

the sophisticated counterfeit operation bottled inferior wine from Sicily in a

Geoff Utting La Zouch Cellars Leicestershire

Favourite wine on my list

Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Caillerets. An absolutely super wine. Light, delicate, lots of fruit, no oak; a pleasure to share with friends and not acquaintances.

Favourite wine and food match

I would have scallops followed by poached salmon with fresh English asparagus and new potatoes, with a bottle of Alsatian Gewürztraminer Grand Cru. To finish: fresh English raspberries and ice cream with Muscat Beaumes de Venise – probably not the ideal wine, but I just love it.

warehouse near Milan, with meticulously

reproduced labelling and cases that came from Bulgaria.

“The bottles and the packaging were

perfectly identical to the originals,” Dario Sopranzetti, a colonel in the financial

police, said. “Even the weight of the tissue paper was the same.”

Two men, a father and son, have been put

under house arrest and 11 others placed

under investigation following an operation launched last year, when a fake case of the wine fell off a truck and was found on the roadside.

Reuters, October 14

Favourite drinks shop

Gordon & MacPhail’s shop in Elgin; I think this place is just amazing. They have everything. I would suggest everyone should go to this shop.

One of Britain’s biggest direct winesellers is being put up for sale after seeing a surge in sales to locked-down Virgin Wines has drafted in advisers to

Favourite wine trip

Favourite wine trade person

Virgin Wines looks into sell-off options

British consumers. help it explore strategic options for the

A trip to the Champagne region visiting the House of Gosset. It was a very informative visit and we had the opportunity to taste a range of wines from Gosset and also tried two wines from their library stock.

Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Ian Murray, a Scotsman working for First Drinks. Ian was responsible for looking after my account. Sadly, Ian’s life was taken somewhat quickly but we had many happy hours chatting away over a glass of single malt whisky.

Virgin Wines was started in 2000


The company, which licenses the Virgin

brand from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Packaging was “meticulously reproduced”

Prosecco rosé is now an actual thing

empire, last changed hands seven years ago, in a £16m management buyout.

It had previously been owned by Direct

Wines, having been established in 2000. Sky News, October 30

• Tributes have been paid to Taras Ochota,

Sparkling rosé wines made under

the much-loved and highly respected

the Prosecco DOC banner have been

winemaker of the Adelaide Hills region, who

approved for export.

has died. He was best known for the Ochota

Prosecco rosé has made its debut in the

UK on November 2, with Aldi selling bottles of the new DOC sparkling online for £6.49.

Fans around the world, from the US to Asia,

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 24

Barrels winery that he co-founded with wife Amber – an idea that had first come to the couple during a surfing road trip in 2000. Decanter, October 14

Tragedy of Norwich wine merchant



What drinks do you think will be most popular with your customers this Christmas?

There’s never a bad time of year for Champagne but the bubbles are synonymous with celebration. I’d love to see an increase in sales across the sparkling range – we see many opt for excellent English fizz as their go-to celebratory tipple. We also tend to notice an increase in sales of sweet and fortified wines as the weather turns colder. My best pairing suggestion for the day itself will be a generous glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry with Christmas pudding and quality vanilla ice cream.

A wine merchant who brought a slice of French culture to Norwich in the form of a wine bar and deli has died aged 49. In October 2015 Damien Cabanis, who

was born in Brittany, opened Les Garrigues, a French wine bar and deli in St John

Maddermarket. In 2018, Les Garrigues

merged with Louis Deli and after raising more than £14,000 in a crowdfunding campaign relocated to Upper St Giles.

He died on Sunday, October 25. The cause of death was given as hanging.

Eastern Daily Press, October 29

• Treasury Wine Estates has launched a new trade portal for its luxury e-commerce platform The Winery Collection.It opens up

Jake Bennett-Day Vino Gusto @ The One Bull, Suffolk

There will be those who are budget-minded and those with excess money. We mostly operate as a wine bar but now we’re going to swing back to being a shop and our hamper things have already started rolling in. We love having our big cheese selection and at Christmas we switch to some classics and ramp it up with a bit more of an English focus – it’s a good time of year to do that.

access to the Australian wine group’s luxury

Kirsty Tinkler Weino BIB, London

and fine wine portfolio including names such as Penfolds, Wynns, Beringer and Maison de

Grand Esprit.

Gin crackers are proving very popular – it’s a miniature gin in a cracker and it really has captured the imagination. A lot of people are going for gin, vodka or whisky miniatures to try different things out rather than spending on a big bottle. I think they want to increase their chances of not being too disappointed! The lead-up to Christmas has been a little bit slower than last year. In Scotland we’re not in lockdown yet, but I think it will happen and people are getting out now and securing their Christmas purchases.

The Drinks Business, November 6

The wine cafe deemed ‘too fancy’

An Edinburgh wine cafe ordered to close by a council for serving food it

Alan Irvine The Scottish Gantry, Glasgow

considered “too fancy for a cafe” has won a court order to remain open following the allegations. One20 Wine Cafe in Dundas Street,

which is also an off-licence and art gallery,

was forced to close after City of Edinburgh Council alleged it was trading in breach of Covid-19 regulations – which they emphatically denied.

Owners Ronnie and Kyle Reid claimed

the council’s main argument for closing the premises was that the food was too

upmarket for the venue to be considered a cafe.

Premium whisky will be a big push for us, and Italian wine is a big category for us. We are beside some supermarkets so in order to have a marked point of difference we do tend to go for the slightly more obscure – in our area, anyway. Greco di Tufo does quite well, Falanghina and Aglianico do very well for us and Amarones do very well too, from the classic level to the top tiers. Bordeaux and Rioja are popular too. The premium is always there, no matter what – it’s just tapping into it. But you can see people looking at core value so the promotional lines are also very strong at the moment. Glenn McGarry, McGarry’s Fine Wines, Belfast

Champagne Gosset The oldest wine house in Champagne: Äy 1584

The Scotsman, October 26

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 25

As one of the most acclaimed wine regions in the world, the more you know about Rioja, the more interesting it becomes – and the more you want to know. But in a dynamic region that is developing fast even as it stays true to its traditions, how do you stay up to date with all the latest developments? It all comes down to education, which is why Rioja Wine UK has come up with a variety of ingenious ways to keep wine merchants and other members of the trade abreast of what’s going on in Spain’s top wine region right now.


n the run-up to Christmas, a key part of Rioja’s educational efforts will be focused on an innovative series of tutored Rioja

tastings, each covering a different aspect of the region’s varied production. Inspired by the Rioja Wine Academy – the free online educational platform launched by the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja earlier this year – the Rioja Wine Academy Bootcamp will feature four sessions, which,

Christmas term at t

as Rioja Wine UK puts it, are designed to get “members of the trade in peak Rioja fitness,

with a tasting sheet and tasting brochure to

ready for the (albeit slightly unusual this year)

follow along in the exercise, plus some extra

writer with a Spanish specialism, and the

Christmas trading period, bringing the Rioja

POS to sport around town.

author of respected annual guide to the Rioja’s

region to life and getting the trade excited about Spain’s flagship wine region.”

The Bootcamp kicked off in October with

On November 19, another leading wine

best wines, Tim Atkin MW, took recruits

a session hosted by one of the UK’s leading

through an introductory session, This is

Spanish wine experts, the journalist Sarah

Rioja, with special emphasis on its unique

world-renowned wine expert and is designed

Jane Evans MW, who talked her recruits

geographical and climatic features as well

to help wine merchants fine-tune their Rioja

through the region’s classic (and highly

as its portfolio of grape varieties which lend

knowledge and take their passion, knowledge

Christmas-friendly) aged styles.

themselves to both blending and increasingly

Each free online session will be hosted by a

and enthusiasm directly to the consumer. Bootcamp recruits will receive a training kit

Entitled Age is Not Just a Number, Evans’ session went behind the scenes of Reserva and

ahead of the online session which will include

Gran Reserva wines, and the reasons for their

all the essential gear – six Rioja wine samples

astonishing longevity.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 26

for the production of high-quality single varietal wines. On November 26, Evans takes up the baton again to talk recruits through some of the

Rioja Wine Academy: take your Rioja knowhow to the next level The Bootcamps are just one part of a major educational drive on the part of Rioja Wine UK and the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja this year. No less enticing for those who want to expand their knowledge of the region is the Rioja Wine Academy – a free online educational platform for Rioja lovers, both trade and consumer, featuring a range of courses which can be completed online, at the student’s own speed. The Rioja Wine Academy is currently offering four courses: Rioja Wine Diploma: for those who want to learn more about the world of Rioja, its distinguishing features and what makes the wines what they are. Fully online course, free of charge and with unlimited places. Diploma in Rioja Wine for Trade & Distribution: provides a full education in Rioja wine but is geared towards anyone working in sales and marketing, complete with a market launch plan. Fully online course, free of charge and with unlimited places.

the Rioja Academy most exciting developments in Rioja in the past couple of years, in a session entitled Not Your Average Rioja. Evans will be looking at the superb wines now being sold under the new Viñedo Singular category and will also guide recruits through lesser-spotted gems such as singlevarietal Garnacha. Finally, on December 1, Atkin returns for a session entitled There’s a Rioja for That, which will show just how much variety there is on offer today and how well the wines of the region lend themselves to food pairing.

Upcoming Bootcamp sessions November 26 Not your Average Rioja, Sarah Jane Evans MW December 1 There’s a Rioja for That, Tim Atkin MW Register via #riojawine #riojabootcamp @RiojaWines @RiojaWine @RiojaWine

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 27

Diploma in Rioja Wine Tourism: all you need to know about how to make the most of a key part of modern Rioja’s offer, wine tourism, this course will teach you about, among other things, “implementation of experiences, activities, customer service, situation management, wine and tasting services”. Fully online course, free of charge and with unlimited places. Rioja Wine Certified Educator: you’ll need at least two years’ proven experience in the educational and training fields if you want to sign up for a course that promises to enable participants to “expand their knowledge and the rigour of their training discourse when it comes to conveying and explaining what Rioja is and what makes the region a benchmark in terms of high-quality wines”. Rioja Wine UK Find online courses from the Rioja Wine Academy at: #riojawine #riojawineacademy

The great escape Missing visits to European vineyards? Aching to discover new wines and catch up with winemaking friends? Then maybe jump aboard a refurbished VW camper van and see where you end up. Chix Chandaria of The Wine Parlour in south London and partner Norman Comfort did just that – and it was probably the best 10 weeks they could possibly have spent. Photography: Francesca Romana Gaglione

‘I hadn’t done a lot of planning, to be honest …’


his year, the vineyards of mainland Europe have

felt a long way away. But not for Chix Chandaria of The Wine Parlour in south London.

For 10 weeks, she and partner Norman Comfort left the

trials of lockdown Britain behind them, mothballed one of their two shops, and set out on a 5,000-mile journey,

visiting wine producers in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

Their conveyance was a 55-year-old VW camper van,

recently refurbished and fitted with a 2-litre Subaru

engine. The couple used it as their accommodation for all but two nights of their adventure, staying at half-empty

campsites where social distancing was straightforward. “It was amazing to take the van and travel through

Europe and meet our winemakers we work with,” says Chix.

“We went down one side of France, all the way through

wine regions, starting in Champagne. There’s a young

girl who used to work for us who now works for a lovely

artisan Champagne house, so we met her there. Then we

went to Jura, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Savoie and the Rhône. “The idea was to go to Spain, but the Covid cases there

went up almost as soon as we started our travels, so we

turned left into Italy. We went to Piedmont and Abruzzo. We met with a Barolo producer who we don’t import

from, but we do sell his wine, and we met with someone in Abruzzo who we’ve been working with for 10 years, importing his wine.

“Then it was Switzerland and into the Mosel where we

met Rudolph Trossen, a fantastic biodynamic Riesling producer, whose wines we’ve been selling.”

The couple found a warm welcome everywhere, even

when they were cold calling.

“We made some new discoveries for sure,” says Chix.

“We were being quite cowboy. We were stopping

at various places we didn’t really know. A lot of them

weren’t represented in the UK; some were all right and

some were really great. I hadn’t done a lot of planning, to

be honest, but it was quite easy to knock on doors and get in to do a tasting.

“Quite a few friends came and met us along the way and

we introduced them to different wines.”

What was her personal highlight? “I’m a Nebbiolo

fanatic, so Barolo and Barbaresco are absolutely my thing. “In Barolo itself there’s a really cool wine bar run by

quite a young guy. We’ve been there before. We sent home a box of wine from there for ourselves. The van would get too hot and it’s too bumpy. The idea is potentially to get a trailer for next year so we can carry more wine.”

There weren’t many low points, although Chianti was

something of a wash-out. “Sadly, because I’m a big fan of Chianti, that was our worst bit because it just rained for 48 hours and we were in the middle of nowhere,” says Chix. “But that was as bad as it got.”


he Brixton shop was kept running smoothly by its usual team, with Chix staying in touch via

WhatsApp and keeping on top of accounts and

orders on her laptop.

The plan is to embark on another European tour in

2021, probably taking in Spain. “I think travel is always rejuvenating, and visiting people we work with just

reminded us that there is stuff that needs to be sold,” says Chix. “And it was really a great time to be away.

“I got into wine because I’m passionate about the

product. Visiting the wineries so you can sell the story

and the product, having met and drunk with the people who make it, makes so much difference.”

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 30

Norman (second left) and Chix (seated, third left) visiting Tenuta i Fauri in Abruzzo

The VW spent 18 months being repaired and refurbished, and will also be used for Wine Parlour events

Zooming in on Tannat Nowhere is this beguiling variety more at home than in south west France, where it produces wines that aren’t simply tannic and alcoholic, but full of fruit, freshness and balance


ne of France’s most adventurous and quality-focused co-operatives, Plaimont is a familiar feature on the UK’s independent scene. Founded in the late 1970s, the organisation now works with over 800 growers who between them cover more than 5,000ha of vineyard in the Saint Mont, Madiran, Pacherenc de Vic-Bilh and Côtes de Gascogne appellations, and it has been hugely influential in shaping the modern-day vinous reputation of the entire Gascony region. There’s a long history of wine production going back at least as far as Roman times in this bucolic corner of south west France – although wild vines (vitis silvestris) flourished here in the foothills of the Pyrenees long before, and the region is now known to be the birthplace of a number of grape varieties, including Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Today, perhaps the outstanding red varietal performer for both Plaimont and the region is another local: Tannat. As Plaimont MD and winemaker Olivier Bourdet-Pees says, the reputation of Tannat has no doubt been boosted by its presence in some heavyweight red wines produced in contemporary Uruguay and Argentina. But there is something truly special about the Tannat that’s produced in its original home. “It’s the main grape here in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s powerful, but in our region we can make different kinds of wines,” Bourdet-Pees says. “If you want roundness and easy drinking, maybe this isn’t the place. But what you do get here – the signature of Tannat in the foothills – is freshness and tension. It’s one of the best regions in France for keeping this balance close.”

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 32

Tasting Tannat Those characteristics came through beautifully in a fascinating tasting of eight Tannat wines exploring the various terroirs of Madiran and Saint Mont, which was hosted (via Zoom) by Bourdet-Pees and his colleague Céline Dabadie, and attended by some of the UK’s leading independent merchants and wholesalers. The event kicked off with the second

Feature sponsored by Plaimont Plaimont works with a number of regional wholesalers and is offering these wines to the UK trade for the first time. For more information, visit

important in keeping potential alcohol in check.

The terroir of Tannat Another Tannat talent on display at the tasting was the variety’s ability to express terroir – and showcasing that ability is the raison d’être of Vignobles Marie Maria, a new range of Tannats sourced from vineyards grown on three of Madiran’s main soil types. As Bourdet-Pees says, the range is very much a collaboration that involves “a lot of work between Plaimont and the specific growers”. The range takes in Grèvière, from a terroir of gravelly-clay found in the warm south of Madiran; Veine, from a terroir of large pebbles unique to Madiran’s highest altitudes, and which, says BourdetPees, is “traditionally considered the top terroir” of the appellation; and Argilo, from the clay-limestone vineyards found on the appellation’s steepest slopes. The differences in character are immediately apparent, from the supple black fruit and liquorice of the Grèvière, through the powerfully structured Veine with what Bourdet-Pees calls its “huge skeleton”, to the density, power and polished tannins of Argilo. “I think Tannat transmits terroir very well,” says James Davis MW of Adnams. Oxford Wine’s Emily Silva agrees: “You can definitely feel clear differences between all the three wines.” Terroir expression was palpable, too, in the final trio of the tasting, three vintages of a single great Saint Mont estate. “Château de Sabazan is the terroir of Bas-Armagnac: a fawny sandy soil, a very famous and wonderful terroir that makes rounder softer wines,” Olivier says. As well as demonstrating the softer, more red-fruited style of Tannat produced in Saint Mont’s terroir, the de Sabazan trio also highlight the variety’s remarkable longevity.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 33

© M Carossio

vintage of a typically market-attuned Plaimont project, Chez Louisat Madiran 2018 – a wine that shows how Tannat’s attributes are ideally suited to making wines in a natural way, with as few additions as possible. “Something Tannat can do easily is make wines really close to the grape with nothing added,” Bourdet-Pees says. “Because of the tannins, we can avoid sulphur. A lot of wines made without SO2 are dangerous in their evolution, but, thanks to the tannin, that isn’t true here.” Fermented and aged in stainless steel at 10°C, Chez Louisat is a fresh, fruit-forward style of Tannat that, as Bourdet-Pees says, has an attractively “wild” quality. A deliciously “open expression of fruit” is also the hallmark of the second Madiran on show: Maestria 2018. The bestselling Madiran in the French on-trade, it’s sourced from the earliestproducing Tannat (plus a smaller proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon) vines in the Gers, with 20% of the blend matured for 12 months in two-year-old barrels. As with all the wines in the tasting, the Maestria shows how it’s possible to make Tannat in a highly drinkable style where the element for which the variety is most famous – strong tannin – is harmoniously integrated. For the Maestria cuvée that means playing with a small amount of microoxygentation. But for Plaimont the key to an appealing tannic texture lies in the vineyard as much as the winery. Among other things, that means being careful with yields. According to Bourdet-Pees, Tannat is a naturally productive grape that can easily reach yields in excess of 100hl/ha in Madiran and Saint Mont (and as much as 400hl/ha in Uruguay). Green harvesting is therefore essential, to have yields of no more than 50 to 60hl/ha (and much lower for highestquality cuvees) – a technique which is also

Argilo vigneron Georges Lascabannes

From the youthful vigour of the 2018, through the mellow “undergrowth” scents of 2008, to the sensuous, rounded 1998, the Château de Sabazan wines delighted the tasters – and provided yet more delicious proof that Tannat grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees is one of France’s greatest combinations of variety and terroir.

OUR TASTERS Steve Crosland, Tanners James Davis, Adnams Nick Hillman, Wineservice Mark Hull, Wine Net Michael McGarry, Sovereign Wines Andrew Sidebottom, Merchant Vintners Emily Silva, Oxford Wine Company Simon Wallace, Gusto Wines


In praise of the co-op In recent decades, Europe’s wine co-operatives have been dismissed as backward as buyers fixate on individual growers. But, says David Williams, there is plenty to admire in the way these collectives emerged out of times of crisis, and the wines they produce are by no means as unfashionable as some people assume


crisis is a moment of

opportunity. This bit of

boilerplate wisdom can come

across as a little glib at times. It’s especially unwelcome if it’s coming from someone

who is patently not experiencing a crisis in the same way that you are.

“An opportunity for what, and for whom?”

you might well ask, as the visibly well-fed politician continues his lecture on how

many great entrepreneurs emerged from a childhood of extreme poverty and hunger. Still, if we look back at previous crises,

we may find that there is something worth retrieving at the core of a cliché that is too often deployed in bad faith. Humanity’s capacity for adaptability is at its most remarkably tenacious in the wake of

traumatic events, and this might make us

wonder what will emerge when (please not if) we emerge from this current moment. It’s a question that applies to the wine

industry as much as it does to wider

on what, to me, seem rather dispiriting


switch to online in many various and, quite

to rebuild their vineyards in the wake

society. Most predictions about the

post-Covid future of wine seem to focus

changes: as I wrote in these pages a couple

ertainly, most of the successful co-operatives operating today emerged in a time of crisis.

Think of the Cave de Ribeauvillé, formed

of months back, 2020 has accelerated the

in 1896 as the growers of Alsace looked

However you look at it, on this reading,

and military invasion. Or the Produttori

possibly, irrevocable ways.

the wine industry from now on will be a

whole lot less sociable and convivial than it was before the pandemic.

Looking back at how the wine world has

responded to previous crises in history, however, I wonder if some rather more

positive outcomes – outcomes that bring

people together rather than sealing them ever tighter in atomised bubbles –might not be possible.

Specifically, I’m wondering if the

2020s might not herald the renaissance of a particular type of production that

embodies collaboration – the European co-operative.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 34

of the twin catastrophes of phylloxera

del Barbaresco, which has a backstory

straight from an Italian neo-realist film,

with the local priest bringing the village’s growers together with a vision of highquality Nebbiolo after years in which

their livelihood was ravaged by economic depression and war.

And the foundational crisis needn’t be

world historical: Gascony’s Plaimont was

formed as a wine-producing collective as a

response to the collapse in Armagnac sales in the early 1970s.

It’s easy to see why co-operatives emerge

at such moments. The advantages of co-

operative membership are all heightened

© Prawny /

Regional pride and social solidarity could come in useful after a calamitous 2020

in times of need: the shared resources, from winemaking to promotion; the

economies of scale; the sheer reach that

an organisation of several hundred people, representing several thousand hectares

and millions of hectolitres, has, in terms of both lobbying and marketing, versus

working with your own couple of hectares, alone.

Still, for much of the past few decades,

the tendency has been to talk up the

individual grower and talk down the whole idea of the co-op.

How many times have you read a profile

of an exciting European grower who used

to sell to the local co-op but has now boldly struck out alone, after tiring of the politics

and the infighting? And how often have you spoken to a French, Spanish, German or

Italian wine entrepreneur who says how much would be possible if the truculent

growers at the local co-operative weren’t

holding the region back, the commitment

to buying up their growers’ harvest come

what may always meaning quality takes a back seat to quantity?


f course, we’ve all had

experiences of badly run co-

operatives: the buying (or press)

trip lowlight with its filthy, prison-like

1930s facilities, unironic 1980s labels and rancid wines. But if they are bad in what

seems like a distinctively co-op-y way, are they really so common? Are there more

bad co-ops as a proportion of the total than there are bad private wineries, big and small?

I’m not so sure there are. And, purely

in wine terms, Europe’s many well-run co-operatives are invariably a force for good, at their best acting as regional

ambassadors, helping to shape regional styles and best practice, and making

excellent mass-market and, in some cases, seriously fine, wines.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 35

Among the best you can most certainly

count Produttori del Barberesco, Cave de

Ribeauvillé and Plaimont. To that list you could add Le Cave de Tain in the Rhône,

Cantina Terlano in the Alto-Adige, Cantine

Settesoli in Sicily, Cavit in Trentino, Chablis’ La Chablisienne, the Wachau’s Domäne Wachau and (although its members

officially became shareholders when it became a limited company in the early

2000s) Bodegas Borsao in Campo de Borja,

while Champagne’s powerful co-operatives

are responsible for brands such as Jacquart and Nicolas Feuillatte.

There’s a commercial savvy behind

the success of each of the above. But it’s underpinned by something stronger: a

combination of regional pride and a social solidarity that will be more in need than ever as Europe’s producers attempt to

work their way back from – and find the opportunities created by – a disastrous 2020.


Š fotomomentfoto /

English wine producers take stock of a 2020 vintage ravaged by May frosts

Sauvignon Blanc is looking good for Lyme Bay. Could Gamay and Cabernet Franc be next?

Lyme Bay Winery, Devon: Grand cru fruit from Essex


was very consistent,” he says.

director James Lambert, was not just brutal

we’ve had this year for Pinot Noir from

yme Bay Winery may be based in

Devon, but it sources its fruit from 16 growers across the south of England.

This year’s frost, according to managing

as far as the 2020 vintage was concerned. It has also exposed which vineyards are

most likely to have a long-term future, and those which are going to struggle.

“There were some sites that suffered

from really late frosts in May,” he says. “For

us the Oxfordshire site was the worst – and the secondary shoots never really got to ripeness. The marginal sites really were affected.”

Lambert is increasingly excited about the

grapes coming out of parts of Essex, and

this year’s harvest has only reinforced that feeling.

“There’s an area just around the Crouch

Valley where we noticed the fruit was riper than elsewhere, and on top of that the fruit

“This year we had some Pinot Noir come

in from the Crouch Valley at 106 Oechsle, which is a record for the UK. The lowest the same area is 93 Oechsle. These are

extremely commercial levels of ripeness.

“Once you get to that level, you’ve got the

physiological ripeness, which allows you

to really go to town on extracting without

worrying about astringency – it becomes a virtuous circle.”

Lyme Bay is working on long-term

partnerships with its growers in the

Crouch Valley, where the river runs from west to east with south-facing vineyards

on the northern banks. Chardonnay is also thriving in the vicinity. “There are more and more vineyards popping up, and in

the next 10 years that particular area will become a like a grand cru for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Lambert predicts.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 37

Lyme Bay is not just pinning its hopes

on Burgundian varieties. It’s been a good year for Bacchus, and Lambert says the best results come from blending riper

and under-ripe fruit together. The variety is sometimes called England’s answer to

Sauvignon Blanc, but Lyme Bay is actually

investing in Sauvignon too, again in Essex. “We’ve got some Sauvignon Blanc in

barrel,” Lambert says. “It’s 97 Oechsle

and we’ll be planting three acres of that next year. It blew me away. This is ripe Sauvignon Blanc – it’s incredible.”

Lambert sees no reason why English

Riesling couldn’t be viable, and is also

exploring more ambitious red varieties.

“I think Shiraz might be quite interesting,

and people are talking about Cabernet

Franc and Gamay,” he says. “It’s only going to take one or two trailblazers in the right areas to try something and hit the market and people will follow.”

Charles Simpson with wife Ruth. Frost damage looks like being a one-in-three-years event, he says

Simpsons Wine Estate, Kent: A year for £100 still wines


impsons did its due diligence on its

three vineyard plots, the first of which was planted in 2014. “We were pretty

confident that we had relatively frost-free sites,” says Charles Simpson.

“What we hadn’t understood was how

warm we are in east Kent, and we have got very warm springs. We are surrounded by the sea on three sides, so we are getting

premature bud break and our exposure is much earlier than we had predicted. “In a normal year, we’d get a frost

incident maybe a maximum of three times, so you’re trying to fight frost for two or

three nights a year. But this year we had six, and three of them were in late April

and three of them were in May. It was the May frosts that were a big surprise.

“We lost between 45% and 50% of our


The silver lining in this particular cloud

is that the vines focused their energies on

the surviving buds, producing concentrated

factor in extreme weather.

company’s production.

all of your inputs, which never change

fruit that Simpson says will be “fabulous”

for the still wines that make up 40% of the “We are really excited about the quality

of the liquid in the winery,” he says, “even

though, frustratingly, there is not as much as we would have wanted. But that’s life. It’s what makes it so exciting.

“We’ve got some liquid that would

certainly look like high-end red Burgundy. We won’t do a cru classé every year but certainly this is a year where we would

launch a super-premium Chardonnay and a super-premium Pinot Noir.”

These wines, he says, may well end up

being the first still wines from England commanding a £100 price tag.

That would take some of the sting out of

the cashflow issues that the 2020 vintage might create, although Simpson says the business model is already geared up to

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 38

“This year our cost of production will

double. It’s a fixed-cost business. You take in the vineyard, really, and rather than

dividing it by what should have been 250 tonnes, you’re dividing it by 125 tonnes. “Consumers may remark that English

wine is expensive, but we have to build

into the cost of our wines the fact that you can have catastrophic frost. We thought it

was going to be one or two out of 10 years, whereas we were hit really hard in ’17 and

here we are in ’20, so that seems like every third year.”

The business is investing in paraffin

candles to use as bougies, having found

that frost fans aren’t particularly effective.

“We have no choice,” says Simpson. “They

are expensive, but if you’ve lost 100 tonnes, the relative cost of the bougies is almost nothing.”

Peter Hall is happy to accept his first frost damage in 44 years. “I’ve been bloody lucky.” Picture: Genevieve Stevenson

Breaky Bottom, Sussex: Rejoicing in a frost-bitten vintage


eter Hall is not used to frost. Since his first vines went in at Breaky Bottom in the mid 1970s, he’s barely seen

any in the growing season. This May, that situation changed, quite violently.

The downland vineyard is only a couple

of miles from the East Sussex coast and is normally protected by the sea.

“There was no warning at all,” says Hall.

“This was a beast from the Arctic, a very particular frost and it was very random,

hitting places that never get hit – while the places that usually get frost got none.”

To put that into context: Mount Harry

vineyard, just a few miles north, is not

significantly bigger than Breaky Bottom

but harvested 14 tonnes, while Hall settled for two and a quarter.

“This frost took away at least 80% of

my crop. We really were hit, and we had virtually bugger all,” says Hall.

“On the first day of picking we had two

tonnes in two separate presses. On the Sunday I thought we might get a third

press, but we got half a press, so we’ve got 1,750 litres quietly fermenting away.”

It must have been heart-breaking to see

so much damage. “It was,” Hall concedes. “But on the other hand, to have 44 years

of no problem and suddenly have a mega problem … I accept it. I’ve been bloody

lucky. And I rather like the challenge of

having a very small one-off crop which has never been made in its particular way, so we’ll see what happens.”

Breaky Bottom’s conundrum this year

is how to make the best of fruit picked at often quite varied stages of ripeness.

Hall remains upbeat. “We’ve had to taste

and see … but anyway, it’s worked out fine now. We need hardly any chaptalisation and we are going to have some really

interesting wine as never before seen at

Breaky Bottom, because of this balance of

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 39

marginally ripe grapes with good acidity

and very ripe grapes, which probably gave too much softness in the end.

“Who knows – in three, four, five years

from now, on the lees, it might make quite extraordinary individual wines.”

Breaky Bottom specialises in sparkling

wines, most of which derive much of their character from the Seyval grapes that account for 60% of planting.

Hall doesn’t have capacity to store

reserve wines and, in any case, prefers to make wines that reflect the vintage.

“I’m happy that way,” he says. “In fact,

by doing that, I’m not muddling a classic

Breaky Bottom taste, I’m rejoicing in the fact that each vintage is a one-off.

“This is a single-vineyard wine. Each

bottle is numbered, with the total number of bottles given on the label, and it means that every wine is going to be different – wonderfully.”


Spaced out It’s been an eventful year for all indies, and for Charles Wharton in particular. Having bought out his business partner and relocated to a retail park warehouse, he’d been open for just one day when lockdown hit. But, as Nigel Huddleston discovers, the larger premises have been a blessing, for lots of reasons

Anthony Reynolds, July 2020 The 4,500 sq ft warehouse is at Indian Queens, between Bodmin and Truro

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 40



n the face of it, the January move to new premises by Cornish independent Ellis Wharton

Wines doesn’t look like great timing.

“We spent two months getting the shop

and warehouse sorted, had the shop open for a day and shut it down in March,”

says owner Charles Wharton. On top of

that, co-founder David Ellis had retired in December, and Wharton had bought him out to become 100% owner.

“I’ve not had a day off since New Year’s

doing about £25m and when I left it was

or two trade customers had managed

the top-end of the wine list and the nicer

starting up the account again.

doing about £95m,” Wharton says. “But it was just beginning to lose interest in

customers, so it was a good time for me to move on and do something else.”

The company is a member of the

Independent Wine Buyers Consortium and employs six people (temporarily reduced to three during lockdown).

How did lockdown affect you in the

to drink through their cellars during

lockdown, so with them it was bit like We’ve had a good summer, a lucky

summer, but we’ve worked hard for it. You think you’re just about there and they go: 10pm curfew. We did see the orders drop off again but, touch wood, we’re going to be OK.

This all came just after the move. What

day,” he observes matter-of-factly.

early stages?

drove that?

ramped-up web orders and built-in social

We carried on doing home deliveries

disappeared, like it did for lots of other

The last address in Par [half an hour

people, and it just carried on from there.

was so small. We were spending a day

As it happened, the move to a bigger,

more modern site, with room to process distancing in the shop, proved to be advantageous.

“It’s probably helped,” says Wharton.

“Where we were, the shop was very small, wasn’t very visible and there wasn’t a

lot to show off. When we moved, we got

comments along the lines of it being a bit

of a statement – and I suppose it probably was.

“Having retail, internet and trade – three

parts of the business – is a good thing at the moment.”

Ellis Wharton’s spanking new 4,500 sq

ft unit is at Indian Queens off a junction of the busy A30, roughly midway between

Bodmin and Truro. One of Cornwall’s bestloved bakeries and a mountain bike shop

are in neighbouring units and the business park is still being developed with the

and the internet but 90% of the business You could feel trade sales going about a

week before. People were taking their foot off the pedal and not ordering any more,

just in case, and then the last three or four

He was the wine buyer for the wholesale

operation of local brewer St Austell when he and restaurateur Ellis decided to go

into business together in 2006. Their first customer was the chef Nathan Outlaw. “When I started at St Austell it was

Continues page 42

ringing up to say, “can we collect?”, so we

quietly opened the doors and got on with it.

We rarely get more than one or two

people in the shop at any one time anyway. The doors have been open through the

summer, and the back doors of the loading

bay, so there’s been a good flow of air going through. I like to think we’re relatively safe. How did things build back up?

make it work”. You just do, don’t you? One

towards retail.

warehouses. It was just getting crazy.

of June. We had more and more people

1,500 sq ft shop at the front, as Wharton looks to balance the business more

a week moving stock between the two

We reopened the shop towards the end

We hit the ground running when the on-

a 3,000 sq ft warehouse to the rear and a

an overflow warehouse because the site

days before lockdown it was nothing at all.

promise of more footfall to come.

Ellis Wharton has divided its unit into

away] had a very small shop and we had

trade opened on July 4. It was a case of

“we’ve got to get wine to everyone, let’s

Wharton started out with Ellis in 2006

‘We’ve had a good summer, a lucky summer, but we’ve worked hard for it. You think you’re just about there and they go: 10pm curfew’ THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 41


From page 41

We were looking for the best part of

12 months and then this came up. It was a little bit further to commute every

morning. We’re an hour, at most, from all our trade customers now. The location’s

great. Apparently, 40,000 cars go past that junction every day in the summer and

20,000 in the winter, so for the shop it made sense.

Part of the reason was to spread the risk

on the business by expanding the retail

side. From doing the small amount of retail business that we were doing over in Par

to potentially what we could do here just seemed like a very sensible decision.

How important is wholesale to you? We’re probably 85% trade, 15% retail. I’d like retail to be a third of the business to

spread the risk. Since we’ve been here, I’ve started buying different products for the

shop, just having a slightly different range for trade and for retail. It also allows me to buy small parcels of things, whereas

the trade needs consistency through the

year with the same lines. With the shop we can have some fun with parcels and put

something new on the floor every month and make it a bit more interesting.

Taking lockdown into account, has the move helped retail? We’ve certainly got more customers

coming through the door now and we got more profile from the lockdown by going into home deliveries. We’ve not really

started shouting about ourselves on social media just yet. It’s just been a bit of time on Facebook and Instagram saying we were doing home deliveries.

A lot of people have gone back to the

supermarkets. We’ve retained some of the nicer and bigger customers, which has

been great. People are finding us through

Google or word of mouth, coming in saying, “wow, this is great, we didn’t know you

were here, I’m going to tell all my friends”. That’s the best bit of advertising we can have.

The level of spend per transaction is

up as well. I think we can triple our retail turnover here in next year or two.

‘David and I always took the attitude that, if the business were to go wrong, let’s be left with a warehouse full of stuff we’d want to drink’ Have costs gone up? The previous place was an old prefab unit

with lots of potholes and puddles outside. It was relatively cheap but when it rained

customers were having to work out how to park so they didn’t step out into a pothole and get wet feet.

This is all nice and new with fresh

tarmac outside. It’s all super-insulated,

high-efficient, low-energy consumption.

Proportionally it might be marginally more expensive per square foot, but not a great deal more – and there’s a saving in not

having a person moving stock between warehouses one day a week. The extra

business we’ve picked up will hopefully pay for the rest of it.

Has your retail customer profile changed?

It’s great for distribution: 10 minutes to the

We’ve retained all our really nice

the square footage that we had before.

We’ve picked up a lot from Indian Queens

north coast, 25 minutes to the south coast. The rent is more but we’ve got double

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 42

customers who used to come and see us from Fowey and the surrounding areas.


and the north coast of Cornwall, and more

with. We’ve kept that philosophy all the

Hotel [a Newquay eco-hotel] opened up

Newquay. It was the only thing they could

the list.

being offered in Cornwall at the time, so

holidaymakers. We had a lovely couple in early July who’d rented an apartment in

get. Their Waitrose delivery had arrived, but the wine hadn’t. They Googled and

found us and spent £550. That was unusual

way through. There’s nothing in there I’ve bought purely on price or to fill a hole on Which suppliers have been most supportive?

they wanted a fully organic wine list that stretched the boundaries of what was

we worked very closely with them, playing with natural wines and figuring out what worked by the glass, by trial and error

– if only all my customers were like that –

When we started out, I wanted to do

Tell us about your wines. What’s your

grower-led and with a little of personality.


About 10 boxes of samples turned up a

European-led, probably because of my

but the opportunities are there to tap into. shopping list like when you’re buying? I do all of the buying and all of the selling, so if we’re left with lots of stock we can’t sell it’s my fault. I want to work with

smaller, family-owned wineries. We’ve got a few entry-point wines but most of what we sell is between £10 and £20 a bottle.

David and I always took the attitude that, if the business is going to go wrong, let’s

be left with a warehouse full of stuff we’d want to drink rather than wash the car

something a bit different to what I was

doing at St Austell, something that was

more than anything.

Do you have go-to countries for the

I was put in touch with Doug Wregg at

Half the list is probably French – and

week later, something like 100 different

palate more than anything else. Personally,

Les Caves de Pyrene and he was brilliant. bottles of wine, and we worked our way

through them. We’ve been with Les Caves

de Pyrene ever since and it’s still probably one of our biggest suppliers in terms of numbers of products.

There’s always been an emphasis on

organic and biodynamic. When the Scarlet

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 43

maybe up to 80%. We’re very much

if someone said to me you can only have one country to drink, it would be Italy. I

love the food, I love the culture and I love the wines.

But we’re probably seeing the biggest Continues page 44


From page 43

movement in Spain at the moment and there’s some great stuff coming out of

there – and some great labels. That’s still

an area where the French have got so much to learn. There are great wines coming out of France but the labels still need working

on. Spain has brilliant labels and the wines

It supplies a few parties … when we’re

expensive, but I want to cover both things.

“we don’t want to play by the rules, we’ll do

of money on wine. Some people will spend

and that sort of thing. We don’t go really

to go with it. Some of the declassified wines are really interesting; producers saying, what we want”.

Do you ship direct for the company outside the IWBC? There are certain bits we buy direct and

we’d like to do more of that. We ship some Loire, some Chablis, bits from Italy and

Spain. But then we’ve got proper Brexit

allowed them.

Some people don’t want to spend a lot

£30 or £40 on a bottle of Cornish gin but

get frightened by spending £10 on a bottle of wine.

I don’t want to get too exclusive. People

know we supply top-end restaurants,

so there can be a perception that we are

There are one or two bottles over £100

but we’re not quite Berry Bros with DRC

silly. I’d love to sell some of those, but the

reality of life is that people don’t buy them too often.

With all this space to play with, was hybrid a part of the original plan?

looming at the end of the year with extra levies when it leaves one side of the

Channel and arrives at the other. That’s where the benefit of the buying group

comes in. Rather than ship two pallets in,

we can bring in a trailer-load to the central warehouse and keep the costs down.

For our own buying, it may be a case

of rather than doing one or two pallets, shipping four to spread the cost, and

having the bigger warehouse will help.

Cornwall’s a big place. Does that give you a certain exclusivity of catchment area? There’s a Majestic in Totnes and one in Falmouth and Wadebridge Wines and BinTwo up the road, and a few other independents around.

You get the feeling that the supermarkets

are limiting their range recently and

reducing choice so people come and see us instead. If you’re spending £6-£8 in a

supermarket, and spend that with us you’ll get a nicer wine. We’ve got a few wines at

£6 online, just to drive a little bit of traffic.

“Cornwall potentially could have its busiest winter for a long time”, Wharton predicts

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 44


We had ideas of doing winemaker dinners in the middle of the shop, putting a big

table down the middle. We spoke to half a dozen of the chefs we supply who said they were up for it, one or two of whom

‘You get the feeling that the supermarkets are limiting their range, so people come and see us instead’

have Michelin stars. We said we didn’t

want anything too poncey and it had to

be centred on the wines. Licensing were brilliant and said yes but the planning

as an ongoing thing.

here, so the idea is businesses like us can

happy for us to do what we want, so one



officer said we couldn’t.

The landlord has been brilliant and is

of the things we’ve got to do for the winter is apply for a slight change of use to do the

provide footfall for the showrooms and the

But at the moment we’d probably get

showrooms can provide footfall for us as

slapped and we’ve got enough on our plate

And is the passing tourist trade doing

How is the retail park you’re on

odd dinner.



the window and outside and do plates of

The landlord has a couple of car

Cornwall is busy at the moment [early

flagship dealerships on the other side of

the road. He just wants nice businesses in

high levels of capacity, and think they will

and we’d like to put a couple of tables in

cheese or charcuterie with a glass of wine

October]. A lot of the hotels are still full

dealerships and the plan was to have his

and caterers are saying they’re running at be all the way through until Christmas. If

we can do click and collect and delivery for holidaymakers instead of them having to

bring wine with them, we’re here. Cornwall potentially could have its busiest winter for a long time, if not ever, because of staycationing.

There were stories during lockdown and soon after of locals being hostile to visitors. Was that an accurate portrayal? It was happening. There were signs up in villages telling people where to go. Quite frankly the main industry in Cornwall is

tourism and we need tourists. Being rude

to them is not the way to do it. My message

would be “come later, we’d love to have you here and we’ll look after you really well”. But some people are a little bit more … assertive.

We’ve got lots of space, fresh air and

© pbnash1964 /

We’ve got two Wine Emotion machines

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 45

you can sit on a beach with lots of space around you. You can do it with all the

social distancing you need. We lost a lot of turnover for three months and we’ve

pulled a little bit of it back. The longer we

can keep going we can pull a little bit more back. I’m keeping everything crossed.


ecently I was welcomed by

not as good. Also the DPD guy just loved

the Glaswegians into the inner

kicking the boxes of YCs for some reason

sanctum of dear Green-ness. I

and they all went stale. Almost as if they

have finally made it, having spent the last

were paying the DPD guy to kick the boxes,

20 years living and working in Glasgow

in swooped Pipers with their unsmashable

and mostly paying my council tax, mostly,

bags and specific meat flavours. “Here’s

most of that time ;). I was approached

by a high-socked Turner prize-winning

artist in a North Face cloak and handed a bell that doesn’t ring and a dead fish and bird, presumably from that bit of

the canal where the boys hang out and slap my helmeted head as I cycle by.

Gifts delivered, the International Artist,

in between demanding our filthiest and

most undrinkable wine and two bottles of Peroni Red, I was awarded (me! A lowly

three boxes of samples,” they said.

2. PURGATORIO These are odd times, and even at Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow, the best intentions of Phoebe Weller and her team do not always guarantee that lunch is crisp-free

country girl from a grassy, idyllic and

certainly not post-industrial green hill in Fife) the honour of “pretty much being a Glaswegian now”. Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!

Part of the Initiation ritual is to become

obsessed, as most of the west of Scotland is, with a certain short c word. It’s to the point, sometimes a little spicy, saucy,

acetous and although frowned on in some more elegant situations is, I’ve found, a uniting cry between the classes.

I am, of course, talking about crisps. I’m busy and my more elaborate

lunches have – for the moment! – briefly paused. It’s been a case of, “no, I’ll leave it for another 10 minutes”, over hours

these days. Then I pass the great Stack

of Crisps where once there was a great Stack of Wine but we’ve cleared space

for distancing and impromptu Strip-the-

Willow. Or my ever-more infrequent yoga demonstrations. The deep-fried mist

descends and three minutes later I find

myself with my face mask askew hiding in

the corner with the Portuguese Treasures, Cheese & Onion dust all over my face. Or

I think I will just have a couple to take

the edge off and then I’m staring into the empty greasy foiled void. It seems OK, after a day of asking EVERY PERSON THAT COMES IN TO THE SHOP TO

for more in equal measure.

chocolates went out of date so we have

been having fun microwaving foosty salted caramels onto shortbread rounds and

indulging in Ann’s suspiciously limited

blondies. I’m not saying that she is giving us the scraps and eating most of them at

home, but that is exactly what I am saying. The pub downstairs is in a state of stop-

start New Normal but gives us their halfeaten traybakes made by

Hamish’s mum when they

have to close. On Sundays,

the bakery up the road

gives us their eyewateringly

expensive excess of macarons

after work. Especially that litre bottle with the eyes

although I believe that has


for the French guy who was

now stopped because we

on it. It seems OK – staying

failed to keep a special beer

late because I’M ACTUALLY

our “in”. I mean the supply of


said beer is seasonal and so


therefore not skipping downstairs

and doing orders on shift – to open a

maybe we should have just

bought a case for him “just in case”,

pack of Salt & Vinegar and leave them

but we’re not mind readers and we’re so


the other with low times in between full of

a safe 10 metres from the office BUT


they fell out with Henderson’s, I heard

disgusting and yet stimulating the desire

tea and forage locally for a cake. All our

some bottle(s) of Vinho Verde

lingers behind the mask for several days,

Beef dust, although the scent of these

Glaswegian “Afternoon Treat”.

months, Delivery Pickup Time – we make

packet of Rosemary & Thyme and


dust/rust. Or, new favourite! Longhorn

the shop the slightly less

Around 3pm – which was, for a couple of


those are great. Or Kirkby Malham Chorizo

Jalapeno & Dill dust all over my face, God


e have also instigated in

e were for a long time a

Yorkshire Crisp shop, enjoying

their balance of limpid oiliness

and the lure of Henderson’s Relish. But

from no one, and they started just doing Worcester Sauce which were definitely

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 46

full of sugar and fat these days we just

lurch from one excitable Instagram post to self-hatred and calls of future denial.

One exciting side-effect of the crisp and

Treat indulgence is that I have become

fantastically fat and yet malnourished but it is a small price to pay to truly belong to a place and a time. With my handful

of multivitamins and vitamin D capsules I have never been happier. 2020, what a year!


Bitter Pops chicago bottle shop’s pet project is an instagram hit

As the singer Peter

Win an £800 meal for your team with an Aster promotion

Shelley – 70s country crooner, not the one in

Armit Wines is helping indies promote its famous Ribera del Duero wine Aster with digital activity. There’s an £800 prize for the most imaginative campaign, to be spent at a Spanish restaurant.

Buzzcocks – said: Love Me Love My Dog. Or as the Chicago-based beer shop Bitter Pops has recognised, love someone’s dog and you’re halfway to getting them to love you. Naturally, the shop has a regularlyfuelled Instagram feed, professional and enthusiastic but with nothing too out of the ordinary about its content: new products, promotions, pre-orders. But it

To participate, simply plan any kind of digital campaign promoting Aster Crianza (and Finca el Otero – which has won a Gold Medal and 95 points from Decanter – if you like).

also has a sister account called Bitter Pups where it showcases snaps of customers’ dogs. It actively encourages them to bring their pooches to the shop with incitements of free dog treats. The benefits

Email Alex Hill at Armit Wines ( or contact your Armit rep to receive the digital assets you need.

It’s a very simple idea but taps into several layers of social media wisdom. First, it helps to build direct relationships with customers without having to expose them to the embarrassment of having their own picture taken and shared: whoever heard of a camera-shy dog? Second, as numerous studies and digital media consultants attest, faces are better than pictures of “stuff” for getting customer engagement and reach, increasing the likelihood of posts being shared down the line. “I went to this shop and they were nice to my dog” is just as strong, if not stronger, an endorsement as “they were nice to me”. Third, the internet just loves cute pet content. Sneaking the odd Pups post across to the main account breaks up the monotony of its marketing message and drives traffic between the two. The impact The Bitter Pups feed is just one element of a coherent all-round social media set-up for the business which has combined Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers totalling over 10,000. Marketing messages and all-round feel are consistent across the board with a balance between fun, engagement and the serious message of outright sales pitches. Instagram stories are used to publicise customer service elements such as grab ’n‘ go, delivery and, through the pandemic, kerbside pick-up, through easy-to-understand pictograms that suit the limited view-time of the format.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 47


bottle with ever y 12-bottle case of Aster Crianza


Meet a new name in the independent wine market – one with a track record spanning four decades


Steve Machin.

Lanchester Wines, Vintrigue believes it can

and the beers produced by its Full Circle

intrigue Wines is a new name, but the business behind it has been around for 40 years.

As the new indie specialist division of

offer a blend of precision and scale with an offer aimed squarely at the independent trade.

Lanchester Wines, an independent

family-owned business, is best known for its work in the multiple and wholesale trade. “But that doesn’t tell the whole

story,” says national account controller

Feature sponsored by Vintrigue Wines. For more information, visit or call 01207 521234

Vintrigue, he explains, showcases not

only “all of our fantastic agencies” but also some of Lanchester Wines’ gift products Brew Co.

“We’re a dedicated and specialist team,”

Machin adds. “We focus on the producers and ranges which are perfect for indies –

premium by nature with a boutique feel.”

Director of sales Mark Roberts says the

wine range has been created partly as a

result of conversations with some leading

Commitment to sustainability Lanchester Wines is a carbon neutral

business, and says that this “is just the beginning” of its quest to be sustainable.

Following an £8.5m investment, the company’s buildings are powered by wind and solar energy. There are four wind turbines on site, a 41kW bank of solar panels –

and a pioneering heat pump system, drawing water from disused mines to heat its warehouses.

introducing vi

independent retailers and will constantly evolve as trade and trends develop.

“We began developing Vintrigue four

years ago and since then we’ve deliberately started to source more premium agency

wines, securing exclusives with exceptional agencies and recruited highly experienced people within the business,” he explains. Wine buying is a team effort, with

director of purchasing Lesley Cook making the final call.

“The range is adapting and growing,”

adds Roberts. “I think the line-up is very well balanced – whether it’s our high-

altitude Argentine Malbec, High Side; or whether it’s the Ventopuro range from

Chile’s Matetic; or Tombacco, our Italian

agency who produce stunning wines … the list is a long one.

“It’s very specialist, and very focused.

Because we’re family-owned, we can be

very flexible and quick to adapt. I would

say the Vintrigue wine range is curated by trade feedback.”


intrigue is based in the north

east of England but works with customers across the UK and

Ireland. It promises a pragmatic approach

Top: Joe Shirley of Napa Cellars and Jo Nash of McPherson Wines, Central Victoria Bottom: Mark Roberts and Steve Machin

to minimum orders. “At times like this, you’ve got to have a healthy dose of

common sense, and we’re applying that

here,” says Roberts. “We want to help the sector.

“One of Vintrigue’s biggest strengths is

it don’t just have wine on offer – we know independent stores offer more than just

wine, so we’ve mirrored this and integrated craft beers and gifting into the Vintrigue portfolio.”

Full Circle Brew Co Full Circle is a 30hl craft brewery, tap room and canning line in Newcastle, wholly owned by Lanchester Wine Cellars and headed up by Ben Cleary. There are three beers in the core range: Hoop

American Pale Ale; Looper IPA; and Repeater Session IPA, with seasonal beers available throughout the year.

Vintrigue Gifting Through its sister business, Spicers of Hythe, Vintrigue has access to a range of gifts, hampers and white-labelled products. The most popular is Bottle ‘n’ Bar – 5cl spirits encapsulated in single-origin chocolate.

intrigue wines

Plan B! Wines give merchants a different flavour of Western Australia. It’s a place where crazy ideas can take hold, and nothing is taken too seriously … as long as the wine tastes great. Thankfully, on Terry Chellappah’s watch, that’s never likely to be a problem

Free range wines


erry Chellappah does not mince his words. “I think as an industry here in Western Australia we’re sometimes guilty of churning out very safe, predictable, well-made, clean but boring wines, for a long time,” he declares.

Chellappah founded Plan B! Wines in 2003 partly to prove that things didn’t have to be this way.

“The most important part of our business – apart from being deadly serious about what’s in the bottle and

what’s in the glass – is that we are trying to have fun,” says Chellappah, speaking to a group of UK independents via a Wine Merchant Zoom tasting. There’s an interesting collection of guitars on the wall behind him; we

implore him to take one down and give us a performance, but he resists. It’s a morning for wine, not music.

“Everything is very light-hearted about the way we bring the brand to the market,” he says. “We’re trying

to do it with a sense of humour and something that’s going to be memorable for the gatekeepers and the consumers – it’s really important that we engage with them. “The wines offer good drinking and really good bang for buck for the consumer.”

Feature sponsored by Vintrigue Wines, the specialist indie division of Lanchester Wines, which imports Plan B! into the UK. Find out more at or

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 50

Plan B! DR Riesling 2018

Plan B! Modern Red 2017

RRP £18.50

RRP £18

“There’s nowhere to hide when you’re making

For most – perhaps all – of our Zoom tasters,

Riesling,” says Chellappah. “We’re trying to grow

sampling a blend of Shiraz and Pinot Noir was a

the most pristine, brightest, cleanest fruit we

new experience.

possibly can, get it into the winery as quickly as

“It’s a little bit out-of-the-box and fun to do,

we can, and press it while it is as cool as can be

so it fits Plan B! perfectly,” Chellappah says. “We

and as gently as possible.

call it Modern Red but I think it’s a really old-

“It’s only the third vintage of DR dry Riesling

fashioned wine style.

we’ve made. The reason it took us so long to

“Going back to the ‘60s and ‘70s in Australia,

make a dry Riesling was that we were struggling

we used to make medium-bodied, light, bright,

to keep up with production of off-dry, it was

aromatic red wines. As the years have gone

going so well.”

by, we’ve started to make bigger, oakier, more

The fruit comes from three vineyards in the

extracted, fuller wines because everyone wanted

Great Southern region. “It’s technically dry, but

the wine does have a touch of residual sugar and

we retain that because we do want a little bit of weight, texture and aromatics and a bit more flavour,” Chellappah explains.

“We want the wine to have really bright, zingy acidity but we

don’t want it to be so tight and so linear that it isn’t fun in the glass. “On the nose there’s citrus blossom, orange blossom … it really

is quite aromatically lifted. I love the texture in this wine. This is delicious with seafood. It’s a great wine for sitting in the sun.”

bold, ‘in-your-face’ wines.

“Our reds are more restrained, more elegant, more savoury and

medium bodied. The Great Southern is a prime Shiraz region: we

recognise that we’re not going to make great Pinot Noir where we are, but the two go really well together.

“It’s got some of the aromatics and some of the silkiness from

Pinot, but it’s got the structure of the Shiraz. This sees very

little new oak – it’s mainly in older oak. Pinot brings the cherry, strawberry-like flavour. The Shiraz gives it body and spice.”

Plan B! OD Riesling 2019

Plan B! Tempranillo/Viognier 2017

RRP £15.50

RRP £18.50

This off-dry Riesling represents Plan B’s

“I travel a lot, we drink quite widely and I still

signature style. “It’s an absolute crowd pleaser,”

have not seen or tasted or heard of another blend

says Chellappah.

like this,” says Chellappah.

Made with free-run juice from Great Southern

The fruit comes from 20-year-old vines grown

vineyards, it has a residual sugar level of 27g/L

at 220m altitude in the Geographe region of

but the natural acidity of the fruit balances it

Western Australia.

beautifully – and at an alcohol level of just 11.5%.

“The first vintage we made of this blend was

“We pick this Riesling a little earlier so there’s

2007, which is still drinking really well. Just

bright acidity,” Chellappah says. “The acidity is

before bottling, when we were looking at the

really important. The key to this wine is the play

barrels, we thought the tannins were a little

between natural fruit sweetness, natural acidity

bit rustic and I said jokingly, ‘it needs a bit of

and the pH.

Viognier to silken off the palate’. There were a

“You want the acidity to cut in and give line and

length and structure on the palate. Getting that

balance right is the key. It’s a lovely drink on its own and it works with so many different food styles. We like it with spicy, Asian or Indian food. Also with Gorgonzola or good blue cheese, to work with the saltiness. That’s a killer pairing.”

couple of barrels and we grabbed a bit and were just amazed.”

All it takes is a 2% component of Viognier – a variety that tends

to be rather rich and unctuous in Western Australia – to have the desired effect. “It lifts colour and gives the wine an aromatic lift

too, as well as texture and silkiness to the palate,” says Chellappah.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 51


t was mid-afternoon, sometime in September last year, and I was on a tour of the vineyards of Extramadura in

deepest south western Spain. It was more than 40°C in

the inadequate shade of a spindly young olive tree, and I was

talking, somewhat distractedly, to a local winemaker about the harvest. Dazzled by the heat and light, the words swimming slightly in the drops of sweat that blotted the pages of my

David Williams makes the case for bold, chunky, heartwearming reds that might be something to cling to as a difficult year turns colder

notebook, something I’d written down in dehydrated autopilot didn’t seem quite right.

I asked the winemaker to go over the details again. But no,

I hadn’t made a mistake. She really had told me that here, in

Illustration: Fiona Blair

this intensely hot, dry place – almost a caricature of the phrase “dusty Spanish plain” – the variety she was most excited about – the one she felt had most potential and which could create truly “elegant” wines – was Pinot Noir. And she really had


harvested all of the young vineyards of the variety some weeks

The irony in all this is that the ideology I’m talking about –

growing season to the folly and inexperience of one misguided

emerged in opposition to the then prevailing wine worldview

ago, when the fruit was “ready”, in the last week of July.

I suppose I could have attributed this radically curtailed

winemaker in one unfashionable and remote Mediterranean region. I could have just tried to forget all about her attempt

to import the ideas and grape varieties of a much cooler (and

infinitely more fashionable) northern region to a place where they were always going to flop listlessly, like a polar bear in high summer in the Madrid zoo.

But something about this sorry situation stuck with me.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to think that the rather forlorn, unbalanced wines she’d made from

Pinot (a kind of pale liquid jam made from acid and green strawberries) were representative of a much wider trend

– or even malaise. They were, you could argue, the sad but

inevitable consequence (albeit a particularly extreme one) of the dominance of a specific winemaking ideology, and

evidence, perhaps, that the ideas behind it had got out of hand.

which could be called something like “radical restraint” or

“the new balance” – began as an underdog idea, one that had

that saw ripeness and exaggerated flavour and alcohol as the ultimate criteria of quality in red wine.

Many wine lovers went through the process of rejecting

what became known as Parkerised wines in the course of

the 2000s. And winemakers all over the world soon picked

up on this almost moralistic turn against what the American wine writer Jon Bonné neatly called Big Flavour. At the kind of winery where, in the 2000s, the winemaker would have

bragged about extended hang-time and endless macerations, radically low yields, and the high percentage of new oak, by

the mid-2010s, all the talk was of dialling down, freshness and drinkability.

But at what cost? I was as critical as anyone of the more

grotesque, outsize, almost sticky “gobs of fruit” (cf Parker) that represented the worst of the Big Flavour era – your



Sine Qua Nons, Mollydookers, and 2005 Château Pavies. I

resented the kind of internationalised style they represented:

a de-contextualised, homogenised, business class and five-star mega-hotel idea of luxury.

The counter-movement calling for better balance was, in my

view, essential, informing some of the finest wines of the past

couple of decades, and inspiring a necessary dialling-down of

excess in many more ordinary wines too. Over-extraction had

become a curse, the one-glass wine had become too prevalent and it was good that winemakers had begun to remember that an inherent drinkability is key to all good wine.

The problem is that somewhere along the line the original

message got over-simplified, and then became a kind of

one-size-fits-all formula, a recipe made up of slogans. Pick

early to keep acidity up and alcohol down! Freshness is more

even for winemakers who haven’t given in and adapted their

practice wholesale to the whims of fashion. There’s a prevailing prejudice among the wine cognoscenti against wines with

higher ABVs – even when the combination of place, variety and vintage meant the wines required a high ABV if they were to reach a natural balance.

It’s remarkable how widespread this prejudice has become.

And it doesn’t seem to have much to do with concerns about health, since not all high ABV wines are considered beyond

the pale. When going through the lists entered each year for the World’s Best Wine Lists competition, I regularly come

across collections from fashionable restaurants where no red

wine exceeds 14%, but which feature dozens of sherries with minimum ABVs of 15%.

a pigmented white wine than an unfortified Port.


and where the grape varieties are adapted to creating them

search harder for evidence of alcoholic heat – a bias constantly

important than depth or even flavour! You can’t have terroir

and power! When in doubt, your red wine should be more like

That crude recipe was all very well, up to a point. In the kind

of places where refreshing, lighter styles are easy to come by without totally sacrificing flavour and balance, you could even say it’s common sense.

Recently, however (I’d say the past five years

or so), its influence has become hegemonic and

here’s no doubt this irrational obsession with high

alcohol as a kind of symbol of all that was wrong in

red wine in the 2000s also affects judgment in blind

tastings: there’s a reluctance (and I know because I’ve done it myself) to give red wines of 15% a chance, and a tendency to

in search of confirmation. It’s why I’ve taken to hiding the ABV when I taste: alcohol can stick out and burn at

pretty much any abv; it’s how it balances with the rest of the wine’s components that counts.

pernicious, cropping up in places where it has no

And this is the heart of the matter. In our rush to

business, and leading winemakers into all kinds

scale back on the excesses of a previous generation

of traps.

It’s like a mirror image of the progress made by

the over-simplified version of Michel Rolland’s Parker-

of winemakers, are we missing out on some of

wine’s biggest pleasures? I wouldn’t want 15% ABV

Bordeaux every vintage, perhaps. But then neither do I

approved recipe for ripeness in the 1990s and 2000s. But

want 12% Priorat or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Some of the most

or warm-vintage Right Bank Bordeaux, now winemakers

is true of the best of the reds made along the Douro river in

whereas back then you had growers in cool-climate regions

attempting to pimp up their wines to taste like Bolgheri, Napa in warmer climate regions are trying to make Irancy in the Mediterranean, Beaujolais in the Barossa.

That might mean planting cool-climate varieties in totally

unsuitable places. Or it might mean trying to make the local, adapted grape varieties do a job they’re patently not suited

to do. Either way, it leads to wines that are pallid and joyless, where the supposed gains in lowering alcohol and retaining acidity cannot compensate for what’s lost in the absence of

phenolic ripeness: flavour or anything resembling complexity.


But the zeitgeisty obsession with elegance is problematic

arrestingly beautiful Barolo, Brunello and Etna reds regularly

skirt 14.5% to 15% with no loss of aromatic delicacy. The same both Spain and Portugal, in Napa, in Roussillon, in Stellenbosch and even, in great warm vintages such as 2010, Bordeaux. And, really, why would we obsess, tutting and mealy-

mouthed, over the soaring alcohol of the likes of Barossa

Shiraz, Puglia Primitivo, Amarone or Madiran, styles that, at

their best, and for all their shared scale, are as different from each other as some of the more by-numbers examples of the fashionably light modern style are alike? These are – or can be – wines of terroir every bit as much as the most nimble,

feathery Burgundy. We should enjoy their multi-faceted, solarpowered beauty on its own terms, and accept that bigness can have its own beauty.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 54


. T H E D R AY M A N .

Music to their beers


ollaboration beers are a popular trend – and one London

recipes and branding. It turned out that every band is up for

brewery has made a career out of hook-ups with well-

making a beer.”

known music acts.

In addition to the collaborations, Signature has its own core

The first was a beer with indie rock band The Rifles. Since then

range of music-inspired beers: Studio lager, Roadie session IPA,

Signature Brew has gone on to make beers with the likes of Ed

Backstage West Coast IPA and Nightliner coffee porter. Seasonals

Harcourt, Frank Turner, Alt-J, Mogwai, Enter Shikari, Idles and

and specials have support slots, and will soon include beer aged

Sports Team. Its most recent collaboration is a smoked lager

in wine barrels in which Signature has recently invested.

called In the Dark with DRS & Dynamite MC, a rapper who

“For the first few years we only released collaboration

appeared on New Forms, the album that won the Mercury prize

beers, but it wasn’t a viable business model, as it turned out,”

for Roni Size & Reprazent in 1997. Dynamite may also be known

says McGregor, “so we’ve had to behave more and more like a

to some in the wine trade by his real name, Dominic Smith,

conventional brewery and make our own range. But we’ve

under which he works as a sommelier at the Clove Club.

always continued to do collaborations as a way of bringing beer

“He probably holds the record for the most visits to the brewery,” says Signature co-founder Sam McGregor. “He knows about the winemaking process so he was interested in getting as involved as he could.” Signature was founded by McGregor and his cousin Tom Bott. McGregor’s CV includes being in bands, working as a tour manager and for a marketing agency whose clients included Underworld and Simple Minds. Bott is the production brains, having previously worked at the Stoke-on-Trent brewer Titanic. “I’d go to all these gigs and see bands with incredible riders with Champagne and fancy spirits on them, but with warm cases of horrible beers,” says McGregor.

to a new audience.”


nd it’s very much a hands-on process for the bands who chip in with recipe ideas and spend time in the brewery.

“Lots of beers have been created with ideas we wouldn’t have

come up with unless we’d been working with the band. The more invested in the project they are, the better.” One collaborator was rapper Rodney P of the hip-hop group

London Posse, who had supported LA hip-hop superstars NWA when they first toured the UK. “He was telling me about nights out with Easy E and Dr Dre – and then he’s there in the brewery

“The idea was to make beers with bands and work on the

with a shovel, digging grain out of a mash tun.”

Signature Brew has made beer with a range of artists including Ed Harcourt, Idles, Mogwai and London Posse

Sports Team

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 55


Wholly Smoke is back, but as a malt If the name Wholly Smoke rings a vague bell, that’s because it was the name of a blended Scotch whisky sold at Oddbins, once upon a time. It was created Laurie Webster, who

these days heads up the Las Bodegas wine business but has recently partnered with colleague Alistair Coulthurst in a side project called Wholly Spirits Co.

They have reclaimed the Wholly Smoke

name and reimagined the whisky as a blended malt.

“Bringing Wholly Smoke back to life after

Matured in French oak barrels for three years

an absence of some 15 years has been a

little dream come true,” says Webster, who

reports that the reaction from indies so far has been “fantastic”.

He adds: “I’ve always felt that one

of the great things about whisky is its

apparent timelessness; it has a sense of

forever about it. Brands come and go but

whisky remains strangely and reassuringly original, and there is a magic and alchemy in it that I don’t find in any other drink to the same extent – with the possible exception of sherry.”

Wholly Smoke has “a distinct whiff of

Islay smokiness coupled with underlying creamy Speyside notes on the nose”. Its RRP is £45.

Compass Box lets loose a Monster Acclaimed whisky blender Compass Box is celebrating 20 years in the business

Banquet, and Hedonism Felicitas – nothing to do with the posh Mayfair wine shop. There are 8,328 bottles of the latest

Monster, retailing at around the £75 mark. Founder John Glaser says it’s the first

Compass Box creation to feature smoky

whiskies matured in French oak but adds that “we have been experimenting with French oak since the early days”.

Compass Box was founded by Glaser, a

one-time aspirant winemaker and former Johnnie Walker marketing director, in the kitchen of his London home in 2000.

Organic vodka from Bristol

by creating a special version of its Peat

Bristol-based master of gin packaging

Monster brand.

minimalism Psychopomp has put

A cask-strength version of Peat Monster

out the first organic vodka from its

was matured in three French oak barrels

Circumstance Distillery sister project.


fermentation and beer yeasts at the

for three years before being blended with

Retailing at £45

anniversary: the already sold-out Rogues’

Circumstantial Organic Vodka is made

malt whiskies from Talisker, Miltonduff and

from British wheat, with long open

previous limited editions created for the

Association accreditation.

Peat Monster Arcana joins two

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 56

distillery, which has recently achieved Soil

“Everything we make is an

plank of its business philosophy.

expression of the raw material

“We want to develop our

we are working with,” says head

business with integrity, building

distiller Mark Scott.

long-term relationships with

“We look to develop and

people we work with and sell to,”

capture complexity at every

says Hart.


“For me, that’s what underpins

Psychopomp’s Liam Hart and

an organic business.”

Danny Walker, who co-founded

Among Circumstance’s previous

Circumstance to focus on

projects is Monker’s Garkel, billed

organic grain spirits in 2018, say

as the world’s first gin created by

sustainability is an important

artificial intelligence.

Hospitality Gin raises money for workers facing Covid catastrophe Well worthy of attention is a not-forprofit gin that’s been launched to raise money to support workers in the hospitality industry who have been affected by the pandemic. Hospitality Gin was dreamt up in May

by Tom Lord, a bar manager and industry consultant from Sheffield.

Two weeks later he ordered the first

bottles from North Yorkshire’s Copper King distillery and set up a crowdfunder to sell the initial run.

The gin is now on its third batch and

is available wholesale from Master of

Malt and Hammonds of Knutsford, with

all profits going to The Drinks Trust and Hospitality Action.

“I’d been advising as many people as

possible on the best next steps for their

personal situations, but at the end of the

day, I’m not an employment lawyer,” says Lord.

“I’d been looking for ways to help the

people that needed it most when the idea

Sherry isn’t just for drinking on its own at Christmas, it’s for putting in cocktails too. The most famous deployment is amontillado in a Bloody Mary, but this recipe points towards the sweet end of the Jerez spectrum with Pedro Ximenez to give a festively fruit twist to a classic Manhattan, using dry rather than the usual sweet vermouth for balance. Some Manhattan recipes allow for bourbon but that means more sweetness, so rye whiskey’s characteristic spiciness is a better bet for a festive feel.

for Hospitality Gin hit me.

“Most important was managing a quick

turnaround time to get the money to those who needed it as quickly as possible.”

5cl rye whiskey 1.5cl PX sherry 1.5cl dry vermouth Two dashes of bitters Twist of orange peel

Fill half a shaker with ice and add all the liquid ingredients. Stir, don’t shake. Strain into a cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with the orange peel.

The gin is now on its third batch

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 57


Alternative festive favourites ome spirits are just made for Christmas.


that provide points of difference, end up opting

shift upwards of 40% of their annual

week. The once-a-year drink to beat them all is

leading spirits specialists, here are few signposts fill the void.

Brands like Diageo’s Baileys and BrownForman’s Chambord raspberry liqueur

sales in the six weeks leading up to Christmas Warninks advocaat, for which that figure can rise to over 70%.

There is a whole clutch of other brands that

sell something like a third or more of their

annual volumes over the same period. Many

are liqueurs – including Cointreau, Tia Maria,

Disaronno, Glayva and Drambuie – though some of the bigger names in whisky are also in that category.

Apart from their seasonal appeal, part of

the reason is, of course, that the supermarkets promote the backside off them, and it’s this, rather than any shortcomings in the actual

products, that makes them a turn-off for the many in the independent trade.

As Jefferson Boss at StarmoreBoss in Sheffield

puts it: “I don’t want to look like we are ripping

off the customer when they compare a big-brand price to the same product in our store – and if

there’s a large difference, then they question all the other items that we stock.”

The StarmoreBoss product list includes

Borghetti coffee liqueur, Briottet crème de framboise, Bruadar malt whisky liqueur,

Lazzaroni amaretto, and Martinique rhum

agricole producer JM Shrubb’s orange liqueur, all of which are quality, premium upgrades of seasonal big-name favourites.


ut brands like Warninks and Baileys are

so synonymous with, or even define, the

categories they occupy that it’s sometimes hard to look beyond them, which means

that indies can, through lack of alternative ideas

out of a lucrative thread of seasonal sales.

So, with the help of some of the off-trade’s

to some of the more niche products that could


ichael Huband at Amathus

recommends Van Wees advocaat as a Warninks doppelganger and English Whisky Co’s Norfolk Nog as an

alternative to Baileys.

“Both are the opposite of the mass-produced

brands that are a bit passé with our customers,”

he says. “They really stack up in in-store tastings we’ve carried out.”

Norfolk Nog also gets the thumbs-up from

Tomoka Spirits Boutique in St Albans, where Jass Patel says: “It is absolutely wonderful. As soon as we sample it with a customer they are sold.” Zwarte Kip is another Dutch advocaat

alternative with a vibrant, egg yolk-yellow colour, while Welsh Whisky Co’s Merlyn,

independent Irish operation Coole Swan,

English whisky maker Cotswolds and Scotch

producer Edradour all produce decadent and moreish cream liqueur options.

Both Michael and Jass also rate English

Whisky’s Norfolk PX, a 20% abv liqueur aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks – a potential

sideways sub for whisky liqueur brands like Glayva and Drambuie.

Château du Breuil Pomeau de Normandie is

another Amathus suggestion in the same area, a 17% abv liqueur made from Calvados cut with apple juice and married in oak casks.

Whisky liqueurs are a category with a greater

abundance of recognisable stand-ins for the likes of Drambuie and Glayva, but there are a couple of stand-outs.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 58

Nigel Huddleston takes a look at some Christmas drinks that could give indies a point of difference – and which are unlikely to be the focus of crazy supermarket discounting

North London distiller Sacred’s English

Also worth seeking out is the start-up

Whisky Liqueur blends whisky with Spanish

amaretto brand Adriatico which produces a

spicy sipper.

Saliza amaretto gets the vote of Nick Bell, spirits

sweet orange peel, Indonesian cubeb and

Vietnamese star anise for a fragrant, zingy and Hip Swedish whisky distiller Mackmyra

makes a more conventional honey-sweetened whisky liqueur that’s a shoo-in for traditional after-dinner savouring.

Michael Huband at Amathus recommends

the JM Shrubb orange liqueur, also stocked by

StarmoreBoss, to perform the Cointreau/triple sec upsell role in Christmas ranges.

Chambord is another liqueur that overtrades

in the Christmas aisles. Jass at Tomoka suggests

milky white Blanco version in addition to its

more traditional Roasted Almonds style, while buyer for Harvey Nichols.

Both Mr Black cold brew coffee liqueur and

Patron tequila’s luscious XO Café are Tia Maria subs that justify their higher price tags for

post-pud sipping or premiumised White/Black Russians and Espresso Martinis. Mr Black has

even produced its own Festive Espresso Martini

Kit this year in partnership with leading cocktail and coffee syrup brand Monin.

Mulberry liqueurs from the local producer


“They are great alternatives to liqueurs you

created its Christmas Spirit for the first time this

several fruity alternatives including the English cassis White Heron, and Lychee and Spiced

Copper in the Clouds. “We literally cannot keep up with demand around Christmas,” he says. would add to fizz or cocktails.”

espite the English-sounding name, St


George is a Californian distiller that makes a raspberry liqueur with a raspberry

brandy base cut with additional fresh juice

to lower the abv to 20% while giving extra depth of fruit.

Disaronno has the multiple sector pretty much

stitched up as far as amaretto is concerned but there are a number of smaller stunt brands chipping away in the independent arena.

Tomoka goes for Van Wees’ Heaven On Earth

Christmas liqueur, made with distilled cherries, rum, almonds, chocolate and honey.

“It has such a nice wintery warmth to it, with

the cherries and almonds, that people order in advance to make sure we can get it for them,” says Jass Patel.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 59

he premium end of the spirits market

is home to plenty of other examples of playful novelty that could enhance a

spirits range over the coming months.

Dorset’s milk vodka producer Black Cow has

year. It contains citrus, cloves, cinnamon, figs,

currants, raisins and vanilla, all steeped in the

vodka, and is designed to be a cocktail base or mixed with fizz.

Bathtub gin and Rumbullion rum producer

Ableforth’s makes a Winter Mulled Cup, a sort of festive take on Pimm’s made from Cognac,

port, citrus peel and root ginger, again great with fizz or as a twisted base for mulled wine.

And Sacred has what may be the best of a

clutch of festive gins in the form of its Christmas Pudding brand, made from actual puddings that

have been steamed for eight hours. The authentic taste makes the producer confident enough to suggest serving it from the freezer as a shot alternative to Christmas Day pudding itself.

The inside label features founder Ian Hart’s

great aunt’s Victorian pudding recipe that’s used as the gin’s starting point.

A MALT WHISKY WITH YOUR NAME ON THE LABEL Borders Distillery is rewarding its loyal independent customers by letting them earn their own free cask of single malt while making purchases from its spirits range. For more details on how to join the Borders Distillery Enterprise Spirit scheme, contact


ndependents are being given an exciting opportunity to create their own single

malt whisky brand in a scheme launched

by Hawick-based Borders Distillery.

The distillery is inviting retailers to sign

up to earn their very own cask of Scotch

whisky at no cost other than committing to

sell a specific quantity of its premium spirit brands over a period of five years.

Stores that sign up to the Enterprise

Spirit scheme will receive 10 points for each six-bottle case of the company’s

William Kerr’s Gin, Puffing Billy Steam Vodka and Lower East Side Blended Malt Scotch they buy (all £32.99 rrp). There’ll

Sponsored feature

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 60

also be 10 points for purchases of 12-bottle

and 300 bottles, depending on the wood

tankers of neutral grain spirit moving

and release from the bond.

about 12 feet, from the pot stills to the

and abv that the store chooses to bottle at.

Excise and duty will be payable on bottling Members can choose to mature their

whisky for longer than five years, for which a nominal warehousing fee of £20 a year will be charged.

Apart from that, there are no additional

costs involved – and member retailers will get a package of other benefits, including

online staff training and tasting sessions to help sell the Borders brands, and priority access to allocations of future releases.

These will include Borders’ own single

malt, whose release is some time off yet as the company intends to mature it beyond the three-year minimum required by law.

Borders produced its first spirit in 2018.

The distillery is housed in a former power plant dating back to 1903, on the banks of the River Teviot in the centre of Hawick,

a town with a rich industrial heritage as a

centre for tweed and cashmere production. “The spirit is developing brilliantly,” says

Borders’ head of marketing Rod Gillies.

“But we’re keeping our powder dry and

making sure when we do launch it will be fantastic and be a great single malt.

“But we are doing other things in the

cases of Clan Fraser Reserve Blended Scotch (rrp £19.99).

Retailers will be able to choose from a

selection of cask types: first-fill or refill

bourbon, rum, red wine, Douro wine or rye whiskey. Their personal cask will be filled with new-make spirit and matured for a

minimum of five years. These options will

create unique single-cask bottlings for each participating retailer.

The cask can be unlocked for bottling

once the retailer has chalked up a total of 1,000 points worth of accredited orders. The distillery will provide packaging

options upon bottling along with advice on labelling. Each cask will yield between 250

whisky space and will be producing

limited-edition expressions and releases

that will be Scotch whisky, hopefully from

next year. Members of the scheme will have

access to the first allocations of those as well.” The Enterprise Spirit scheme is a move

that Borders hopes will foster long-term

relationships with the independent retail trade which it sees as the natural sales

environment for its premium spirits, each

made with processes and personalities that set them apart in their markets.

Lower East Side is blended malt whisky

competing in the same sort of premium

mixing arena as contemporary Scotches, bourbons and Irish whiskeys.

Kerr’s gin is, unusually, made with

malted barley spirit. “Rather than having

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 61

around the country, we redistill our own

spirit to make Kerr’s Gin. Our spirit moves Carterhead,” says Gillies.

“The barley gives it a rounded, full

texture in the mouth. It makes a great,

balanced gin and tonic but it’s also one that cocktail bars love playing with because it can hold its own with lots of flavour nuances.

“Puffing Billy Steam Vodka is made to a

genuinely unique process. Now retailers

and drinkers may have heard that kind of

claim many times before, but it is the only vodka in the world made this way.

“We don’t filter it as a liquid; we steam

it through charcoal inside the still itself,

which the vodka’s named after. The result is a vodka with a real velvety, smooth

mouthfeel that carries the barley character into the final product. It’s a vodka that actually tastes of something.”


ubtle differences from the norm in

process and ingredients are what sets Borders apart from the crowd, says


“We have an eye for tradition but a real

willingness to do things in inventive ways, from how we make our spirits through to our commercial initiatives, including the Enterprise Spirit scheme.”

And that scheme gives retailers an

opportunity to sell a single malt that can’t be bought anywhere else.

“From the name, the wood, the abv and

the labelling, there a lot of tailoring that

will go into the process to ensure that each store’s single malt will be different from

the others that are out there,” Gillies says. “And even after VAT and duty, the cost

to the shop per bottle of that single malt will be very low, so if they’re retailing

between 250 and 300 bottles there’s a

fantastic margin opportunity. It’s long-term commitment but one that has a potentially significant pay-off in the future.”




54% Guatemalan milk chocolate unites

Made from cocoa hailing from the most

the characteristics of dark and milk

famous of bean terroirs: the Sambirano River

chocolate in one bar. Perfect for people

Valley. High notes of citrus mellowing into

who don’t like decisions.

tropical fruits.

LICK THE SPOON SEA SALT PRALINE CHOCOLATE 50g bar £3.75 Deliciously smooth hazelnut praline


with a hint of sea salt. 45% cocoa milk chocolate made from beans grown in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Bars that can stay open FOREVER CACAO 80% CACAO SIGNATURE BAR 40g bar £4.00 Deep, dark chocolate with notes of caramel and tobacco, handmade in Wales.




Smooth, dark chocolate with a salty-

White chocolate with creamy, caramel flavours.

and pepper – but, thankfully, not

sweet kick of hand-harvested sea salt

No refined sugar or artificial sweetners – not

sheep intestines. This is a smooth dark

from the Isle of Skye.

naughty, just nice.

chocolate vegan sweet treat.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 62

Flavoured with cloves, allspice, nutmeg


AWIN BARRATT SIEGEL WINE AGENCIES 28 Recreation Ground Road Stamford Lincolnshire PE9 1EW 01780 755810


C HR ISTMAS ALL WRAPPED UP This Christmas, ABS are offering a selection of carefully curated “Christmas All Wrapped Up” packs at three key price points. These will be delivered pre-packed, ready to take your customers on a celebratory journey throughout the festive season. For the person who has everything, we may have the solution - ask your Account Manager for details of our extremely limited Bling Box! Email us at | E. and O.E


1, rue Division Leclerc, 67290 Petersbach, France 07789 008540 @FamilleHelfrich

They’re all smiles to your face …

• NV Castello Prosecco • 2019 Klippenkop Chenin Blanc • 2018 Casas del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc • 2017 Las Carlinas Old Vine Garnacha • 2018 Cascadia Syrah • NV WALT LØ


• 2012 Jacques Bruere MCC Brut Reserve

• NV Champagne Rene Jolly Blanc de Noir

• 2019 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc

• 2018 Allram Gruner Veltiner Hasel

• 2018 Philip Shaw The Architect Chardonnay

• 2018 Domaine des Malandes Chablis

• 2017 Vini Fabiano Valpolicella Ripasso

• 2015 Jordan Cobblers Hill

• 2016 Chateau Fontesteau

• NV Stanton & Killeen Classic Muscat


Famille Helfrich Wines


• 2018 Fürst Pinot Noir Tradition

Dedicated on-trade and indies division With a brand NEW wine list being launched in January including NEW châteaux & domaines to offer, and three regional tastings being planned for this year, it’s almost like Brexit doesn’t appear in our vocabulary! Chris Davies On-trade sales director

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 64


Banfi is a 40-year-old wine estate that helped to transform the wine scene in Montalcino.

12-14 Denman Street London W1D 7HJ

an in-depth look at Banfi, visit Joanna Simon’s website:

0207 409 7276

Banfi Vini – Estate wine from Tuscany and Piedmont It has vineyards in Tuscany and Piedmont and through its industry-first research and

development projects it has optimised its viticultural and winemaking techniques. For Some Montalcino highlights: San Angelo Pinot Grigio

A single-site Pinot Grigio from the commune of San Angelo, located to the

south of town of Montalcino. Banfi was the first to plant Pinot Grigio in this part of Tuscany and the result is a subtle but full-flavoured white. Summus

A generous and well balanced blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Syrah from Banfi’s Montalcino vineyards. The current UK vintage, 2015, was named Best Tuscan Red and Best Tuscan Red Blend at the 2019 IWC. Florus Moscadello

This historic DOCG is a late-harvest wine, where the grapes are dried

before vinification. It has a balancing fresh acidity and notes of apricot,

honey and almonds, and is delicious served with pastries or blue cheese.

hatch mansfield Prélude Grands Cru NV

New Bank House 1 Brockenhurst Road Ascot Berkshire SL5 9DL

With the depth and complexity Prélude of a great Vintage Champagne

Grands Crus NV

Seductive and supremely elegant

01344 871800

The perfect gift @hatchmansfield “Bursting with life and energy, lovely lean structure and verticality of fruit. Long, long, long finish. Incredible aftertaste ...”

#TaittingerTime For more information contact your Hatch Mansfield Account Handler

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 65


C&C wines 109 Blundell Street London N7 9BN 020 3261 0927

@CandC_Wines @carsoncarnevalewines

New releases of multi award-winning Deep Woods Estate wines We are excited to have received an allocation of the new vintages of Margaret River’s

Deep Woods Estate Reserve wines. Deep Woods Reserve Chardonnay is considered one

of Margaret River’s flagship Chardonnays and most sought-after wines, and the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most critically acclaimed wines from the region.

Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

One of Australia’s most awarded Cabernets: the 2018 has already received three gold

medals. The nose features trademark violets and graphite in abundance, with complex

notes of dried bay, cedar and dark cassis. Beautifully ripe and superfine tannins are the

hallmark of this wine every year. Black plums, black cherry and cocoa are matched by an

intense, tightly wound and savoury finish. Medium-bodied, the wine shows great balance of natural acidity, a fine dense structure and amazing flavour persistence. Deep Woods Reserve Chardonnay 2019

2019 was a tricky but very rewarding vintage in Margaret River, resulting in wines with incredible perfume, elegance and personality. The complex and alluring nose shows

flinty reduction, freshly baked brioche and chipped shell characters, which open into

kaffir lime, white stone fruits and lifted floral notes. The palate shows restrained power

and great balance. Suggestive of juicy ripe citrus and grilled almonds, its amazing natural acidity carries the wine long and provides a crystalline clarity to the fruit. Please contact us for pricing and further information.

fine wine partners Thomas Hardy House 2 Heath Road Weybridge KT13 8TB 07552 291045

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 november 2020 66

liberty wines 020 7720 5350


Syrah in the Swartland

by David Gleave MW

The wild and beautiful Swartland landscape, lying 60 kilometres north of Cape Town,

“bares the souls of grape vines,” according to Chris and Andrea Mullineux, “and in those varieties that can take the ruggedness, true personality of site is revealed.”

Chris and Andrea established Mullineux in 2007, attracted by the potential of the

region’s old vineyards and ancient soils, which have evolved over millions of years into three main types: shale/schist, granite, and gravel/iron-based. Versatile Syrah is the perfect foil for the distinctive characteristics of each soil type

and Mullineux’s flagship ‘Single Terroir’ wines, sourced from the best, sustainably-farmed parcels and vinified as naturally as possible, are their ultimate expressions.

The ‘Schist’ Syrah hails from the stony shale and schist soils of Mullineux’s

Roundstone Farm on the southwestern slopes of Kasteelberg Mountain. It is the most structured wine of the trio, with dark fruits, good acid backbone and lovely tannic grip. The ‘Iron’ Syrah, from the rolling hills west of Malmesbury, is the most rich and full-bodied, brooding and

savoury with velvety tannins. From the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg Mountain, the violet-perfumed ‘Granite’ Syrah is the most aromatic and elegant, with wonderful freshness and a silky texture. With an innate sense of balance and a strong sense of place, these wines are among the most exciting coming out of South Africa.

richmond wine agencies The Links, Popham Close Hanworth Middlesex TW13 6JE 020 8744 5550


RWA Festive offers are live – contact us for your copy!

- Pre pack gift boxes: 2, 3, 6 and 12 bottles available - Azabache Gran Reserva Rioja for the price of Reserva - Azabache Reserva Rioja for the price of Crianza - De Wetshof ‘Bon Vallon’ Chardonnay – buy 5 cases, get 1 free - Great selection of Bordeaux - Loads of Sherry from our partner Mira la Mar Plus lots of other wines on offer! You can also win a Coravin Model Three Wine Lovers Pack (worth £229), courtesy of our friends from Finca Sophenia, Argentina.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 67


walker & Wodehouse 109a Regents Park Road London NW1 8UR 0207 449 1665


Welcome to the family! From the heart of the Mediterranean to Norfolk, we are delighted to welcome three new producers to the Walker & Wodehouse portfolio. Bodega Mustiguillo

The real star at this Valencian winery is Bobal, grown on ancient vines that span Finca Terrerazo, a century-old estate acquired in 1972. At 800m above sea level, conditions are perfect for Bobal to shine. This distinctive terroir gained its DOP in 2010, making it the first Vino de Pago single-estate wine DO in the Mediterranean. Quinta de la Rosa

Quinta de la Rosa represents the best of Douro winemaking: determination, pride,

tradition, and skill. The Bergqvist family have been involved in the port trade since

1815, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that they expanded into the production of still red wines, quickly rising to become a pioneer of this burgeoning Douro category. Flint Vineyard

A small, family-run business, Flint Vineyard’s values are grounded in sustainability and provenance. Since its establishment in 2016, Flint has developed a stellar

reputation as one of England’s rising stars. Based in England’s sunniest and driest region, Norfolk, sensitivity to the environment is a key tenet of Flint’s approach. For more information about our new producers contact your Account Manager

buckingham schenk Unit 5, The E Centre Easthampstead Road Bracknell RG12 1NF 01753 521336


In the area of Montepulciano in Tuscany, lies the beautiful Lunadoro estate which is a little corner of paradise in the Val d’Orcia natural park which bursts with wildlife. The Lunadoro estate has 12 hectares of beautiful vineyards dedicated to Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. LUNADORO ROSSO DI MONTEPULCIANO

Aged in French oak for at least 12 months, this blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Canaiolo and Mammolo has typical characteristics of floral and violet notes and light spicy notes of cloves. The grapes are handpicked to ensure only the best fruit is used. This care and attention is apparent in the flavour and the lovely fresh finish which makes this wine a must-try.



The same blend as the Rosso di Montepulciano is used for this wine, but the ageing process take place over a much longer period which is apparent on the nose. Complex aromas of mature fruits and plum jam balanced with sweet tannins and a long finish makes the Vino Nobile an excellent wine to try with or without food.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 68

mentzendorff The Woolyard 52 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3UD 020 7840 3600

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


THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 69


BERKMANN wine cellars 10-12 Brewery Road London N7 9NH 020 7609 4711 @berkmannwine

Berkmann Wine Cellars is here to help you to get your shop ready for the festive season. Our Christmas promotions are now available in our new online shop for independent wine merchants! We are offering price promotions on an exciting range of wines from our portfolio, as well as value-adding free branded gift boxes and bags. We also have great deals on a dazzling selection of spirits for you.

You can view and order our Christmas promotions online. For more information

on how to access our promotion website, please contact our Head of Independent

Specialists Carl Stanton on / 079 8079 2797, or Sales Operations on / 020 7609 4711.


The Wine Merchant Magazine Essential Oil ... is not yet available. While we work on that, the only way to experience the heady, just-printed aroma of your favourite trade magazine is to get your own copy, and breathe it in while it’s fresh. If you don’t qualify for a free copy, you can subscribe for just £36 a year within the UK. Email for details. Or you can read every issue online, as a flippable PDF – just visit There’s no registration, and no fee. And, sadly, no aroma. © aleutie /

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 70

Fells Fells House, Station Road Kings Langley WD4 8LH 01442 870 900 @FellsWine je_fells

top selection 23 Cellini Street London SW8 2LF Contact: Alastair Moss Telephone: 020 3958 0744 @topselectionwines @tswine

Top Selection are proud of our long partnership with Yves Cuilleron. For details of the range, prices and availability of these outstanding RhĂ´ne wines, please contact Alastair Moss.

THE WINE MERCHANT november 2020 71

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