The Wine Merchant issue 98 (January 2021)

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers

Issue 98, January 2021

Dog of the Month: Perdix Phoenix Wines, Cirencester

Cavavin sets ambitious target for roll-out of UK wine stores French business will use Sheffield outpost as the springboard for an expansion plan that aims for 10 new branches


avavin is demonstrating its faith

in the UK high street as it rolls out a bold expansion plan.

The French wine business “hopes to open

up to 10 new stores in the UK within the

next two years”, according to international development manager Clément David. A Cavavin branch in Glasgow, which

opened in December, will be followed by a further four shops later this year with

new franchisees in Glasgow] didn’t know anything about wine before.

“They come respectively from careers in

design and finance, but we provide all the training in the wines – they don’t have to do any wine buying.

“To be a franchisee with Cavavin, you

have the choice of more than 2,000 lines.

We are working with 300 winemakers in France and we also work with Italy, Argentina, Chile and the USA.

“We have a few spirits too – for example

we are working with Scottish and Irish whiskey. The wines are only for the

Continues page two

sites already confirmed in Newcastle and Brixton.

Cavavin is owned by the French buying

group Witradis, and its 200 franchised stores operate within four European

countries as well as two more in Africa. Its Hertford franchise was opened in 2017 by Ritchie Tough while Sheffield is home to

the “master franchisee” in the UK, which

has been trading as Le Bon Vin for 30 years under the ownership of Patrick Jouan.

As part of the plans for the UK, Jouan

says that while Le Bon Vin will keep

the same name for the wholesale side

of the business, the “retail shop will be

completely revamped on the outside to include the Cavavin colours and name” later this year.

Franchisees are not necessarily required

to have a wine background. “We don’t have a particular profile,” admits David. “For example, Yvonne and Alan Cozens [the

Just how straightforward is it to convince younger consumers to explore the world of wine? Four independent merchants offer their suggestions for how to attract the twentysomethings in our Burning Question column on page 21.


Inside this month

Cavavin sets sights on UK expansion From page one

4 news More expense and red tape for anyone importing organic wines

franchisees, we don’t distribute them elsewhere, and almost all our wines,

6 comings & GOINGS Little evidence of high-street decline in the wine retail sector

Champagnes and spirits are exclusive to Cavavin.”

David adds: “We give the freedom to the

franchisees for sourcing and buying 30% of

22 just williams Could be a model worth copying for wine shops?

24 pierre hourlier

international wines, and they have to order 100% of French wines and Champagnes on our platform from Cavavin.

“This will help them to have a complete

selection of products that will reflect local requirements and tastes as well as their own choice.”

Jouan oversees all imports at his

warehouse in Sheffield, from where the

wine is distributed. “Because of Brexit we

have put in a new process of importation,” David explains. “The franchisee will not

have to worry about the administration of importing – there are lots of advantages.” Depending on the size of the premises

and the location, a franchise with Cavavin, which includes the shop, the stock and

the opening fee could cost in the region of £70,000 to £100,000.

The French specialist that decided the future was bricks and mortar, in a grand setting

30 australian wines Producers are bouncing back from a very challenging year

44 natural wines A category that may have more in common with craft beer than with conventional winemaking

49 supplier bulletin Essential updates from key suppliers to the indie trade The Cavavin store in Hertford opened in 2017

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 938 specialist independent wine shops. Printed in Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2021 Registered in England: No 6441762 VAT 943 8771 82

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 2

JN ad supplied separately

© Richard Semik /


UK importers of organic wine from the EU must now pay an annual charge for certification, plus fees to port authorities

Organic growth will come at a cost Importers of organic wine from the EU will face an extra layer of red tape thanks to Brexit. The UK has copied the pre-existing

European organic regulations, which means that from January the named

importer and the first consignee must be correctly certified in a process that will cost £750-plus each year.

Jessica Hutchinson at Vindependents

has described the amount of paperwork

she is facing as “mind-blowing,” but she’s persevering as some of those wines are among the group’s best sellers.

“The producers already have to jump

through all kinds of hoops and do all kinds of paperwork to get that organic status,

and we’ve got copies of the certificates so

that we know they are organic, so I don’t

really understand what this is bringing to the game,” she says.

Lee Holdstock of The Soil Association

says: “We fully accept this is an additional burden, which comes as another

unexpected dimension of Brexit. Organic wine is a really strong growth category and as a not-for-profit certification

agency we’re working really hard to give businesses the advice and guidance they need to get their certification.”

So, what should importers be doing and

how much will it cost?

The first step would be to contact a UK

certifier (such as The Soil Association) to gain certification. This involves

completing an application and undergoing an inspection. Under Covid requirements

some of the inspections can be carried out remotely.

All this comes at a cost of £750 plus

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 4

VAT per annum. Once sales go beyond the £250,000-a-year threshold, a levy-based

system is introduced at 0.3% of sales of the certified products.

Hutchinson was “pushing really hard” to

get her inspection done before Christmas but wasn’t sure it would happen in time.

“We are seeing a flood of interest,” says

Holdstock, “so it is realistic to say that from application to final issue of certificate we are looking at about 12 weeks.”

Hutchinson also raises the issue of other

associated costs. “After January 1, if we

want to bring in organic wine, we have to

‘Producers already jum of hoops and and do all to get that organic statu understand what this is

send pre-advice to the port authority to say that they are going to be receiving organic wines,” she says.

“That costs €10 and then they have to

inspect the organic goods that arrive in

their port and that costs €40 – and that’s on top of the port inspection fee and all

the other bits of paperwork that have to

be done. We’re lucky because we import

vast quantities of wine so we can juggle the

cost of the wines that we do, but the British consumer is not going to gain from this process. Whose life is this improving?”

“All this regulation is a double-edged

sword,” explains Holdstock. “It’s a pain but it’s an independent rigorous assurance to

to organics in their marketing, but maybe employing one of the many euphemisms associated with organics instead?

“If you’re not going to refer to that

product as organic or market it as organic then that regulation does not apply,” says

Holdstock. “Obviously we we’d discourage people from doing that. It will fall to

Trading Standards to police all of this.”

Suppliers chase Winebuyers fees The Winebuyers website has come under fire after a number of importers


withdrew their partnerships, claiming

through to the final bottling. It seems

have been instigated against Winebuyers

do that, but that’s the nature of being in a

innovative way of helping small and

“We have an independent vetting and

checking system right from the vine

somewhat perverse that you have to pay to prove that you don’t do this and you don’t progressive niche market and wanting to

protect it from competition that can make the same claims but can’t demonstrate they’ve really done them.

“Once you’ve got this accreditation and

certificate you can import organics from anywhere in the world.”

For Hutchinson, that news is the

silver lining that will come with her new accreditation.

“One of our best selling Argentinian

producers has got an organic wine, which

we haven’t imported before but now we’ll be able to,” she says.

But what’s to stop someone obscuring

any organic markers on the labelling before shipping occurs, and avoiding references

mp through all kinds kinds of paperwork us, so I don’t really bringing to the table’

that the company owes them money. It’s understood that legal proceedings

by at least one supplier.

Winebuyers has been lauded as an

independent importers sell their products online to consumers for a monthly fee instead of commission.

But some of its trading partners have

questioned the business model, after

the company struggled to meet payment deadlines yet was able to invest in

swish premises in Soho and expand into mainland Europe.

In November the company emailed its

suppliers, acknowledging recent problems and blaming an explosion in business,

and Covid working constraints, for some “teething issues” including delayed settlements.

Merchant shortly before Christmas said they were still owed money.

One said: “The sad thing is that

Winebuyers is actually a very good

product, set up by smart people who know what they’re doing. The problem was they were taking the money from the paying

customer, and instead of putting that away to pay the partners who were fulfilling the orders, they were using it as their

operating spend and hoping that by the

end of the month they would have enough money to pay the merchants.”

Trustpilot reviews have been scathing,

with headings including “steer clear” and

“product never turned up and no refund”.

A statement from the company said: “We

were not prepared for changes in market conditions which led to overtrading and increased investment in resources.

“Disputes with landlords and delays on

committed investment as a result of Covid had a knock-on effect. A combination of extreme order volumes, ongoing Covid restrictions and Brexit uncertainties resulted in further complications.

“We believe that we have provided a

very cost-effective route to market in very challenging times and continue to work

closely with suppliers to get through this difficult period and work successfully

together in the future. We acknowledge we weren’t prepared for the events of

2020 and are implementing more efficient procedures and working on new external investment to fund future growth.”

Revell wrote: “All suppliers will be

contacted in the coming weeks in order to sign a new supplier agreement at which

point we will move to daily settlements.” He added: “We are in the process of

closing our latest funding round in order to provide us with the resources to best

serve our suppliers and capitalise on the changing DTC landscape.”

Suppliers who contacted The Wine

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 5

Winebuyers founder Ben Revell

Blue Glass morphs into Flying Cork A year after leaving his premises on St Cuthberts Street, Bedford, John Barnes has returned with a new business. The Blue Glass is now The Flying Cork

and Barnes is relieved that, although his

brief business partnership and walk on the wild side with a hybrid shop and bar didn’t pan out as expected, he’s right back where he started in 2008.

“I’d only moved down the road to St

Peters Street and we found the bar was

basically taking over – and the shop sales just plummeted,” he explains.

“It just didn’t work out, but I made sure I

John Barnes’ new venture, unlike The Blue Glass, is a classic wine shop, not a hybrid

paid all the bills and the suppliers were all

paid. I resigned around the end of last June and came back to my original shop.

“I’m still with the same suppliers –

Bancroft and Boutinot and people like that – and they’ve been really supportive. I had to change the name and have a rebrand, but that’s fine – I’m really happy to be back.”

• Made From Grapes opened just before Christmas in Pollokshields, in the Southside of Glasgow. The new venture, headed up by Severine Sloboda and Liam Hanlon, will focus on minimum-intervention wines from small European producers.

New wine shop for Devon town Corks & Cru launched in Bampton, Devon, at the end of October. Owner Nick Payne used to have a bakery

good wine shop.”

in the early 1990s before going their

and greengrocer. His shop is part of the

and ID Brands and Hill starting a business

He joins an array of local independents

on his high street, including a butcher, deli

same building as boutique guesthouse The Ginger Peanut, so he’s occasionally called upon to supply wine for visitors.

“I was going to wait until further into

next year to see what was happening with Covid,” says Payne, “but I thought, ‘what’s the point in waiting? People want their

drink now’, and there’s no time like the present.”

Payne plans to run tasting events and

open in the evenings to serve wine by the glass.

Salisbury store leaves Cambridge

wholesale business in the town before

Business partners Simon Hill and Liz

its production,” he says, “and more than


selling up a couple of years ago.

“I’ve always loved the story of wine and

anything I knew this area really needed a

Coombes are set to open The Artisan Wine & Spirits Co in Salisbury early next The pair met while working at Tanners

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 6

separate ways, with Liz working for

companies including HBJ, Western Wines

organising triathlons, which he eventually

sold to the company that owns the Tour de France.

“This is something both Liz and I have

dreamed of doing for years,” says Hill, “and now the circumstances have just aligned.”

The premises were, until fairly recently, a

Cambridge Wines franchise so the partners don’t need to do too much in order to get it ship shape and ready for their wines. “It’s all shelved so we’ve just got to re-do the

frontage and a bit of decoration,” says Hill. “At the moment we’re just ploughing

through samples and it’s brilliant to see

how many fantastic wines are out there.

The £10 to £20 category is really exciting.

“We weren’t planning on specialising but

it is quite a small shop, so we’re going to

have a really well curated range of about

300 or so wines and 100 spirits. We’ll be

concentrating on quality and making sure that we offer good value for money.”

Bacchus York café takes plunge with wine Café and bakeshop Brew & Brownie in York has gained a licence to extend its offering to include wine. Owner Adrian Stancer says last year’s

initial lockdown gave him the chance to

formulate his plan. “It was the first time I’d had a couple of minutes since we initially opened over seven years ago,” he says.

“As a chef and a baker, I have a passion

for wine. We’ve had wine events in the

past run by a friend of mine and they were really popular.”

Customers will be able to buy a glass to

enjoy alongside a selection of charcuterie and cheeses and bottles will be available for retail.

“York is sadly lacking for good wine,”

says Stancer. “There’s no good independent wine shop in the city centre, though there

Answers on a postcard

It’s hard to be completely original with a wine window display. Even a century ago, most of the obvious ideas had probably been done. Which may explain why somebody at Tanners decided to abandon the wine theme altogether and look for inspiration in the world of medicine. Below is a rather startling tableau dating from some time during World War I. A sickly child lies motionless in bed, while a nurse clutches her bosom in the vain hope that the young, grim-faced doctor will yet come up with some sort of cure. If that doesn’t put you in the mood for half a case of claret and some vintage port, frankly what will? This postcard was recently advertised on eBay for an asking price of £45. Could Shropshire’s most revered wine merchant shed any light on it? Chairman James Tanner was intrigued. “The confusing thing is that the panes do look like our front window, but not quite, and the period doesn’t match, and it isn’t any of our other shops, past or present,” he says. “So we can’t claim it.” Yet the original writing on the back of the postcard would beg to differ. “Tanners wine merchants, Shrewsbury, Salop,” it says. “Known for their window displays.” Another explanation could be that a different branch of the Tanner family went into the private hospital business and had a remarkably casual approach to patient privacy.

Newts in brief

You have to feel for Stuart McCloskey at The Vinorium in Kent, whose best efforts to create an off-grid eco-friendly wildlife haven at the company’s rebuilt HQ deserve more recognition than they’ve currently received from Natural England. The new building will be solar powered and heated entirely from ground source pumps. The landscaping includes a 20-metre pond and areas for flora and fauna to thrive, including vineyards. A £10,000 fee was payable to planners for an extensive ecology report of the site prior to demolition that revealed the presence of a couple of great crested newts and very little else. Yet this was the basis on which Natural England demanded another £10,000 as a contribution towards wider newt welfare and to fast-track the licence to build, which would otherwise take six months. McCloskey has form as a generous supporter of good causes, but unsurprisingly baulked at this second bill and decided to wait things out. Demolition work, which should have happened in the summer, is due to start this month. The vineyards will be populated with rootstock sourced from The Vinorium’s Australian suppliers and a small amount of wine will be produced each year in partnership with a visiting Aussie winemaker. If at least one isn’t labelled as Two Newts, it be an opportunity missed.

are some pretty good ones on the outskirts. One thing we’re going to focus on is

natural, biodynamic and organic wines – it just suits our existing clientele.”

Working with a number of suppliers

including Les Caves de Pyrene and North

South Wines, Stancer says he’ll be able to stock at least 50 lines to start with. • Online merchant and wholesaler

Nethergate Wines has opened a shop in Long Melford, Suffolk. Charles and Rosie Eaton met while working at Lay & Wheeler and went on to buy out Nethergate Wines

“If you’re the doctor who prescribed him sherry, I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”

in 2006.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 7

‘Crazy’ start for Bottles ‘n’ Jars When sommelier Bert Blaize opened Bottle ‘n’ Jars in north London in November he was expecting to have a bit of a slow start, but now he reports he “couldn’t put stuff on the shelves quick enough – it’s been crazy”. Blaize is keen to give customers a

“unique experience every time they

come in”, and he’s been working on his range with help from Astrum (“one of

the strongest for Piedmont”), GB Wine

Shippers (“recently set up by my mate Gus, they’re importing some great Australian

wines”), and Keeling Andrew & Co (“nice Champagne and some young producers from Burgundy”).

He also intends to do some direct

importing himself, starting with Tuscany where he has spent a lot of time and

already has quite a few wines selected and “ready to go”.

The swish new store occupies a space

previously inhabited by a Mini showroom and is situated next door to Hexagon

Classics whose owner, Paul Michaels,

has collaborated with Blaize in this new venture.

So, fine wines and classic cars – a fitting

combination, but how did that partnership come about?

Blaize explains that a mutual friend

introduced him and Michaels and the

Bert Blaize will do some direct importing, starting with Tuscany

Broadstairs indie has new owner

whole project, from the initial concept to

It’s the beginning of a new era for The

projects with food and beverages, and he

the reins to Mitch Swift after 32 years.

price,” he says.

has lived in a number of wine-producing

opening the doors, took just six weeks. “Paul wanted to do some exciting

wanted people in the local area to be able

Bottleneck in Broadstairs, Kent, where Chris and Lin Beckett have handed over Swift is a newcomer to the wine trade

to come in and enjoy things at a reasonable

but as a widely travelled enthusiast who

a little kitchenette and I want to bring the

ground running.

“We’ve got a tasting table upstairs and

best winemakers in the world here and do my own wine and food masterclasses.”

countries, he’s determined to hit the

“I’ve moved back to the UK after living

in California for a year,” says the 26-year-

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 8

old. “Wine has always been a hobby and in lockdown I finally decided to do my wine courses.

“We’ve got a full shop refit happening

in January and we’re putting in a few new features. We’ve got a couple of rooms out

the back that we’re going to transform into tasting rooms.

“We’d like to keep the feel of the shop

and respect the age of the building.” Swift is also working on a new

e-commerce platform and website for the business, which is based a short distance

from the beach in a warren of independent shops.

“Broadstairs is just going up and up,” he

there are a couple of locations on our

says. “Houses around here at £800,000-

radar. It’s about the right combination of

plus don’t sit around for very long. It’s

the specific site and the local appetite for

definitely the place to be at the moment.”

great wines and spirits.”

As Swift settles into the new business,

Jackson says that while speciality

Chris Beckett is on hand to offer advice

spirits has been a “very powerful focus”

and encouragement. “I speak to Chris most

of the business, there have been huge

days,” he says. “He knows a lot about wine

developments on the wine side.

so he’s got a good brain to pick.”

“We’ve been building our wine focus

over the last eight years, most recently

More shops on the Amathus radar Tim Jackson MW reports that the

with my fellow MW Jeremy Lithgow,” he says. “He has extended the portfolio to The new Muswell Hill branch of Amathus

opening of the new Amathus store in Muswell Hill has been a “roaring success”. Amathus continues to build its retail

portfolio with a South Kensington store

due to open early next month. “It’s a small


retail footprint and we’ve very carefully

selected the locations,” explains Jackson. “We’re trying to find the right stores

at the right time. There isn’t a plan for a specific number of stores but definitely

more than 150 agencies from all over the world.

“One of the reasons I was excited to join

the company is the fact that wine is very

much a focus of the business and we’ll be getting that message out there – not only

to the pubs, bars and restaurants but to the specialist retailers. That’s we have a very exciting range.”

customers we could do without

© Axel Bueckert /

19. Lee Brownrigg … hmm, that seems a bit steep for just three bottles of wine … what did you say that came to, £48.78? I mean I know The Chocolate Block is £23.99 or something but even so … yeah, do you mind just double checking that, pal, in case you’ve accidentally keyed something in twice … or I don’t know, maybe the till system has made an error, not impossible is it? All this digital technology … I don’t think you can beat the old tills like the one my grandad had in his greengrocer’s … you need to press “void” I think and start again … that’s the kiddie … hmm … you reckon that’s definitely right do you … well … still seems a bit hefty, like I say, just for three bottles of wine … what about a staff discount? Yeah, I realise I don’t actually work here, I know that, but you work here, and you must get a discount … can’t you, in inverted commas, buy it for me and apply the saving? Give you cash? I’m not likely to say anything, am I? No? Really? You surprise me … well, what about that 15% case discount then? Yes, I know it’s not a case, but if I put the wines in that box down there by your feet, then it’s a case, surely? No? Really? Then what about …

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ANAGRAM TIME Can you unscramble the names of these drinks-related songs? If so, you win a vaccine against cramp.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 9

1. Rind Weeder 2. Approach Vegan Menus 3. Entire Meltdown Likelier 4. Try Jewish Hankie 5. Pocahontas Aligned Mark Matisovits




Designed to accommodate not just cylindrical gift tubes but

For gifting or for general merchandising purposes, these folding

square topped ones too, WBC’s Mail Safe gift box ensures fragile

gift cartons from WBC come with an acetate window to showcase

items are couriered with extra protection. The insert has fold-in

the products within. The magnetic lids give an added feel of

supports at both top and bottom that suspend the gift pack within

luxury. Boxes are supplied flat packed for easy storage and mail

the outer carton. The boxes can cope with standard 75cl bottles

order outers are sold separately.

of Champagne and are available in two sizes, for either one or

Price from £3.19 for a single bottle version

two-bottle deliveries. Price from £1.38 per unit

WHO’S COUNTING? Here’s a marketing tool which displays the number of followers you have on your business Instagram or Facebook accounts. It updates in real time, making customers aware of your evergrowing (and hopefully not declining) online communities. Display anywhere in store – the only requirement, apart from a power source, is an internet connection via ethernet cable or wi-fi signal. RRP £269 from

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 10

Š lughtpoet /

IT'S SURVEY TIME The Wine Merchant's annual reader survey is widely regarded as the most detailed condition check of the specialist independent wine trade. If you're an independent wine retailer, please take some time to take part. There are five Coravins to be won, for randomly selected participants, courtesy of our partner Hatch Mansfield.


cellardine competition winner

Andy Smith of Mill Hill Wines in north London is the winner of our recent Cellardine competition. He wins a Wake Up Wine decanter, a CaddyO bottle chiller, ChillCore 3 in 1 and a Rouge O2 wine breather worth just under ÂŁ200 at retail prices.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 11

Rising Stars

Louise Savage

Richardsons of Whitehaven A genuine people person whose advice has proved invaluable


ouise may have been shy and “looked like a rabbit in the headlights” at her interview. But she has gone on to take everything in her stride, from helping to hide celebrity chefs to being presented to the queen. “In recent months it was Lou who prompted us to go online and open a website,” says owner Gerard Richardson. “There was a part of me that would have rather called it a day than change my business. When you imagine a website, you don’t think of something that’s local – I’ve always wanted to be a local retailer, not someone who sends things out all over the country. But it’s worked. “I would have agreed with Lou’s advice at some point regardless of Covid, but it would have taken longer for me to see sense. I think had we not sat down and talked it through, we’d probably not be in business now – and instead we have a business that’s flying.” Before working in the shop, Louise managed Gerard’s restaurant. When that closed, she helped him to co-ordinate his annual Whitehaven festival, a task which she handled with relish. “It was a three-day event, and we had performers including Katherine Jenkins, Status Quo and all sorts of other celebrities,” says Gerard, “and it’s thanks to Louise that we have kept in touch with so many of them from the festival days because she just gets on with folk. “She knows bugger all about wine – it’s something we’ll often joke about – but what Louise has got is customer service in bucket loads. I can be a bit of a wine nerd so we complement each other. She’s got her feet on the ground – she’s lovely.” Louise started her working career after raising her daughter and says she knew retail would be ideal. “I was in my element with the festivals – I never thought I would be,” she says. “If I’d sat down and thought about it, I would have run a mile, but I was thrown in the deep end and I thrived on it. “I’d like to think when we get back to normal that we’ll do some more events; the town needs them. I am a people person and I do like to talk, so although

the website is great and we needed it, I prefer to see customers in the shop.” One of the people who have remained in touch since the festivals is Jean Christophe Novelli. When he was taking part in 2019’s Hunted, he turned to Gerard and Louise to hide him and teammate Aldo Zilli. “We hid them for two days in Whitehaven – behind tourist attractions, in offices and old warehouses,” says Gerard. He is also keen to point out that on a royal visit to Whitehaven, Louise was presented to the queen. “I knew she wouldn’t tell you that herself,” he laughs, “but it’s just another thing that she’s taken in her stride over the years.” Louise adds: “I always say, ‘do your hair, put a bit of lipstick on and you can face anything’. That’s my motto!”

Louise wins a bottle of Pol Roger Réserve Brut If you’d like to nominate a Rising Star, email

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 12


Alma de Cattleya Sonoma Pinot Noir 2018

Peique Viñedos Viejos 2017

Bibiana González Rave grew up in Colombia and knew,

– not necessarily a wine that fights back, but something

Sometimes you long for a wine you can really chew on with a bit of heft and juiciness. This 100% Mencía

by the age of 14, that she wanted to be a winemaker. After completing a degree in chemical engineering

and business, she arrived in coastal Sonoma by way of

Bordeaux and has crafted a faultless Pinot Noir, with just

the right amount of ripe red fruit, vanilla, acidity and fun. RRP: £27.95

ABV: 14%

Laytons Wine Merchants (01656 661010)

from Bierzo in north west Spain is suave as well as full

bodied, with earthy characters balanced by sumptuous black fruit. A wine to take the chill off of January nights, and thoughts away from Brexit chaos. RRP: £19.50

ABV: 14%

Vindependents (020 3488 4548)

De Saint-Gall Le Tradition Premier Cru Champagne NV

Henners Brut NV

With 14 co-ops involved in the Saint-Gall project,

country” is how Boutinot describes its Henners estate

“Perhaps the finest vineyard microclimate in the

on the East Sussex coast. It’s a gentle slope facing

which dates back to 1966, the worry might be that

wines would be designed by committee and a bland

conformity would set in. How wrong perceptions can

be. Le Tradition is a classy 70-30 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a rounded, opulent character. RRP: £34

ABV: 12.5%

the shore on which William the Conquerer landed in 1066, and this time England takes the battle to the

French with a refined, elegant and super-confident

sparkler that a Champenois grower would be proud of. RRP: £30

ABV: 12%

Boutinot (0161 908 1300)

Daniel Lambert Wines (01656 661010)

Royal Tokaji 6 Puttonyos Aszú 2016

Fitapreta Tinto, Antonio Macanita, Alentejano 2018

Royal Tokaji has only declared eight vintages this

A winter warmer of a wine, blending Aragonês (40%),

displaying steely freshness as well as their famous rich

Portuguese plateau. Meaty, spicy and faintly herbal,

century and 2016 is the latest of them. It’s a year for

Trincadeira (30%) and Alicante Bouschet (30%)

high quality and limited quantities, with the wines

grown in hot and dry conditions in the southern

complexity. The 6 Puttonyos is a delight, full of orchard

it exudes a sense of the warmth and comfort that will

fruit (especially quince) as well as tropical depth. RRP: £46

doubtless be in high demand in the early part of 2021.

ABV: 11%

RRP: £16

Walker & Wodehouse (020 7449 1665)

ABV: 14.5%

Swig (0208 995 7060)

Matias Riccitelli This is Not Another Lovely Malbec 2019

Tombacco Origine IGT Terre Siciliane

High altitude – check. Whole bunch fermentation

Amid all the worthy chatter that tends to surround

ticked – and the fact it’s Malbec – this Uco Valley wine

Zibibbo-based example has a distinctive cidery tang,

– check. Native yeast – check. Concrete vat ageing – check. Unfiltered – check. With all those boxes

will delight a wide audience. We enjoyed its light, unfettered fruitness and subtle rusticity. RRP: £14.99

ABV: 13.5%

Hallgarten & Novum Wines (01582 722538)

orange wines, we sometimes forget just how much fun they can be, regardless of their other attributes. This but also gorgeous notes of exotic pastries, apricots, honey and fermenting cut grass. RRP: £25.45

ABV: 14.5%

Vintrigue Wines (01207 521234)

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 13


oanna Simon is an avid admirer of

Tanners – for its skilled buying team to the detailed website and a lot of great

things in between.

Tanners Shrewsbury

“I like the fact that they are incredibly

comprehensive,” she says. “They do the classics, but you can also see that they are adventurous buyers. Their buying team travel a lot and they really do scour the world. So you can buy a bottle of BâtardMontrachet from them, but also wine from Slovakia, Armenia or

Joanna Simon sings the praises of one of our largest independent merchants which, despite its scale, has always retained its family feel


“It may sound corny when I say the business genuinely has a family

feel about it, but it does. Yes, it is family owned, but they have about 100 staff and seven branches and yet they have managed to retain

that feeling and identity. It must be because they are incredibly good with their employees, with training and so on.”

A prime example would be Tom and Emma Holt who met while

working at the Shrewsbury branch. The couple are now winemakers

based in Somontano, Spain, and Tanners has, Joanna says, “supported them by doing events together and buying their wines”.

“They’ve been going since 1842, so they’ve certainly had long

enough to build up really good supplier relationships – but they

create new ones all the time,” she adds. “Their own-label wines are all sourced from great suppliers. They never seem to stand still.”


ow, more than ever before, e-commerce is key and Joanna explains why she thinks Tanners has got it so spot on.

“The website is absolutely packed with information if

you want it, but if you just want to choose a wine it’s also incredibly immediate with a quick taste guide,” she says.

“If you want to go further and find out more about the region, you

can: all that stuff is there but it doesn’t hit you in the face. It’s there to help you and serve you but it’s friendly and approachable, which is Chairman James Tanner (left) with sales director Robert Boutflower

what you get when you meet the people. The website is a really good echo of the shops themselves, and vice versa.

“They’re good at social media without being shouty and yet they

still come across as fun – never stuffy.”

Joanna Simon is the Editor of Waitrose & Partners Drinks magazine, the wine expert at Platinum magazine and a contributor to The World of Fine Wine and Decanter. She is a member of The Wine Gang, and can be found at Tanners wins a bottle of Les Terasses Velles Vinyes, Álvaro Palacios 2018, courtesy of Bancroft Wines

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 14


. T H E D R AY M A N .

Camra likes shops – as long as they’re pubs


ast May, the Campaign for Real Ale launched an online

drinking”. In doing so it happily ignored those who – in normal

tool and app called Brew2You. It pointed the consumers

times – drink quality beer communally with friends at home,

it claims to represent in the direction of pubs and,

or those with kids or budgets that exclude them from going out

mostly, breweries who were selling takeaway beer.

and/or paying £4.50 a pint.

The tool invites users to search for a “store” by name, displays

“stores found” by a postcode search and explains that it’s only possible to order from one “store” at a time – the irony being that there doesn’t appear to be anything resembling a store, as in shop, anywhere on the site.


t had not always been the case. Until the review, Camra had openly campaigned for the sale of bottle-conditioned beer in the off-trade. It had even teamed up with Tesco in 2015

to put its “Camra says this is real ale” stickers on bottles on the

By December, Camra was boasting that the app had generated £120,000 for local businesses and was urging consumers to use it for Christmas “rather than turning to the supermarkets”.

supermarket’s shelves. But that all changed with the review, which seemed to liberate the organisation’s ethos while shutting out a whole section of

The organisation has been bound by its own rules of

the business community that is involved in promoting good

engagement not to include wine merchants, bottle shops and

beer, just because those interpreting the data and drawing up

independent off-licences in its championing of access to decent

its new rules couldn’t distinguish between supermarkets and

beer since a much-publicised review of its essential purpose

independent retailers.

back in 2016-17.

And so, we landed in 2020 with Camra not only trying to

Recognising that the emergence of great keg and packaged

support the pubs and small breweries it sees as its natural

beer was a threat to its own existence if it continued to cling

constituency, but actively campaigning to take independent

to the cask-only principles on which it was founded, Camra has

retailers, faced with the same threats to their businesses as

morphed into a body intent on “informing and educating all

everyone else, out of the supply chain altogether.

those with an interest in good beer of any type” – just so long as


it is drunk in hospitality settings.

f course, it was disastrous year for the on-trade, but

Camra concluded that it shouldn’t “increase its support for the off-trade”, which had always been minimal anyway. Instead, it embraced a mission to campaign to protect

Camra website for 2020 and you could mistake it

for being that of a pub industry body, not a consumer one. In Camra’s eyes, alas, it seems we were not all in it together.

© New Africa /

“community” pubs and other venues that foster “communal

scan your eyes down the press release list on the

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

Sports Team

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 15

The upstairs area has been transformed into an events space Rathfinny’s vineyards are three miles from the Channel

The Bradford on Avon shop was previously known aspacks Ruby Red Wine through Cellars letterboxes, with samples staying fresh for “at least a year” The tasting fit neatly


UNDER NEW Crowd funding helped Leanne Olivier transform her newly acquired Wiltshire wine shop into something much more ambitious


eanne Olivier recently celebrated the first

birthday of her shop, Cru Wines in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.

She bought the business from Rob Hunt in November

2019, then trading as Ruby Red Wine Cellars.

Olivier wanted to create a wine shop that was

“approachable” and catered for the locals, a demographic encompassing the younger customers with an interest

in more natural styles as well as more conservative and traditional drinkers.

“I would say our biggest market is people who want

to support local, who like the thought they are investing in the wine growers and wine regions without cutting corners, and want to have a conversation about wine, whether over the phone or in the shop,” she explains.

“Our customers like it that we know their taste profile –

we can make recommendations so they can try something different next time.”

Olivier had a career in the food industry working as a

nutritionist and her wine epiphany came while she was

on maternity leave. “I thought, ‘we’re not here for a long

time, we’re here for a fun time, I love wine – so what can I do with that?’” she says.

The first thing on the agenda for Cru Wines was

a complete refurbishment, which included the

transformation of the upstairs storeroom to an events space complete with a tasting table and kitchen.

“We paid for that with crowd funding [105 supporters

contributed a total of £9.200], so it’s kind of a real

community effort,” Olivier says.

She is also pleased to have got to the point where all

the wines on the shelves are hand-picked by her rather

than inherited. She’s working with around 20 suppliers

including Hallgarten & Novum. “They are so easy to use,” she says. “I know they have taken great care in selecting the wine they have. Between them and Les Caves de Pyrene, I could stock the whole shop.”


livier is preparing more virtual tastings for

the year ahead and is building on the success

of a recent tasting she ran with South Africa’s

Babylonstoren where she was able to do video links to the winemakers.

“That was really popular because we could bring South

Africa to the people on a Friday evening,” she says.

Last year will no doubt go down in history as an annus

horribilis for the most part, but Olivier admits that the pandemic helped shape her business to where she wanted it to be.

“When we first opened I hadn’t appreciated that

what the town really needed was a wine bar, so at first,

although we were flooded with people through the door,

the majority were coming in to drink wine rather than for retail,” she says.

“In a way Covid helped because we had to close the bar

and operate solely as a bottle shop and that put us on the map.

“The year really made us bed down as a wine shop.”


ight ideas r b

18: Branded Glassware Tom Flint Bottle & Jug Department, Worthing

In a nutshell …

back to the Victorian pub era, so the logo

Branded glassware makes an eye-catching

feels old but with a contemporary twist.

display and, if the price is right, it can be an

Although I like a stemmed wine glass, I

easy add-on sale at the counter.

know a lot of people can be a bit nervous of thin glassware. In terms of shape this

Tell us more.

has a nice wide bowl so for wine it works

“It’s something I wanted to do for ages. A

because you can swirl and get the aromas.

lot of breweries have their own branded

It can also accommodate a whole 440ml

glasses and I love glassware. I’ve got an

can of beer!”

American-style tankard at home that I’ve

You’re not new to creating your own

had since I was 18 and I love drinking out of it. Initially I was looking for something

branded products, are you?

makes more sense than a tankard because I

more done but I keep seeing T-shirts with

“We had T-shirts with our logo on and they

similar but I couldn’t find that style

anywhere. Actually the one I’ve chosen

think this shape is more multi-functional –

you could have wine, beer or spirits in it so it works across the range of what we sell.” Was it a difficult project to pull off?

“The main stumbling block for me was the minimum order quantity. It was pretty

large, so it was a real commitment. They

didn’t come boxed either so I had to source the gift boxes separately.”

Are they a hit with the customers? “I’ve got them on the table right by the counter and I’ve sold 40 in under two weeks.

“I think I’ve found the right price because

I’m selling them for a fiver and I still make a margin. I’ve seen other people selling

all sold out. I have been thinking of getting The glasses sell for £5 and achieve a margin

branded glassware for upwards of £10 but I think that’s quite expensive. £5 is a good price for a stocking filler but also not too

really cool stuff on them, so I’d like to get in a designer. I could ask the guy who did our mural in the shop – but I think he’s a bit expensive these days.”

much to spend as an add-on gift all year

round. I’m going to launch a wine and beer subscription service and it’s a nice item to tie in with that, as a freebie for new

subscribers. I have already risked posting a few out – I’ve packed them with plenty of bubble wrap and there have been no breakages so far.”

This feels like a really nice fit for your business. “The whole Bottle & Jug concept harks

An earlier example of Bottle & Jug merch

Tom wins a WBC gift box containing a some premium drinks and a box of chocolates. Tell us about a bright idea that’s worked for you and you too could win a prize. Email

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 18


‘WORKING LIKE FURY’ James Simpson MW is ‘utterly amazed’ by the way Pol Roger Portfolio sales have performed in the indie sector this year. But it’s only happened thanks to extra effort from all sides


ames Simpson has a habit of

sounding cheerful – it’s in his DNA. But as he takes stock of a year of

unprecedented turbulence, he has every reason to be upbeat.

Naturally he has concerns about the

plight of the on-trade, and genuine

sympathy for those operators whose

businesses have been ravaged by Covid, through no fault of their own. But Pol Roger Portfolio itself has reaped the

rewards of establishing strong bonds with the specialist independent trade.

“We are in a really lucky position,” he

says. “This year should have been terrible for us, but we are pootling along quite

happily – that’s the advantage of having

strong brands in a good retail environment. “I think we started off this year at about

75% off-trade and 25% on-trade, and now off-trade is nearer 85%. We’re going to be only a smidgeon down on last year, which utterly amazes me.”

Simpson is pleased to see that “people

seem less frightened about paying a bit

more for a bottle of wine” and predicts that fine wines will increasingly aim to build their profile in the independent trade, instead of the restaurant scene.

“The independents are important, and

they’ll become even more so, especially if

people are working a few days a week from home,” he says.

“All the City boys are

going to be going to their

local suburban wine shop.

We need to concentrate on the indies because

they have potential and there’s growth.”

The line-up in its normal packaging: sample sizes are available


he Pol Roger team has been

helping indies by sending out

argon-sealed wine samples and

working with merchants to organise Zoom tastings and other online activity.

“With whisky, thank god, we had

miniatures anyway,” Simpson says. “We’ve done over 40 whisky Zoom tastings.

That’s the sort of thing that I think we can help with at the moment. We’ve

got the expertise at Pol in wine, whisky and Champagne and we can talk to the

consumers at home. We were a bit earlier than some on that.

“Recently we did the Drouhin en primeur

launch. We did 25 samples for 20 people so these 100ml jobs are beautiful things. You put some smart labels on and top up with

argon. We had a play around with it and up to five days later they are exactly the same – no problem at all.

“It’s not what we all signed up for –

decanting takes much longer than you

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 19

think it’s going to. But the independents

have worked like fury, and I think it’s up to us as suppliers to do the same thing.”

Pol Roger Portfolio Champagne Pol Roger; Abreu Vineyards, California; Bodegas Artadi, Spain; Drouhin Vaudon, Chablis; Gallica, California; Grand Tokaj, Hungary; Igo Organic Rosé, Spain; Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy; Josmeyer, Alsace; Kinsman Eades, Napa Valley; Robert Sinskey Vineyards, California; Staglin Family Vineyard, California; TOR, Napa Valley; Glenfarclas whisky, Speyside. Visit Twitter: @Pol_Roger


Favourite Things

Freixenet Copestick has purchased Jascots Wine Merchants from the administrators, with all current Jascots employees set to transfer to the new business. Freixenet Copestick is part of

international sparkling wine group Henkell Freixenet.

Fabien Voisin

Tell Me Wine, Chepstow Favourite wine on my list

Touraine Rosé Noble Joué 2016 – Rousseau Vineyard. We love the pale coppery colour and the unusual blend of different Pinots. It has qualities of rose petal, lemon zest, pink currant, young raspberry, white peach and spice in a lively, crisp and refreshing style. The winemaker definitely showed this appellation at its highest potential.

Favourite wine and food match

Foie gras with vin doux Muscat Petit Grains from St Jean de Minervois, with rock salt on top and fig chutney on the side. Only the French can understand the distinct pleasure in tasting this highly prized met de choix. The texture of the foie gras, paired beautifully Muscat Petit Grains, is memorable.

The new business, which will trade as

Jascots Wine Ltd, will continue to operate from its north London base, and remain

focused on finding and supporting small

sustainable growers around the world, the announcement said.

Freixenet Copestick’s managing director

Damian Clarke said Jascots was a wellrespected wine supplier which has

established itself as a supplier of choice to some of the best restaurants, hotels and caterers in London and beyond through a “superb” portfolio of exclusive wines, exceptional service and leadership in sustainability.

The Drinks Business, December 14

shop and wholesaler but recently made the decision to grow its retail arm in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of its new strategy the company

has bought Richard Granger Wines, a

popular wine shop that has welcomed

customers at West Jesmond Metro Station, in Newcastle, for the last 50 years.

Richard Granger Wines was previously

owned by Alistair Stewart who has sold the business so he can retire.

The much-loved wine shop will close

following the acquisition, but its name, website and client list will pass over to Guest Wines.

Guest Wines also acquired Michael

Jobling Wines, with the business’ owner

Michael Jobling joining the new firm as its wine ambassador.

Business Live, December 9

Arrests in ‘seizure of the century’ has recovered over €5m worth of stolen fine wines and resulted in the arrests of over 20 people.

Favourite wine trade person

Le Vignoble in Bath. Yannick Loué gave us the inspiration to create a hybrid wine shop and wine bar on this scale. We loved the concept, the design, the positioning, the wine list and his determination.

Ruth Guest, operates as an online wine

gendarme strike force dubbed Magnum

Château Giscours in Margaux. It was one of our first trips to this region: we were like children visiting Disneyland.

Favourite wine shop

Guest Wines, which is run by Kelvyn and

An operation by a French police and

Favourite wine trip

Justin Sims from Alliance Wine and, more generally, the Alliance team. They have provided a huge amount of support for a small shop like ours. They have helped increase our sales and gained our trust. The portfolio is so varied and they are proactive.


Jascots rescued by Freixenet offshoot

French law enforcement swooped on

locations in the Gironde, Dordogne and All employees transfer to the new company

Newcastle indie is sold to Guest Wines An online wine retailer has expanded after buying a popular Newcastle wine shop.

Loire recovering some 900 bottles of stolen

wine and arresting 25 suspects in what one French news station called the “seizure of the century”.

Police recovered cases of some of

France’s most prestigious wines, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Cheval

Blanc, Petrus and Yquem among others,

after what has been a year-long inquiry. The Drinks Business, December 14

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 20

Stockpiling means wines can’t move



How easy is it to sell wine to the under-25s?

I think it’s really easy to sell to them. If young people are spending more time drinking at home and not in pubs then surely wine is a fit. I think it’s about engagement. Independents should look at trends and embrace the new – there’s always going to be a way that works with what each individual business does. Youngsters are still very sociable people and wine is a very sociable drink and you don’t have to spend a fortune. There’s wine below 10 quid, there’s wine below eight quid, and it’s our job to find it.

Simon Taylor of Stone Vine & Sun had been planning to stockpile wine before the end of the month just in case prices rise when the UK stops trading under EU rules. The wine merchant says he now can’t do

so, as so many firms had the same idea.

Hauliers are booked up, leaving him with

no way to get wine back to the UK before the end of the year.

“Huge volumes of wine are being shipped

out of Europe. This is about potentially

saving a huge amount of money,” he said.

There are fears that if a trade deal can’t

be reached, the cost of goods imported

from the EU will rise – and that could mean pricier wine.

Mr Taylor said he expects wine prices

Rob Hoult Hoults, Huddersfield H Champagne winner H

One of the ways that we were getting through to that group before lockdown was by having more events. We had one where the doors were thrown open – it was literally like a wine jumble sale. You needed sharp elbows to get through and grab a glass of wine, but it meant there was nothing preachy about it at all. Quite a few younger people came along and found things they really liked. We also had a few music evenings and they definitely worked.

Guy Butters Rise & Vine, London

to rise, even if the UK secures a deal with Brussels.

“My understanding is there’s going to be

It seems the 25-and-under category is getting more savvy by the minute in my opinion. Social media allows younger people to have access to insider knowledge much quicker than we ever used to, which means wine recommendations and tips can be shared instantly. Younger folks are getting to grips with the impact that mass wine production has on the environment and want to buck those trends, so they have more of an interest in where their wine comes from and how it’s made.

a UK import levy of between 7-13 pence

per bottle. There will be an administrative charge from our suppliers of 6-8 pence

a bottle. We’re led to believe that’s what happens if we have a deal,” he said.

“If we don’t have a deal, there’ll be

further tariffs.”

BBC News, December 11

• A wine shop owner has revealed how two thieves tunnelled into the cellar of his shop and stole £250,000 of stock – but left behind a priceless bottle once owned by Whitney Houston. The duo, who claimed to be tenants of a nearby property when they were caught, also left behind a £100,000 bottle of wine during the raid on Vintage Wines in Derby

Iain Alcott The Twisted Cellar, Bishops Stortford

I think they are very price-orientated and they are quite impulsive buyers – usually buying something just for the evening ahead. They might be a bit more discerning, dependent on budget. When I was that age I was drinking beer and playing rugby but I know in France after a game, they’ll go out much later and drink wine in the clubs – it’s a cultural thing. People’s tastebuds mature at different stages and there is still a bit of snobbery associated with wine, so generally I think people come to it a bit later.

Simon Lloyd, Lloyd’s Wines, Great Missenden

Road, Nottingham. Managing director Terry Rockley explained how the thieves, who have now been jailed, carried out the raids over a period of two days in October.

Champagne Gosset The oldest wine house in Champagne: Äy 1584

Nottinghamshire Live, December 12

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 21


We need a real alternative to Amazon The world’s richest man got his big break selling books online, and quickly dominated the market. Now independent book sellers are fighting back with the help of the website. Could independent wine shops follow that lead? David Williams considers the idea


t’s been a good pandemic for the world’s richest man. Jeff Bezos

added $74bn (£55bn) to his personal

fortune in 2020, as Amazon cashed in while many of the world’s bricks-and-mortar shops and (just as importantly, given

Amazon’s share of the music, TV and film

streaming market) cinemas, theatres and

music venues, closed for months at a time. To put that figure in perspective:

according to figures quoted by the BBC,

the UK government was estimated to have spent £43bn by the end of November on

supporting up to 9m British citizens on its

furlough scheme. Bezos’ 2020 bonus would have placed him at number 67 in a ranking

of the world’s countries by annual GDP, just behind Guatemala, just ahead of Myanmar. At $189bn (£141bn), his total estimated

fortune is somewhere around the annual GDP of the 50th largest economy in the world, New Zealand.

If it weren’t for the toll it takes on

my blood pressure, I could play this

game of ever more boggling statistical

towards Amazon, however, any business

after a moment’s reflection, depressingly

range will always have some measure of

comparisons all day. The numbers are

almost unbelievably big but, for most of us, grotesque.

No matter how much we may rage against

the Amazon machine in public, however,

most of us are too hooked on its services to give up the intimate relationship we have with the company in private. We hear the stories – of borderline abusive working

conditions, of pitiful tax contributions. We tut, we promise to never use it again. And then we click to the checkout, relieved in

these times even more than others, to have done all our Christmas shopping without having left the sofa.

Convenience, even more than price, is

a helluva drug, and for those wishing to

mount some sort of challenge to this retail overlord, ease of use – from browsing to

order and delivery – is the terrain on which the battle has to be enjoined.

Such is the widespread antipathy

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 22

that holds out the promise of offering even approaching the same level of service and underdog goodwill in the bank – all the

more so if they also promise to bring some other social benefit into the bargain. All of which helps explain the

extraordinary – verging on fawning

– reception granted to,

launched in the UK in November 2020 after a successful roll-out in the USA earlier in the year.

The format is simple enough, and aims

to challenge Amazon in the very market in which it first came to prominence,

books. At the same time, it’s marketed as an ethical, almost fair trade, alternative, providing much needed support for the part of the book trade that has suffered

the most from the rise of Amazon and the

pandemic in which, as non-essential shops, they have been shuttered for months at a time: independent retailers.

© Prawny /

less profit when they sell through, which itself takes 4% of

each sale, than they would if they sold the

book through their own stores or website – about 13-20% less per book according to a bookseller quoted in the article.

Publishers, too, have found the model

less than attractive, with the obligation

to go through the wholesaler, Gardners,

meaning they end up making 5% less for each sale than they would with Amazon.

And there’s a belief among some retailers, particularly the high street likes of Foyles and Waterstones, that the, with an audience made up of committed book buyers, is drawing customers from got a warm response when it launched in the UK in November

Book shops are invited to create a

“storefront” on the site, and if customers buy anything through their page, the

independent receives 30% of the sale. If customers land on and buy through the generic pages and not a

specific bookseller’s portal, then 10% of

the sale goes to a centralised pot which is

shared by all the participating book shops (and which, at the time of writing, had

reached £611,000, to be divided among 350 affiliates).


s I’ve said in these pages before, the independent retail book

trade shares many features with

independent wine retail. The number of

shops (around 870 at the time of writing,

compared to independent wine’s 938); the competitive set (high-discounting, high-

volume, low-range supermarkets and lowoverhead online merchants); and the path to success (a combination of impeccable quality of range and well-informed

personal service) are all strikingly similar in both trades.

Also like independent book stores, a

high proportion of smaller independent

merchants have been slow, or simply not

had the cash, the will or the time, to set up a fully functioning e-commerce website of their own.

It’s easy, then, to see why many wine

merchants are keeping a close eye on the

progress of, and wondering if there’s potential for a similar venture – – to perform the same job with wine.

I agree that there’s potential, and that

the more that the UK’s indies can work together the better it is for all of them. But I’m not so sure that bookshop.

org is quite the ethical white knight the publishing world thought it would be. As an excellent piece in the New

Statesman published in December showed, there’s something a little off about a model that sees book shops make considerably

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 23

them rather the ostensible rival it’s made so much of challenging.


s a user, too, I’m not convinced. The website doesn’t make it

easy to buy direct from your

favourite or local bookshop. You have to drill down, first searching for the shop,

and then picking through a rather slender

selection from their stores. It’s much easier – and quicker – for the casual browser to buy through the non-aligned parts of the site. And really, all that means is a small,

almost charitable donation, while shopping through a warehouse and fulfillment centre.

Of course, any similar wine venture

needn’t follow the model slavishly, and

there’s much – not least the sheer PR boost of not being Amazon – for any would-

be indie website to take away from the experience. It’s certainly

heartening that so many people are looking to claw back some of the power of retail’s

biggest beasts. But to really succeed, those looking to wean the world off Bezos and

Co need to make the switch as easy – and rewarding – as possible.


From the Marne to the Midlands Champagne native Pierre Hourlier has made a career selling French wines from his base in Derbyshire. Now he and son Jean-Pierre have their own bricks-and-mortar premises, located in the salubrious surroundings of Melbourne Hall. Nigel Huddleston pays a visit

Anthony Reynolds, July 2020 Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire: a unique address for a wine merchant

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 24



he location of Pierre Hourlier

Wines is unlike that of any other wine merchant in the UK, if not

the world.

It occupies part of a stable block

adjacent to Melbourne Hall, a Georgian pile in Derbyshire that was once the home of

the 19th century prime minister William

Lamb, aka Viscount Melbourne, who gave

Pierre, “and I thought, I’ve got to help. I

that. There was a lot of work to do.

– from working from a piece of paper

all the cons on the other, and then we said

gradually computerised it.

“This shop and office was the next step

and a stock sheet of wines that you can’t physically see, to presenting more a showroom type of thing.”

Why did you move into retail after so

We just drew a line down a sheet of

paper and put all the pros on one side and there were enough pros to do it, so we

did. It was a case of “let’s have an office

that’s not in my folks’ home, where we can

present wines and invite customers and do onsite tastings”.

his name to the state capital of Victoria in

many years without a shop?

Pierre Hourlier Wines, however, nor any

recommendations. The costs were very

Jean-Pierre: We’re specialist. We’re not

modernised everything. A website was his

change. We’re still very much an importer


Pierre: Before I was selling wine from

from elsewhere in Australia. Nor the rest

low. Jean-Pierre joined about 15 years

You won’t find that state’s wines in

of the new world for that matter. Nor Italy, or Spain.

Run by founder Pierre Hourlier, a native

of the Champagne region, with his son

Jean-Pierre, the business is 100% focused on French wines, all of which they import themselves.

The hall is still in private hands, as the

seat of Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr, who are the shop’s landlords.

Pierre first came to the East Midlands on

a school exchange visit and liked the UK so much he vowed to return one day.

“I thought I’d better come back to where

there were people I knew rather than start afresh, so I came back to the Midlands,” Pierre says. “I joined a wine firm for a

while and left them in 1975 to start my own business selling wine.

“In those days French wines were

dominant and selling them was easy. You could sell virtually anything to anybody. I only operated by word-of-mouth with private clients … for 40 years.”

In 2016 Pierre was persuaded by his

family that there was merit in putting

down a permanent and separate business base that took the operation into bricksand-mortar retail, backed by national online sales.

“I remember way back going into his

home through wine tastings and

street in a town or a city?

ago, with different ideas of course. He

street operation we would need to

ambition and we’ve now got a super one

really. It has given us more oomph. We’ve

got an extensive new clientele since we got it.

Four years ago, my son and my wife

catering for everyone. If we did a high

that specialises in French wine. A wine importer with a premises on the high street wouldn’t really cut it. You need

Continues page 26

looked at what we were doing and said,

“this is what we want: a new adventure”. It complemented what we were already

doing, and it is the future. Retailing and the internet are the future.

Jean-Pierre: I just wanted to showcase

things and have a set-up like this, really. We like to look at it as another string to

the bow. There were also more practical

reasons: to have an office next door, and a

showroom and a little bit of a distribution spot here. It was a positive thing to do, so we made that choice.

How did you end up in this location? Jean-Pierre: I found it online. We had to

change the use and get a premises licence and go through all the process of doing

Hourlier discovered the UK on a school trip

‘We’re specialist. We’re not catering for everyone. If we did a high street operation we would need to change’

office and seeing his customers’ details on cards that he flicked through,” says Jean-

It’s very rural. Did you consider a high

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 25


From page 25

to have a bit of everything that way. We

did look at other venues but this works

customers and to your suppliers.

We have regulars who’ve been a few


If it’s not a stupid question, why do you

really well for us. It’s nice place for people

just stick to French wines?

public and a nice high street and great

lot of wine merchants are a bit of this,

travelling from afar. There are amazing

Pierre: Because I’d rather be a specialist

restaurants in the area.

a bit of that, a bit of everything – and

gardens at the hall which are open to the Pierre: One of the appeals of being here

was that there are a few other reasons for

people to come here, which makes it a nice day out.

What was 2020 like for you? Pierre: We were so bombarded with orders during [the first lockdown] period we had to work seven days a week to cope with dispatching them. The shop was closed because we were using it to dispatch

orders and no one could fit in to buy wine. We were open for click and collect.

Jean-Pierre: It was like Christmas. We got a lot of new customers. People’s buying

habits were different, because it was a time when holidays and meals out had been

cancelled, so they bought nice food and wine to eat and drink at home instead. Did you take tastings online?

Jean-Pierre: We did a Zoom tasting with a

in one thing than a jack of all trades. A

nothing in particular. The only exception

is Niepoort port because we were the very first supplier of it in 1975. The rest is all

French. There are no negociant bottles of wine, no co-operative wines. They’re all

individual growers; a lot of them are small. They are not factories. Two-thirds of the

wines we have in the UK are ones that no one else has. The remaining third others

have, but most of the time we are cheaper than them.

I had three golden rules when I started:

never let customers down – if you make

a mistake correct it straight away; never

‘I have three golden rules: never let customers down, never borrow money, and never pay suppliers late’

private wine club. We only did it once. We

borrow money from the bank; and never

Jean-Pierre: It’s as simple as the customer

was just too long and hadn’t been thought

The worst time of my career was 1992

Pierre: We know when we’ve failed – they

had three wines we needed to chat about and allowed an hour and 20 minutes. It

out properly. I think it’s another business

model altogether but it’s not really one for us.

Pierre: We have been taking groups of

customers to visit the vineyards every year since 1989, but obviously not lately. We

took 38 people to the Languedoc in 2019: we fly there, have a good hotel and have

a coach to go round vineyards, and have

lunch or evening meals and so on. It works very well in getting you closer to your

pay suppliers late. I still stick to them to this day.

and 1993 after Black Wednesday when the pound lost 15%. French wines lost

momentum; new world wines invaded

the market. My best three customers in

wholesale went down. Although I lost 75% of my business, because I had no debt, I’d

amassed enough working capital not to go down.

What earns a wine a place on your shelves?

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 26

wanting it again and again and again – that’s the ultimate.

don’t ask [for the same thing] again.

Jean-Pierre: Sometimes it doesn’t happen overnight; it can take a few years before

something becomes a keeper. Essentially, the profile of the producer needs to be right for us. We’re looking for smaller

operations most of the time where we

mean something to them. We’ll taste it on site [in the vineyard] or get samples back

and evaluate it and if we like it, we’ll give it a punt.


Pierre with son Jean-Pierre

Over time we will present it at tastings,

which we do a lot of in here with

customers. We’ll present it gradually to

an array of customers at different times of year to give the wine a good chance. You’ll quickly find out if it’s a wine a

customer asks for again. Ultimately, they decide. That’s when you know you’ve got something. The process is messy [laughter].

Pierre: It’s not simple to buy wine from

small vineyards. You make mistakes. The

producer who’s only just got rid of his fax

unless you taste them, you won’t buy them.

them, had food with them, for us it’s very

in the modern wine market?

perhaps 50 suppliers. Some of them we

what it could be but it is the content that is

machine. But there’s a certain charm to

that. And that direct contact, having met important.

Pierre: The truth is in the bottle, not on the

buy from occasionally and some on a

important. France lost ground to the new

Pierre: We don’t use UK agents. We have regular basis. But all of them we know.

Where’s particularly exciting in French wine at the moment?

reward is in the bottle, so we put up with

Pierre: Languedoc. It had a bad reputation

What do you mean by messy?

that realised that at the time in his first

the mistakes.

Jean-Pierre: If you deal with a big, slick operation, sometimes everything is

easy, but if you’re dealing with a lot of

individuals who you’re waiting to get hold of or waiting for an email … there’s one

How well do you think France competes

many years ago, but it always had

potential. It was really only Hugh Johnson wine book. In the last 20 years many

producers have really come up. But they

still suffer because “label” drinkers don’t buy Languedoc wines; they buy names. Languedoc wines are wines to drink;

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 27

label. The label gives you an indication of

world because it was too complacent and

it didn’t call wines by the name of grapes.

A lot of people didn’t know that Burgundy was Pinot Noir or Chardonnay – and it didn’t matter to them.

Commercially, many producers have

improved but you have individual wine

growers and big organisations, and they are in different worlds. We only believe

in small growers, who are more natural and genuine. They are not necessarily

marketeers, but they know how to make wine.



ou don’t need to be mad to work here but it helps, ha-ha. I am definitely madder than I was at the start of March. Not just in a Bernard Black with unlimited wine-way; not just in an endearingly mismatched wardrobe and clogs-way; but in a slightly dangerous if you tell me that wine I suggested doesn’t match with your impossible to match with menu I might stab you with my 10-colour multipen-way. In an: I’m going to storm off and sulk in the Portuguese Corner because you said one of the boys usually helps you-way. In a, while we’re at it, “ooh, I’m a man and I’m looking round for another man to help with my beer selection-way and you couldn’t possibly help me” even though I wake up at 4am and think, we’ve probably not got enough West Coast IPAs to see us through the week kind-of-way. (That one didn’t make much sense really but it does, actually, really piss me off, especially as these days I’m not just beergurgitating what Awesome IPA Guy said to me last week, I actually know shit and have tasted shit although not as much shit as I pretend in all honesty, OK you’ve got me – it’s just that beer is in no way as good as wine, WAKE UP.) And actually, there’s a pandemic on and I can’t pick out all the beers that are heavy on the Amarillo because that sketchy wee creep who is incapable of putting his mask over his mouth and his nose is definitely going to steal some gin if I take my eyes off him even for a second, oh no there he goes anyway, never mind, NEVER BLOODY MIND. Let’s put some wine on tasting even though none of the customers can taste it and there’s only one clean glass.


y descent into irascible, frustrated and angry middle-aged woman is not helped by the fact that this month, following on from the Great Crisp Buffet that was last month, I have given up actual food, opting instead for a meal replacement shake with an amusing name that contracts Human and Fuel into one word, isn’t that clever? Huel. Huel: clever also that it sounds like the dry boke that you invariably do after consuming it. The benefits of this gruel are myriad, or at least include the following:

3. GLOOPSHAKE Crisps are so last month. In fact for Phoebe Weller of Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow, all solid food is off the menu, which may or may not be contributing to her fragile grip on sanity

- I can drink it without stopping working and kinda with my mask on, although I probably wouldn’t do that if Big Nicola were in the shop. - I am saving money and time not trawling the Great Western Road for tasty yellow labelled goods nor being stung for never less than fourteen pounds (which is, for those who live outside London, equal to four days work) for an *insert ludicrous ancient-grain based salad and rant about Expensive and Incompetent neighbouring Hippy Shop here*. - I don’t go scrounging round the Cheese Shop any more. I am not going back to those stinkers who, despite the fact that I gave them four years of my “professional” life and the circulation of blood to my extremities and possibly quite a lot of the space in my arteries, have stopped my wholesale account because they thought I wasn’t being exclusive enough to them. Iain, Karen and Rory, I am absolutely raging about this and I will wreak my revenge, although not this year I’m tired. And that thing that happened recently where someone hacked your Instagram and put up indecent pictures partially censored with Dairylea wasn’t me, can’t prove it, can’t prove anything.

THE THEWINE WINEMERCHANT MERCHANT november January 2021 2020 28

he gloop has 400 calories in it, contains both vitamins and minerals and is moderately filling. Just shake and go! Time saving! Money saving! And, over the course of a month I have lost, regained and lost again 2lbs! I have also, by virtue of not trying any more, started to rid myself of my jealousy of Jordan’s lunches smelling 60-80% better than any of my lunches ever did. Every day something different. Carefully layered spices, deeply savoury bases, blooming clouds of olfactory delight emanating from the rusted up microwave. She does something with beans that is incomprehensible. Soup? Her soups redefine the genre. Jordan always has better lunches than I do, did. Back in the days of solid food. Back in the days when I had patience, humour and love in my heart. Last Sunday Jordan said she had a special treat and I came in and she had made an entire roast dinner for us, despite the fact that she has no facility in her house to roast things. It was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, the greens carefully balanced with a hint of basil, flecked with toasted almonds, the thinly cut beef pink and melt-in-the-mouth, the gravy God’s own gravy, plentiful, silky, rich. It was one of my highlights of the year and I had to go downstairs and have a wee cry afterwards because really it was awful sweet and kind and she really is a much better cook than I am, damn her. She also knows all the beers with Amarillo in them. IT MAKES ME SO MAD.


ut maybe, just maybe I would be less mad, less cranky, jealous, unpleasant and disorganised if I went back to eating food-type food. Chew food. Maybe if I went back to floating about as the Queen of Kelvinbridge, soaking up the life-giving small-town gossip, searching out the yellow labels, I wouldn’t need to do quite as much calming meditation before the work day starts. Maybe there’s something there. We will see.


Gin inspired by Haçienda design Manchester Gin has launched a limitededition label: FAC51 The Haçienda. Created in collaboration with former

New Order bassist Peter Hook, the

packaging is inspired by the interior designers of the iconic music venue.

The gin is made with locally foraged

dandelion and burdock, blended with

the fresh zest of lemon and lime peel as

a nod to the acid house movement which Manchester’s music scene kickstarted. The producer describes the gin as

Cane & Able was founded by Lee Smith

A rum that helps save baby turtles

“smooth, yet balanced, underpinned with

Lost Years, the debut brand from

lively as the Haçienda itself”.

Latin America direct to British drinkers

the sweet taste of sherbet and the warming flavours of cassia to create a flavour as The gin retails for £35.

independent rum house Cane & Able, brings the taste of the Caribbean and – saving baby turtles in the process. The hand-bottled range includes

authentic aged and unaged blended rums from “some of the world’s most revered distilleries”.

Every bottle sold will save up to 10 baby

sea turtles across the Caribbean and Latin America, the company claims.

Lost Years aims to save more than

500,000 hatchlings over the next few years, helping protect one of the world’s oldest

and most endangered species. Cash from

every sale will help fund community-based conservation efforts at key turtle nesting Peter Hook was involved in the launch

• Hospitality Gin, which raises money for workers in the hospitality industry whose livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19 measures, has launched a Pineapple + Pepper style. The variant, which marks the introduction of the brand’s new Bartender Series of gins that showcase unconventional flavour combinations, is available in 70cl and 50cl bottles, retailing for £37 and £30 respectively.

This month’s celebration of Scotland’s favourite poet gives an opportunity to explore the country’s national drink in cocktails as well as a dram. In its purest form, the oftreinvented Bobby Burns cocktail uses the herbal Benedictine as its liqueur ingredient, but subbing in a Scotch liqueur gives an extra patina of authenticity. Drambuie and Glayva are among the best known but Old Pulteney’s Stroma and Morrison & Mackay’s Bruadar are worth a shout. The fruity, sherried styles of Speyside malts are a good starting point for the base spirit, and playing about with the bitters can subtly change its character – Angostura for more traditional wintry clove and cinnamon spice, or Peychaud’s for an aniseed flourish.

sites across the Caribbean and Latin America.

The four rums in the line-up are Four

Island, Arribada, Silver Moon and Navy Strength.

Lost Years is 100% plastic free. The

packaging is made of FSC-certified

cardboard, which is 100% recyclable and has a minimal amount of printed surface. The internal sleeve breaks down and

biodegrades readily, is non-toxic and is

made of 100% recycled material, which is

said to have a lower carbon footprint than using virgin cardboard.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 29

6cl Highland or Speyside Scotch whisky 3cl red vermouth 1cl Scotch whisky liqueur Two dashes of bitters Twist of lemon peel

Put all the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the lemon zest.

a year of challenges Australian wine producers are a friendly and supportive bunch, which is just as well after the year they’ve just endured. But it will take more than fire, disease and escalating tariffs to knock the industry off its stride. By David Williams

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 30

© Kwest /


ustralia’s success as a wine

exporter has been built on the

reconciliation of two apparently

contradictory impulses.

On the one hand you have what can

from the outside look like the intoxicating freedom of Australia’s looser regulatory

framework. When it comes to winemaking rules, individual producers have more flexibility – and far greater scope for

adapting to changes in the consumer

weather – than their peers toiling away in

of Australian wine has always had its more

a distinctively entrepreneurial edge to

shared goal or message is a much more

Europe’s restrictive appellation system. It’s an environment that has fostered

Australia’s modern winemaking culture, with experimentation – whether that’s

with varietals (from Albariño to Zibibbo),

winemaking and winegrowing techniques, or packaging and closures – actively encouraged.

But the apparently libertarian paradise

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 31

communitarian side, too – an acceptance that working towards a clearly defined effective way of advancing individual ambitions than working alone.

The levies that every producer and grape

grower pays to fund Wine Australia are not always popular. But the work that they pay Continues page 32


From page 31

for – from marketing to arguably the most comprehensive collection of winemaking

data on the planet and cutting-edge grape

growing and winemaking research – is the envy of the wine world.


fter a year of unprecedented

challenges, the Australian wine

industry has had to draw deeply

from both sides of its character in 2020, finding solutions both collective and

individual to combat the Biblical quartet of fire, drought, plague and (trade) war. burning as 2020 started: one of the

Justine Henschke, a sixth-generation member of the winemaking family

country’s worst-ever bushfire seasons,

perhaps most heartening of all, many

Carson gave him some Pinot Noir from

2020, ended up destroying around 1%

and wine to the fires.


which began in June 2019 and reached a

peak around Christmas and early January of the Australian vineyard, according to

estimates put together by Wine Australia. But, with many producers choosing

not to produce wines because of smoke

taint, Wine Australia estimated that 4% of

production, or 60,000 tonnes, was affected by the fires in some way, and the vintage ended up being the smallest in 10 years.

Some regions paid a particularly heavy

toll. Fires burned through a third of the

winemakers contributed grapes and their labour to colleagues who had lost vines

It was hard not to be moved by stories

such as the one concerning Clonakilla.

When the Canberra producer’s winemaker Tim Kirk announced he would not be

making any wine in 2020 due to smoke

taint, Yalumba’s Louisa Rose sent him some Viognier and Shiraz fruit from the Eden

Valley while Yabby Lake Vineyard’s Tom

Adelaide Hills’ 3,300ha of vines, while

Canberra and the Hunter Valley were the

Mornington Peninsula.

alking to wine producers affected by the fires earlier this year, the emphasis was on resilience – of

the vine as a plant, and of the winemaking

community. As early as April, Adelaide Hills producers such as the Henschkes, who saw 90% of their 25ha Lenswood vineyard in Continues page 35

© Kwest /

The first of those challenges was already

worst hit by smoke taint, Wine Australia said.

But the response on a collective and

individual level was deeply impressive.

Wine Australia was quick to mobilise funds and resources, helping to co-ordinate

responses, and providing various toolkits and expert advice for growers looking to rebuild.

The industry as a whole raised millions

of dollars in a fund-raising drive that

attracted support from importers, retailers and consumers all over the world. And

Not all fans of Australian wine grapes pay for what they consume

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 32


Louisa Rose, Yalumba I grew up in Victoria, which is where all my family still are. My stepfather decided he would like to start a bit of a hobby farm, which very quickly turned into a hobby vineyard in the Yarra Valley. Our weekends and holidays were spent planting vines, eventually training them, picking and pruning them. Our first crop was 1983 and I still remember delivering those grapes to the winery that bought them. I was fascinated by all the bright lights and dark skies and people running around in this winery. It seemed very exciting and from that time on I decided I wanted to be part of that.

What I loved initially was the viticulture because that’s what I grew up with and loved doing. I love nothing better than to be outside – even now my partner and I have a farm in the Eden Valley where we have sheep and cattle and we grow vegetables. We plant a lot of trees.

I also love science and if I hadn’t had that interest in viticulture through my family I probably would have ended up in the pure sciences area. My first degree was in physics at Melbourne University even though I knew I wanted to study wine, physics was my second passion. I always talk about this continuum of art on one end and science on the other. Most winemakers are somewhere in the middle. My first vintage at Yalumba was 1992. Robert Hill-Smith was at the helm as CEO and he was excited. He wanted his team to

be pushing the boundaries and exploring new things. That was a really exciting time. That hasn’t changed but the world of wine around us has changed. It’s a lot bigger than it was.

We’ve evolved along with what we think consumers might like. I don’t think we are fashion followers per se ... I’d like to think we can help create the future for our customers and consumers. Many of our wines are made with wild fermentation, which doesn’t necessarily change the style but it does give it more textures. I think you see that more in the white wines than the red. We use less new oak in our wines than we did in 1992 and I don’t think we’re on our own in that. We have our own cooperage and that’s a really important part of what we do. You might think there is a temptation there to use more oak but that’s not the case. We really look for balance – for the fruit to be the star of a wine, and the oak to support it.

I’m fascinated by the concept of terroir and how that’s expressed in different varieties in different ways. What makes wine so drinkable? Sometimes you find a wine that’s utterly delicious – but what makes it so delicious? That drinkability factor is so crucial.

For a long time I thought being a female winemaker was irrelevant. Recently I think it’s become more relevant and I mean

Roseworthy graduate Louisa has spent her entire career at Yalumba, based in the Barossa Valley, rising to become the family company’s chief winemaker. She’s one of the world’s highest-profile female winemakers, also serving on the board of the Australian Wine Research Institute. Yalumba is imported into the UK by Fells 01442 289325

that in terms of mentoring and inspiring people. When you look at the statistics of young women who don’t go into STEM, it’s shocking. Girls still don’t think they should be studying those subjects. Our winemaking team is about half and half male and female, and among the graduates coming out of the winemaking courses now, there are more females than males. It’s definitely changing in the winemaking part of the industry and I think that’s great. You just want to make sure everyone gets the same opportunities.

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Eden Valley Viognier 2018

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Barossa Shiraz 2018

Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz 2015

RRP: £17.99 I talk about this wine as being the essence of Viognier; stone fruits, white peaches, apricots, some ginger and white pepper. It has richness and lovely natural sweetness that comes from the grapes, not from sugar, yet it’s got that length and freshness. The fine tannins from the skins give it that zippiness.

RRP: £17.99 This wine has some Eden Valley fruit in it to give it perfume and lift, and the Barossa Valley fruit from the more fertile country to give it some more body, spice and more of the black fruits, and maybe some tapenade characters. The wine is supple and juicy. We age it typically with 15% new oak.

RRP: £37.99 This is a really important blend for us. We’ve been making these wines at Yalumba from the late 1800s that we know of. I like to think about this as a more serious Cabernet – and the Shiraz, that’s a bit rounder and warmer, comes along, gives Cabernet a big hug and says: don’t be so serious!

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2021 33


Paul and James Lindner Langmeil, Barossa Paul Lindner (left) and brother James are sixth-generation Barossans, running what James Halliday rates as a five-star family-owned winery. Paul is responsible for winemaking while James takes care of global sales and distribution.

Paul: My wine career started young, picking grapes for my grandmother that grandad would then turn into wine. I was paid 20 cents per bucket and given a bowl of pasta at the end of day. James and I left school in the middle of the vine-pull era so there was little encouragement to get into the industry. I started a mechanics apprenticeship and James went to Orlando to work on their cask line. In a funny sort of way these roles became the start of our journey into the family business. James: The feeling within the community is one of uncertainty as we learn more about new trade challenges around the world. What lifts us all is the knowledge that we are all making better wines than ever. We have a greater understanding of our land and we’re producing diverse and interesting wines to make Barossa sustainable for the next generation. I walk around our historic old home and think about where it came from to where it is today. I see and taste the evolution of my brother’s winemaking. Paul and I are both working to leave an enduring legacy; one that we inherited from our parents and that we can hand on to our children.

Paul: I don’t think my winemaking style has changed a great deal. I’ve always been more focused on the vineyards and ensuring everything there is as good as it can be. I started off making wine in my back shed, so my approach has always been fairly traditional; open ferments and a gentle basket press. If the fruit is good and

we pick at the right time, then my job is simply to guide it through the winery.

Paul: I have gotten a bit more experimental with the grapes I work with. Barossa suits Mediterranean varieties like Montepulciano and Primitivo so I believe there’s a big future ahead there. And they go really well with food. That’s why I know my grandparents would enjoy them. It’s all about the food! James: The best bit about working in a family business is that you get to work with your family. The worst bit is that you have to work with your family!

James: We love visiting the UK. They have always been quick to embrace new styles and are there at the beginning of a trend, helping others discover something exciting. Old-vine Barossa Grenache is a classic example of this. The response to our wines and our philosophies has always been positive. Our wines are fresh, vibrant, and aromatic and they complement a diverse array of cuisines. Having had members of the Langmeil team visit a number of top quality wine merchants in recent years such as Loki in Birmingham, HarperWells in Norwich and Wine Raks in Aberdeen, I certainly see increasing interest and awareness in the quality, history and diversity of Australian wine. You expect to see a slight lag due to the variation and constant evolution of our industry, but independent fine wine merchants can respond and embrace this change quickly – and I believe they are doing so.

Langmeil is imported into the UK by Berkmann Wine Cellars 020 7670 0972

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2021 34

Langmeil Freedom 1843 Shiraz RRP: £79.99 This vineyard was planted by Prussian immigrant Christian Auricht in 1843 who escaped war and persecution in his homeland. The original plantings still survive and it stands today as a testament to the winemaking heritage of South Australia. People often ask what makes old vines so good? We believe they are old because they are good.

Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz RRP: £20.99 This is a wine which is really important to us. It encapsulates the endeavours of the 35 grape growing families with whom we work across the 20 parishes of Barossa. Each parcel is separately vinified and following maturation in oak, they are then blended to show the region, the vintage and the families behind them.

Langmeil Three Gardens VMR RRP: £16.49 Old Barossa vignerons referred to their vineyards as gardens, and this wine is a contemporary of classic Rhône varieties which have found a new home in Barossa. It is a wonderful food wine, with fragrance, acidity, texture and fresh fruit. We were thrilled to have this wine named by Matthew Jukes in his Top 100 in 2019.


From page 32

the Adelaide Hills burnt, Vinteloper (95% burnt) and Geoff Weaver (40%) were

reporting green shoots in the damaged

vineyards. And most were hoping for some

fruit in 2021, and for nearly full production to return by 2022.

Of course, by the time those green

shoots were emerging, the industry was already facing its next crisis. Australia’s

By the third quarter, however, the sort of

V-shaped recovery that national economies

exports in the year to September 2020 held

jump by 23% in value between July and

round of tariffs that would push import

are hoping for as vaccines roll out around the world in 2021 was in full swing: a

September meant that Australia’s full tally

for the year was a 4% rise in value, despite a 0.4% drop in volume, putting the value

of Australian wine exports at their highest since 2007.

response to Covid-19, with a coordinated


national and individual state leaders.

main export market, China.

government has been widely praised for its response that relied on co-operation and open lines of communication between Lockdowns were strict; borders both

international and intra-national were closed. But, with more than 60% of

Australian wine production going to the

export market, sales were very much at the

mercy of public health decisions elsewhere. Sure enough, as the crisis reached its

first peak around the globe in the spring, so Australian exports dipped: they fell by 7%

in value in the first quarter of 2020, versus the same period in 2019, and then by 4% in April to June.

While the value of Australia’s Chinese

he figures are particularly

impressive given that 2020 saw

Australian producers forced to cope

with very tough trading conditions in its The Chinese government is currently

investigating charges that Australian

exporters have been dumping wine (ie

selling below the cost of production) in

the Chinese market, and has also accused the industry of subsidising its wine

producers. Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham has dismissed the allegations as “perplexing” and “baseless”, but there is real concern in the industry that the investigation, which could rumble for years, is just the beginning.

up, volumes dropped by 12%. At the time

of writing, China has just announced a new duties to 215% in total. No wonder there is real concern that a market worth four times the value of Australian exports to

the USA in second place, and the UK, just

behind in third, is going to be a headache for producers for some years to come. In the UK

China has been Australia’s largest export

market by volume for some years now. But

the UK remains unchallenged as its biggest destination by volume, and Australia

has been performing well in its original

overseas market, with volume up 10% to 28.4m 9-litre cases, and value up 18% to £243m in the year to September 2019. Anecdotally, the particular, peculiar

trading conditions of the pandemic seem to have been good for Australian wine sales

in the UK, since Australia is at its strongest in the off-trade, and, as Marks & Spencer buyer Sue Daniels put it to me, “many

consumers have gone back to the classics,

the comforting wines, and Australian wines are very much among those”.

As the country enters the second year

of its latest strategic five-year plan (the country’s collective side is no more

apparent than in its penchant for Sovietstyle long-term economic plans), the UK will continue to play a vital role in the

industry’s key priority: “growing value and premiumisation across all price points to deliver profitability”.

Other headline goals include coping

with “climate challenges”, and improving sustainability and bio-security.

For now, however, Australian wine

producers will be hoping for some measure Happier times at Vinteloper, whose vineyards were almost totally destroyed by fire

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2021 35

of equilibrium to return to global markets – and certainly less drama in their own vineyards – during 2021.

Graft full page


Debbie Lauritz, Robert Oatley Vineyards As a young winemaker I deliberately tried to work in a wide variety of wine regions and wineries from new world to old world, cool to warm, small to big. Every place is remarkably different and such a rich and valuable learning experience. The best wines from each experience share a common thread – let the fruit speak, and attention to detail at every step of the process.

We source fruit from a wide range of regions, from my home in Mudgee, NSW, through the Yarra Valley, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and all the way across to Western Australia. We almost have two harvests. The first “harvest” is fruit coming in from Mudgee and the Central Ranges in NSW – so all the normal picking, crushing, pressing and fermentation activities. Then straight into our second “harvest” with very fresh wines coming up from our South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia wineries – where we work on every step post fermentation: oak maturation, blending and bottling.

The Robert Oatley range has a trio of labels. These are the maritime-influenced Signature Series; the specific vineyard focused Finisterre; and the best of the best barrels under The Pennant, with each wine focusing on regions that have a strong affinity to a particular grape variety or style. We have two homes on opposite sides of the country, with vineyards, winery and a cellar door in both Mudgee and Margaret River.

I find the wines from cooler climates more aromatic, fresh and focused – more medium bodied wines, but with great flavour intensity. The challenges are frost, hail and a long growing season, which can stretch vintage into May. If it’s a particularly cool year, some later ripening reds can really slow you down.

At times there are creative tensions. We have three winemakers – Larry Cherubino is the boss and based in WA, so really it is the tyranny of distance that sometimes makes tasting, blending and very small changes to final blends quite difficult. It’s definitely a team effort. I think we are really lucky to have three winemakers to bounce ideas off and give different perspectives to tasting and blending trials. Sometimes you are really sure of your decisions, but other times you really need a second opinion.

Australia is quite a dynamic place for winemaking. We’re not constrained by many rules or regulations around planting, blending, winemaking style, etc. But funnily enough working here, that all seems fairly normal. The most exciting development for our vineyards and winemaking is starting to look at organic certification on some particular parcels of fruit and wines. Three things I most enjoy about my job: Visiting vineyards at harvest time to taste fruit and decide on picking. The smell of the winery with lots of active ferments on the go – it only lasts a matter of weeks, but

Debbie is head winemaker at Robert Oatley’s Mudgee winery. A cool-climate specialist, her career has included stints in Alsace, Marlborough and Niagara. Robert Oatley Vineyards wines are imported into the UK by Hatch Mansfield 01344 871800

it’s just awesome, with so many different aromas depending on the variety, the yeast, the temperature, the oak. Tasting and blending such a wide range of wines from different varieties and regions. Three things I least enjoy about my job: I’m glad I decided not to be an accountant, because working out depreciation on barrels and applying oak costs to wine is definitely something I could do without. Bottling schedule changes – every winemaker’s nightmare. And early, early, early mornings during vintage!

Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay Margaret River

Robert Oatley Signature Series G-18

Robert Oatley Finisterre Cabernet, Margaret River

RRP: £13.95 This is one of my absolute favourite white wines in our portfolio. I am a bit of a Chardonnay fan, but this is just a great wine at the price point. Lovely fruit weight, citrus and some riper stone fruits, definite oak influence but nicely balanced and integrated into the wine, and softly textured.

RRP: £13.95 This is one of my go-to reds. I usually err more towards lighter to medium bodied reds and although Grenache from McLaren is not typically medium bodied, this wine is. It’s an unoaked style, so this wine is all about the lifted bright red fruits and the silky tannins.

RRP: £24 As we step into the Finisterre range we focus on select vineyard parcels, hand harvest, fruit sort, small parcel winemaking. All of this delivers a wine with power, but at the same time varietal and regional purity. Released with a bit more age to give the tannins time to settle, this wine is layered and finely textured.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2021 37


Giles Cooke MW, Thistledown Wines When we first started exploring, Grenache was the variety that we were offered by a lot of the vineyards – nobody wanted it. When you tasted the wines that were made back then, they were either Shiraz lookalikes or they were blended away – you could see why nobody was buying Grenache at that point.

We believed that making Grenache would fulfil our original idea for Thistledown: creating subtler, textural, food-friendly wines. There was the opportunity to have access to these historic vineyards and to completely change the style of wines being made from them. The Thistledown project is spread right across South Australia. I do a lot of work up in the Riverland with old vines and that’s roughly a three-hour drive from Adelaide. But if you’re looking at Blewitt Springs, which is really the grand cru for Grenache in Australia, you’ve got four or five vineyard sources there that are just minutes away from each other, some just over the brow of a hill.

I love working in McLaren Vale. Most of our best Grenache is in McLaren Vale and I still think there is a lot of undiscovered land that could be planted in the region. It’s a beautiful region – one minute you can be swimming in the sea and 10 minutes later you can be picking grapes up in Blewitt Springs. I love it for the diversity of styles and cultures and people, and the openness to outsiders.

Adelaide Hills is hugely exciting, I think. Marginal in places for some varieties – and who’s to say we won’t be doing Grenache there before too long? Everybody thinks Australia is this amazingly easy country to grow fruit in, but it’s pretty rugged and difficult at times. Certainly this last year has proved that in horrific ways.

Demand for Grenache has gone through the roof – everybody wants it and the price has gone up. There is still a lot we are doing to refine the way the growers grow the fruit. But I think it’s fair to say that because they are old vines, there is relatively low-intervention viticulture. Most people these days agree that you rarely regret picking too early and you always regret picking too late. “Picking on the way up” is why I spend so much time in the vineyard pre-harvest; we don’t want to be tasting a load of grapes that are like jam. We want grapes with energy and brightness. The pH levels are better and alcohols are a bit lower, and it expresses the site more faithfully than if you just get universally very ripe fruit.

There’s been a radical shift in the way wines have been sold, away from the on-trade into indies and national retail, and our sales have held up an awful lot better than you might expect. It suggests that independent retail is more proAustralia than the on-trade has ever been.

Giles started Thistledown in 2010 in partnership with fellow MW Fergal Tynan. With a winery in the Adelaide Hills, they source grapes from across South Australia, and have a particular penchant for Grenache, which they like to make in a distinctly un-Australian style. Thistledown is imported into the UK by Alliance Wine 01505 506060

I think the enthusiasm for the textural, aromatic and lighter styles of Australian wines is beginning to get a lot of traction.

We are looking more at sustainable farming. It’s important to us, coming in as outsiders, that we are not adding to the problems that a particular country has got. As a business we will be putting a lot more focus on that, because we want to – and, realistically, because we have to. It’s not getting any cooler in Australia in the near future.

The Great Escape Chardonnay

Gorgeous Grenache

Vagabond Grenache

RRP: £15.99 Almost like the baby Suilven – our top Chardonnay. It’s the same fruit, just treated slightly differently. It’s all about picking relatively early. We’re looking for pretty high acidity. It’s all wild-fermented. A portion is fermented in concrete eggs and a portion in barrel. It’s lean and crisp with loads of citrus. It’s fresh, bright and hugely versatile.

RRP: £12.99 Riverland is a region which has been growing grapes since WWI. We mapped out some of the old plots and paid them a lot more for their fruit and proved that you can make something that’s delicious, juicy, varietal and sustainable. The vibrancy and freshness is the thread that runs from this wine to all our top wines.

RRP: £24.99 I’d call this our benchmark. It’s dry-grown bush vines on pure sand, which is our preferred soil profile for Grenache. It’s all relatively early picked, and wild-fermented, with differing degrees of whole bunch in there. It’s beautifully aromatic and polished. It’s very consistent and defines what Thistledown is all about.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 38


Decanter’s Best Australian Wine Specialist 2018, 2019 & 2020


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Robert Oatley Wines was founded as a family winery in 2006 by the late industry legend Robert (Bob) Oatley. Today, the family business is led by Bob’s eldest son Sandy Oatley who, together with his father, brother and sister, planted the first family vineyards in the late 1960s. Robert Oatley wines aims to embody the best that Australia can produce where classic grape varieties are matched to the leading wine regions of Australia, never forgetting Bob’s motto that the wine they make must be first and foremost a ‘darned good drink’.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2021 39

© VietDung /

‘If we had 100 Australian producers on board, it still wouldn’t be enough’


stuart mccloskey, the vinorium, kent

The pier at Geelong, Victoria


ustralian wines have captivated Stuart McCloskey since he

it works for some. We’ve taken on a lot of new business this year that

was a young man. Although his business, The Vinorium,

love the diversity and I suppose the new guard that has come out of

at one time focused on Bordeaux wines, today Australian


winemaker. We work with some great traditional winemakers – I’m


not saying their style is traditional, but what we’re seeing out of the

Tasmania. Geelong we love for the amazing Pinots, Chardonnays and

Grampians and places like that is just amazing.

Shiraz – really beautiful stuff around there.

imports account for virtually all of his turnover. “I do love Bordeaux wines but I just love dealing with the people in Australia,” he says.

he Vinorium now has 38 Australian agencies and hopes that number will reach 50 by the end of January. So what regions

“What I’ve seen in the last four to five years is a new breed of

“The variety of Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon is so diverse

are proving most exciting?

“The Grampians for us,” says McCloskey. “Last year it was

“It’s all quite cool-climate for us, although we have picked up some

now, more than I’ve seen in four or five years – it just keeps you

cracking agencies from the Barossa this year. Kym Teusner has a

hooked. If we bought a hundred producers on board as exclusive

solo project at Utopos and his wines are simply extraordinary. Our

agents, I still don’t think that would be enough to satisfy our own

opening order was for 1,800 bottles and we pre-sold it all before it left

demand and our clients’ demand.”


McCloskey is fascinated to see how Aussie winemakers are

“Our biggest one is Dan Standish and his wines are not cheap,

exploring new ideas. “It’s become so diverse,” he says, though

around £70 a bottle, duty paid, full RRP, and we’ve sold £400,000

sometimes clients aren’t quite as adventurous.

worth of Standish wines this year. They are big, bold wines but they

“A classic example: last year we spoke little of Syrah/Shiraz and we spent the whole year working on cool-climate wines, so we had a big focus on Tasmania. But by the end of the year we’d still sold more Shiraz than any other grape varieties put together. “It’s not necessarily traditional Shiraz – Barossa style – it’s across the whole gamut to be honest. “Customers still come back and buy the classical grape varieties. We put a

are balanced to perfection. Globally the demand for his wines is extraordinary.” Australian producers may be fretting about the impact of punitive tariffs in China, but McCloskey says there’s plenty of scope for growth in older markets. “We have taken on board 1,300 new customers since March and it’s all brand new private-client business – and our turnover is 98% Australian wines,” he says. “Australia shouldn’t be overly concerned. Particularly for the mid

lot of work into educating – I suppose

to top end, the demand in Europe is absolutely huge and there is

that’s the best way to describe it – and

scope to keep growing and growing.”

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 40

wines to watch out for David Williams runs through some Australian favourites


influential producers in the much-missed

strategy, at least officially, since at least the

beauties such as Fugazi Grenache or

ustralia wine’s ambitions for

Australian wine lost one of its most

the UK are all about increasing

Taras Ochota of Ochota Barrels this year.

value – and pushing its premium

lines. No surprise there: this has been the

But his complex yet quaffable new-wave

late 1990s.

The Price of Silence Gamay live on, and

But, as China’s sales slip, the country is

a scene of likeminded producers, such

as Jamsheed, David Franz, and Brash

uniquely placed to follow through on that

Higgins, to pick just three names from a

promise by plugging the sales gap here –

when it comes to the quality and interest

long list, thrives.

available in Australia, this does seem to be


something of a golden age.

f varieties and winemakers remain a

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been

vital way of interpreting Australian

continually impressed by the performance

wine for merchant and consumer alike,

of southern European varieties in the

the country’s regional identity continues to

country, with vine age and a few more

develop, too.

years of experience in the winery no doubt

The Pinots of Victoria are becoming

playing their part in a wave of excellent

more sub-regionally distinctive by the


vintage, whether it’s the haunting silkiness of Garry Farr’s Geelong estate, the slinky

Among my favourites of the Italo-

Australians are Victoria’s Dal Zotto,

Burgundian depths of Timo Meyer in

which has long impressed with serious

the Yarra, or the aromatic prettiness and succulence of Polperro in Mornington

Prosecco-style fizz (the family originates

from Valdobbiadene) but also makes fine


Nebbiolo, Fiano and Barbera.

Meanwhile, Tasmania goes from

Representing Greece, Jim Barry’s Clare

strength to strength. This relatively young

Valley Assyrtiko has been breathtakingly

producing region (even by Australian

good – precise, nervy, mineral – both times

standards) is justly celebrated for its

I’ve tried it, while SC Pannell’s Iberian

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both still and

sparkling, from the likes of House of Arras

experimentation continues apace with

and Tolpuddle. But its Riesling – notably

Touriga Nacional joining Tempranillo as a convincing house speciality (his Nebbiolo

the laser-guided purity of the wines of

is worth looking out for too), and Dune in

Stargazer – is no less impressive, and

McLaren Vale are mixing it up beautifully

as the climate crisis deepens, the cool

in blends that mix southern French and Italian varieties.

growing conditions will only grow more

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 41

attractive for producers.



e v o l

By Nick Chapman

01. Offbeat Wines Skinny Dip (Wines Under the Bonnet)

beautifully detailed artwork on her Pink and Ink bottles. My pick of the bunch is the Ink: a wonderfully genial design featuring an octopus expelling the Beck logo.

04. Alex Craighead Kindeli (Les Caves de Pyrene)

The Kindeli range from Alex Craighead evoke thoughts of creatures from Grecian mythology. Half human, half animal hybrids push through brightly coloured undergrowth, play instruments by the fire or dance under a full moon. Joyful, a bit wild and undeniably beautiful: artwork that speaks of the wine within.

05. Joiseph Piroska (Modal Wines)

The artwork for the debut pet-nat by Offbeat Wines was the reason I originally scouted them out. The swirling line drawn label caught my eye and I contacted Daniel [Ham] to see if I could get my hands on any of it. It was delicious and we stocked it until the small vintage ran out. Jump forward a year and he’s released three new wines, all retaining that stunning sense of aesthetics. The artwork by Stephanie Leighton has a swirling, ethereal feel with a white-on-white embossed logo finishing off a really classy looking product.

02. Vinyes Tortuga Hurdy Gurdy (Otros Vinos)

All bar one of the range from Joiseph features the same artwork: a two-part matt white label sliced in half by a negative image of the Jungenberg hill (next to the town of Jois, around which the vineyards are situated). The simplicity of the label really lets the wine itself shine, being the only colour visible from the front. The uncluttered design works brilliantly on the shelf, a vivid pop of white amongst the more complicated labels; and seems to say something of their philosophy “to make wine as authentic as possible”.

06. Uva De Vida Biografico (The Modest Merchant)

Jurriaan and Dido are a young couple making wines with names like Mojo Pin, Hunky Dory and Doolittle. The artwork, like the names, is cute but gives away something about the philosophy of the winemakers. Carefully handcrafted drawings align with the way they make their wines, using quality grapes and a minimal intervention approach in the cellar to create fun and delicious, pure wines. You’ll also notice a little turtle on each label, a reference to the Tortuga after which the winery is named.

03. Judith Beck Beck Ink (Les Caves de Pyrene)

Austria’s Judith Beck has great labels on all of her wines, from the monochromatic Weissburgunder and Blaufrankisch, to the

The intricate, geometric label on the Biografico is reminiscent of an oldfashioned map – like something an intrepid explorer from La Mancha (where the wine is from) would use to chart their course to new territories. Touches of gold foil add texture and shine, without becoming over the top and tacky. It’s a label to explore with your eyes, while enjoying the contents within. A classy label for a classy wine.

07. Deep Down Pinot Noir (Ellis Wines)

A modern label for a modern venture from the new world. Deep Down is a relatively new project coming out of Marlborough, New Zealand. The striking label is an exercise in minimalism, a black semi-gloss

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 42

arc dominating a textured background, featuring just a few words about who they are and what they do. The background colour differs ever so slightly depending on the varietal within, a difference you may not even pick up seeing a bottle in isolation. Again, this seems like a conscious reflection of their ethos: they wanted to create a wine brand that was ethical and transparent, with wines that contain zero additions.

08. Ktima Vourvoukeli Limnio

(Maltby & Greek)

My most joyous wine experiences have been on holiday, and many of those have been in Greece. Despite Greece being one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, I’ve seen a trend for customers not taking Greek wine as seriously as it should be: often thinking of bulk-produced holiday plonk rather than the small production, artisanal wines that come out of the country. I love this label because it balances good design and illustration with a sense of whimsy. It breaks from the traditional, oldschool labels sometimes found on Greek wines and elevates it to a “serious” level.

09. 2Naturkinder Fledermaus Weiss (Wines Under the Bonnet)

This little guy is the grey long eared bat – he’s become very rare in the area where Melanie and Michael from 2Naturkinder make their wines. So they’ve installed bat boxes in their vineyard to give them a place to hang out. They use the guano from the bats for fertiliser, and use a portion of the proceeds from sales to help ensure their survival. Cute, huh?

10. Costador Metamorphika Sumoll (Otros Vinos)

This is a package that sells itself. A unique and distinct bottle that leaps off the shelf and into the hands of any wine enthusiast or design buff. The Metamorphika range is aged in tinaja, or amphorae, which is where the inspiration for the bottle comes from. The geometric label is reminiscent of the Eye of Providence and changes colour depending on which varieties are contained within. It’s bold, it’s bright, it’s different, it’s cool – a bottle you’ll definitely want to hold onto.











Nick Chapman is the owner of To Be Consumed, an independent wine merchant and deli in Leytonstone, London. He is a former interior designer. THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 43


Natural appeal If you want to understand the popularity of natural wines, look no further than the craft beer phenomenon, suggests David Williams


istorically, the beer and wine industries have tended to go about their business in separate worlds.

“The recent boom in craft – in beer and beyond – is a reaction to a mix of factors including the 2008 global financial crash, the spread of

It’s rare for a company, whether retailer, importer or

superfast, handheld mobile computing and communications, open-

producer, to specialise, much less succeed, in both. The culture

plan office culture, the growing degree to which algorithms dictate

and ways of doing things – production, packaging, merchandising,

our decisions and behaviours, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, and

appreciation – are very different. Even the consumers, certainly the

the ongoing creep of corporate dominance and homogenisation in all

serious enthusiasts, are poles apart, at least in the rather dated Camra v

aspects of our lives.”

Decanter stereotype.

That’s the beer writer, Pete Brown, author most recently of the

Occasionally, when the sales or reputation of one side has risen,

polemical book, Craft: An Argument. But you could easily swap the

seemingly at the expense of the other, the side on the slide has reached

words “natural wine” for craft and imagine that same paragraph

across the divide in search of ideas. By the 1990s and 2000s, the

appearing on a Jamie Goode blog post.

envy, and the plagiarism, was all going one way. One of the features

You can also imagine Goode or some other natural wine provocateur

of my early days in drinks journalism was the expensively convened

adapting the subtitle of Brown’s book in the same way – “Why the

corporate beer marketing campaign that, with its elaborate tasting

term ‘Craft Beer’ / ‘Natural Wine’ is completely undefinable, hopelessly

notes, food matching suggestions or attempts to give hop varieties star

misunderstood and absolutely essential”.

billing à la grape varieties, was clearly in thrall to the unstoppable rise


– in sales and cachet – of wine.

ertainly, that ambiguity of definition – an ambiguity that

In many ways, that feeling of parallel lives remains. The mainstreams of wine and beer are sometimes fraternal, sometimes antagonistic, acquaintances.

one of the characteristics that unites craft and natural wine.

As, indeed, is the way both craft and natural producers have, in

Over the past decade or two, however, a set of producers has emerged in each industry who arguably have more in common with their opposite numbers in the drinks category on the other side of the divide than they do with the rest of their own team.

has led to a million pedantic, inconclusive arguments – is

their very names, seemingly taken possession of terms that so-called “conventional” producers believe are not theirs to monopolise. But there’s a lot more to the connection than that. Both craft and natural are small-producer focused. They both put an emphasis on

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 44

organic - biodynamic - natural an uncomprimising ethos with a focus on sustainability and a look to the future



© salahoff /

experimentation, although always within the bounds of ecologically friendly, low-intervention production. Neither is afraid of – in fact they actively seek – wild or extreme flavours and unusual textures and appearances, and they’re both prepared to take risks on products that are alive rather than sterilised, filtered, antiseptic, defining themselves against the industrial. They share a homemade aesthetic and a DIY ethos of distribution that is comfortably at home in social media and other forms of online communication. Most importantly, for merchants, of wine and beer, they also share an audience. Indeed, in my entirely anecdotal experience, the natural wine drinker is far more likely to drink craft beer (and vice versa) than they are to drink other styles of wine (or beer). It’s as if craft beer and natural wine form their own discrete category, which sits at one remove from the categories they are nominally (officially) a part of. The somewhat patronising idea that natural wine (and craft beer) are starter categories for a younger generation, and that these drinkers will soon grow up and start working their way up the traditional wine quality pyramid, is therefore, in my view, flawed. Having grown up on a very different set of aesthetic ideals, drinkers that have come to wine through natural wine are more likely to mature with the producers of that scene – which includes craft beer. How that develops will be fascinating – albeit, for those of us reared in more conventional ways, as unpredictable as a re-fermenting bottle of sulphur-free orange Romorantin.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 45

Sicilian orange wine expertly created over four years using ancient winemaking techniques From Vintrigue Wines



ne of the least pleasurable

developments in 21st-century




retail is the till-point pressure

sell. Pop into Superdrug and your patience through a maze of sub-£5 temptations is

rewarded with a tedious sales script before you can pay for your items.

Of course, like many tactics used by retail

chains, there’s a sound principle at work. With footfall levels rollercoastering and

online competition sharpening, it’s never been more important to make the most

of every customer visit. So how to do you nudge up income from each transaction

without sending your customers running for the door?

Miniatures, rareties, edibles At The Secret Bottle Shop in Hereford, wine buyer Adam Kirkbridge has a few add-ons that sell themselves.

“For example, we have a whole shelf

of miniatures behind the till,” he says.

“We often get people who hadn’t come

Customer habits are in flux, and making the most from every transaction has never been more important. So what's the best way to up your average transaction value? Anna Blewett reports

in intending to buy one thinking either

they’re a nice stocking filler, or a way to try something new. Little gift packs at the till work too.”

Interestingly it’s not just the low-

value items that work as add-ons but

on-the-go snacks, and rare store cupboard ingredients that are just irresistible to impulse buyers.

The average SKU in wine and spirits is,

of course, pricier than in food – and the looming recession may be cutting into

the number of customers who consider a

tenner loose change. There may be benefits in widening your remit to include snacks: according to Steph Aburrow of Hennings Wine, which has three stores in West

Sussex, a recent Insta post featuring a

Saturday Night In bundle of patatas fritas, Côtes du Rhône and beers had particular traction with followers.

Food items can be the obvious bolt-on

for add-on sales but they're not for every

vendor. Jon Keast of Scarlet Wines in Hayle steers clear of deli items out of deference to nearby traders.

“Our add-on sales are absolutely crap,

to be honest,” admits Keast, who last

February sold the deli and restaurant element of his retail site.

“Because I’m respectful of [neighbouring

operators] I wouldn’t ever want to sell deli

items. My upsell could be a bottle of gin, or a bottle of brandy, but I can’t offer food.” Upselling online

also “incredibly specialised products

Of course, if 2020 taught us anything it

Chase Distillery, which has a big presence

transactions keeping things going through

that customers are unlikely to have seen before,” Kirkbridge says. “For example

in Herefordshire, does a Cognac cask-aged

marmalade vodka that’s a super-premium,

was the necessity of multi-channel selling, with mail orders, phone sales and online

really rare product. Just one bottle next to the till resulted in someone trying it and buying it after they’d paid. It can work

to have something very, very niche that someone might have heard about.”


long with half bottles, posh

crisps and chocolate are cited as good add-on items by many of

the retailers we spoke to. It makes sense: delis do well from their till-point grabs,

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 46

Matt Tipping of Jeroboams

© Seventyfour /


Why snacks are on the menu at Chapman Wine Merchants in Eastbourne

It’s just over a year since Victor

Chapman opened for business in the East Sussex town.

While indies are thriving in his locality, the demise of local delis means Chapman has started to stock a few classic tapas. So do the snacks complement wine sales? “Yes, that’s the genesis of the food range,” he says. “We started with black truffle crisps; they’re very popular. Now we’ve got How do you nudge up income from each transaction without sending customers scurrying?

wine-friendly food bits with a longish shelf life: olives with a bit of chilli, serrano ham, chorizo, Manchego cheese, quince spread, good olive

stop-start openings. Taking add-on sales

tactics online is no mean feat, but for Matt Tipping, CEO of Jeroboams, it’s a case of reimagining the process.

"Within our online offering there’s two

parts to how we add-sell," says Tipping. “We have a minimum value for free

delivery, so customers may often add to their basket to get items delivered for

free. Then we have a deal that means if

you order 12 bottles you get a discount,

so customers get a better price by adding items there.”

Jeroboams launched its new site in

May last year and has been working on functionality to match in-store tactics

ever since. “What you can do is lay your

site out well and have really high-quality search and filtering,” says Tipping of the challenges of e-tailing.

“Across all markets you see a lot of

sites where personal recommendations are clunky. We’re spending a lot of time

trying to get the algorithm right so what's

oil, almonds ... these things are doing really well. They’re around the till and

recommended will genuinely interest the

people just grab them and the average


spend goes up. It really works.”

Make the duty case

on his CV, Chapman has some great

And when you’re communicating with the

upselling skills to guide customers towards a sale that both parties can

customer via newsletter, blog or social

media, a little education is still possible. “One tactic I use, especially with new

customers or those concentrating on

budget wines, is to mention the duty rate,” says Richard Taylore of Framlingham Wines in Suffolk.

“I don't think most understand it, but I

point out that it's a flat rate as opposed to

VAT which is a percentage. I plant a seed to

suggest if they spend a couple of quid more on a bottle they get more value from that extra £2 or so duty.”

These are odd times for retailers,

but making an effort to ensure you’re

optimising every single customer could pay dividends as the year unfolds.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 47

With a stint as a hotel sommelier

feel good about. “That’s the key to it,” he says. “It’s about serving customers’ needs, making suggestions based on the information I’ve got. “If I was just flogging stuff I wouldn’t last long. One of the things that got me through lockdown was a tasting case: 12 bottles I deliver at £6.50 a bottle when they’d normally be £7.99 or £8.99. “Once I have customers’ trust I can start to upgrade a little bit, mixing in different wines. I don’t fleece them, of course; it’s a matter of gentle salesmanship.”



Twirls of seaweed dipped in a light batter seasoned with black truffle. An extremely addictive and luxurious treat.

Made with 100% Italian Quattrocento

The quintessential pub snack brought bang up to date. For those who just can’t wait for Sunday lunch.



cheese, these are super crunchy, intensely cheesy, seriously snackable bites.

Savoury treats with flair



Roasted cashews with a classic flavour


combination. The salt crystals are

Tasty charcuterie in a handy bag. Enjoy with

onions grown by the eponymous

sourced from Lake Natron in the

Rioja as suggested or snaffle them solo – just

farmers. The packaging is 100%

founder’s home country of Tanzania.

get there before someone else steals them.

compostable too.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 48

A heavenly marriage of sharp and sweet Hereford Hop cheese with


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

0207 409 7276

Join us for our Alternative Annual Tasting from 23rd- 25th February 2021 In light of risks from Covid-19 we’ve decided to take our annual tasting online this year, but don’t fear – we’ve lined up plenty of educational and tasting experiences for you. Our webinars on Wednesday 23rd February

• How to Build a Wine List where we speak with a panel of buyers from different sectors of the on-trade

• Highlights from the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio with Oz Clarke One-to-one tastings on the 24th & 25th February

We can’t meet in person so join us for a personal online wine tasting. After making your appointment, you will be asked to select the wines from our event list and a sample pack will be posted to you in advance.

Some lesser known Pinot Noirs highlights from the event list Des Lyres de Pinot Noir and Irancy from Simonnet-Febvre are two staff

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Bellevue Pinot Noir, Les Pierres Dorées Pinot Noir and Fixin are three new or nearly

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For more info please contact your account manager or

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Instead of Dry January ...

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Help your customers to keep their New Year resolutions by encouraging them to drink less but better this January with this award-winning Chablis from Louis Jadot. One of the world’s most famous dry white wines, taut and crisp with zesty acidity and a stony character.

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Please contact Hatch Mansfield for further information

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 49


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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

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

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

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 50

liberty wines 020 7720 5350


Trophy success at the International Wine Challenge

by David Gleave MW

2020 ended on a high for our producers celebrating top prizes at the IWC. Tolpuddle Vineyard’s Coal River Valley Chardonnay 2018 was crowned Champion White Wine

– the first Tasmanian wine to be so in the IWC’s 38-year history – recognising owners Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith MW’s commitment to making this distinguished site one of the best single vineyards in Australia for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As a former Champion Fortified Wine in 2019, the Justino’s Madeira

Terrantez 1978 competed for – and won – this year’s Champion of

Champions’ Trophy. Michel Parisot was named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year, recognising his outstanding contribution at Champagne Devaux

over the past three decades, and Nyetimber were awarded the English

Sparkling Trophy for their Classic Cuvée 2010. Rare Champagne received the Rosé Champagne Trophy for their Rosé Millésime 2008 and the

Vintage Classic Blend Champagne Trophy for their Millésime 2008, while

Morris of Rutherglen’s Old Premium Rare Liqueur Rutherglen Topaque NV and Muscat NV took the Australian Fortified Trophy and Rutherglen Muscat Trophy respectively.

Finally, the ultimate honour of Lifetime Achievement Award was

bestowed on Aurelio Montes Sr, who, the judges said, “made Chile’s first premium wine…

unlocked the potential of wine regions previously unplanted with vines… has long been one of the driving forces behind Chile’s rise to prominence…[and] continues to push Chile’s image as a producer of world-class wines.”

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2020 Whispering Angel now available via RWA Whispering Angel is today’s worldwide reference for Provence rosé. Made from

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Created by Sacha Lichine following his acquisition of Château d’Esclans in 2006, his vision was to create the greatest rosés in the world igniting the “Rosé Renaissance”. Sacha introduced new and innovative winemaking techniques to Provence which revolutionized the styles of rosés being produced from this region. This led to the creation of Whispering

Angel, a world class rosé which presents both ease and accessibility making for enjoyment and pleasure.

As Sacha says: “In the Esclans Valley angels whisper. If you drink this wine, you might hear them… If you visit us, you might see them.” Please contact us for trade prices.

THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 51


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Garage Wine Co – Champions of local growers Canadian ex-ski coach, Derek Mossmann Knapp, is the enfant terrible of the Chilean

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Derek sources his grapes from a variety of local growers, and the resulting wines

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These concentrated, juicy, complex and elegant

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Henriques and Henriques is the benchmark of quality Madeira since its foundation in 1850. H&H has been at the forefront of vineyard planting and preservation of Madeira’s noble varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia. As the largest owners of vineyards on Madeira, H&H controls every aspect of the production process to create consistently award-winning wines.

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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 /

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VIRTUAL SPOTLIGHT ON AUSTRALIA Portfolio Tasting 26th - 28th January 2021 Despite there being no official Australia Day Tasting in 2021, we still wanted to celebrate and shine a spotlight on our Australian Portfolio. We would like to invite you to our Virtual Australia Tasting, although they can’t be here in person all our partner wineries have recorded short introductory videos and you will find descriptions, imagery and technical sheets for all the wines available in the UK. Alongside we will be hosting Webinars and the chance to chat with growers via Zoom. You may also request samples to be sent to you to taste in your own time. For further details or to register contact

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 January 2021 54

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THE WINE MERCHANT January 2021 55

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