THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers
Issue 99, February 2021
Dog of the Month: Layla York Wines
Higher costs, more red tape – indies face up to price of Brexit Pre-Christmas stockpiling has shielded many from the impact, but for some the problems have already arrived
red tape, delays at ports and
certification charges for organic
wines are among the many issues testing
the patience and ingenuity of independents and suppliers as a result of Brexit.
Some indies seem relatively optimistic
that port disruptions and shipping delays
will be short-term, but there’s widespread
feeling that the impact on prices caused by
impact on cost and will wait to find out what happens on UK duty in the new
Budget [in March],” says David Farber at Connaught Cellars in London.
“Brexit doesn’t have such an impact if
you’re shipping huge volumes at a time but for smaller quantities, it has a big impact on price.
“It can be absorbed when you have
bought two pallets at a time because it’s divided across thousands of bottles.
“When we work with small artisan
winemakers and get an allocation of 40 or 60 bottles, the impact is quite huge.”
Continues page four
Harvest at te Pā © New Zealand Winegrowers
rice increases, prohibitive
the admin costs of complying with red tape will be more permanent.
Issues around HMRC’s Chief system for
logging customs codes for individual wines from EU countries were highlighted by
Daniel Lambert, of Daniel Lambert Wines, on his Twitter feed and subsequently picked up by various media.
Lambert described the impact of Brexit
as not just a car crash but “a multiple pile-
up in the fog” and predicted on-shelf price rises of between £1 and £2 a bottle.
Other operators have told The Wine
Merchant that prices will certainly rise but it’s too early to say by how much.
Many have only recently placed their first post-Christmas orders having stocked
up heavily in advance to avoid Brexit Day disruption.
Several maintain increases would not be
as steep as Lambert’s predictions.
“I think everyone is still assessing the
The first virtual New Zealand Wine Week is over, hot on the heels of news that sales in the UK off-trade were up 23% last year. Our New Zealand feature, starting on page 54, includes details of an independent promotion with thousands of pounds of stock up for grabs for retailers.
© Arnold / stockadobe.com
Inside this month 4 news How Brexit is creating extra costs and shipping delays
6 comings & GOINGS Lockdown and/or redundancy provides the impetus to start a new career in the wine trade
12 ROUND TABLE Our panel of five independents discuss some of the major issues Wineries may abandon vines in 2021 because of huge unsold stocks
facing their businesses
19 TRIED & TESTED Wines with charm, wines with intrigue, wines with menace
Cape winemakers need UK support
28 JUST WILLIAMS
South African winemakers are facing
What are the UK’s best-selling
disaster as a result of an oversupply
drinks brands – and should we
issue that threatens to destablise the
32 TIVOLI wines David Dodd’s Cheltenham indie is built on hard data and gut feel
57 supplier bulletin Essential updates from key suppliers to the indie trade
Industry body Vinpro says producers are
sitting on stocks of more than 640 million litres of wine – the equivalent of 65% of a
normal harvest – as a result of a domestic
sales ban that was finally lifted this month. There is not enough cellar space to
accommodate the 2021 vintage, meaning that companies are either disposing
of current inventories, or preparing to
abandon much of this year’s vintage. British Master of Wine Richard
Bampfield is urging retailers in the UK to show support and solidarity.
“We all know that a small sales increase
in the largest markets is what really makes the difference,” he says.
“A small stimulus to sales of wines
already in stock may bring forward reorders which, in turn, may encourage
producers to bottle or ship the wines that are currently taking up the tank space so badly needed for the new harvest.”
Bampfield has started a social media
hashtag, #myfavouritesouthafricanwines, to raise awareness and encourage the celebration of Cape wines.
THE WINE MERCHANT MAGAZINE
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THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 2
BREXIT © Pixavril / stockadobe.com
“We have had notice from one big UK
importer that they expect to see a 10p per bottle rise.”
Hal Wilson at Cambridge Wine
Merchants says the rules on organics and the general extra burden of red tape and shipping lead times – compounded by a
global shortage of shipping containers –
will make it harder for indies to be nimble in buying.
“It might mean you hold more stock that
you don’t necessarily need in case there’s extra demand – or buy twice as much to keep down the costs of declaration,” he adds.
“You can’t really be nimble and react to
a really nice review, because the wine’s probably not going to arrive in time.”
Wilson says a consignment of 19,000
bottles that should have shipped in early December was still awaiting UK customs
clearance in late January, missing the boat Importers report that wine is taking longer to arrive from the EU, though delays vary
‘Producers don’t need UK hassle’ From page one
Chris Piper at Christopher Piper Wines in
Ottery St Mary has a similar take.
“We are specialists in dealing with small
estates, so we do a lot of groupage work,” he says.
“If you’re bringing in 25 cases of Puligny
from one grower and 30 Meursault from another, each consignment from each
grower will have something like €52 extra cost of documentation.
“But even our freight guys don’t know
exactly how much [the extra costs will be] yet, so the issues are yet to unravel,” says Piper. “We know there’ll be extra costs,
but whether its 30p or £1 a bottle, who knows?”
Retailers have also started to see some
price increases from UK-based suppliers. Jeff Folkins at Dalling & Co in Kings
Langley says: “We’ve seen some small increases but not big whacking ones.
“I have to say the service [through the
pandemic] has been exceptional from most of them, bending over backwards to be
helpful, with faster deliveries and smaller minimum drops. At the end of it all we’re going to remember the ones that really helped us out.”
Both Folkins, and Dafydd Morris at
Cheers Wine Merchants in Swansea, say
for the Christmas trade it was intended for. Wilson raised the case in the Commons
through his MP Darren Zeichner, shadow food and farming minister, and he urges
other indies to report similar experiences to their own MPs to provide evidence to press the government to act.
He also points out that the issue of VI-1
forms – to certify that wine has passed lab tests to confirm technical specs of
wines – has not gone away, with the stay
of execution on their introduction running out at the end of June.
“It will be another unnecessary cost or
barrier to trade,” Wilson says. “Everything that would go on a VI-1 is covered by the
European producers they buy direct from have actually offered discounts on wine
prices in an effort to maintain partnerships through the Brexit fallout.
“The winemakers are trying to be as
helpful as possible to get through the
transition,” says Morris. “They don’t want to lose the business.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 4
Dafydd Morris: wineries are offering discounts
GI or winemaking rules of the country of
“There will be price rises feeding
through the system. There’s no doubt that
Merchants deals direct have already
we’re looking at around 50p a bottle [on
Wilson says a small number of boutique
producers with which Cambridge Wine decided that the extra red-tape burden already in place is too much.
“There are a few who will not bother,”
he says. “They’re out pruning vines at the
moment and they don’t want to come home and have to deal with a whole load of stuff that they don’t need to, because they can
sell to other markets. They don’t need the hassle.
“I’m not going to say it will be a sizeable
percentage, but if we have more red tape thrown at us … ”
ony Schendel, sales director at
Hayward Bros, thinks the Chief
issues will be trickier for importers
it is adding about €100 to a pallet of wine
and another chunk if it’s organic, so I think the retail price].”
David Farber at Connaught Cellars says
his business has put a hold on a small but important portion of its business
selling single bottles to private clients and corporate customers in the EU, because
parcels were being delivered with demands for extra customs charges.
“The taxes they get when they receive
the goods for clearance are prohibitive,” he says. “We sent two whisky glasses to
someone in Dublin and they got hit by an
£80 tax on arrival. Shipping companies will take care of the paperwork but they will
charge a fee which could increase a £50 or
£100 gift by 50%. We are losing this part of the business.”
Jeff Folkins at Dalling & Co has also
experienced this issue.
“We sell a bunch of hampers to Europe
and half of those have come back,” he
says. “If we want to send them out again, every product in the hamper has to have a country-of-origin certificate. It’s so ludicrous we’re not going to bother.”
• More Brexit reaction in our Round Table coverage (pages 12-17) and Burning Question vox pop (page 27).
CHRIS DAVIES Famille Helfrich
who operate their own bonds.
It’s extremely tough right now as we, our customers, hauliers
does the work very quickly but is very
“We use LCB which has these super
systems that sit on top of Chief which
expensive, so a smaller shipper wouldn’t be able to do that,” he says.
“The biggest worry from our side is that,
having seen a flourishing independent sector, you don’t want to see people struggling to find interesting wines
because small producers decide the
paperwork is too much hassle for them. “I know one who’s coming up to
retirement who’s decided it’s just not
worth changing the paperwork for a few
more years, so he’s not going to export to the UK anymore.
“The paperwork [for importers] is a pain,
but anything we’re shipping is getting here. “We’ve shipped from a little grower in
southern Rhône two days ago and it will be here [six days later], and that’s a producer that has never shipped to the UK before.
“I think it’s causing the shippers and the
bond problems but they’re talking to each other and sorting it out.
and customs agents are learning to adapt to new ways of working, coupled with a backdrop of complicated and often It’ll never be the same as it was and we need to remind ourselves that the UK is now a third country and a new set of rules apply. It’s all new, but it will get easier as the weeks pass and we all become more familiar with this new rule book.
CRAIG DURHAM Buckingham Schenk We spent much of the last four years trying to anticipate the impact of Brexit and ensuring that it would not affect our ability to supply wines to our customers. The first three and a half years proved to be a period with no clarity and this was then followed by a few months of intense escalation as the deadline approached, but we were ready. Many of our wines come from our own wineries in Europe and it was clear that they and our other family-run producers were keen to continue supplying their wines to the UK whatever the challenges. We did experience a few shipping delays in late December as the challenges of both Covid and Brexit caused significantly increased demand and the subsequent logistical bottleneck, especially from Italy, but nothing serious. Our stock levels are good, our suppliers on board and we now have time to get to grips with all effects of the Brexit deal as it slowly settles down.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 5
Warm welcome for Cheshire indie The Cheshire Wine & Cheese Co in Tarporley has made a flying start despite lockdown, torrential rain and Dry January. Mark and Mariam Roberts had intended
to launch before Christmas but due to
licensing delays opened just a couple of days shy of New Year’s Eve.
The welcome they have received from
the locals has been “insane”, according to Mark.
“Tarporley is really beautiful. There’s
about a mile-long stretch of independent boutique shops and it brings in people from far and wide,” he says.
“There’s a big community here and even
this month, with the lockdown and the
horrendous weather, we’ve been doing a good trade.
“We’ve got customers coming in who
Cheshire customers have been focusing on cheese during Dry January
Mothers help with store invention
are doing Dry January but are buying a bit
New Norwich indie Melville & Mayell
The new venture is the result of Mark’s
Ben Gibbins and Matthew Dakers who
of cheese and wishing us well and saying
opened at the end of last month.
redundancy last September.
have named the shop in honour of their
they’ll be back in February for their wine.” “It was either a case of sit and wait and
hope for a job to come up or throw caution to the wind and invest everything we had into something we’d always dreamed of doing,” he explains.
They took a holiday in October and by
the time they flew home they had a full
business plan and had obtained the lease on the shop.
They have started with about 150 lines,
which they hope to extend to 200. They are working with Les Caves de Pyrene, for the
selection of natural and biodynamic wines, and with Hallgarten & Novum.
Mark says: “Finbarr Bennett at
Hallgarten has been fundamental in getting us off the ground. His expertise and help has been second to none.”
The busines is a joint venture between
“We’ve used our mums’ maiden names,
which made them very happy,” says
Previously an estate agent’s, the
premises was a bit of a blank canvas with “incredibly white walls” which Gibbins
admits was “quite hard to work with”. He
says: “We’ve made it a bit more cosy with
a big old rug, some soft lighting and lots of plants.”
No longer Moat Sole traders
Gibbins. “We thought it sounded more like
After 15 years at its warehouse in Moat
natives and have returned after racking up
and Enotria respectively, so they are very
Dodd. “The roof on the warehouse is a
an old-school wine shop.”
Both Dakers and Gibbins are Norfolk
experience in the trade working for various brands and companies including Bacardi familiar with the independent market. “We know a lot of the bars and
restaurants in town too, and we hope
to wholesale when everything opens up again,” says Gibbins. “We’re not able to
do on-trade from the shop but we have
already spoken to a number of venues we can work with to do pop-ups.”
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 6
Sole in Sandwich, Kent, Hercules Wine has moved to cosier premises on a busy “What’s going to be lovely is that we will
all be warm and dry,” says owner Sarah
nightmare – when it rains outside, it rains inside as well.”
The move to New Street will allow Dodd
and her team to “fine-tune” their range.
“The new place is a bit smaller and is laid
out over three rooms,” Dodd explains. “You wonder sometimes if when you’ve got the space, you just fill it and are you filling it
Bacchus with unnecessary things?”
Dodd reports that the wholesale side of
things has taken a hit over the last year but she remains optimistic about the business. “We’ve always had our website which has been quite strong and a lot of what we do now is home delivery, either by us in the van or via courier,” she says.
“You have to adapt – you have no choice if
you want to keep going.”
South side stories help wine sales
Made From Grapes opened in Pollokshields just before Christmas. Owners Severine Sloboda and Liam
Hanlon had been holding out for a site on the south side of Glasgow for some time.
“The trendy west end has been there for
a while,” Sloboda explains, “and we really
wanted to be in the south side with all the
independent cafés and shops. We saw this place a year ago but nothing happened until last October.”
Meanwhile the pair ran some pop-up
wine bars in a beer shop and a coffee shop. They are working with a selection of UK
suppliers as well as importing direct. “It’s a bit more difficult with the Brexit situation,” Sloboda admits.
“Some wines from Europe are getting
stuck, but we have a good range of classic wines and natural wines. We will try to
Ham and cheese role
Beware, former patrons of The Cheese & Wine Company in Hampton Village, south west London. If you were among Steve Parker’s more awkward customers, you may soon find yourself immortalised in a novel. “There was one guy who told me it was illegal not to sell Coca-Cola on licensed premises,” Parker recalls. “People used to ask me at dinner parties for stories about my customers and my wife encouraged me to write some of them down.” Parker has decided to construct the story in the third person. “I’ve created this character who, if you know me, you would recognise me in it,” he says. “There are some exaggerations but it’s the story of what I did. “I’ve created a fictional village which is located on the river Ham which empties into the Thames near ‘Ham House’. It’s a simple tale of everyday folk. “It’s not designed to be funny but the protagonist, Beresford Velvet, in running his cheese and wine shop comes across a whole load of characters. Each of the chapters deals with a really nice character and contrasts their behaviour with some of the really weird people I encountered in the years running the shop.” Parker is obliged to give first refusal to Hachette, which has already published his first title, a 300-page recipe book called British Cheese on Toast. “I published it myself in November 2019 using Kindle Direct Publishing. You’d be horrified how easy it is to do it,” Parker says. “I did it to a reasonable
adapt to our customers’ needs. So far we
have had older people wanting classics like Burgundy and Bordeaux and things they recognise, and we have customers who
want something funky and natural wines, so we need to combine the two.”
Hanlon adds: “The customers are coming
to us to hear the stories about how the
wine is made and to try something new.” Once licensing is in place and Covid
restrictions allow, the plan is to allow drinking-in and regular tastings.
Steve Parker says cheese
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 7
quality and sold about 1,500, which surprised me. “That sold really well through some shops locally and mainly Amazon. It’s also printed on demand in Poland and stuck through your letterbox the following day. How they do that, I’ve got no idea. “Then in a bizarre quirk of fate, a week before lockdown last year in March I got an email from the publishing director of one of the divisions of Hachette, Headline Home. She said I’ve got a copy of your book, I love it, we’d like to meet with you to talk about publishing. “I had a meeting at their offices in Blackfriars; she was just finishing a meeting with Raymond Blanc, so I met him and thought, I’m in good company. “They said, we’d like to publish it as a hardback. They gave me a nice large amount of money as an advance and I spent the next three months working with copy editors and illustrators to bring out the hardback last year.” Hachette has commissioned a second book, about cheese and wine pairing. A longer-term project, a book on cheddar, is “about 30% complete”, Parker reports.
Trustpilot in nosedive
Anyone taking a cursory look at the Winebuyers Trustpilot page – at least at the beginning of February – might have been impressed at the “great” 4 out of 5 rating awarded by its customers. But this apparently impressive score is rather overshadowed by recent diatribes from unhappy clients – and a flurry of county court judgements instigated by suppliers who report they haven’t been paid. “Terrible company,” “no stars” and “website should be shut down” are soundbites that summarise the opinions of recent reviewers. What is infuriating many of the suppliers in dispute with the Soho Square-based business is that orders are apparently still being accepted for wines that Winebuyers would know it no longer has access to. Founder Ben Revell’s interview in the FT under the banner My First Million is being recirculated by disgruntled expartners, to mirthless laughter.
Please don’t touch the merchandise Wine writer, educator and PR consultant Matt Day has opened a wine shop in Wanstead High Street in east London. Day took the plunge after seeing
numerous consulting contracts disappear at the start of the pandemic.
“I live nearby and had thought for seven
or eight years there was a space for an independent in Wanstead,” he says.
Daygustation Wines features a “lean”
range of wines from suppliers including Les Caves de Pyrene, Bibendum,
Enotria&Coe, OW Loeb and Ellis of
Richmond. Day is also sourcing Artéis Champagne direct.
Single bottles of each wine are
merchandised alongside QR codes which
shoppers can scan to access content about
Matt Day is an educator and wine consultant, and proud owner of a vintage milk float
wine-related work for Radio 2, Esquire
magazine, Morrisons, Aldi, the Corkscrew
wine app, Laurent-Perrier and the London Wine Academy.
Couple realise wine shop dream
them, written by Day.
Drinkworthy is set to open next month
to be brought from the cellar, where reds,
while she and her husband Michael are
Customers are requested not to touch the
wines but to ask for ones they want to buy
whites and fizz are each stored at optimum temperatures.
“It’s a Covid measure you could say, but
it’s an aesthetic one as well,” says Day.
in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside. Owner Cheryl Roberts admits that,
“complete novices”, they have been given a helping hand by family who happen to
The couple have also found support from
local independent Turton Wines – “they’ve been a bit of an inspiration for us, we love it there” – and they’re also sourcing wine from Alliance and Walker & Wodehouse.
The shop will also have a “great range” of
spirits and will incorporate a deli.
Cheryl’s retail and sales background
along with her love of wine (“it was my
first drink and it will be my last, I’m sure”) stands her in good stead for the new
venture, which she has been thinking about for some time.
“Lockdown really gave us a boost, and all “The dream was to do wine tastings and
meet the makers so hopefully when things
“I want to keep it simple: don’t have 10
ease a little we can start to do that. We’d
Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, just have
love to open a bar. We wouldn’t be able to
one really good one.”
do it in these premises, but we’ll be on the
The shop also has refill wines in Keykegs
lookout once we’ve got a firm footing.”
and Day has bought a vintage milk float to
The new shop is on a high street
make deliveries in the local area.
populated by a host of other independent
“Working in wine PR for 10 or 12
businesses. Cheryl says: “There’s been a
years, you have these ideas which never
huge investment and a new train station
make it through the edit, but having your
built and it’s become a bit of a commuter
own business allows you to try new and
Majestic and has a packed CV that includes
to fruition,’ she says.
perfect, so there are never any gaps on the
Day began his wine trade career with
largest independent wholesalers in the
the plans we had over the years have come
“It’s a way of the shop also looking
interesting things,” he says.
come in the form of Barton’s, one of the
Cheryl Roberts: plans boosted by lockdown
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 8
“The high street is really up and coming.
It’s a lovely area with a great vibe.”
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ANAGRAM TIME Can you unscramble the names of these New Zealand wine brands? If so, you win the freedom of Swansea.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 9
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Ben overturns prohibition order Blossom Street Social was banned from trading, even as an off-licence, after licensing team deemed hybrid to be a bar
en Stephenson has been an upstanding member of the
licensed trade community in
Manchester since 2008. But recently he
found himself the subject of a prohibition order which is costing him thousands of pounds a week in lost business.
The city’s licensing team, not recognising
the concept of a hybrid wine shop and bar,
banned Blossom Street Social from trading in any form until Covid restrictions are
relaxed, arguing that it contravenes the terms of the English lockdown rules.
Manchester licensing officers appeared
at the premises “without warning”,
Stephenson says, with the ban coming into
The problem centred on the draught beer
that the business sells to take away. Under the terms of the latest lockdown, on-trade premises have been banned from selling alcohol on a takeaway basis, following wider concerns that this encourages
drinkers to congregate in groups outside pubs to consume their purchases.
Stephenson, who took the decision to
close his Hangingditch wine shop before
Christmas because the premises were not compatible with social distancing, says
Blossom Street Social had only been open for retail sales, with its bar area out of action to comply with lockdown.
“Licensing officers came in and said
‘you’re a bar and you shouldn’t be
operating the way that you are’,” he says.
“The legislation has not recognised there
is such a thing as the hybrid model.”
Stephenson eventually got the ruling
overturned after engaging a top licensing solicitor to argue his case.
Draught beer will only be sold on
a delivery basis while the lockdown continues.
“I lost two weekends of trade, including
payday weekend,” he says.
“We weren’t taking much money – maybe
£1,000 to £1,500 a week during the hours we were open on Friday, Saturday and
Sunday – but just enough to help to pay
suppliers and keep things going, with the help of government support.
“We’ve had a lot of beer that was going to
go out of date, along with a loss of revenue, and now solicitor’s bills that come to £750
plus VAT. Before you know it you’re talking about a loss of five to six grand or more.” Stephenson admits that recent events
have taken their toll on him. “I’m a bit
tired because like everyone else I’ve had to reinvent my business time and time again with the Covid regulations,” he says.
“I had to take the decision to close the
Ditch and that took quite a lot out of me – I
didn’t realise how much work was involved in closing down a business.
“But it was the right thing to do and
everyone got paid.
“I really can’t be doing with this type of
thing on top of everything else. And I don’t Stephenson warns that hybrid indies across England could encounter similar problems
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 10
want the licensing team in Manchester
to set a precedent that can be applied to
independents in other parts of the country.”
The Wine Merchant
INDIE ROUND TABLE Simon Evans of The Naked Grape (Hampshire and Berkshire), Abbi Moreno of Flora Fine Wines (London), Jane Taylor of Dronfield Wine World (Derbyshire), Patrick Rohde of Aitken Wines / The Wine Press (Dundee) and Paola Tich of Vindinista (London) join the first of this year's discussions
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CHRISTMAS TRADING: SOME IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS Jane Taylor: We’ve had an absolutely amazing Christmas. Overall,
we were up 100%. The business was split between people queuing outside the shop to come in, and local deliveries.
Abbi Moreno: We were probably up about 50% at Christmas. We’re in Maida Vale and most of our customers are in a five-mile radius. We found that when we could open the bar we were a lot busier
because people didn’t want to go into Soho, they didn’t want to go into busy places, they wanted to stick to somewhere local so they didn’t have to get on the tube or the bus.
Because we are in London and surrounded by supermarkets,
retail is a little bit harder for us. Also, we’re not on a high street, but having said that we were 50% up on retail sales.
Simon Evans: We were 11% up in takings in December compared
to last year. I’ve got reasonably established shops so for us 11% is a big number.
Paola Tich: As a hybrid, for us December has never been good
on the drinking-in side – it just tails off as everyone just goes to parties or things in town.
We had a 29% increase in business in December. It isn’t quite
like-for-like – last year’s figures included some drinking-in as
well and this year, we had orders via our website. But it’s a good indication.
Considering some of our corporates had fallen away and we
were doing shop only, it was our best Christmas ever. But is it
sustainable? We were obviously taking advantage of people not
being able to go out to bars and restaurants. It’s not something we want to shout about because you are riding on the back of others’ misfortune, really.
It was the most exhausting Christmas we’ve had since opening
the original shop in 2013.
Patrick Rohde: We had a good December, thankfully. We are fairly unique in that we relocated during the first lockdown. We closed one shop in March/April last year and opened in a new site midAugust.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 13
INDIE ROUND TABLE
We had 20% retail growth in December; our new premises
are better so they need to perform better. I’m happy with 20%
because December is usually chunky figures anyway, so 20% of something chunky is substantial.
The real frightening figure is our web sales for December
compared to the previous year. They grew by 2,400%. It sounds crazy but it wasn’t a huge figure the previous year.
That made up for my lost wholesale business, including my own
bar, which I supply.
Jane Taylor: Our corporate gifting went through the roof. We’ve
spent a lot of time building up our customer base and it all came to
a head with people who couldn’t have dos, so we were sending out hampers of food and wines. It’s been good.
Paola Tich: We did a lot of hampers. One of our big corporate
customers is a bank, so obviously nothing from them, but a lot of
people used us because they would normally take their customers out for dinner or lunch, and there was nothing like that going on. Our accountants were very nice to us and ordered a lot of wine and hampers.
Abbi Moreno: We didn’t have a huge amount of corporate sales but we did a lot of personal gifts. We do gift wrapping and boxes with three wines. We used to do a lot of banqueting and corporate so that has really decreased.
COPING WITH COVID: ADAPTING AND THRIVING
Paola Tich: We’ve stopped people coming into the shop ever since we opened the doors again. We’ve put tables in an L-shape and people haven’t been able to come in since May.
You get people moving the tables and complaining they can’t see
stuff and you think, “what planet are you on?” But most people get it and thank us for doing it and taking it seriously, which is really nice.
As a team, we wear masks in the shop. We’re not on the high
street either, but it’s pretty busy with people out and about and people like to think of a visit to the wine shop as their daily
Abbi Moreno: We are open reduced hours, just four hours a day
from 2pm to 6pm, and we found that was the best time for people
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 14
wanting to go out shopping.
We allow two people in the shop at once. We do food and
perishables, and we do cheese boards as a take away. Because we were a wine bar when we were allowed to be, people do like to
come in to buy a bottle of wine and have a chat, especially people who live on their own; elderly people.
E-COMMERCE: THE BEAST THAT NEEDS FEEDING
One older lady who can’t go out, we’ve been doing her
Paola Tich: Like most others we started at the end of March with
When the government announced another lockdown I think
like having an additional branch – especially in December.
shopping for her and dropping it off; I feel that we have become a community service for some of our customers.
people didn’t want to do Dry January; they want to drink wine
when they’re cooking dinner because there’s nothing else to do. I think maybe that’s helped us all a little bit.
I don’t feel that the hospitality industry has the right
representation. It brings in vast amounts of income for the
government and I don’t think we get the recognition we deserve. I think we need a minister who is dedicated to it. I mean we
were lucky with Brexit that the VI-1 form was suspended, so that’s been good for us. They’ve only suspended it until the end of June so let’s see what happens.
We are going to get a duty increase; I wouldn’t be surprised if
VAT goes up as well. Given the problems that Brexit has caused,
and coronavirus, the government is going to have to reap some of
that money back somehow. Alcohol and tobacco is the easiest way to do that, and I think that’s going to be really tough for us.
I don’t think the wine shops have suffered as much as the
restaurants. I know a lot of restaurateurs who have had to close, and they can’t see a way back, and that’s really sad.
Paola Tich: I think we’ve been lucky because we’re seen as
essential retailers. We have had some snippy comments from
other retailers on the street, who haven’t been able to open, that wine isn’t essential. I wouldn’t argue that wine is essential, but why should I not take advantage of a situation?
I think that duty will go up – I think that’s a given. But I’m
more concerned – from a wine trade point of view – of having
representation for independents on Brexit. I think we had a lot of
support from the government with the initial grant and furlough. I have a member of the team on flexi-
furlough and that’s
been really helpful.
people just crazily phoning in orders, and so we built a website
and that’s worked really well. It’s a beast that needs feeding. It’s Jane Taylor: We’ve had a website in place for 18 months which
obviously came into its own during Covid. It does suck up a lot of
input and time. We’ve always been local, but we’ve found now that we are shipping out orders all over Britain. Not massive amounts. This brings its own trials and tribulations, dealing with couriers.
Simon Evans: Website sales don’t take up a vast proportion of our turnover – it’s a small percentage and that’s on purpose.
I’ve not put every single product we sell on our website because
for us it’s just not manageable. Vintage changes, price changes,
whether they are in stock or out of stock … we’re just not set up
like that. We’re set up to deal with people who walk through the door so we are very much retail-focused.
I’ve only loaded about 100 wines on our website and they are
key products that I know I’m going to be able to get at any one
time. That works really well. If people want a bit more diversity or information, they can call us or email us.
Paola Tich: We really geared our website towards people who
knew us, who were local and who might actually pop in, rather than try and get new customers. We did get a few orders from
Liverpool and a couple from Southampton but that’s really not where we’ve aimed.
We didn’t beat ourselves up about being the cheapest, our
courier delivery certainly isn’t the cheapest, and I think that’s
quite liberating because the personality is still us as a shop rather than competing with every other website out there.
Patrick Rohde: We developed our website early on last year. It has been our salvation. I’ve got a couple of very dedicated millennials who stay on top of it and it has grown organically.
We have also found you don’t have to be too sensitive on price …
anything we put on the website would sell somewhere.
Home deliveries aren’t going to go away. We’re also delivering
© Aleksei / stockadobe.com
nationally which comes with its own problems with minimum
pricing, couriers and logistics but we’ve plodded along fairly well and we’re growing as best we can.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 15
INDIE ROUND TABLE
Jane Taylor: Some of our suppliers have found it difficult to
BREXIT: PRICES EXPECTED TO RISE
predict. One was sharing a container with somebody else and the other person didn’t have the paperwork so he couldn’t get his
shipment out, but there aren’t massive delays. And we just say to
Simon Evans: I haven’t experienced any delays yet because I’d
our customers – it’s Brexit, it’s Covid – and we just side-sell. I’m worried about what will happen with price rises in the future.
already bought the stock I needed by the end of October last year. But I am hearing from my shipper that there are delays.
Basically you need to think if it took two weeks to get here last
time, it will take three and a half weeks this time. It’s mainly about
TRADE TASTINGS: WE WANT YOU BACK
logistics. There’s bottlenecks, lorries lined up, different issues with the ferry.
Most of the shipments I get come into Dover or Portsmouth. I’m
going to keep going because the wines are great, and customers buy them. I’m just aware that it’s going to take a bit longer.
I mainly deal with France now. I used to buy from all over
Europe but the exchange removed the margin that I was making by so there became no point in doing it.
It was great to shout about exclusivity of product, but I learnt
that actually that message, for my customers, wasn’t really that
strong. I thought it was a very strong message, but having trialled
not having that message for effectively a whole year, my customers are not bothered.
What they are bothered about is what I recommend. So
exclusivity has dropped off my list of important things. The margin is key, obviously. If it doesn’t make sense financially then I’m not going to do it.
The estates and regions I’m buying from, mainly in France, are
still performing brilliantly, so I’m still buying those wines direct.
Patrick Rohde: I bring in a little directly from Spain and Germany
and I’m resigned to the fact that there will be delays and there will be some added costs.
I’m anticipating the logistics companies, the couriers, will
increase their costs because of the added admin and the length of time it’s taking to get it across.
So costs will go up, as well as our ex-cellars duty, but we’re
probably all resigned to that fact.
Paola Tich: I import a little bit from Italy and Spain with another wine merchant. The last shipment was from Italy in November. I couldn’t get hold of certain wines in December.
There is one particular South African wine where I haven’t been
able to get hold of the supplier – it was finally booked in after a four-week delay.
People bringing wine into the UK were just buying loads and
loads and loads because of Brexit.
Patrick Rohde: Trade tastings are fantastic for my staff and for
people like me, who like wine. They are sorely missed and I would like to see them come back.
Maybe the trade tastings will come back in a smaller, more
manageable form. I gave up with the London Wine Fair over 10
years ago. Whether it’s London or Manchester, it doesn’t bother
me, it’s a lot of effort, especially if I’m bringing staff, but I prefer more accessible ones.
Paola Tich: Finding a wine at a really busy, jostling table … I’ve
discovered it’s not the way I like to choose wine. It’s a nice way to socialise with people and I do miss that aspect.
I have been to one trade tasting since March 23 and that was in
a restaurant in Borough. It was very well managed and spaced out and actually I picked two wines for Christmas from that, which I
sold a lot of. It was a really nice, gentle way of doing things, not too many wines, just enough.
I would certainly welcome a few more of those back but I
find in general, I would rather go down the route of a few more masterclasses or seminars.
Supplier portfolio tastings are very useful – it’s the generics
I struggle with and I’ve kind of dipped out of them a little bit
anyway. But being in London, a lot of my suppliers are in London and I’ve been doing outside tastings with them. We’ve all got
Coravins now, and we can meet outside. I’ve done Zoom tastings with suppliers and I’ve quite enjoyed this diversity in selecting new wines rather than having to go to a big hall, fiddle with a
booklet, fight your way to a table, fight your way to a spittoon – I don’t miss that.
Simon Evans: I miss tastings. I’m old-school by the looks of it.
I’ve been to all those tastings that Paola has described – fighting
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 16
people off to get the last little bottle of something. I actually find
those to be integral to the wine range that I’ve got in my business. I’ve been attending those tastings since I’ve been in the wine
trade I think – I don’t know how many I’ve been to but it’s a lot. I find it’s one of the number one ways that I find new products.
I’ll taste things and I’ll meet people and I’ll make connections.
Some of those little connections, those chats with suppliers, will
last years and result in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sales.
I’ve contacted the key suppliers and told them that I will pay
them £60 or £70 to receive new samples, because that is what
it would cost me to go to London once I’ve paid the congestion charge and petrol.
Some of them have said, “that’s very kind, thank you very much”
but what most of them have said is “we’re not paying to attend
the tastings anyway”, so most of them have sent me their full list.
Anything that I want to taste then they’ll send me a dozen bottles. And those wines will turn up and I’ll taste them with my general manager and we’ll decide.
New product to my business is a really important thing so I must
find a way of sourcing new wines every year. My customers always say to me, “what’s new, what’s interesting?” And if I haven’t got an answer to that my business doesn’t move forward.
Abbi Moreno: I miss tastings so much. We’re in a sociable industry. We’re about people. The London Wine Fair for me is not a
significant tasting – for me I’m talking about the smaller tastings, whether it be Wines of Spain, Wines of Italy. It’s not just about tasting the wines, it’s about meeting people.
I’ve met more people there in my 28 years of being in the wine
industry than I have anywhere else and some of those people I’ve known all my life. I miss that more than anything.
My wine suppliers in the UK still come and see me, we Zoom
and they ring me up, but it’s not the same as being in the same
room, feeling part of a group of people – and also standing next
It was a lot of work but it’s just keeping your finger on the pulse.
to someone tasting wine and actually comparing notes. That’s
It’s one thing to read about it but it’s not the same as going to a
Jane Taylor: I miss it terribly. I miss the social aspect of it. Like
Patrick Rohde: God, I miss the trips. I won a trip to Portugal last
invaluable and that’s what I miss more than anything.
Simon we change our range all the time and we’re always on the lookout for something new and exciting.
Meeting the people and hearing the exciting stories behind the
wine is important. We do a newsletter about twice a month and
people will make a beeline for the new arrivals, so I am missing it. The IVTT tasting with The Wine Merchant and Condor Wines
worked well for us. We bottled up the samples and sent them out to select customers to try and make them feel that they are still involved with the shop and with the tastings.
wine tasting, meeting the winemaker, meeting the suppliers.
year, which I couldn’t take, annoyingly, because it was one of the
trips where you could bring your partner, and that’s a thing of the
past – it would have been nice to have a long weekend in Portugal. It’s the single biggest perk of the job and the biggest incentive
for my staff as well, as and when we can do that. I miss the trips more than I do the trade tastings. I would say that Paola is in
London, so she probably doesn’t need to go out looking as much as I do in Scotland. I have to go looking and sometimes I despair that I have to chase down reps.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 17
Billie Sampson, head of wine Katie Littlewort, head of operations Emma Chandler, head of events Unwined, London
iki Evans and Laura Ward established Unwined in Tooting in 2015 off the back of their pop-up business, A Grape Night In. Both have now moved out of London and are gradually becoming a little more hands-off day-today, something they probably couldn’t have done without first putting a rock-solid crew together. Billie Sampson, Katie Littlewort and Emma Chandler have clearly defined roles of their own, but also work successfully together as a team. “They each have a particular focus, but you just can’t separate them, they are all just as important as each other to the organisation,” explains Kiki. “Especially over the last year, they have all brought different things to the business, so we’d really like to celebrate them as a team as well as their individual achievements. “We are super lucky, we found some really amazing people and it’s taken some time to develop this team and to find people we could rely on to take the business forward. If there’s anything the last year has taught us it’s that you can never predict anything. It’s been a scary year but we’ve achieved some fantastic things.” Emma and Billie have been with the business for almost four years and Katie is just coming up to her second year in May. “There is a bit of serendipity,” says Kiki, “but we were very conscious about wanting to build our team – don’t ask me how we did it, but the work culture we wanted for everybody has hopefully helped. “They have all grown into different roles but specifically in the last year, before the corona virus started, they naturally became a bit of a management team. They assist each other in their different roles and rely on each other. We gave them the titles officially last year in recognition of how their roles had naturally developed and it gives them the opportunity to work across both sites [Tooting and Waterloo] and have a broader responsibility across the business. “Because of the pandemic they have had to work a wider spectrum and they’ve been instrumental in how we offer what our physical business does in
From left: Katie, Emma and Billie
a more virtual sense. “Our pop-up and events background gave us some insight in how we could operate and through our virtual tastings using Zoom and YouTube we can bring a little bit of our personality through the visual medium. It’s created a whole new side for our business, which is really interesting.” So what’s ahead for the team? Kiki says: “I think more and more Billie will be the main contact for the wine selection side of things and developing that. Katie will certainly be more operationally led and oversee the day-to-day across both sites. “Last year Emma completely took the events side and ran with it. I think when things get back to normal there will be even more opportunity for us with events and we hope to keep growing.”
Billie, Katie and Emma each win a bottle of Pol Roger Réserve Brut If you’d like to nominate a Rising Star, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 18
TRIED & TESTED
Adaras Lluvia Bianco 2019
Barndiva Zinfandel 2017
This Verdejo/Sauvignon Blanc blend from Almansa,
Barndiva started as a farm-to-table restaurant in the
two varieties entwine magically, creating flavours and
pretty loveable Zin, full of cherry and brambly flavours
Sonoma Valley which became a haunt for wine folk, and
south west of Valencia, was apparently Moreno’s
then spawned its own label. Here the team has crafted a
best-selling wine of 2020 and it’s easy to see why. The
and which glides across the palate all too easily. As a
aromas that buzz around the glass: hay, lemons and
calling card for an unfamiliar producer, and as a textbook
salty stones. A wine to jolt you into a happier mood
example of a classic Californian style, it’s a winner.
after a day reading nonsense from anti vaxxers. RRP: £10.50
Barndiva UK (07787 137 654)
Moreno Wine Importers (020 7289 9952) morenowines.co.uk
Don Melchor 2018
Maçanita As Olgas Red 2017
The weather conditions at Puente Alto were “perfect”
Ask what’s in a Douro blend and don’t be surprised if
wine is flawless. But is it interesting? Fans of iconic
Carvalha and Bastardo”. Siblings Joana and António
and James Suckling gave the wine a score to match: 100 points. That’s 100 points out of 100. So the
Cabernets will each have their own penchants and
predispositions. This is one for those who gravitate towards velvety elegance and polished tannins. RRP: £98
Concha y Toro (01865 873713)
the answer is something like “Tourigas Nacional and Francesca, Donzelinho Tinto, Tinta Barroca, Tinta
Maçanita’s old-vine endeavours have created a lively and ink-hued delight using those ingredients, with a seam of iron and a rooty richness to it. RRP: £59
Swig (0208 995 7060)
The Copper Crew Merlot 2018
Hans Family Estate Spirit of Marlborough 2015
There’s a theory that more wine could be sold to the
under-25s if it was packaged in cans. This Cambridge
New Zealand blends create a frissant of excitement,
Sam Lambson, and this juicy, uncomplicated but very
from Hans Herzog, a Swiss winemaker in Wairau, is
start-up adds credence to that suggestion: all its team are under 25. The range is blended in South Africa by
drinkable Merlot is nicely judged – and will seem even more so when picnics and festivals aren’t banned. RRP: £4.50
The Copper Crew (07983 955814)
around these parts anyway. Isn’t this the land of the
single varietal? This Cab Sauvignon/Cab Franc/Merlot gloriously self-confident in its balsamic leanness. Not the red we were expecting, and all the better for it. RRP: £40.50
Vindependents (020 3488 4548)
LMT Masusta Garnatxa 2017
Ventopuro Single Vineyard Red Blend 2017
Luis Moya is a headstrong and uncompromising
winemaker, working to his own rules – in this case
Matetic’s Central Valley project in Chile delivers
emerges ready to announce itself to the world. Tight,
Carmenere blend. Not necessarily a wine that will
with 60-year-old vines in Navarra. Fermented
naturally, the wine spends two winters in barrel and
dusky, exotic and mouthwatering, it’s brimming with dark fruit flavours and a hint of menace. RRP: £17.95
Moreno Wine Importers (020 7289 9952) morenowines.co.uk
consistent quality and value for money, in this case in the form of a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and
stop anyone dead in their tracks – more a soothing
soulmate, with ripe plum flavours and a vanilla note. RRP: £12.79
Vintrigue Wines (01207 521234) vintriguewines.com
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 19
’ve chosen Define Food & Wine as they are the most impressive wine outfit I’ve visited in the past year. I walked out of
there thinking, “yes – that’s exactly how to do it”.
Define Food & Wine Sandiway, Cheshire
I visited them by chance last summer. We were driving up to the Lake District from London and needed somewhere to stop for lunch as we were approaching Manchester. A quick Google search en route pointed out they have recently started serving food, and having heard good things about their wine range, I booked a table.
Matt Walls is wowed by a comprehensive wine range, unbeatable brunch and a friendly team
It was so good, we stopped there again on the way back down south. You enter the shop and it’s a fairly classic layout with wines lining the wooden shelves, well-stocked but not cluttered. Follow it round past a deli counter and the building opens up into a bright new dining area. It’s a clean, white space with well-spaced tables and a line of Enomatics on the back wall. My kids are typically picky with food but even they had plenty to choose from – they have put together an unbeatable brunch menu. The food was just as good as it sounded on paper. We had various takes on eggs Benedict and pancakes with fresh berries. Even the coffee was top notch. The evening menu looks just as good, packed with great produce and lots of wine-friendly options. A good excuse to go back. What impressed me was the consistent quality throughout the range: Alsace, Italy, Australia, sweet wines – there was no obvious weak link. But what really caught my eye was the South African selection. In particular several older vintages of Eben Sadie’s Old Vine Series. The staff are professional and welcoming, but when I started asking geeky questions about which vintages to choose, they didn’t hesitate in calling for owner Jon Campbell to advise me. I also asked him to pick out a selection of interesting, good value weekday wines and he got a feel for my tastes straight away. With cigars available as well, it’s a one-stop shop for all your weekend treats. One particular episode sticks in my mind. It was a hot, sunny day, and I was concerned about a case of wine that I’d bought elsewhere
Chairman James Tanner (left) with sales director Robert Boutflower
slowly cooking in the car outside. I mentioned it in passing and straight away they offered to place it in their cool storeroom during our visit. It always feels good to know you’re in the company of fellow wine lovers. Once you know that, you feel at liberty to really stock up. And I did! Matt Walls is a contributing editor to Decanter magazine, and his latest book, Wines of the Rhône (Infinite Ideas), is now available from bookstores and online. Define wins a bottle of La Montesa Crianza Palacios Remondo 2017, courtesy of Bancroft Wines
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 20
. T H E D R AY M A N .
The brewer’s secret ingredient: foraged flora ost people have an idea what foraging is without
“While there are a lot of edible ingredients around there are
perhaps fully understanding what the process
also things you need to avoid, so you have to be very confident in
involves. Scouring the landscape for ingredients
identifying – and the best way to do that is to get lots of books
growing number of specialists.
has become quite the thing in gin and it’s also making its mark in beer, where Somerset’s Yonder Brewing is among a small but
and study and then take that out into the field.” It also involves “lots of record keeping and pins in maps”, he
Stuart Winstone founded the brewery with Jasper Tupman in
“Sea buckthorn was something I was lucky enough to stumble
2018, bringing to a commercial scale a passion cultivated when
on when I was foraging for rock samphire for a previous beer. I
picking wild culinary mushrooms with his dad as a child.
made a mental note and came back for it another time. It gives
“I was fascinated with fungi from an early age,” says Winstone, “just because it seemed so alien. It didn’t fit into plant or animal
you a bit of time to think about flavours and how you’re going to use it.”
categories. “I started to read a lot more about the science, such as the way the mushrooms you buy in the supermarket are very closely related to micro-fungi such as yeast. That got me into breadmaking and sourdough and then into making beer.” There’s a lot more to foraging for commercial ingredients than just taking a basket along on a countryside walk. One of Yonder’s newest creations, the saison-style Flying Wonder, needed several kilograms of sea buckthorn from the coast around Weston-super-Mare to make a single batch of 1,000 litres.
Sea buckthorn, aka the baked bean plant
“It’s a challenge to scale up because you’re picking ingredients that are limited to certain areas,” he says. “There’s a lot of research involved. You need to understand what you’re picking, how you can use it and where you can get it before you start.
instone also taps into networks of professional foragers who supply top-end restaurants and are fiercely secretive about their foraging locations.
Though in vogue, foraging is nothing new, he says. “Historically, there would have been a lot of foraged herbs
used in beer before hops came over from Europe.” Yonder favours local producers and suppliers for hops and barley for beers such as its Sub Culture pale ale and Acapella lager, saving the foraged elements for small-batch one-offs, in which it’s used elderflower, dandelion and burdock. It’s also brewed with woodruff – used in wheat beer in some parts of Germany – and meadowsweet, traditional in mead production, always starting with a clear idea of where the beer is going. Flying Wonder is a saison-style beer
“You need to get a little bit creative with some of them,” he says. “But we’re not making it up as we go along.”
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 21
CA R D I F F ' S ZERO HEROES
The Bradford on Avon shop was previously known aspacks Ruby Red Wine Cellars The tasting fit neatly through with samples From left: co-owners Alex Griem, letterboxes, Dominic Doherty and Robstaying Cooper fresh for “at least a year”
Chilled & Tannin’s owners want to neutralise all the carbon their business creates. They’re doing that in a variety of ways, from using an electric van and biodegradable wrap to sending out (non edible) bee bombs with orders
ardiff wine merchant Chilled & Tannin has
announced its aim to become one of the UK’s first carbon net zero vintners.
Co-owner Alex Griem admits that “the idea of being
carbon negative is almost so overwhelming for most
people that they don’t want to look at it.” But he explains that small changes are easily made and can make a big difference.
“We’re trying to embrace different things that push our
business in the right direction,” says Griem. “From the
outset we had our electric van, but it only has an effective range of the Severn Crossing and back, so we also have to use a courier service. We use UPS and there is an option
where, for every shipment, it gives you the price to offset the carbon.”
The team is also mindful when it comes to packaging,
re-purposing cardboard boxes, eschewing the “dolphin-
killing Sellotape” for eco-tape and sourcing biodegradable bubble wrap.
The addition of bee bombs or chilli growing kits to
deliveries is also a friendly and eye-catching gesture, an initiative that hasn’t been entirely without incident.
“A few people ate the bee bombs thinking they were
truffles, which kind of negated the environmental benefits,” says Griem.
As well as switching to a green energy supplier, Chilled
& Tannin has swapped Google for Ecosia, a search engine with an environmental focus. “For every 48 searches you do, they use the ad revenue and click commissions to plant trees,” explains Griem.
“In the last week alone my business partner Rob has
planted 11 trees around the world. All the team are
using it now. We’ve also added an eco cart to the website. It works out the carbon footprint of the wines in your
basket and offers you the option to offset that at checkout. “It works out at approximately 30p for a case of six
wines. Not only can our customers benefit from their
carbon neutral delivery, but for a few extra pence they can offset the carbon generated by their production too. It’s entirely voluntary – we’re not putting a gun to anyone’s
head but a lot of people are buying into that idea, and us as a business.”
ost of the wines on Chilled & Tannin’s list
are low-intervention organic, biodynamic or vegan friendly, from small family producers.
“Fundamentally we like drinking wine and we like
finding new wines,” says Griem.
“There are wines that you tried 10 years ago and you
try the new vintage and they are now 14.5% or 15% and it’s quite difficult to enjoy them. Even in the Languedoc they are having problems with the effects of global warming.
“A lot of the wine-growing regions are in real danger.
The amount of water that they have had to pump into
California for example – it’s crazy and I think we’ve all got to take a bit of responsibility.
“We feel that when we open a bottle of wine we
shouldn’t be wondering what its carbon footprint was
or worrying what’s in it. We don’t want to dwell on the
miserable stuff that’s happening in the world. We’d rather do something that just makes us jump out of bed.”
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 23
ight ideas r b
19: Host online Q&As Bob McDonald Salut, Manchester
In a nutshell …
Have you had to invest in any special
Using social media, invite questions on
all things wine related, gather up the
“No, we’re just filming on an iPhone and
engaged, reminding them you’re open for
When your bar reopens, will you
best ones and address them in a series of
posting it on Twitter and Instagram.”
online videos. It keeps existing customers
business, and attracts potential customers
continue to focus on these kinds of
Tell us more.
drink-in and Manchester has been
“More than ever, you have to find new
under much stricter restrictions since
“Normally about 75% of our sales are
ways of reaching the customers,” says
the summer anyway so we were kind of
Bob. “Pre-Covid we had already decided to
focus on e-commerce and the shop side of
“Having to shut the bar, we’ve got rid of
the business and our brand new website
went live in November. I found the hardest thing about being online is getting your
personality across, so we have categories like Box Set Bingeing, Date Night and
all the tables and chairs but that’s made Bob: “We’re keeping videos short and sweet”
Lockdown Survival Kit. So this idea is about
range of our customer base. We have a lot
time at the moment to watch this kind of
I will probably take the opportunity to
interacting with people and having a bit
of fun. I think everyone has got a bit more thing.”
What sort of questions have been asked so far? “How long can I store a bottle of port once
it’s open? Why are sparkling reds not more popular? Should you chill orange wine?
If you put a spoon in a bottle of sparkling wine, does it stop it going flat?
“I think those questions reflect the broad
of hipsters wanting natural wines and cool labels, so with the sparkling reds question mention pet nats.
“Someone did ask a pretty open-ended
question, which I may have to serialise:
what makes a wine bad? That’s a good one! “We’re keeping the videos short and
sweet – about 90 seconds. There’s only so much information you can put across in
that time and we want people to be able
to relate to it. I don’t want to start talking about TCA and that kind of stuff.”
room for more retail display, so we’ve picked up new customers who didn’t
realise we were a shop. Moving forward
when the bar reopens it’ll be interesting to see how much of the retail we can hold on
to and how that drinking-in and retail split will play out.
“We’re in the business district, so
historically we’ve done really well with after-work drinkers and commuters so
without really realising it we’ve not been
very good at tapping into the people from the city centre. This project, along with
the website, means we’re reaching new audiences. You’ve got to try new things
and, with stuff like this, what have you got
to lose? People who aren’t adapting are just dead in the water.”
Bob wins a WBC gift box containing 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 email@example.com
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 24
BITS & BOBS
A bookkeeper helped herself to more
uncertainty, as some merchants and
than £800,000 from a wine shop in
auction houses report strong demand
Nottingham during a fraud lasting 12
years. Patricia Mann, 73, of Pilot Drive,
Hucknall, was sent to prison for 45 months when she appeared before Nottingham Crown Court.
Tim’s Wines, Somerset Favourite wine on my list
I have recently started stocking Babylonstoren wines from the Roos family and their wines are wonderful. My ultimate favourite is Babel: a blend of Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Pinotage and it is so smooth and velvety with deep red berry and dark chocolate on the palate.
Favourite wine and food match
Every time I eat out, I finish my meal with a glass of Château Partarrieu Sauternes and the most chocolatey dessert they have, or just a few chocolate truffles – heavenly! The depth and smoothness of the truffles pair superbly with the flavours of peach, pear, mango, honey and ginger of this Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend.
Judge Julie Warburton, who told the
pensioner she will serve half her sentence and the remainder on licence, said: “I
cannot conceive any other reason why you committed this offence, other than greed.” Terry Rockley, managing director and
owner of Vintage Wines, based in Derby
Road, which imports and sells wines, said after the hearing: “I think the whole staff
feel shocked and betrayed by what she did.” Nottinghamshire Live, January 28 © Silver-John / stockadobe.com
7% versus 2019.
Against a backdrop of uncertainty, “the
wine market has held its nerve,” said
Miles Davis, head of professional portfolio management at Wine Owners. “Even
Bordeaux prices feel like they are firming up.”
Davis also highlighted Champagne as an
area attracting more investors. Decanter, January 27
New boutique wine estate in Sussex launched the first wines from their 45acre estate. Julie Bretland and Mark Collins are the
founders of Artelium, a new boutique wine estate in Sussex.
Artelium has vineyards across the South
Downs, with its headquarters at a vineyard in Streat, between Ditchling and Plumpton, as well as a larger vineyard in Madehurst,
Favourite wine trade person
Favourite wine shop
and Italy 100 – both up by between 6% and
their jobs to follow their passion have
As a family we have travelled extensively in Europe stopping off at many vineyards. My favourite place is Spain and the sherry houses in Jerez.
When we settled in Somerset we frequented Sante in Wells with David Schroeder at the helm. His quirky small shop combined with his huge knowledge gave me the idea to semi-retire into the wine trade. Hang gliding was a really close second!
Many Liv-ex indices showed modest
gains in 2020, led by the Champagne 50
A husband-and-wife team who quit
Favourite wine trip
Tim Hawtin, previously of FMV and BB&R but now ensconced in Richmond Wine Agencies. His assistance in setting up my wine selection when we first opened was invaluable.
Bookkeeper cheats wine shop of £800k
Julie and Mark have created a space
“Even Bordeaux prices are firming up”
Wine doing fine in uncertain market Recent figures suggest fine wine market prices have been stable over the past year, despite wider economic
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 26
where visitors will be able to enjoy
artworks as well as wine in a stunning natural setting, once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
The pair started out by purchasing
grapes from other growers across the
south east but they now have 85,000 vines of their own to prune, and harvested their first grapes last summer. The Argus, January 23
Burgundy hurled at the boys in blue
THE BURNING QUESTION
Will Brexit lead to higher prices and reduced choice for wine drinkers?
I’m on the board of Vindependents and from what Jess [Hutchinson] has been saying about the additional paperwork and administration, I don’t see how prices can’t go up. The additional costs have to be covered somehow. We do have direct relationships with producers too and I’ve put off buying from them until things settle, which isn’t ideal. I know things are taking a bit longer than normal to come through so I am hanging fire. You wonder whether producers will just think it’s not worth it.
A gang of wine thieves turned to the closest thing at hand when they discovered French gendarmes in hot pursuit of their van. The burglars, who were making off with
an estimated €350,000 worth of grand cru
Burgundy wines, began hurling their loot at officers as they sped down the motorway
Kate Goodman H Champagne winner H Reserve Wines, Manchester
at high speed.
They finally abandoned their vehicle
after smashing into a road toll barrier 22
There were always going to be ripples in leaving the EU. Yes there will be some paperwork but that will smoothed out in time. We already do paperwork for the rest of the world. There have been one or two minor problems but they have become more amplified over social media. I did have a problem with some large hampers that got stuck at Felixstowe but I’m not complaining because it was all about PPE priorities.
miles north of the city of Lyon.
The thieves had targeted the luxury
Relais Château hotel, the Domaine de
Rymska Saint-Jean-de-Trézy, 30km from Beaune, in Burgundy.
The Guardian, January 6
Anthony Borges The Wine Centre, Great Horkesley
• Virgin Wines is working with advisers on an AIM listing that could take place as early
as the first quarter of this year. City sources
In the short term yes, in the long term, no. Big decisions like Brexit aren’t made for the shortterm gain. People describe us as a small country but we’re a fantastic marketplace and, at the end of the day, trade will always find its way. There will be disruption at first but just like I will always find a way to get to my customers, the vineyards will find a way to get to the customers at the price the customer wants to spend. I think anyone who believes in the free market has to believe that.
said the flotation could value Virgin Wines at somewhere in the region of £100m. Sky News, January 28
Canned wine has Coulthard backing
Gerard Richardson Richardsons, Whitehaven
A canned wine brand established by a Lincolnshire entrepreneur has smashed its £400,000 crowdfunding target. Scawby-born Mark Wollard attracted
£350,000 in private investment ahead of its public launch on Seeders on January 25 to fund the global expansion of Hun.
The company has so far raised £447,277
through 108 investors with 39 days of the campaign still to run.
Among the backers are the chief
executive of Waitrose, James Bailey, and former British Formula 1 driver David Coulthard.
The selection will be reduced slightly because every single line of wine that comes into the country needs to have documentation. If you’re doing a mass import of Prosecco, you only need one document. But if you do layered importing on pallets of more artisan wines, with each layer being a different wine, you need documentation for each wine, so it’s going to kill the selection from the small importers who offer that variety. As for pricing – the big shipments of stuff may still be all right, but I know that freight costs coming into the UK have significantly increased.
Ralph Smith, Ralph’s Wine Cellar, Twickenham
Champagne Gosset The oldest wine house in Champagne: Äy 1584
Insider Media, January 25
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 27
What normal people are drinking David Williams finds himself all at sea when questioned about the best selling wines in the UK market. You may not want to drink ‘spreadsheet wines’ any more than you want to watch the Kardashians, but professional curiosity can help put things into a useful context
fter not dropping a point in
rounds on American states,
British prime ministers and
aquatic mammals, I was feeling pretty good about myself during a recent online quiz with friends.
I felt even better when the friend in
charge of the next round said the questions would all be about booze.
The good feeling threatened to turn into
something like smugness once he’d asked how many of the UK’s top five bestselling beer brands we could name. Easy. I got
four out of five, missing only San Miguel at
number five (when did that get so big?) but guessing each of Stella, Budweiser, Foster’s and Carling, if not in the right order.
I did even better when the topic moved
on to spirits, correctly identifying Smirnoff as number one, and also including The
Famous Grouse, Gordon’s and Jack Daniel’s (a quartet that must have been in or about
the top five for decades), while missing out only on Glen’s vodka.
But that was as good as things would get. “How many of the UK’s top five best
selling wine brands can you name?”
my friend asked next. And here a chill
descended on this so-called professional
wine writer as the realisation dawned that
I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the world of big-brand wine.
Was Jacob’s Creek still doing the
brands are. In a sector that has been the subject of many a business school essay about how wine is defined by market
fragmentation and the lack of monolithic,
sector-defining, must-stock brands, these
brands seem to be doing a pretty good job of grabbing market share.
Landing or Kumala anymore? I had no
Hardys), I realised I was totally out of
dominance enjoyed by Coca-Cola in its
numbers? Blossom Hill? Gallo? Is there
even such a thing as E&J Gallo or Oxford
idea. Even before my shameful score was revealed (one point out of five; thanks
touch with a Top Five that reads Hardys,
Barefoot, Yellow Tail, Casillero del Diablo and McGuigan.
Chastened, the next day I took a closer
look at the Nielsen figures, in The Grocer’s
end-of-year article on the biggest off-trade food and drink brands for 2020 where my friend had sourced his information.
I was taken aback by just how big these
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 28
ardys alone has 4.5% of the
£6.5bn total GB off-trade wine market, while, between them,
the top five have around 17.5%. That
may not approach the levels of market
home market (the corporation’s various Coke products have a combined share
of 44% of the United States’ soft drink
market, according to statista.com). But, in
the supermarkets at least, it’s not quite the fractured, confusing market it’s sometimes made out to be.
The second thing that struck me was
that this dominance appears to be growing.
© pathdoc / stockadobe.com
Some big-brand wines excel – others were made with Excel
As a whole, off-trade wine was in growth
of 12.4% by value and 8.8% by volume in 2020, a jump that is not at all surprising
given the lockdowned realities of the year. What is surprising – to me at least – is
the massive growth shared by four of the top five: as The Grocer article points out,
Barefoot, Yellow Tail, Casillero del Diablo and McGuigan collectively added some
£182.9m in off-trade sales last year, with Barefoot, Yellow Tail and Casillero all
growing at more than 30% year on year. What’s more, almost every brand in the Top 50 was in growth.
Should I be ashamed of myself about not
having shown a bit more curiosity about what the rump of British wine drinkers
have been pouring this year? Well maybe a bit: in the same spirit that I finally
watched an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians before Christmas, and have leafed through the likes of the Da Vinci
Code and Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s good to get a bit of context.
But context is all it is. I mean, how many
of the Top 5 – or Top 50, for that matter
– brands do you stock in your stores? Not many, I’d guess. And there’s a reason for
that. I have no problem with its existence, but the world of supermarket – or, more accurately, mass market or big brand –
wine is a parallel universe with a largely tangential relationship with the kind of wine that gets me excited.
It’s not a question of snobbery. I’m not
in the business of sneering at people’s
tastes in drinks. For the millions of wine
drinkers who are after a mildly diverting,
unchallenging glass of something vaguely
fruity at the end of a stressful day, branded wines do the job just fine, hitting a taste
profile at just the right angle, and at just the right price.
Some big brands may even do more than
that: Casillero has long cornered the “only
safe choice in the corner shop” market; and I’ve had plenty of good wines from various parts of the upper end of the Hardys and
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 29
Still, once you’ve tasted what wine can
do when it’s not produced by spreadsheet it’s very had to go back.
It’s harder still to drum up much
enthusiasm beyond those occasional
moments when a corporate supplier is just launching a brand and has decided on a
strategy of over-delivering on quality as a means of getting early distribution (with
corner-cutting arriving at a later date once the brand is entrenched).
In general, the wines that really hold
the attention and lift the spirits are never
going to find a place in a Top 50 sales chart. That’s because they’re overwhelmingly (if
not exclusively) made by smaller producers who start from a very different position
to their corporate peers: first making the
best, most expressive, evocative wine they can, and then finding the right customers
for it, rather than letting the focus-grouped consumer or a distribution plan set the agenda.
WINEMAKER. ADVENTURER. HUSTLER. ROSÉ WRANGLER. He’s been called all these things. So who exactly is Charles Bieler, and what are his wines all about?
I Feature sponsored by Vintrigue Wines. For more information, visit www.vintriguewines.com or call 01207 521234
n a career of numerous epithets, the first earned by winemaker Charles Bieler was hustler. Charles’ merchant banker dad started making wine in Provence in 1992 after selling a Lancashire pet food business. “He decided Provence was a more beautiful place than Blackburn, certainly with a bit more sunshine,” says Charles. Six years later, Charles was recruited to lead a north American sales drive. “The wines were charming but he had a lot of trouble getting them out into the world.” Charles – born in Henley-on-Thames but raised mainly in the US and Canada –
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 30
bought a 1965 black convertible Cadillac, painted it pink and hit the road. “The goal was to get out there and hustle.” It was the start of a wine career that’s led to him becoming an acclaimed maker of what he calls “edgy and traditional” wines in France and the US. He has continued that early association with Provence to make his own wine in Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, which has earned him the tag of the rosé wrangler. “I’m OK with that,” he says during a Zoom tasting, hosted by The Wine Merchant, of a quartet of his wines that are all available through Vintrigue, the independents division of Lanchester Wines. After his father’s Château Routas estate was sold in 2005 there was a chance to “reset and think: if our goal in Provence is strictly to make high-tone, savoury rosé, what’s the best place to do it?” Aix-en-Provence offered high altitude vineyards with cooler evenings and later ripening which promised wines with depth and personality. “I think about rosé as a three-way tugof-war between the red fruit character, the savoury elements and the acidity,” he says. “I don’t want any one side to win out. “I want enough of the herbal floral component to challenge the red fruit, and you need the acidity to hold it all together.”
AIX MARKS THE SPOT
The Bieler Pere & Fils 2019 Sabine rosé (£13.99) included in the tasting has the familiar Grenache and Syrah supported by Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rolle. “I’ve always liked the herbal, spicy note that Cabernet brings,” says Charles. “Rolle adds a floral, almost apricoty aromatic and mid-palate density. “For me, the difference between great rosé and mediocre rosé is not the power of the aromatics, it’s the density of the midpalate, the transition from the fruit up front to the acidity at the end, a sort of creamy bridge.” Though the wine is fashionably pale in colour, flavour expression is his goal. “We really don’t think about colour,” he says. “I know a lot of producers obsess about it but to achieve that lighter and lighter colour you’re probably picking a little earlier than you would if flavour was your goal.”
As a self-professed “rosé evangelist”, Charles’ fascination with the style led him to make pink wine in the US, through a collaboration with Charles Smith, creator of acclaimed wines such as Band of Roses rosé and Kung Fu Girl Riesling.
GONE WITH THE WIND
The pair’s 2017 Charles & Charles Riesling (£14.50) was the second wine featured in the Zoom tasting. It’s a single vineyard wine from Art Den Hoed Vineyard in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, to the east of the Cascade Mountains, a desert region famous as prime American hop-growing territory. “The vineyard is a very windy spot, and because of that it takes forever for the grapes to ripen. That means there’s a lot of flavour development before the sugars and the acids come round. “It’s a bit more tropical than is typical for eastern Washington while at the same time having loads of acidity. “We irrigate which means we can control when we feed the vines, and by holding back we can encourage that petrolly element, which is something we love.” As climate change increasingly takes its toll further south in California, Washington may get its chance to shine in future, says Charles. “Washington has been a bit insular and just trying to be better than their neighbours rather than competing with the rest of the world, but the potential is there,” he adds.
The Cabernet is blended with anything between 20% and 40% Syrah, depending on the vintage. “The Syrah is fermented whole-clustered with the stems because we like inviting the spice and texture that brings. “We’re big fans of extended maceration, leaving it on the skins for an additional couple of weeks to build structure and a silky depth. “We make them reductively, without much oxygen, so there’s a scorched earth quality. It’s a descriptor I like that speaks to an earthy and mineral character. “It’s a wine that picks up speed once it’s opened; it’s not a wine where you pull the cork and that’s all it will ever be. It will lift and evolve in quite a positive and dramatic way as you drink through the bottle.”
THIEVES LIKE US
The fourth wine in the tasting was Three Thieves 2019 (£12.50), a Californian Pinot Noir made in collaboration with renowned winemaker Joel Gott and Roger
SCORCHED EARTH POLICY
Participants in the tasting also had the opportunity to taste the 2017 vintage of Charles & Charles Post No 35 Cabernet blend (£15.99), named after an old American Legion building in the state that Charles Smith bought and turned into a conceptual art piece. “It’s the reds that bring home what’s different in Washington, which is texture,” says Charles. “California makes great wines with fruit very easily because there’s abundant sunshine but, when it comes to texture, Washington’s latitude and extended sunlight give a Bordeaux level of development. That’s really something for retailers to key in on.”
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 31
Scommegna with fruit from the Circle K Ranch vineyard that sits on the edge of the San Francisco Bay in Central Valley. “The moderating influence of the delta means the nights and mornings are quite cool but give way to quite hot days,” says Charles. “That gives good ripening potential and reasonable crop sizes but maintains freshness and acidity, which is important for Pinot Noir. “We want to have a rich unctuous element but ultimately be representative of Pinot which is medium-bodied; spice and cherry cola. “We’re doing subtle adjustments everywhere we’re working, to slow down ripening, peeling back oak use and picking earlier to find more purity across the board. “If we’re not telling a really honest story about the place, the grape and the people involved, we don’t deserve to be on the shelf.” All wines listed are available through www.vintriguewines.com
The data day life of David Dodd Coming from an analytical background means the Tivoli Wines owner takes a remarkably methodical approach to business. It’s a policy that has reaped dividends over the past four years – but he admits that sales forecasts for even the first quarter of 2021 are essentially guesswork
David Dodd, Cheltenham, January 2021
avid Dodd knew he wanted to be an independent wine merchant.
The only question was where he
would plant his flag.
He approached the problem with
characteristic logic. This is a man who once earned his money by identifying locations for the likes of HSBC and Sainsbury’s.
So he built a database that covered the
whole of the UK, analysing thousands of neighbourhoods in granular detail.
He and his accountant wife Helen settled
on Cheltenham, where Kai and Caroline
Horstmann were selling their Tivoli Wines business.
Quickly adapting to the hybrid model,
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 32
Dodd invested in four Enomatics and
created an upstairs lounge area called the Wine Library. Obviously that’s not been
contributing to profits since Covid hit, but
Dodd is philosophical and playing the long game.
“Even though we had a 60% sales
increase last year, that only just about
covered the loss of the Wine Library,” he
have no interest in tiny margins.
so we operate more at 30% with all of the
admits. But “it’s on the upper floor and it’s not costing me extra rent, so that’s really
How do you think business will pan out A couple of suppliers have suggested price rises of around 25p to 45p per bottle –
that seems to be the norm. That’s pretty
considerable if you think about it but it’s not a complete shock to us.
I’m on a mission this year to really try
and drive up our margins without passing it on to the customer, so we’re looking at
every part of the business. We’re changing how we buy, how we act – whether
we buy in bulk, trying to open lines of
communication with other independents to see if we can buy together.
Little things like bulk-buying boxes –
online has gone crazy at the moment, so
why don’t we bulk-buy boxes and split it between three or four merchants to try
and get the price down a little bit? With
all the price increases it’s getting harder
to operate at a 35% margin or a lot less if you’re online.
I expect this year to be more challenging
than last year. For the on-trade the first two quarters are going to be the most difficult they’ve ever experienced but if you can
hang in there, quarters three and four will be the best ever – especially if you can get any semblance of summer trade. What
implication that has for off-trade I’m not
too sure, but it’s going to go up and down all year.
Do you sell to the on-trade? No, we absolutely refuse to do it. I
remember sitting down with Helen,
and when we sketched out the margins and what you’d need she said: “why
would anyone do it?” Maybe one or two customers, who I’m personally friendly
with, I’ll help out but outside of that we
What margins are you working to We tend to keep it in line with the shop,
however you tend to get more incentives discounts that get added.
It depends on what they purchase but
you could drop down to 17% or 18%. If
they’re ordering a case of six £10 wines
with free delivery, then you can make very little.
Around Christmas we had a lot of
one-bottle orders and delivery can be an arguing point – lots of customers don’t
want to pay delivery. We set our delivery
at about £8.99 but we lower the threshold
for free delivery to £30 if it’s local because
we’re not paying APC. We reduced it to £50 if it was national. One of the key things I’m looking at this year is how we can squeeze more margin out of online.
How have your online sales changed over the last 12 months? We probably increased online sales sixfold last year, so 600% increase off of a relatively low base.
A lot of that was local or regional. About
40% were customers from Cheltenham who didn’t want to leave the house, but
we made more margin that way through delivering ourselves.
We proactively targeted local and
regional. The local side were customers
who had previously come into the shop but were staying at home for obvious reasons, so we delivered to them.
The wins for us were regional, and by
regional I mean people in surrounding
towns and villages who very rarely come into Cheltenham but have heard of us
through other means and want to support a local retailer rather than a national one. That was all new custom for us, so we
proactively targeted them through social
media. We tried to personalise as much as
possible, we dropped sweets into the boxes … our core aim was to build relationships with these customers.
We also saw an increase in national
customers, but the low-hanging fruit is
in local and regional and I think you can satisfy that demand at low cost without
investing in pay-per-click or search engine optimisation.
The first year we launched a website,
we went into that quite heavily and spent
about £600 per month to get to the top of the Google listings and got zero return. I
remember we used Louis Roederer Brut
Premier Champagne as a test and invested quite heavily on price.
We were pretty much the cheapest
online and made sure we got to page one
of Google, and we had over 700 clicks and not one transaction. That taught us that
we weren’t doing it right and we decided to pull back and let everything grow
more organically, until we could upskill ourselves.
What’s the next move with the website? If you want to make a splash online,
you need to have a specialism: really Continues page 34
‘I’m on a mission this year to really try and drive up our margins without passing it on to the customer’ THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 33
From page 33
carve yourself out a niche. You can’t be a
itself off by the end of this year and I’ve got
wines that they wouldn’t necessarily have
much higher return on the hybrid on-trade
Do you think most hybrid indies will
four to five years in this property, which
I hope will be highly profitable, so I get a
bought off the shelf downstairs.
side than I would for online.
stick with that model?
the ones who can find something slightly
performing before March?
down to have a glass of wine. I don’t know
our specialism would be. Subscription
in a wine bar location. Effectively we are
generalist online because you roughly have the same price as everybody.
I think those who do it really well are
How had the Wine Library been
different. For us, if we do want to go down
It didn’t hit the levels we wanted it to but
is the future of online, so then we’d
on a parade which is off the beaten track so
that route, it would be working out what have to think about how we’d develop a subscription package that’s slightly different.
Part of me thinks if you gave me
£100,000 to invest in an element of our business, I wouldn’t get the maximum
return if I invested it online. I still think retail and wine experiences and events offer the highest return.
Indies have built so much of their recent success on the “experiential” part of their offer and many seem to have successfully replicated it online. We talk frequently about that. How do you build a relationship when you have no
voice? You can do it via newsletters, but
we’ve thought about other initiatives too.
If we go down the subscription route, do
we start looking at virtual tastings as a way to get people to join in, say, once a month?
we knew it was high risk because we’re not there’s not much complementary evening entertainment around us.
Just before we closed it in March we
were fully booked with private parties. It
took us two years to get there but we had
a really strong January, February and early March in 2020, so it is frustrating that
we’ll probably have to go back to square
one. But we’re looking forward to getting
it back open because we know the concept works.
‘This model really works for us but it’s built through wine experiences’ If I was doing this again, there are many
What’s the added element so you can set
things I’d change about the Wine Library.
don’t have the answers at the moment.
and charcuterie plates, but we made no
yourself apart from the nationals? There
are three or four things we could do, but I Once you start trying to focus your
money online nationally it can get very expensive very quickly.
Would the Wine Library be a better candidate for investment? The Wine Library generates a gross profit of 65% to 70% and I don’t need to invest
in extra resources for it – I use the existing shop resource. The Wine Library will pay
You absolutely have to do food. We had a
food partner that would supply the cheese money on it.
I can definitely say that we see a halo
effect from the Enomatics of between 8% and 12% of the people upstairs who then come downstairs and buy a bottle. So we are generating GP from the machines.
Some of the suppliers donate bottles to
put in the machines so it doesn’t cost me
to fill them and we are making profit from that and we’re getting customers to try
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 34
There are a lot of customers who are
prepared to go into a wine shop and sit
if there are as many customers who are prepared to go into a wine bar and buy
wine to take away, so how you lay out your venue is really important.
I’m really fascinated by multiple use
of space – why can’t you be a wine shop
in the day and a fully-fledged restaurant in the evening? I know there are a lot of these urban breweries now. We have a
local one called Deya and they turn their brewery into a wine bar on a Friday and
Saturday and put food vans outside and it’s incredibly successful. It’s in my head to do something like that to target the younger sector of the market in this setting.
You had an ambition to get into wine retailing and you took a forensic approach to it. After all of that, what made you settle on Cheltenham? I created the data set that looked at
demand and I identified Cheltenham as having a high-demand location.
At the time there was Tivoli Wines and
a Majestic in the market. There are more competitors now who have come in. The
space at Tivoli really interested me. Tivoli only used about 30% of their available space to sell wine.
I had a number in my head when I
bought the business of £650,000 [sales], and that’s what I thought the optimum
would be for a wine shop in this location.
Last year we exceeded that by far, so I feel quite satisfied that we got to that level.
Cheltenham and the surrounding areas
are already engaged in wine but you
also have quite a young consumer base.
Gloucestershire University is just based
tasting or a portfolio tasting. That tends
to attract people who already have some knowledge of the subject.
We wanted to create a format that would
target people aged 25 to 40 and get them
into wine, so we came up with what we call our wine festivals. We divide the shop and
the Wine Library into three separate areas,
and we have three different presenters and
each presenter only has five minutes to talk through up to eight wines each, so it’s very
fast moving. You’re on your feet and there’s music in the background.
We have about 50 customers split into
The Wine Library will pay for itself by the end of this year, Dodd believes
three groups then we move them round
the shop and upstairs every 30 minutes. Because it’s small groups they are more inclined to talk to us and to talk to each other and to ask questions.
You have to be quite concise and not
get into the details and you literally pass
them a new wine every five minutes. That’s probably where we’ve had our greatest success. They were selling out three
months in advance and tickets were £25
to £30, and we were showing between 15
and 25 wines priced at retail between £10 and £30.
Since I bought the business in 2016,
we’ve doubled our sales, we’ve increased 45% in footfall, we’ve increased 5% in
margin, and probably the average basket Dodd has been keen to utilise more sales space than the previous owners
about five minutes’ walk away.
The first one we did when we opened was
no kids] in the surrounding area and
two and a half hours about Malbec. Within
We have a high proportion of SINKS and
DINKS [single income no kids, dual income that’s where we want to go for the wine experience side. Everything for us runs
through wine experiences – that’s been the growth.
Before we got to the Covid era, what sort of things were you doing?
spend has gone up by £9. So this model
really works for us but it’s built through wine experiences.
How have you adapted tastings online?
in a meeting room and a guy came in and
We didn’t want to send out full bottles, so
20 minutes you could see the customers’
work. For our Christmas tasting where
just talked to 20 different customers for
eyes dropping and instantly I realised we
needed to change the format, so we trialled about three different types of events.
So for those people already engaged in
wine as a subject we had producer events and they would come in and do a vertical
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 35
we decant into smaller medicine bottles, which we also have to sterilise. It’s hard
we showed 30 wines, we had to fill 1,500 bottles.
We’d like to roll it out to a wider
geographical area. I was having a
Continues page 36
From page 35
conversation with another merchant
recently and we talked about going down the canning route, or maybe sachets.
How many suppliers do you work with? I’m up to about 20 now. I might order from some suppliers monthly and I might order from some quarterly – it depends on the success of individual lines in the shop. To go from my quarterly list to my
monthly list we need to have fast-moving lines and that means we have to have
wines coming in that are excellent value
and sell for between £10 to £14. Once we
get customers on to those it will trigger an order every month.
We tried to get a load of new-wave South
African wines in because we were really interested but it just didn’t work for us
because our customer base wasn’t quite
right for it. We focused on natural wines
about two years ago, but I think it was a bit early and that didn’t really work for us.
Last year we took the range up from 450
to 750 and we’ll probably go to about 800 this year. I’m happy with the range – we need to tinker with it a little.
One of the negatives of last year is that
our average bottle price dropped from £16 to £13. A little bit of that was because we expanded our entry-level range, but we
were led by customers. That’s what they wanted – that’s what we delivered.
Which styles or regions are doing well? 55% of the shop is Italy and France. Spain has been an interesting one – it’s really
jumped up for us in the last year. That’s
probably been driven by our own interest. Everyone in the shop loves Spanish wine, especially Galicia. That’s our key region.
We’re really passionate about the English
trade and we expanded the range. I think at its highest last year we had about 70
‘I’ve identified my top 40 wines and said to suppliers I want a discount, but I’ll buy a pallet of a line in one go’ different lines mixed between sparkling
The database has about 800 people on it
and still. That’s a rapidly growing area. We
and it represents 38% of our transactions
We sold a lot of cases of Woodchester rosé
we identified the customers who weren’t
do sell cases of English wine. A lot of it is
local – Woodchester does really well for us. in the summer.
We sell mixed cases of English online.
It’s an area of experimentation for a lot of customers. When I first bought the
and 46% of spend. I’ve got customers who are worth about £14,000 a year to me so
ordering online and who weren’t coming into the shop and emailed them.
How do people earn loyalty points?
business, we would probably get one
Roughly we give a point for every pound
a week asking about our English selection.
double points. Once you hit 250 points you
person every three months asking about
English wine. Now we get about 15 people How are you sourcing stuff right now? I’m a huge fan of tastings. I will travel all
over the country to go to tastings, I love it and it’s one of the highlights of my year. I
love trying new wines and I love speaking
to winemakers. Not having had them in the last year is a challenge – it’s not quite the
same virtually, but we have to get over that fact. As soon as we can do it safely, we will return. We miss it.
I don’t like wastage so I’ve said to our
suppliers I’d rather you come in once a
quarter, bring in 20 wines and spend three hours with us because we see the benefit
of what they can tell us about the wines – they tell us the stories.
When we get some sample bottles we get
some customers to try the wines as well.
I’ve said from year one that I want to set up a customer buying group so they would try
you spend. Some weekends it will be
double points and for some wines it will be get £10 off your next transaction.
Once you hit 500 points you get a ticket
to one of our events. 750 points gets you
another £10 off and with 1,000 points you
get a £100 voucher for the Wine Library. It
works pretty well as it means they try new wines, and the money comes back to us.
It’s really expanded the more challenging
ranges from eastern and central Europe
because we put loads of them in the Wine Library.
We put in one Sauvignon Blanc, one rosé,
one Malbec and the rest are really exciting wines and it genuinely works.
We bought the Enomatics outright – we
took the plunge. The Wine Library took
about £70,000 in total and it was all self-
funded. And we’re going to have six years of high growth in the Wine Library. Tell us more about the team.
the wine blind and tell me what they think
We’ve got Tina who’s been working in the
How does your database work?
now me. She’s part of the community and
of it and what they’d pay for it, and that really gives us some insights.
We set up a loyalty database two years ago and it’s so important to me.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 36
shop for 20 years – through Threshers, Wine Rack, the previous owners and people come in just to speak to her.
I probably have managed 200 people
throughout my career and I’ve never met
anyone with her energy. You could put
say there is a 50% chance that we’ll open
hard all day and she’s a real asset to the
not the average student – he loves £50
wine hotel, somewhere to have residential
three 18-year-olds next to her and she’d wipe the floor with them. She works business. She’s nuts as well.
Calum is our creative, artistic person,
with a fantastic palate and he’s pretty
much our lead wine buyer. I lean on him
quite a bit because he has such a passion
for the subject. He’s the opposite of Tina – you’re not going to see him any time soon breaking out in a sweat on the shop floor, but he’s the person who makes sure we
have the best wines on the shelf. He comes up with an awful lot of ideas and runs the digital and marketing side of things. We’ve just taken on Calum’s wife,
Chelsea, so we’re now a two-family
business, and she supports Calum on the digital side by looking after the website
and the data maintenance. She is highly
organised and identified where we needed
Last year because the shop was so
busy we brought in a student, Seb. He’s Chardonnays. He’s perfect as we get all
his wages back as he spends it all on wine. He’s really confident and he wants to get involved in tastings and you can just see him growing in the next few years.
We’ll probably get another full-timer this
The most important person to the
business is someone who never comes
into the shop and that’s Helen. I don’t have to think about the numbers. She sorts
everything out and it takes the pressure off me.
Can you imagine opening another shop? The original plan was to open three. Last year we kiboshed it and said because of
Brexit it just wasn’t the right time. I would
I have a dream that I’d like to create a
wine courses. You’d need a lot of money to do it, but it is kind of the direction I’d like to steer the business.
What else might the future hold for you? Majestic is going to get stronger. I’m
convinced of that because they’ve got the right person in charge now, so I’d like to see us independents working together where possible.
I’d love to buy in direct, but I don’t
have the expertise. I’d love to work with
another independent on that. And I would be interested in speaking to them about sharing warehouse or storage space.
I’ve quadrupled my spend with some
suppliers. I’ve identified my top 40 wines
and I’ve said I want a discount, but I’ll buy a pallet from you of a single line in one go.
I’m just trying a slightly different approach. How does the idea of running a wine shop compare with the reality? I love it. What I was doing before was so
much more financially rewarding, but this is a great industry to be in.
We’re on a rollercoaster. I spent 20 years
forecasting sales for the largest businesses
in the world and I was pretty good at it, but my wife said to me last month, “what are
you forecasting for the first three months
for sales for Tivoli Wines?” and I have got absolutely no idea.
We’re in a very strong position but I’m
just unsure which direction we’ll go in. I’m very risk averse – I like to sit on a lot of data before I make a decision.
We made a decent profit last year, we
gave the team a 15% bonus at Christmas
and the rest we will re-invest. I paid myself The shop was a Threshers and Wine Rack branch before becoming an independent
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 37
less than I paid my staff last year. I just
want the business to grow, and that’s our approach.
RIBERA DEL DUERO
Tim Atkin MW is your guide to a region that is shaking off its "big and oaky" image with wines that have a character all of their own – complex, balanced and textural, from a variety of terroirs that could rival Burgundy. For the past four years his Ribera Top 100 has charted the progress of this fascinating and evolving part of the Spanish wine landscape.
© José Berdón
remember about Ribera del Duero. The
(Tempranillo) with other varieties, be
harvest on November 7? Somewhere that
were grown here in Roman times, but
despite the long-standing fame of Vega
as a range of terroirs that is arguably as
ingers on buzzers. Here’s your starter for 10, as the University Challenge
catchphrase would have it. Which
European wine region finished its 2016
makes late harvest sweet wines perhaps, optimistically hanging on for a belated botrytis infection? Or an experimental
vineyard beside a Norwegian fjord? Both
are plausible answers, but the place I have in mind is Ribera del Duero.
In a world where climate change has
made late autumn harvests as rare as
first is that, in many ways, it’s a young
region and is still a work in progress. Vines Sicilia, founded back in the 1860s, the
Denominación de Origen was not created until 1982. The area under vine in Ribera del Duero is still expanding – from 6,460 hectares in the early 1980s to 23,353 hectares today.
Ribera del Duero is highly unusual. Look
dates may be moving forward, especially
Taste a top wine from the late 1980s and
humility in a Dominic Cummings blogpost, at a list of the last 10 vintages and four of them finished in November. The starting
in hotter vintages like 2019 and 2015, but this is still a comparatively marginal place to grow grapes. Even an early ripening
variety such as Tempranillo (or Tinto Fino, as it’s known locally) makes producers
wait in the cooler parts of Ribera. Because of its altitude, the region can experience
very cold springs and damaging frosts as
late as June, so the vines take a while to get going. No wonder it has one of the shortest growing seasons in the world.
I mention these things to make a simple
point: Ribera del Duero is unique, a place that needs to be considered and enjoyed on its own terms. This is a region that’s
marked by significant diurnal variation,
a region that picks late to achieve tannin ripeness. Paradoxically, it makes wines with high alcohol levels (14%+ is the
norm) and correspondingly high pHs that
still retain acidity. “At higher pHs,” explains Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus, “you have more texture.”
There are other important things to
he second thing is a question of
style. The “big and oaky” template
that many people, I think wrongly,
associate with the region is not historic. it is often surprisingly fresh and lightly wooded. The rich, powerful template
they Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha Tinta, Malbec, Merlot or Albillo Mayor, as well
complex as Burgundy’s. One day, I hope, people will talk about the difference
between wines from, say, La Aguilera,
La Horra, Fuentelcésped, Quintana del
Onésimo and San Estéban de Gormaz the
way they do about those from ChambolleMusigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, Pommard,
Volnay and Vosne-Romanée. While it is true that some of the best Riberas are pan-
regional cuvées – think Aalto, Alión, Ausàs and Garmón – the overwhelming majority are village or site-specific wines. Place is much more important than winemaking these days.
the US market, and reached its high point
to work even harder to make balanced
This year, it was all done by Zoom and
arrived in the late 1990s, largely to please more than a decade ago. Global warming has complicated the picture – you have
wines these days – but the best Riberas today are way more elegant. These are
often produced from vineyards at altitudes (900 metres+) that were once considered marginal and, in some cases, downright foolhardy.
The third thing I’d like to highlight is
diversity and I mean this in several ways.
Ribera’s soils are extremely heterogeneous – Vega Sicilia alone has 19 of them in its
vineyards in the so-called Golden Mile. It
also enjoys a range of aspects and altitudes spanning both sides of the river that
gives the region its name. And lastly, it
increasingly applies to the region’s wines. Diversity here comes from a number
of sources – blends of Tinto Fino
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 39
’m lucky to have spent the last four years
visiting the region to research my annual Ribera Top 100 (the most recent edition
has just been published on timatkin.com). tasted in London, but I was still able to
deepen my knowledge of the region by talking to its best winemakers.
I’m increasingly struck by what an
exciting place it is, a place that confounds
the image it has on some markets. Sure, the top wines are made to age and have good underlying structure – no one ever levels
this criticism at Bordeaux, by the way – but they have finesse as well as flavour. Still in
its youth as a wine region, Ribera del Duero continues to evolve for the better. Go there, pandemic permitting, to see for yourself. • A group of independent merchants give their verdicts on Ribera wines overleaf.
Bastien Martinole, Fine Wines Direct COMENGE BODEGAS Y VIÑEDO JACOBUS 2014
Using indigenous yeasts plot by plot is something that I really respect and believe is the best way to truly express a wine’s unique provenance. Super fresh and fruity nose, red fruits, and sweet liquorice, moving
John Townend, House of Townend
BODEGA TIERRA ARANDA TA ROSADO EDICIÓN ESPECIAL 2019
to light notes of balsamic, soya sauce and
I really liked this. Some expressive
meaty aromas. The mouthfeel is superb
VALDEMONJAS EL PRIMER BESO 2019 (Indigo Wines)
raspberry and cherry notes on the nose
with elegant umami being the backbone.
Purple, vibrant, black fruits dominate the
which suggested it might be just a bit too
Fruits, spices, leather and light oak blend
bouquet with a touch of fresh tobacco.
confected but ultimately, it showed really
harmoniously. The tannins are just right,
The palate is elegant, forward and
good balance: the fruit was sufficiently
rich enough to give the wine plenty of
approachable, with crunchy fresh fruits, a
toned down for some charming minerality
ageing potential, but smooth enough to
little hedgerow and soft tannins binding
to sneak through.
make this wine enjoyable now. A modern, polished wine, showing the excellent quality
potential of the Ribera del Duero region. BODEGAS ANTIDOTO 2019 (H2Vin) Deep purple in colour, the nose is
BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS VALTRAVIESO 2018 (Hayward Bros)
concentrated with berry aromas and a hint
Complex nose showing lots of layers of fruits,
of vanilla. I like the mouthfeel: rich, round
spices, and other flavours with underlying
and chocolatey, with vanilla, caramel,
creamy ripe red fruit characters. Oak is
soft and smooth tannins and a little spice
very well integrated on the nose with hint
providing the edge. A crowd-pleasing, stylish
of dried herbs and burnt paper. The mouth
is pleasant with young but polished tannins balanced by a decent acidity. Very good value for money.
MELIDA PARPADOS 2018 Dark ruby, the bouquet is overt and
© José Berdón
strong. Crunchy black fruits, sweet cassis and soft tannins, the palate is round and approachable with a fine balancing freshness.
Chris Connolly, Connolly’s
Simon Richards, Amps Wines
BODEGAS MALACUERA CRIANZA 2016
Fun presentation. Fruit, oak and spice on the
ABADÍA DE ACÓN RESERVA 2014 (Tanners)
nose. Good standard – a wee bit of maturity
Everyone liked this. Expressive nose. Very
softens it. A good £15 wine.
MONTEBACO SEMELE 2018 (Champagnes & Chateaux)
polished. Great mouthfeel – blackberry
Of all the wines tasted, this was my
compote, liquorice, hints of chocolate, © José Berdón
favourite. Earthy with some dark, spicy
Kenneth Vannan, Villeneuve Wines
structured tannins. Long length and a
notes coming through. Not showy but silky,
balanced finish. Noticeable acidity, so would
polished and all very well knit with some
be interesting to age, decant and have with
impressive length on the finish.
food. Good balance with a rustic edge.
BODEGAS LÓPEZ CRISTÓBAL 2015 (Raeburn Fine Wines)
PÁRAMOS DE LEGARIS 2016 (Codorníu UK)
Generous; rich, plummy and satisfying.
Opened up in the glass to creamy dark and
Highly polished, supple tannins and full of
soft red berry fruit. Hints of cocoa, with
dark, brambly fruit.
sweet ripe tannins and well integrated oak.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 40
Feature produced in association with
© Ekaterina Glazkova / stockadobe.com
2021 COMPETITION NOW OPEN FOR ENTRIES REWARDING THE MOST INTERESTING WINES IN THE INDEPENDENT TRADE ALL JUDGES ARE INDEPENDENT MERCHANTS VISIT WINERMERCHANTTOP100.COM OR EMAIL CLAIRE@WINEMERCHANTMAG.COM
am on Holiday!
weeding” and subdivided the working ones
Rather: I am on some kind of
into several bags*. After years of moaning about how I’m not watching The Crown
enforced rest from bottle wrapping
and people with big trainers asking me
because it’s gross propaganda I’m baw
if I’ve got “any of that Orange Wine” and
deep in it. Actually I would say I’m more
from trying to micromanage a team who are definitely more capable than I am of running a booze shop. I have muted the
work WhatsApp. Mostly. I have stopped
checking the figures. Mostly. I have stopped checking the email. Mostly. Well, I did after I saw that the team had placed a spirits
order with Chartreuse in it. Because who doesn’t need Chartreuse in January?
(Witness: time moves forward in this
universe and I am writing this in January
– in what was at this point here, now, this now here moment… what is this here
than baw deep, I’m up to my oxters in royal
4. HOLIDAY! Phoebe Weller of Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow has taken some time off, which means more opportunities for yoga, macramé, research into supermarket wine, and of course midnight feasts.
now this now here moment: January.
more *cough* restorative *cough* yoga
good at looking thoughtful
credulity, spouting guff for a couple of days,
are checking out some live
one has listened to me, at least with any
weeks, whatever – I am on Holiday! – in the last 10 months whenever I’ve tried to take several days off in a row something bad
has happened. Like that time I left work
for an hour and the roof caved in. Like that time I cycled to Falkirk and got the ‘vid.
, like the rest of the UK, am on some kind of January Holiday! lockdown. The “Norms” are moping about,
zombielike, Christmas holidays never quite ending, everyone just in a state of kinda doing work but there’s nothing really
needing done but I better sit in front of
my computer in case they’re watching me.
But then actually I’ve long wondered what people do in offices and think probably
that they don’t do much and pretend to do tap-tap-tap computer stuff and get really
even am I? [Ask me about the time I met Prince William and he said he was Gary
Glitter. Please ask me, not even my parents believe this story and it’s TRUE.]
’m on Holiday! This is my day:
wake, pint of warm lemony water and vowing that I’m not having a
bottle of wine tonight, do first batch of
more challenging sequences and opting
than is ever necessary.)
And you know – have I told you? – no
called The Secret History of Balmoral. Who
yoga usually failing to complete any of the
Forgive me, I’ve been reading a customer recommended book on Zen and doing
protocol. Last night I put on a programme
and confused, but mostly
when people aren’t looking
instead for child’s pose, put dress on
over yoga clothes, look out at glorious
sunshine, procrastinate about going out, go out, skite about on three inches of compacted ice, tut at the joggers breathing too much, tut
stream in an owl’s nest like
at the people with dogs,
the rest of us.
get marooned on a patch
Anyway Holiday! dear god
of tarmac with no way
it’s rubbish. God everything’s
forward except on my hands
rubbish, isn’t it, have you noticed?
and knees, crawl home. Don’t
Did you maybe notice at the
check Instagram don’t check
here then, then there moment of January
the whatever when I
wrote this? What day is this?
Is it Thursday? Do I get my applause back? It’s rubbish rubbish rubbish.
I’ve not, as the saying goes, got fit or learned a new language in my mini-
lockdown, no no no. I bought some string
with a view to learning macramé and did a good noose bit but then got confused as to
what a loop was and have been meaning to look it up on the YouTube but haven’t got round to it. I did a really boss job at “pen
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 42
Instagram don’t check… sit on
Instagram scrolling Shitty Wine Memes until the sun goes down
which is at 3.55 right now. More yoga,
mostly Savasana. Explore supermarket wine.
eader, can I let you into a secret? I cannot keep a bottle. I cannot
cellar, I cannot buy and keep aside.
This means that I buy as much as I can before my holiday (Holiday!) from the
shop but only as much as I can carry on my
bike, about eight
bottles, which is a
section. There is no
fair bit but IT WAS
greater Morrisons than
HOGMANAY. And I
can’t go back into
well worth a trip. What
the shop because
I like to do is cook
that will undo all my
onions then cook
good cord-cutting zen
cumin seeds and
yoga mindfulness and
turmeric and ground
I’m attempting to be
a multifaceted human
coriander and then
add the mince and then frozen
who doesn’t need the shop to define
peas. What a trip! Recently I wrapped this
and sneery and think about work which
sausage “sausage roll” in an “oven”, which
myself. Ditto other people’s beautiful
shops which right now make me panicky
is specifically what I’m not doing. I’m not thinking about work, I’m not thinking
about work, I’m not, I’m not. Oh I’m on the work Facebook and see that the woman I berated about not wearing a mask in the final throes of 2020 has made a “formal” complaint. Holiday!
When I have a hob (as I do here on
Holiday!) I like to fry things. I am an
advocate of always cooking your onions for around an hour before adding other
ingredients. This is why this month I have renamed this “column” Phoebe’s Amazing Midnight Feasts, as my partner jokes I
cannot plate up before 10. Hahahaha. In
addition to onions I like to fry Morrisons Cook From Frozen lamb mince. This
in the crusty end of some ready-rolled
puff pastry and baked the whole rolled
I also have when not in the shop. I find this matches adequately with Morrisons The Best South African Cinsault (£6.95).
n an effort not to buy any food until we have finished all the food we
bought before everyone decided
not to Christmas after all, leaving just the two of us arguing next to the fire, I have
come up with some particularly disgusting combinations. Only yesterday I created a
belter: stuffed green pepper (three weeks past BB) with chestnuts and meatballs (yellow label from Waitrose, fancy).
Not only did the rotten pepper impart
and imbue the dish with, somehow,
teenage regret but the mismatch, texturally, of the meatball and chestnut layers was
lessened not one whit by Aldi’s Crémant
de Jura (£8.95). Neither was it saved by
this was just picked off and eaten like a
delicious lactic scab.
to work tomorrow and back to normality.
* I am actually quite proud of this one, made of March 2020 where I fell in love with
5cl gin 2.5cl St George or other raspberry liqueur Prosecco rosé 1 tablespoon lemon juice Lemon zest
a heavy-handed cheese layer – rather
So that’s it, another holiday over, back
essential dates back to the first lockdown
The French 75 is the classic cocktail that most people have never heard of, combining gin and Champagne with equal weights of sugar syrup and lemon juice. This 2021 take celebrates both the arrival of pink Prosecco and gin’s continuing success story, replacing the syrup with a smidge of raspberry liqueur as the sweetener to synchronise eyes and palate. Pinkster or Foxdenton’s raspberry gin would give an extra fruit dimension, a punchier version of the Raspberry Fizz cocktail.
the holiday really, maybe things are not so bad after all.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 43
Put the gin, liqueur and lemon juice into a shaker filled with ice and shake. Strain into a Champagne flute. Top with pink Prosecco. Give it a little stir and decorate with a strip of lemon zest.
ineyard Productions is an
intriguing and fleet-footed
business, which allows Liam
Steevenson MW to indulge his passion for winemaking anywhere in the world.
He could produce wine of any style, with
any grape variety, wherever he liked. Yet there’s something about Marlborough
Sauvignon Blanc that has utterly captivated him.
Steevenson’s roots are in the
independent trade, but he also spent a
number of years as a buyer for Waitrose.
“New Zealand is a pretty easy place to fall in love with quickly,” he says. “I did love
going there but at that time I really didn’t
enjoy buying New Zealand wines. I found it quite a frustrating category.”
Why? “There seemed to be so few stories
told, so little narrative. I felt that the
independent consumer wasn’t engaging with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – it felt like a supermarket product. And
sommeliers were really staying away from it.”
Steevenson’s solution to the problem,
once Vineyard Productions was
established, was to launch Fincher & Co. Not all of the wines in the Fincher range are Sauvignons, but it’s by far the most important variety in the line-up.
“I knew a guy called Ben Glover who’s a
really talented winemaker, the guy behind the early days of Wither Hills and then
The Ned, and then he did Mud House with Accolade – a lot of big-brand stuff.
“He also has a family business called
Zephyr, and I’ve always loved those wines.
Ben and I spent a bit of time together about four years ago and had lots of chats over
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 44
How Fincher & Co helps wine lovers explore hidden depths in New Zealand’s best known region, and grape variety
lots of beers about Marlborough having
a lot of stories to tell that weren’t getting told.
“We talked about being a bit braver with
the winemaking. The idea with Fincher
from the beginning was to create a range that told people about sub-regional
Marlborough and its three valleys: Wairau, Awatere and Kekerengu.
“All of them have different climates
that I thought could be shown in wine.
And within those valleys we would either start telling single-vineyard stories or
interesting winemaking stories and bring them out in small-batch cuvees.
“New Zealand consistently produces
good Riesling and Pinot Gris and
Gewurztraminer and all kinds of other
varietals. But I still think that Sauvignon Blanc is their grape.”
Fincher & Co Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Fincher & Co The Dividing Line Sauvignon Blanc
Awatere is cooler than Wairau, being closer to the sea. “When you pick Sauvignon Blanc off the bunch it tastes exactly like the finished wine,” Steevenson says. “When you go to the Awatere you get an incredible salt content from the sea air and the skins of the grapes are much thicker than in the Wairau. You get a much more herbal, green, pithy quality to Awatere Sauvignon Blanc. “It’s a single vineyard site: we take half the fruit and Astrolabe take the other half. “Ben likes to go drier than most winemakers – he doesn’t want too much sweetness left. There is a slightly European sense to the wine. It’s quite elegant and a little bit more Loire-like. You get the more nettley notes on the nose instead of the tropical notes.”
This hand-picked Sauvignon from the Alice Mills Vineyard in Rapaura represents the next level up in the Fincher & Co range, and Steevenson is happy to have produced a wine that isn’t necessarily a crowd pleaser. “I’ve always liked white Bordeaux in style,” he says. “I’ve always liked skin contact and stuff that sits on its lees for quite a long time. I like old oak. So I wanted to make a wine that’s interesting and different in Marlborough but I really wanted to tell the Sauvignon Blanc story as well.” He adds: “This is picked as early as we can: it came in at 12.5%. Ben picks just the westerly rows, the coolest rows in the vineyard, and it then gets fermented in barrel. “We call it The Dividing Line because I always like this idea of people liking and not liking it. The best things in life, like good art and good music … if everyone likes them they’re like an Athena poster. We wanted a wine to be a bit divisive. We even put it under cork. “It’s fermented in old barrels so they’re not giving any particular oak character to the wine, but the wine sits on its lees for quite a long time and doesn’t get stirred that regularly. I think that gives it some complexity. And because the ferment is allowed to take its own course and is not particularly temperature controlled, you end up with a slightly warmer ferment. “Some of those light esters and aromatics disappear and instead you get more winey, more vinous characteristics – more petrolly and interesting and different.” Indies who took part in a Zoom tasting were far from divided in their opinion. Marc Hough of Cork of the North says: “I’ve sold absolute bucketloads of this and I’ve not met anybody yet who doesn’t like it. I’m finding everybody’s absolutely adoring this wine.” Emily Silva of The Oxford Wine Company adds: “I think if I was going to show this wine
Fincher & Co Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc The Wairau is a bigger vineyard area than Awatere, with much less ocean influence. “You naturally get a softer, rounder and more fruity style of wine out of the Wairau and less of the salty, dry mineral note that you get in the Awatere,” says Steevenson. “Ben’s tried to make a wine that’s fermented really dry with no particular sweetness there and the acidity feels like it’s part of the wine.” The wine is made in exactly the same way as its Awatere sibling, in large stainless steel tanks. “It’s not the most exciting winemaking to watch, but it works,” says Steevenson. “It’s incredibly cold – it’s all about maintaining the fruit quality when you get the wine in. That’s the trick. With Sauvignon Blanc it’s all those delicate, lovely esters that make the wine interesting.”
at a tasting, I would be really tempted not to introduce it as a Marlborough Sauvignon, just to see what people said about it, because I think there is there is a sense of avoiding those kinds of slightly residual sugary, really whack-you-in-the-face-with-apassion-fruit type of Sauvignons.” Matt Monk of The Whalley Wine Shop agrees. “Like Emily I have a group of customers that would absolutely lap this up because it’s slightly different and it gives them something more to talk about,” he says. “Over the last year people have been much more adventurous in their price points and their styles of wines that they want to get to know.”
Fincher & Co The Show of Hands Pinot Noir The Fincher team has crafted a Pinot that’s ready to enjoy immediately. The fruit in the current release comes from Mount Edward (“a funky little place between Queenstown and Cromwell”) but will be sourced from Marlborough for future vintages. “It’s all about light, bright fresh wines; the vineyards are maintained with a kind of poise for lightness and delicacy that I really like,” says Steevenson. “Central Otago is obviously the most amazing place to spend any time but I kind of got a bit bored of the overly silky, overly plush Pinots that came out for a long time. I really like the move to lightness and brightness and freshness. “I do like this redness that you get from New Zealand Pinot. I’ve always liked Martinborough Pinot Noir and stylistically I’ve always had my eye on that kind of style: fruity, earthy and a bit spicy as opposed to juicy, dark, heavy and complex.” Steevenson adds: “I want to drink it with cold meats and I want to drink it this year. I’m not saying it won’t be fine in five years … but I really don’t see the point.”
Feature sponsored by Vineyard Productions For more information about Fincher & Co wines, visit vineyard-productions.com or call 0117 915 4555
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 45
© IImre / stockadobe.com
Five reasons New Zealand is
New Zealand took a fast track to the top with the novelty and purity of its fruit-driven wines. But in the 2020s, diversity, consistency and maturity are increasingly the watchwords in a country that remains a top draw for independent merchants, says David Williams
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 46
© Kwest / stockadobe.com
STILL a must-have for indies The diversification of Sauvignon It’s impossible to talk about New Zealand without mentioning Sauvignon Blanc.
Not that some people wouldn’t like to try. There’s a divisiveness about the variety
even among fans of the country’s wines, with some finding its success just a bit too all-encompassing, dismissing the
wave of so-so, me-too versions that fill
the UK’s supermarket shelves as so much undifferentiated, formulaic commercial product.
Some 62% of the country’s total
plantings aren’t easily brushed aside,
however, and the reality is that, for such
a successful brand, the base quality level
of Kiwi or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
has stayed remarkably high. Sure there are bottles where the simple tricks of mass-
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 47
market commercial white winemaking
are in full effect. But when you compare
it to the rest of the list of really big-selling white wine styles in the UK of the past 30
years – from the last days of Liebfraumilch, through branded oak-chip Australian and
Californian Chardonnay and watery Pinot Grigio to the cream soda-powered rise of Continues page 48
NEW ZEALAND WINE
corporate consistency – but small players rising
From page 47
Prosecco – NZ Sauvignon has managed to retain its credibility remarkably well.
In the independent sector, there’s a natural
available at more premium prices.
these are the people who make the most
and understandable affinity for small
More than that, it’s also managed to
producers. And, more often than not,
develop and expand the stylistic range
interesting wines with the most interesting
Winemaking techniques such as extended
stories behind them.
skin contact, wild yeast and whole-bunch – even putting oysters in the tank in one
© Daniel Smolcic / stockadobe.com
admittedly small-production cuvée –
plus different vessels such as concrete, oak, acacia, clay and steel are all being
employed, and the terroir differences both within Marlborough and its valleys and
around the country’s other regions are all being explored in much greater detail.
The result is a Sauvignon scene that is
far more diverse than the hard-to-shift
gooseberry stereotype allows, featuring such complex, serious and adventurous – not to mention individual – wines as
Framingham’s F-Series Sauvignon Blanc, Dog Point Section 94, Greywacke Wild and Elephant Hill Sea Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir’s maturity
Running hand in hand with the
improvement in Sauvignon Blanc over the past 20 years has been the increasing excellence of the
country’s Pinot Noir, which now takes up just shy of 15% of the New Zealand vineyard and counting.
And make no mistake, we are
very far beyond the early years of Kiwi Pinot now. The initial
surprise factor of the first few
vintages from very young vines – all that seductive, if simple,
but recognisably Pinot fruit – is still available at pretty decent
prices, and, like the Sauvignon,
delivered at a consistent quality level that
rarely dips below drinkable (no mean feat
when we’re talking, in supermarket terms, about sub-£10 prices in some cases).
But it’s at the higher price points where
New Zealand Pinot is really excelling today, with wines that are reaping the benefit of
vine age, better clonal diversity and less rigid winemaking regimens. With some
of the country’s best sites now featuring vines of 20 years old or more, the
fruit is better balanced, and producers are much more comfortable with
harvesting earlier. Meanwhile, in the
winery, they are less likely to acidify, rely less on the palate-ballast of new oak, and are much more sensitive with extraction.
There’s also a much greater
understanding of the different sites across the country,
from Marlborough’s fragrant prettiness to Central Otago’s
lush wildness via Canterbury’s finely structured elegance,
although, for now, it’s producer name – Kusuda, Rippon, Felton
Road, Bell Hill, Ata Rangi etc etc
etc – that remains the clearest
indicator of style.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 48
But you can have all the great small
producers in the world and still not find a
receptive audience if the bigger producers – those responsible for most consumers’
experience of a given country’s wines and
for shaping its image – aren’t up to scratch. New Zealand is lucky, then, that its best-
known and biggest-selling ambassadors in the UK – Brancott Estate, Villa Maria, Yealands – are easily among the most
interesting in the big branded world – and that there’s no equivalent of Blossom Hill or Yellowtail to lower the overall tone.
Valley, Saint Clair, Hunter’s, Craggy Range, Seresin among many others serving the independent sector with consistent,
trustworthy quality that consumers are
comfortable with – before they move on to the burgeoning scene of small producers
emerging in a country that has doubled its number of registered wineries to 718 in the past 20 years.
green thinking New Zealand’s reputation as one of the
world’s greener countries and economies
has not always been matched by reality. Its carbon footprint grew rapidly in the late
20th and early 21st century (+22% from 1990 to 2008), and the rapid expansion
of the country’s dairy industry has led to
wide-scale pollution of its waterways and
threats to biodiversity.
New Zealand has become closely
maintaining the country’s clean and
of excitement? Is there a Kiwi
But the New Zealand wine industry
does at least seem to be serious about
green image – and in treating the issue as something more serious than just a marketing matter.
The first wine industry to come up with
a nationwide sustainability programme in 1995, the country has some claim to
being among the most sustainable in the world, making good progress on a set of
industry-wide targets that include being
carbon neutral and zero waste to landfill by 2050. It has 95% of its vineyard area independently audited and certified as
sustainable, and 10% of vineyards certified as organic or biodynamic.
bringing out the experimental Like a kind of upmarket version of Chile,
associated with reliability, but has that come at the expense
equivalent of the Swartland or Santa Barbara avant garde? Well there’s certainly no
lack of experimentation.
I’ve been impressed by such
modern wine bar-friendly wines as
Hunter’s Offshoot Pet Nat, Pyramid Valley’s Orange blend and the various creatively
funky cuvees made by the Vandal collective of off-duty Marlborough winemakers. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s varietal
palette continues to expand, with
successful versions of Albariño (Leftfield; Stanley Estate) and Petit Manseng
(Forrest; Churton) joining the established and rapidly improving quality of its
Chardonnay, Syrah, Riesling and Alsace varieties.
© Robert CHG / stockadobe.com
It’s also well-served by its mid-sized
names, with the likes of Tinpot Hut, Esk
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 49
THE WINEMAKER FILES //
Tamra Kelly-Washington Kelly Washington Wines Kelly Washington started out as a bit of a dream that Si and I had, to finally have our own wine label whereby we had full carte blanche over the wines, after working many years around the world with quite different wine styles and company philosophies. We probably didn’t realise how all-consuming it would be. But, like many start-ups in life, we jumped in head first and have learned a great deal along the way. I now refer to it as our passion project! Our goal is to be organic with our entire range in the next year. All of our whites are certified organic, it is our Pinot Noir that is not, but we have a plan for this.
I have had quite a long love affair with Sauvignon Blanc. There is nothing that can beat a chilled glass of classicallymade Sauvignon Blanc on a sunny deck. Often Simon and I enjoy the more textural, subdued styles, such as our Kelly Washington – these styles are so versatile and can transcend many moods and occasions. This summer we have found ourselves craving a classic Marlborough Sauvignon. And this is it. You know it, you know what you can expect, and you crave it. It’s that saline acidity, that wholly refreshing cleansing mouthfeel that dances across your palate. Delicious. Blends are brilliant. Even though we make single-varietal, single-site and even single-plot wines predominantly, these are always the sum of different barrels,
amphorae, eggs … you name it! Each vessel will express itself so individually, when made the way we make our wines – native yeasts, different quantities of lees in each, different substrates etc. The mind – and palate! – boggles. I do make quite a fun, traditional blend – a Semillon/Sauvignon. I blend the fruit in the vineyard and coferment and age. So, I really have to gauge what the wine will be like before it is made. New Zealand wine is so dynamic and exciting right now. It may be that Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are taking a leading role, certainly in terms of export, but there are so many other brilliant, more esoteric styles to be discovered. Wonderful Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Blancs, and other white varietals such as Arneis – and also the Methodes are of excellent quality. Also, within the Sauvignon category, there is so much length and breadth of style and many different terroirs to discover. In terms of red wines, the plot thickens. Wonderful Pinot Noirs produced all the way down in Central Otago, up through Marlborough and Nelson, and also up to Martinborough in the North Island. Sensational Syrahs, Cabernets, Malbecs in the North, from Hawke’s Bay all the way up to Waiheke island. Extremely diverse and exciting. Three things I most enjoy about my job: Magic, using my palate, creation. Three things I least enjoy about my job: Bad weather, cash flow, commuting.
Tamra is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed winemakers, whose experience in Italy as well as Seresin Estate laid the foundations for Kelly Washington Wines, which she runs with husband Simon. Her wines come from Marlborough, Central Otago and Hawke’s Bay. Kelly Washington wines are imported into the UK by Jeroboams 020 7288 8888 www.jeroboams.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
I think coming into our fifth vintage, it’s a good time to stop and reflect. We really want to home in even more on wonderful organic plots within the regions where we make wine. We are also concentrating on producing an organic Pinot Noir from Gibbston.
I feel incredibly blessed to have my husband by my side, in both life and in business. We both have a very strong, deep shared passion for wine, and this is central to how we live our lives in many aspects.
Kelly Washington Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc
Kelly Washington Sauvignon Blanc
Kelly Washington Cabernet Franc
A very esoteric style from New Zealand – there's hardly any made in our style that gives Semillon the leading role (Semillon 65%, Sauvignon 35%). It's fermented and aged in a concrete egg, and has wonderful length, texture and acidity.
A Marlborough Sauvignon presenting itself in quite a different way – hand-picked, whole bunch pressed, native yeast, loads of lees contact, fermented in old oak barrels. It has a lovely softness to it. Perhaps stylistically more old world than new world.
100% Cabernet Franc from Hawke's Bay. The wine is very much Loire in style. It's juicy, and predominantly aged in old oak barrels. A very pretty and elegant wine.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 51
THE WINEMAKER FILES //
Chris Seifried, Seifried Estate I’ve got two sisters, Heidi and Anna, who are also involved in the family business. We are very true to our roots in that we do what we need to do, everybody is involved. We all have titles but it’s all very loose and it seems to work reasonably well.
The people who work with us really become part of the family. We get to know their kids, we go to their place on a Friday night and have a barbecue wherever they might be. I enjoy those interactions with other people in the wine trade too; there is real banter among wine producers, which I think is for the common good of the industry – to grow, to learn, to get another perspective. It is quite a small wine industry, and quite a young one, so we are always sharing information. I went to university in Australia and worked in a number of wineries overseas, but I always had in my heart to come back to New Zealand. In 1995, when I started university, mum and dad built the new winery. The original winery was a real mish-mash. They didn’t have a lot of money and they weren’t sure how big the business would be, so each year they were planting more grapes and the winery was built on to every couple of years. I always wanted to come home. I always enjoyed being in the winery and the vineyard. I’m a very hands-on person and I enjoy tractors and machinery and seeing how things work. When I was in my latter years of high school I would rather be in
the vineyard and the winery than studying. We’re very lucky that as a business we have our own vineyards. We have our own winery and bottling line. So as a family business we are very much about the quality of the wine. The vines are getting older and Heidi, with her analytical background, is spending more time in the vineyard understanding the soil science, the nutrients.
We’re part of New Zealand’s sustainable wine growing initiative. We try to minimise the spraying. With chemicals comes the tractor, so there’s diesel, there’s environmental impact, there’s soil compaction. We’ve got 600 sheep running around in the vineyard and they do a magic job leaf-plucking. They provide great fertiliser. They eat the leaves and we get good wind flow through the canopy and lots of sunlight, so it reduces the amount of chemicals we have to use on the vines. I think with Sauvignon Blanc we are making better decisions in the vineyard and using riper fruit. The style is richer, less grassy more tropical fruit flavour. It’s more zingy, lovely and refreshing but at the same time it’s not green and hard. We’re continuing to evolve that style. It’s tricky to move the style without turning the dial too much. It will be interesting to see how global warming will affect the grapes. When I was about 10, the harvest date would be
Austrian-born Hermann Seifried and his New Zealand wife Agnes started their wine business in Nelson, on South Island, in 1973. Today their world-famous business includes 10 vineyards and a modern winery, and is run by their children Chris, Heidi and Anna. Seifried Estate is imported into the UK by Fells 01442 870900 www.fells.co.uk
April 10 to May 10. Only 30 years later we are harvesting from March 10 until April 5.
Nelson is a slightly cooler region than Marlborough. We don’t get the hot, hot days and we get slightly more rain and a lot of vigour in the vines. We have to work a bit harder in the vineyard to shift the canopy and it’s a more challenging environment to grow grapes. I don’t want to say the style of wine we make is better than Marlborough – but it’s very, very good wine.
Seifried Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Seifried Nelson Grüner Veltliner 2019
Aotea by Seifried Pinot Noir 2018
RRP: £14.99 The wine we’re most proud of at the moment. A rich, bright style with lots of tropical fruit flavours – nectarine, guava and passion fruit – but at the same time we’ve got a limey, zingy twist on the finish. Very fresh and fruity and a typical Nelson-style Sauvignon Blanc. The 2020 has won three gold medals already.
RRP: £14.99 We’re thrilled finally to be able to grow this variety from my dad's homeland. We’re fermenting it in stainless steel, a cool fermentation, and we’re trying to retain the characters of peach, pear and nectarine but with firm acidity. We’re not making a lot of it – it’s still niche for us.
RRP: £23.99 2018 was quite a good growing season with lovely ripe fruit. This was hand-plunged on the stems. We used a range of new oak and one and two-year-old barrels for 12 months. It’s drinking well now and it’s quite brambly, rich, sweet fruit. It will continue to age well for a number of years.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 52
NEW ZEALAND INDIE PROMO
New Zealand offering and show the country’s diversity,” says Chris Stroud, New Zealand Winegrowers market manager for Europe. “New Zealand Sauvignon has taken the world by storm. There’s nothing that tastes like it and it is the number one variety in the UK. There’s an opportunity to really explore the
New Zealand Winegrowers is relaunching the Independent
diversity of it. There are oaked styles, wild ferment styles,
Retail Promotion which was due to take place in April and
barrel fermented examples, there are sub regional styles ... and
May last year as Covid-19 struck and will now run this spring.
every one of them offers something different.
The promotion will be extended so retailers can run their
“People may come in knowing about New Zealand
campaign any time throughout April, May and June. Sadly,
Sauvignon Blanc but an independent can showcase different
due to the current situation, it is not possible to offer a trip to
styles and take people on a journey.
New Zealand, as in previous years. The 2021 New Zealand
“Independents can also showcase varieties like Chardonnay,
Winegrowers Promotion will offer participating retailers
Pinot Gris, Syrah and the different Pinot Noirs that are
the chance to win one of three prizes of £1,000 value to
available. These are things you wouldn’t necessarily get in
be redeemed for NZ wine of their choice for their store. In
mainstream shops and it’s an opportunity for independents to
addition, New Zealand Winegrowers will offer consumers the
forge a real point of difference and show the depth that New
chance to win £100 of NZ wine from their local independent.
Zealand can offer.”
The campaign strapline – How About a Glass of Right
Stroud is also keen to encourage indies to focus on some of
Here – aims to bring a slice of New Zealand to this market
the personalities behind the wines, and to look at innovations
showcasing the stunning beauty of the country and linking it
including organic and biodynamic viticulture as well as New
with its fabulous wines.
Zealand’s world-leading programme into reduced alcohol
New Zealand Winegrowers will also offer online tasting training for participating retailers and their staff to provide them with extra knowledge and enthusiasm for New Zealand wines.
wines. New Zealand Winegrowers can assist with digital imagery and information, and limited POS.
To be in to win, participating retailers need to run a standout New Zealand promotion with the simple aim to showcase
Feature sponsored by New
New Zealand’s diversity for at least two weeks during April,
Zealand Winegrowers. For
May and June 2021. The promotion can be run in-store, online
more information and to
or as a combination of the two.
register your interest, email
“Our objective is to encourage independents to look at their
The Roussillon is a region that sometimes struggles to assert its identity. In his new book, Richard Mark James shows that it’s a place where Grenache, in all its forms, really excels
hile avoiding rehashing all
those been-said-a-hundredtimes-before clichés about
how vast the south of France’s wine regions were/are, the book focuses
exclusively on a small and unique part of it
usually still gets stuck in with the whole of
Noir, blanc or gris: G is at home in the wi
accounts for just 7.5% of that overall
family of grape varieties in three different
heritage could be lost for ever at the
(about 20,000 hectares in 2019) and below
port-style vins doux naturels (VDN), but it
cousins Grenache Blanc and Grenache
called the Roussillon.
All of that “biggest vineyard in France
and the world” hyperbole is simply not accurate in this case but the Roussillon
the Languedoc and greater region beyond, whether it liked it or not. The Roussillon
“region”, as the French understand it (now called Occitanie), in terms of vineyards
2% of total French wine production. This is one of many good reasons why it should be treated as a distinct entity in its own right, even if historically and stylistically it does form part of the French Mediterranean South.
There seems to be a minor buzz about
the Grenache variety whether from the south of France, the better-established
southern Rhône valley regions, north east Spain or South Australia.
Best known as a red or “black” variety,
Grenache Noir in French, in fact it’s a
shades. There’s a strong heritage of old-
vine Grenache in the Roussillon for making has become the region’s defining grape for red (and rosé) wines, giving them power (sometimes an unfashionably elevated
alcohol level) and lush spicy fruit, although not necessarily such a deep colour or firm tannins.
here were 6,000 hectares of
Grenache in 2016, falling from over 7,000 hectares 10 years
earlier; if it continued to diminish while not being replaced sufficiently, that
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 54
expense of newer arrivals such as Syrah.
The same can be said for its white variety
Gris that have also experienced more
removal than planting. There were 1,300 and 1,000 hectares of each respectively
(2016) representing a drop of 30% since 2005, although this decrease would
correspond to reduced demand for certain
VDN wines which these two varieties were traditionally complementary to (with Macabeu).
However, with more
interest in dry white wines in the Roussillon in recent years and a dwindling
Indication Géographique Protegée (IGP)
which is, after all, the sexy Maury and
make a pure expressive varietal style (red,
weren’t a little bolder with a cap of 80%
Côtes Catalanes or Vin de France caters
for 100% Grenache for those wishing to
white and rosé) or a statement-making red Grenache that deliberately doesn’t fit the control-freakish appellation regulations.
A new CRV village subzone bearing the
Maury name was a long time in the making, and finally Maury Sec AOP (“dry” Maury) was launched from the 2011 vintage for
red wines sourced from the same zone as
© Martin M303 / stockadobe.com
for Maury VDN fortified reds.
Grenache ld south supply of suitable vine-stock, growers in certain areas have been keen to replant more Grenache Blanc and Gris such as coastal vineyards in Collioure.
Grenache Blanc lends richness aroma
and body while Grenache Gris is more
exotic, floral and zestier, although both
successfully make either aromatic unoaked or full-bodied barrel-fermented white
wines, as well as gris being useful for rosé thanks to its pink-tinged skin.
The Appellation d’Origine Protegée
(AOP) regions of Côtes du Roussillon and
Côtes du Roussillon Villages (CRV) permit up to 70% Grenache Noir for red wines (and for rosé for the former), and up to
90% for Collioure red and rosé. Whereas
t made absolute sense, given this
whole area is home to some of the Roussillon’s most inspirational
full-on red wines, which until then took the Côtes du Roussillon Villages or IGP rank depending on the wine. The AOP
catchment extends either side and south
of Maury in the far north of the Roussillon totalling a relatively small area of 270 hectares (2019), where the terrain is
suitably wild with hillside vineyards on black schist and marl surrounded by scrubland.
Common sense prevailed over the
guidelines for authorised grapes: Grenache Noir must be “the principal variety” with Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah or Lladoner
Pelut as “complementary”. There still has to be a minimum of two grapes, though, with Grenache quantified at 60% to 80% of the blend.
But you have to wonder why they
on the Grenache content – after all, most
Maury VDN is made from 100% Grenache Noir – to grant those who can handle this variety’s qualities the freedom to create pure knockout wines. Nothing against Syrah or Mourvèdre, but it would give
winemakers carte blanche to craft really distinctive reds that taste different from
many in the Languedoc or Roussillon: rich
spicy Mediterranean reds with a hilly twist! Ten years on, Maury sec appears to have
panned out well in practice with many
winemakers experimenting then finding the style they think fits the name best.
What it has done is provided growers
with the context to select their best blocks of Grenache and use the appellation as a way of producing expressive single-site
reds, which previously would have been labelled as either CRV or IGP.
In any case, there are no doubt those
who’ll continue to make “old style” dry
Maury reds (often 100% Grenache) under
the Côtes Catalanes banner, as they always have done, never caring about appellation rules. But, like top Collioure reds, these
wines can be expensive, the downside of
trying to make money from the Roussillon’s generally speaking low-yielding and
economically unforgiving vine-lands.
Maury has a certain proven track record
which should be an advantage on the
marketing front. And the same original
mistake made with CRV was avoided where winegrowers were forced to include a
specific amount of Syrah in their wine,
even if there was little tradition of it being
planted in this area. The Maury sec “terms & conditions” do stipulate the winemaker has to include at least 60% Grenache,
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 55
The Roussillon – ‘French Catalonia’, Wild Wine Country by Richard Mark James is available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle edition
RPET BAG FOR LIFE Oversolve rPET is created by recycling previously used plastics, including bottles. The resulting
FAIRTRADE & GOTS ORGANIC CANVAS TOTE BAG Bidbi Made from premium quality heavyweight cotton canvas, this tote bag is available in in different earthy tones, ready for printing if required. www.bidbi.co.uk
material is surprisingly soft and yet perfectly suited for making robust bags. www.oversolve.co.uk
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THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 56
LOUIS LATOUR AGENCIES 12-14 Denman Street London W1D 7HJ
0207 409 7276 email@example.com www.louislatour.co.uk
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
favourites. The first comes from Simonnet’s Auxois domaine and the second includes includes 5% César, France’s oldest cultivated grape variety.
Bellevue Pinot Noir, Les Pierres Dorées Pinot Noir and Fixin are three new or nearly
new Pinots from Louis Latour from the Var, Beaujolais and Burgundy respectively. Each is a vibrant example and represent great value for money.
For more info please contact your account manager or Emma.Alsos@louislatour.co.uk
hatch mansfield New Bank House 1 Brockenhurst Road Ascot Berkshire SL5 9DL 01344 871800 firstname.lastname@example.org
A Taste of Hatch ... Determined not to be beaten by the prospect of no live trade tastings for a little while longer we have hatched our own sampling service. A pick ‘n’ mix including all things new for the spring along with some old favourites, you can make your own tasting selection box of up to six indie exclusive wines free of charge.
A Taste of Hatch at a time convenient to you
For more info or to register scan the QR code or visit hatchmansfield.com/atasteofhatch
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 57
C&C wines 109 Blundell Street London N7 9BN 020 3261 0927 email@example.com www.carsoncarnevalewines.com
BERKMANN wine cellars 10-12 Brewery Road London N7 9NH 020 7609 4711 firstname.lastname@example.org www.berkmann.co.uk @berkmannwine @berkmann_wine
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 58
liberty wines 020 7720 5350 email@example.com www.libertywines.co.uk
Domaine Rolly Gassmann joins Liberty Wines
by David Gleave MW
Born in 1967 when the Rolly and Gassmann winemaking families were joined by marriage and run today by second generation Pierre Gassmann, this domaine has built a reputation for uniquely long-lived and textured Alsace wines.
The family is renowned for their remarkable collection of vintages, ageing and storing
around 1.5 million bottles in their impressive new winery (locally nicknamed
‘The Cathedral’) until they are ready to drink. Pierre not only encourages
noble rot and harvests late to achieve high sugar levels and concentrated fruit expression, but also employs a long wild-yeast fermentation and
extended time on lees for all his cuvées. Their resulting richness needs time to harmonise, so Pierre releases his wines later than most.
The domaine has 10 hectares in Bergheim and 40 hectares in Rorschwihr,
which lies on a fault line and boasts all 21 known variations of limestone
soil. The vineyards are divided into 70 different plots, all farmed according to organic and biodynamic principles. The standout lieux-dits include
Kappelweg de Rorschwihr, which lies on ancient blue-grey marl limestone
and produces a powerful Riesling with racy acidity, and Brandhurst de Bergheim, which sits on Jurassic marl limestone and gives a generous and superbly fresh Pinot Gris.
From the vibrant Sylvaner Réserve Millésime and strikingly restrained Gewurztraminer
through to the opulent Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives, we can recommend giving these intriguing wines a try!
richmond wine agencies The Links, Popham Close Hanworth Middlesex TW13 6JE 020 8744 5550 firstname.lastname@example.org
Familia Schroeder, Patagonia, rebrands its popular Select range We have just received stock of the new Saurus Select Malbec 2019.
“Intense purple colour with ruby hints. Complex nose. Ripe red fruit aromas of cherry, plums and currants are combined with spicy notes. The barrel ageing bring some vanilla and mocha scents. “A pleasant mouthfeel with elegance and sweet soft tannins.” – Leonardo Puppato, Winemaker
Contact us for prices on the full range from Familia Schroeder.
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 59
walker & Wodehouse 109a Regents Park Road London NW1 8UR 0207 449 1665 email@example.com www.walkerwodehousewines.com
New to the portfolio: Balfour Wines Set in 400 acres of Kentish countryside on the Hush Heath Estate, the Balfour winery was launched by Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn, who planted their first vines here in 2002. The winery remains family-run to this day, and stands testament to the
power and potential of quality English winemaking, producing some of the best wines seen on these shores in recent years.
Balfour’s range has expanded quickly to encompass a full and diverse range of still
and traditional method sparkling wines. Particularly of renown is their traditional method sparkling rose, which won a Gold at the International Wine Challenge for their first vintage back in 2008.
For more information about Balfour or to taste the wines, please contact your Account Manager.
buckingham schenk Unit 5, The E Centre Easthampstead Road Bracknell RG12 1NF 01753 521336
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2021 WINE LIST
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 60
mentzendorff The Woolyard 52 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3UD 020 7840 3600 firstname.lastname@example.org
Established in 1815, Fonseca is regarded as one of the most stylistically consistent of the class Vintage Port houses. Its Ports have been made by five generations of the Guimaraens family since its foundation and Fonseca is the only Port house with four 100 Point scoring wines. Fonseca cellars its aged tawnies in the Douro rather than in Vila Nova de Gaia; the considerable difference in heat and humidity lends Fonseca’s tawny ports a very distinctive “baked” richness reminiscent of butterscotch. Guimaraens Vintage Ports are made in years when the wines are more supple and early maturing. They are approachable, ready to drink earlier and for their quality and rarity offer exceptional value.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR MENTZENDORFF ACCOUNT MANAGER
MALUX HUNGARIAN WINE 020 7164 6925 email@example.com www.hungarianwineandspirits.com @maluxhungarianwine_spirits Exclusive Specialist in Exciting quality wines for Indies
Rare & Indigenous grapes + some of the best International varieties from Hungary
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 61
Passionate family-run producers + the ancient Archabbey. Wines with stories + character
Sustainable farming. Low Intervention. Award winners + unheard of gems
For Wow Wines + great customer service contact Audrey
AWIN BARRATT SIEGEL WINE AGENCIES 28 Recreation Ground Road Stamford Lincolnshire PE9 1EW 01780 755810
Famille Helfrich Wines
Dedicated on-trade and indies division
1, rue Division Leclerc, 67290 Petersbach, France firstname.lastname@example.org 07789 008540 @FamilleHelfrich
NOZECO is a Premium Sparkling 0% abv wine. On average 4 times fewer calories than wine. Vegan friendly!
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 62
Contact us to explore our extended range of 0% alcohol wines.
Fells Fells House, Station Road Kings Langley WD4 8LH 01442 870 900 email@example.com www.fells.co.uk @FellsWine je_fells
Celebrating Fairtrade Wines
Ever since Miguel Torres established his winery in Chile, the company has committed itself to a long-term collaboration with local growers. Torres firmly believe that producing the highest quality grapes is best achieved by respecting every step of the growing process, including the provision of dignified conditions for its farmers. As a result, Miguel Torres is now the largest Fair Trade winery in Chile, making their Santa Digna collection the ideal choice for Fairtrade Fortnight 2021.
top selection 23 Cellini Street London SW8 2LF www.topselection.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org Contact: Alastair Moss Telephone: 020 3958 0744
THE WINE MERCHANT february 2021 63
February 2021 edition of The Wine Merchant magazine, a trade publication for specialist independent wine merchants in the UK
Published on Feb 16, 2021
February 2021 edition of The Wine Merchant magazine, a trade publication for specialist independent wine merchants in the UK