The Wine Merchant issue 120

Page 1


Sub-£15 wines will be key for indies in a tough year

Consumer budgets will remain under pressure in 2023 – but independents say they are confident of meeting the needs of price-conscious customers.

Many suppliers and retailers are planning to champion sub-£15 wines from their range in the coming year to ensure that consumers continue to shop in the specialist wine trade, despite rampant inflation, higher mortgage costs and soaring utility bills.

At Noble Grape in Cowbridge, south Wales, 168 wines have price tags lower than £15, according to owner Richard Ballantyne. That compares to 224 between £15 and £30, and 188 above £30.

Ballantyne does not believe it’s becoming harder to find good wines below £15. “We’ve seen a little bit of a creep upwards on price with some wines at the lower end, but nothing really to worry me,” he says.

“Almost anywhere can produce good wines at this price, but I’d say mostly Italy. Two of my best-selling reds under that price are from the southern half of Italy. New Zealand not so much. South Africa occupies a mostly higher price point with me, and France doesn’t really have much interesting stuff below £15 unless you go

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An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 120, January 2023 Dog of the month: Merlot The Somerset Wine Company Merchants believe that they can hold on to cash-strapped punters with wines offering good value at lower price points Joe Lang Vineyards at Chénas, Beaujolais Natalia Ribbe (pictured) and Jackson Berg have opened a wine business in Margate. Sète is opening in stages, beginning with the street-facing wine bar and shop specialising in low-intervention wines. Full story on page 4.

Phoebe Weller thinks £30 is more than £50, and she’ll explain why

Plenty of options for indies

below £15

From page 1

away from classic regions. Spain, yes, but with much less variety – at Noble Grape, at least.”

Like many indies, Ballantyne reports that customer numbers and basket value are marginally down, but his average selling price per bottle has risen to £16.01.

Jim Dawson of The Jolly Vintner Too in Bournemouth also says that consumers are reducing their basket spend rather than the amount they spend on individual bottles.

“I do have a strong sub-£15 range and I focused on this in December,” he says. “I’m not sure I will expand it in 2023 – it depends on whether I find anything in the January and February tastings.

“Spain, Argentina, Italy, southern France and Portugal all offer great wines under £15.

“Suppliers, especially Boutinot, do wonderfully well sourcing quality wines under £15.”

At Portland Wine Cellars in Southport, owner David Smith says that customers are reducing their spend, with footfall also down by about 15%.

“I have managed to find about 40 good wines that sell for less than £15,” he says. “The main areas are Chile, Argentina,

Portugal and Spain.”

But Smith feels not all suppliers are being supportive. “Some of them are, but I feel many could do more to help the independents to get good deals on good wines. I am afraid the big boys get better deals.”

Nick Underwood of Underwood Wine Warehouse in Stratford-upon-Avon believes there are decent sub-£15 wines on the market “if one bothers to look”. But he adds: “Too many importers create and push expensive boutique brands so they can take more money off the independents.”

Jason Millar of Theatre of Wine in London says: “Everyone is under the same pressures, so whether we import directly or buy in the UK, sub-£15 wines are becoming tougher to source and the value is less for customers.

“But some suppliers do better than others, definitely, with larger suppliers offering a wider range of these wines overall due to economies of scale. Specialists focusing on areas that are keenly priced, such as South Africa and Portugal, obviously have an advantage.

“Sub-£15 has always been a focus in our range, as there are many serious wine lovers who don’t want to spend more than £15 regularly. If as a retailer you’re only there for the £30 wines, they will simply buy their more everyday stock online or at the supermarket.

“We always seek to expand this part of the range, but it is getting more difficult with cost increases globally.”


NEWS 01323 871836 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag Editor and Publisher: Graham Holter Assistant Editor: Claire Harries Advertising: Sarah Hunnisett Accounts: Naomi Young The Wine Merchant is circulated to the owners of the UK’s 1,020 specialist independent wine shops. Printed in Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2023 Registered in England: No 6441762 VAT 943 8771 82 THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 2 Inside this
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BRIGHT IDeas A wine tasting on a vintage railway proved a hit for Hennings
Just Williams A gaze into the crystal ball: what wine trends will we see in 2023?
merchant profile The Dorset Wine Company in Poundbury under the spotlight
the vines are mine! David Perry bought land behind his shop, and planted a vineyard
price tag psychology
focus on australia Eight talking points from a country we all think we know well
supplier bulletin Essential news from leading wine importers who work with indies 71 Q&A with Cliff ROBERSON A wine trade legend has no regrets – well, maybe just one …

Margate indie to open in stages

Cliftonville in Margate has a new wine bar and shop.

Sète was opened in October by Natalia Ribbe and Jackson Berg. It’s just a few doors away from the site that was, until the summer of 2020, home to the popular wine shop Urchin. In fact Barletta, the pop-up restaurant run by Ribbe and Berg, was regularly hosted by Urchin before lockdown hit.

Now the couple will have a permanent restaurant when they add a kitchen and dining space to Sète later this year and the business will allow them to showcase their hospitality skills. Between them they have over 20 years’ experience in the trade, working in New York and London.

Ribbe says the focus for the wine is organic, low-intervention and biodynamic. “We try to work mainly with small producers, lots of female winemakers, and perhaps producers who have taken over their family vineyards and shifted the way they’re making the wine,” she adds. The wines are being sourced from suppliers including Jascots, Uncharted and Wines Under the Bonnet.

“I spent my high school years in Hungary and I lived in Vienna for a while,” she says. “I worked at a restaurant in New York, where we had quite an extensive Riesling and Grüner listing, so I think I’ve always had an affinity for wines from regions that maybe people aren’t used to seeing on the supermarket shelves. I’m on a mission to get people away from pale Provencal rosé and to help them see that not all dark rosés are sweet – and also to get people to stop hating Chardonnay.”

The premises on Northdown Road was previously a jewellery shop, so the refit to accommodate a kitchen and the extraction equipment will be extensive and the pair

are looking at funding for that. “It was always going to be a three-phase opening,” says Ribbe, “starting with the wine bar at the front, and then sort of a little hallway that leads you to this big open space. Everything needs to be built from scratch, but we are aiming to open the restaurant and garden seating in the spring.”

Tring team will focus on pouches

Tring Winery in Hertfordshire announced its closure in November.

Launched by Jamie Smith and Alex Taylor in February 2020, the original business idea was for an urban winery with a shop and tasting room. The pair were set to buy grapes from Puglia and Rioja and make wine on site.

The realities of lockdown had barely set in before Smith and Taylor invested in a serious bit of kit that allowed them to repackage wine into pouches. This saw the launch of The Online Wine Tasting Club, which has grown exponentially. As other companies, such as Laithwaites and

Vineyard Cellars, have approached Tring for wine packaging solutions, the company has focused on that area of its business. Faced with the rising costs of running a shop and bar, a decision had to be made.

Smith explains: “The landlord was increasing the rent, the electric has gone up, and it doesn’t make sense right now. So, unfortunately we’re losing the bricks and mortar and we’re focusing on the online and the tasting pouches, because that’s going very, very well.

“There’s been so much support locally that once the world calms down a little bit, if we find the right spot, the right site, we might bring it back. It’s not going away forever.”

Sète’s three-phase opening began with the wine bar in the front. Photos by Joe Lang
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 4
The Online Wine Tasting Club is growing

Keswick gets a taste of Hungary

Lake District Wine, a tasting and consultancy company owned by Jenni Hutchinson, has opened its first shop and tasting room in Keswick.

Hutchinson’s style is creative and interactive, with regular tasting events including immersive cinema (a guided French and California tasting during a screening of Bottle Shock, for example) and a sparkling tasting at Bassenthwaite Lake Station onboard the static Orient Express, which served as the film set for Kenneth Branagh’s version of the Agatha Christie classic.

Locals will also be familiar with Lake District Wine through other events such as the Keswick Mountain Festival, where Hutchinson ran her bar, and her regular pop-ups and collaborations with venues including Lake Road Brunch and The Makers Mill, a design and exhibition space.

Hutchinson will continue to work with a range of suppliers including Vagabond, York Wines, WoodWinters and Best of Hungary.

She says: “I managed to convince Vagabond to supply me for the Mountain Festival and everyone has been loving their stuff. WoodWinters are one of my biggest suppliers; they are consistently good.

“I go direct to local vineyards for English wine. I work with Alex at York Wines and Monica at Best of Hungary; she hooks me up with all my Királyleányka. We have some Hungarian friends and just enjoy Hungarian wine so much.

“I did a Hungarian night at Lake Road Brunch. We had Hungarian food and I did a range of Hungarian wines. Most people don’t know that Hungary produces so much fantastic wine because a lot of the

time we just don’t get it.

“I’ve been trying to get hold of more Greek wine – we absolutely adore it. It’s interesting to encourage people to try these wines from different countries that they are sort of flabbergasted by.”

Hutchinson has a hospitality background, which started as soon as she was old enough to help out in the family restaurant business.

“My dad was the head chef,” she explains, “and he liked to make us useful, so I’d pour wine for the guests.

“I’ve always been interested in wine and when my husband [James] and I ran a café, I used to manage the wine list. When we sold that business about a year ago, I set up Lake District Wine.”

Sales are stable

Best nativity scene of 2022 was the one created by Taurus Wines in Surrey.

The team describes the tableau: “All the Kings (Ginger) and all the (Whispering) Angels have gathered to glimpse the Enfant (37.5cl) Jésus (Premier Cru, 2019). The Virgin (Bloody) Mary and (Saint) Joseph watch over the wee child, alongside the guiding (Purple) Angel.” Please accept a luncheon voucher and our very best wishes.

Karen takes offence

Burgess & Hall will still pop up

Burgess & Hall Wines in Forest Gate, east London, closed in late December. Rosamund Hall and Paul Burgess, who set up the business in the railway arch six years ago, will continue to trade online and with regular pop-up events.

Their post on social media says that they had “been through difficult and unsatisfactory rent negotiations” which, in addition to juggling late-night bar work with their young family, clarified their decision to close.

It might have been poor taste to buy it as a present for anyone who works in a wine shop or bar, but Karen, The Game of One Star Reviews, was apparently a minor festive hit. Players have to sneak in their own fake complaints among genuine bad reviews found online. Eg: “The staff here smell like cheese. Thick and yellow government cheese.” It was as pleasing as it was predictable to see the game receive a one-star review on Amazon. From someone called Kazza.

Porridge goes with vodka

Quite what was Nicholas Besim thinking when he snuck into Tanners in Shrewsbury – renowned independent family shippers of estate wines with their own line in claret, Champagne, Sauternes, Burgundy and Highland malt – and decided that vodka was the product most worth stealing? The Liverpool native has six months in prison to run through the scenario in his head a few more times.

Bacchus THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 5
The owners on opening day

A wine shop with room for just two

Inside the Crossing Point Café, in the Cumbrian market town of Kirkby Lonsdale, a wine shop is growing by stealth.

Owner Adrian Shield says that Crossing Point Wines started off more as a hobby. “There were maybe only 20 or 30 wines at first,” he says. “I’ve slowly increased it over the years, and I’ve got almost 200 lines now.

“Really only two people can fit into the wine shop: it’s quite an economical space, and I’ve tried to get as much as interest in the selection as I can. It’s right at the back of the café and you’d have no idea it was there, but I say to people, ‘come and see our tiny but huge wine shop’. It’s almost in a shoebox but you’re absolutely surrounded by loads of glorious wine. I love it.”

Shield relocated to the area, having previously run Vesuvio wine shop in Darlington with his brother Darren, and purchased the café with his wife, his sister-in-law and her partner just before Covid hit. “We’ve got equal shares in the business,” he explains, “but I have 100% responsibility for the wine.”

Between Covid and the additional upheaval to the business caused by a collapsing roof, Shield says he’s yet to get into the rhythm of things. But in late November he ran a couple of tastings in the café, which has the capacity for 30 guests. “I focused on wines for Christmas Day and served food as well. I charged £50 a head and both events sold out straightaway. I sold tons of wine off the back of it as well. It was it was an absolutely cracking weekend,” he reports.

Apart from working with suppliers including Bancroft, Hallgarten and House of Townend, Shield directly imports Elodie D Champagne and is the sole supplier of it in the UK. He brings in 80 bottles three

times a year, and says the hassle with delays, pricing and Brexit red tape is worth it to give him that USP.

“I can sell the non-vintage for £45 and it does sell,” he says. “Hopefully people trust my recommendation, and it just feels nice to be able to have Champagne that customers can’t see anywhere else.”

• Correction: Our story on page five of our November edition – “First franchises for Broadway” – stated that Munminder Gill and Sanal Sundaresan were Midlands

convenience store operators. Both actually come from the finance industry and Broadway Wine Company is keen to point out that franchisees do not necessarily require a retail background. Apologies for our error.

Informal vibe for new Sidcup indie

The Fold wine bar and shop opened on Sidcup High Street in early December.

Joey Hosier, owner of The Horse & Box, a mobile bar business, says he has always had his sights set on permanent premises. He intends to mirror the existing business in terms of the “relaxed and informal vibe”, and to take things further with tastings and winemaker events.

“I want to bring something to Sidcup that I don’t think exists in the area at the moment,” he says.

“The Fold will be a place where you can sit in, try some different products that maybe you haven’t seen elsewhere, perhaps new and emerging local brands alongside products and brands that people are more familiar with.

“There’s a section within the bar which is for retailing, so if you like some of those products, you can buy them to take away.

“We’re also stocking barware and

A warm welcome at the Crossing Point Café
“It’s almost in a shoebox,” says Shield
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 6

cocktail kits and things like that. We’re excited to try something a little different.”

Hosier is working with a number of producers from Kent and Sussex, with wines from vineyards such as Chapel Down, Tillingham and Biddenden, spirits from Copper Rivet Distillery and Maidstone Distillery, and beers courtesy of Bexley Brewery and Cellar Head.

Sidcup High Street is indie-friendly: Hosier lists a boutique coffee shop, florist and a new independent cinema among his new neighbours.

“The High Street is going through a bit of a transformation at the moment,” he says.

“The empty units are in the process of being taken, and there are a fair few independent retailers.”

Salisbury branch victim of squeeze

The Salisbury branch of Wilding closed in November.

Wilding was launched during 2021 in both Salisbury and Oxford. Owner Kent Barker, whose business also includes Eight Stony Street in Frome, Somerset, says the closure of the Salisbury site is a strategic decision to allow the rest of the company to survive and move forward positively.

“It’s a site that hasn’t been making money,” he explains. “It was in its first year, so we would have supported it, but we were just getting squeezed at every angle; footfall had dropped, our utilities were horrendous and the rates really high. “Even taking Christmas into account, we just felt that January, February and March would be so weak that it would be sensible to batten down the hatches with the other two sites we have and look for growth coming into summer.”

That Wine Fella finds his cellar

A former employee of Amathus has opened his own shop in Delph, Oldham.

Ian Howard began selling wine online during lockdown and running virtual tasting events under the name That Wine Fella, as well as working with Decent Drop, which specialises in cheese and wine tastings.

With increasing demand for his wines, Howard saw the need for a bricks-andmortar home, so he launched That Wine Cellar at the beginning of November.

While he’s still got customers all over the UK, and e-commerce has remained key, Howard says the local customer base is starting to grow thanks to his social media activities.

So what are the locals seeking out? “Well, I’m looking at my empty Malbec shelves right now,” he says. “It’s a small community; I mean, it’s not packed with people who are going to tastings every weekend. But they’ve been really receptive to try new things and learning about wine. So I’ve been like a personal shopper, in a way, because they’ve been coming in and asking what I’d recommend.”

Howard chose to run ticketed Christmas events at other venues. “The shop itself is only about 16 feet, and I’ve got a really nice

restaurant next door, so I’ve got a couple of bookings in there,” he says.

“I’ve also got a couple of bookings in Eccles, on the other side of Manchester, and another at a golf club near here. I’m going to book the shop out as a private tasting space, but not for public ticketed events.”

Howard is working with suppliers including Amathus, as he knows the portfolio so well, and Propeller.

• Sovereign Wines, formerly known as Steevenson Wines, has been operating for over three decades from its warehouse in Tavistock. Last November it opened a dedicated retail site called SW Bottle Shop on Market Street in the Devon town.

• The newly developed Arnold Market Place in Nottingham is now home to Taste First James Carson’s business started out running home tasting experiences, and has now got a permanent base with a wine shop and tasting room, which opened in mid November.

Tim’s Wines sold to local trader

Tim Pearce has sold his shop, Tim’s Wines, in South Petherton, Somerset, which he opened in 2017.

“Sue and I have decided that we need to spend more time with family and to travel a lot,” he says.

The new owners already own a business in the village, Pearce says.

Ian Howard started out with online sales Tim Pearce: off on his travels
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 7

Corks Out on the hunt for new sites

Corks Out is ready to spread its wings this year, according to owner Richard Wood, who is hoping to create a bigger physical and digital footprint for the Cheshire independent.

The company’s two branches, in Alderley Edge and Stockton Heath, have been refurbished in recent months. The next job is an overhaul of the website, and after that there’s the possibility of one or more new branches.

Wood says that the rebranding of the business is “nothing major, but really just trying to modernise the look and make it much cleaner”.

“Stockton Heath is larger than the Alderley Edge site,” he says. “But we’ve put a lot of money into the refurbishment of both sites. They’re both good sites, with their own little intricacies in terms of customers, and we’ve got really good support at both of them.”

Wood says that a “complete revamp of our website” is on the way, with the aim of promoting the stores more effectively as well as encouraging more online sales.

He adds: “We’ve got a wonderful terrace at the back of Stockton Heath. It’s nice seeing customers come in for the first time and saying, ‘oh wow, I didn’t know this was here at all’. But that’s almost an indictment of our marketing. So the website will really try and get the word out about both Alderley Edge and Stockton Heath.

“And then we very much want to bring the e-commerce side up to date. It’s one of the areas that we haven’t been able to give as much attention as we would like.”

Under previous ownership, Corks Out invested heavily in a website that specialised in big-name wines at competitive prices. But Wood says the new site will reflect the range that is sold in the shops, sourced by general manager Paul Wardle (pictured).

“We’re very much behind the idea of

good independent wines from fantastic vineyards,” he says. “Introducing customers to wines that maybe they would never have thought to try: unfiltered wines, orange wines. That’s the area that we’re looking to really push. And that is effectively a replica of our stores.

“We’ve obviously tried selling very well-known brands, and it’s very competitive. And, while we will still sell your Laurent Perriers and your Pol Rogers at very competitive prices, we aren’t looking to have a race to the bottom. We really want to offer something different.”

Wood is realistic about the challenges facing the wine trade in 2023. “We appreciate it’s going to be hard out there, you know, with the Bank of England projecting the longest recession on record,” he says. “But we feel confident enough to put money in and really drive the two sites forward.

“We are lucky enough that most of that’s been done organically. We’re managing the finances as well as we can. And thankfully, that’s paid dividends and allows us to put the money back into the business; we don’t take any money out of it. It’s all gone back

into improving both sites.”

At one time, Corks Out had stores in Heswall, Chester and Knutsford as well as Stockton Heath and Alderley Edge. Wood has not predicted any return to those levels but is interested in growing the estate if opportunities arise.

“We are looking for a couple of locations,” he says. “I won’t say which ones for now. We don’t want to jump into anywhere that doesn’t feel right for us or doesn’t suit the type of customer that we would like to entertain. But we’re constantly looking. We just need to find the right sites in the right places. And hopefully that’ll happen relatively soon.”

Wood is focusing on the sort of affluent, village-type locations that have traditionally suited Corks Out’s hybrid shop and bar model.

“I don’t think you’d be surprised to see some of the locations we’re looking at,” he says.

“But one of the areas we are looking at is quite up-and-coming, on the outskirts of Manchester. A lot of very cool bars and restaurants are moving into there. And I think that one thing they are possibly lacking is something like a Corks Out. So we’ll see what’s available.”

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 8
The terrace at Corks Out’s Stockton Heath branch

Courier treats all parcels as fragile

A London courier business that specialises in wine deliveries is preparing to expand to other cities.

Packfleet, launched 18 months ago, says it is already working with more than 30 wine firms in the capital, including Davys and Peckham Cellars.

The company regards all its parcels as fragile and promises compensation for clients if bottles are ever broken.

All 50 vehicles are electric and clients can pay an extra charge on top of the standard £4.20 delivery fee for a case of wine to have packaging returned after the drop at the customer’s address. Founder Tristan Thomas says the company also plants a tree for every delivery it carries out.

“I actually started a wine subscription business back in 2020,” he says.

Deposit Return Scheme

An OK idea, badly thought through

The key aims of the Deposit Return Scheme, according to the Scottish government, are to help reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint and combat global warming.

I think most people see those as laudable aims. However, so much glass is already recycled, and there are recycling points at most supermarkets and public (council-owned) car parks, that it is difficult to see how much this scheme will actually benefit the environment.

I wonder whether it is just a ruse to raise tax by stealth, with a countrywide network of retailers effectively becoming tax collectors.

Like several pieces of legislation introduced by the Scottish government – the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 and the Offensive Behaviour at Football & Threatening Communications Act (Scotland) 2012 are two high profile examples, the latter described by a judge as “mince” –this one seems flawed, and not thought through. Even if you think the aims of the legislation are worthwhile, if the legislation isn’t workable and well communicated, people won’t buy into it.

Not a single customer that I’ve spoken to has heard about it. When I explain to them what the 20p levy is for, they’re incredulous. Most of them already recycle their glass. Most of them wouldn’t bother returning to the shop to claim back their 20p.

I can’t say whether merchants are in favour of the scheme in principle. I probably am, but I don’t see the need for it. Everyone I speak to think it’s flawed.

I’m definitely not ready. I think there’s a multitude of questions still to be answered and multiple practical problems to resolve.

Packfleet is expanding beyond London

“We ended up shipping with couriers all across the UK. We discovered how painful that is, with broken bottles turning up on people’s doorsteps.

“We worked our way through four or five different couriers, and four or five different packaging set-ups.”

Packfleet has been through two rounds of venture capital funding, raising £9m in the process. “So that sets us up well for the next couple of years,” Thomas says.

“Next year, we’ll take exactly the same model and start doing this in other cities. We’ll move through the top five or 10 UK cities by population. And then we’ll also be able to link up cities.”

I’ve spoken to a number of suppliers. They certainly don’t understand how it’s going to work and those suppliers based in England – that’s most of them –haven’t heard anything about it. As for the public: they’re borderline unaware of it, and think the Scottish government should be concentrating on other matters.

There are a dozen or so issues still to be resolved, not least of which paying the retailer to collect returns and account for the deposits. In addition, will retailers be expected to collect returns of bottles that were sold by other retailers, and refund those deposits? What if a pub brings you all the weekend empties on a Monday morning? Where do you store the returns? How do you clean the bottles? How frequently will they be uplifted and what happens if the uplift doesn’t happen?

These questions are not, or not clearly, answered on the Scottish government website. Local licensing officers don’t have any answers either.

Good intentions, rushed legislation, poor outcome. Seen it all before.

Euan McNicoll, McNicoll & Cairnie, Dundee

THE WINE MERCHANT september 2022 9
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023

NOT YOU AGAIN! customers we could do without

Woah woah woah just hold your horses there a minute, just cool your jets, let’s take a step back yeah? I wasn’t about to steal anything, I was just placing this lovely bottle of – what is it – Pinto Gringo into me rucksack ‘cos there ain’t no baskets and I’ve got a lot of shopping to do, OK? Well I didn’t see them by the door, you need to make them more bleedin’ visible, right? Don’t touch me, no need to sensually assault me, I’m putting the bottle on this counter here, happy now? Pay for it in a minute. No there are not any more bottles in there. Well I can’t hear any clinking and clanking. Oh that one, fair enough, you got me, that was another one I was about to pay for, but the expensive one is a bottle I had in there already, that my dear mother give me for me birthday but no, you have it ... it’ll break her heart … well yeah, of course it’s chilled, it’s bloody freezing outside, hadn’t you noticed? Anyway why have you got a picture of me behind the till, that’s an invasion of my human privacy rights and I will be talking to my lawyer about that … anyway it ain’t even me, just a bloke with the same coat and rucksack … and tattoos …

Congratulations to the five Wine Merchant reader survey respondents whose names were drawn at random and who each win a Coravin, courtesy of our partner Hatch Mansfield.

Peter Fawcett, Field & Fawcett, York

Anthony Borges, The Wine Centre, Great Horkesley, Essex

Zoran Ristanovic, City Wine Collection, London

Daniel Grigg , Museum Wines, Dorset Riaz Syed, Stonewines, London

THE WINE MERCHANT october 2021 10
41. Stringy Bob ANAGRAM TIME Can you unscramble these drinks named after places? If so, you win the mouse that lives in our office 1. Nylon Rodding 2. Congenital Laddies 3. Painless Goring 4. A Gnat’s Rumour 5. We Cool Mums Supplier of wine boxes and literature • 12 Bottle carrier box with dividers • 6 Bottle carrier box with dividers • 12 Bottle mailing box with dividers • 6 Bottle mailing box with dividers • 4 Bottle mailing box with dividers • 3 Bottle mailing box with dividers • 1 Bottle mailing box with dividers 01323 728338 • • THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 Visit the newish Wine Merchant website It is much, much better than the old one. SAY YES TO JANUARY DRINKING ISSUED BY THE WINE MARKETING BOARD



Kirkwall’s Ba: a five-hour game of street football fuelled by hip-flask Scotch

We closed early on Christmas Eve, just after four o’clock. This was partly to let our staff – wrung out like wet rags after the crazy weeks – recuperate before the fresh madness of Christmas morning. But we had an extra reason. I and the manager Lauren needed an hour to put up the Ba batons.

The batons are railway-sleeper-sized planks, bolted across every window and doorway in the centre of Kirkwall. First thing on Christmas morning, Orkney’s capital looks like a town under siege. The armies show up soon enough: at 10.30am it’s the Boy’s Ba, and at 1pm it’s the main event, the Men’s Ba.

The Ba is a game of street football with roots stretching back to the middle ages. As many as 350 men take part, Uppies versus Doonies. The Up-the-Gates come from families originating up the main street, inland. Their goal is a wall at the old boundary of the town. The Doon-the-Gates originate down the street, between the cathedral and the sea, and their goal is a

What I dread is 30 tons of Orcadian manhood flinging itself against our windows, with only planks for protection

wet one: the ba has to be immersed in the icy water of the harbour, invariably by one or more Doonies grabbing it and jumping in.

The ba is thrown up at the Mercat Cross by a local worthy as the cathedral bell strikes one. The two teams, who’ve been jostling expectantly for some time, immediately lock together in a 350-man scrum. A great roar goes up from the crowd of spectators watching from a justsafe distance. It’s a moment of great drama.

Which tends to be followed by several hours of tedium. Progress towards either goal is very slow. Games last at least five hours, sometimes eight. The pack moves a metre in one direction, then a metre back. It crashes against the wall outside the cathedral, then rebounds in slow-motion across the street and into the batons protecting our shop.

This is what I dread: 30 tons of macho Orcadian manhood flinging itself against our windows, with only those well-worn planks for protection. What’s more, for all the shops – whether jewellers, drapers, or wine shops – it’s an article of faith to leave your beautiful Christmas displays on full view.

For spectators, the Ba is a chance to catch up with friends from across the islands. Hip flasks are passed around. The contents are almost always Famous Grouse; Orcadians have a soft spot for that blend, as they know it contains a generous percentage of our most famous local malt, Highland Park.

The same blend is favoured when firstfooting on Hogmanay. Recent arrivals in the islands sometimes think to impress with their generosity and bring 18-yearold Highland Park, or the even more prized Scapa 16, when they do their rounds. This is a mistake. Single malts are meant to sit in the cupboard and be brought out for a contemplative dram with a special friend or two. They’re not party whiskies – and certainly not Ba whiskies.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that any local will turn down a proffered bottle of malt, whatever the occasion. That would be rude.

Although the Ba goes on till well into the hours of darkness, it usually moves away from our windows by mid-afternoon. At that point I can relax and go home, safe in the knowledge that the shop has made it intact through one more Christmas Day. I have seen the start of dozens of Ba games. But not a single finish.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 11
Rebecca Marr

Rising Stars

Former butler Phil Appleby is very happy to have segued into wine retail via Majestic – and now as the store supervisor at Noble Green Wines. Marketing director Ellie Buckley says: “Phil goes above and beyond for us and all our customers. He knows his wines incredibly well and just consistently puts in extra effort. He joined us in 2019 and during lockdown he was our face, really, as he ran all our online tastings on YouTube. Now he runs all our in-store tastings and he knows everything about everything.”

Having completed his training as a butler, Phil initially worked for investment management company Man Group. “Even though it was an office building on the Thames, it had a wine store and dining rooms,” he says, “so I managed the cellar and served wine. It was like stocking a restaurant, really, just a slightly different arrangement. I did my wine exams up to Diploma level while I was there.”

During the financial crisis of 2008, Phil started work at Majestic, which he says was a “complete change, but there weren’t many jobs for butlers, particularly in the line I was in, and I didn’t want to work in a household because you sort of live with the family. So I was ready for a change and retail was kind of the obvious route.

“I was at Majestic for nearly 10 years, and it was fun, with a lot of opportunities to travel, but it’s nice to work for a smaller family company.”

When it comes to wine perhaps you would expect a former butler to favour the classics, and Phil doesn’t disappoint. “I’m ashamed to say I’m very, very conservative and my weakness is probably Bordeaux,” he says. “I know it’s a bit boring but it’s the wine I grew up with. My parents had a place in France and we always holidayed there when we were younger. Ninety per cent of what’s in my rack is French.”

Phil may call it a rack, but he has a more unusual storage space for his bottles than that. “It’s all tucked away under the floorboards,” he reveals. “It’s an Edwardian house and the drop is about two feet underneath. I keep them all on the north side of the house, which is the coolest. I’ve got a hatch in the hallway, which opens up. It’s not quite a cellar, but it’s surprising how much you can fit under there.”

Personal preferences aside, Phil says he is always trying less familiar things and is there to help customers discover new wines too. He says: “Teddington is home to a lot of young families and it’s a relatively affluent area. I would say there are a lot of people at the younger end of the scale of drinkers who are a bit more experimental.”

We ask Ellie if we could be tempting fate by disclosing the whereabouts of Phil’s wine stash. “Well, his partner is a police officer, so good luck with that!” she laughs.

Phil wins a bottle of Hancock & Hancock Tempranillo

If you’d like to nominate a Rising Star, email

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 12
Phil Appleby Noble Green Wines Hampton Hill, west London
“My weakness is probably Bordeaux. 90% of what’s in my rack is French”


Part of Oatley Family Vineyards, Hancock & Hancock blends innovation with tradition

Hancock & Hancock was created by winemaker Chris Hancock MW to reflect his passion for McLaren Vale. The range features interesting blends combining classic grapes of the region with new varieties that add a modern twist.

Chris is a close friend of the Oatley family, having worked with them since 1976 when he joined Rosemount Estate. In 2007 Chris and his brother John purchased La Colline Vineyard in McLaren Vale and established Hancock & Hancock, which remains part of Oatley Family Vineyards.

La Colline Vineyard comprises 11.7 hectares, just over eight of which are under vine; the remainder is preserved bushland. The vines, some more than 80 years old, are planted on south east-facing slopes. There are three distinct soil types at the top, middle and bottom sections of the hillside, each bringing different characteristics and complexity to the wines.

Robert Oatley Vineyards are tended as sustainably as possible and wines are made with minimal intervention, reflecting a dedication to responsible grape growing and wine production practices.

The team ensures resources are used efficiently. The effects of winery operations on the environment are minimised, and materials are recycled wherever possible. The winery holds ISO 14001 certification.

Tempranillo 2017

A hot and dry summer meant that careful irrigation was required to keep the canopies and fruit healthy. Crop levels were lower than average, and harvest began as usual in late February, continuing to the end of March. The wine spent 12 months in old French barriques before some postbarrel maturation with a small amount of fining and filtering before bottling. The wine is a beautiful dense shade of crimson

with a nose of dark cherry, raspberry and dark berry fruits. There are notes of delicate spice and more savoury notes of tobacco leaf. The wine is full bodied and luscious, with fine persistent tannins. Ideal food match: tomato-based meat or pasta dishes.

Shiraz/Grenache 2017

Individual varietal parcels were processed separately, crushed to a combination of open and closed fermenters, with regular pump-overs and plunging. After malolactic fermentation, the wine matured in a mixture of barrique, hogshead and large format French oak.

Blending was completed on the bench, working with individual components to create the final blend. The result is restrained and supple with lots of ripe dark plum, pepper and spice from Shiraz with the rose petal perfume and red cherry flavours of Grenache. Lovely lightness and brightness to the back palate makes it terrific for immediate drinking but it will

cellar nicely for five to 10 years.

Ideal food match: Moroccan lamb tagine.

Fiano 2021

The plot is planted on soil of sandy loam over red clay with a surface of limestone shale. A portion of the wine was fermented in old oak barrels and part in stainless steel. It was blended soon after fermentation, then fined, filtered and bottled to retain the fresh varietal characteristics. There are lifted tropical aromas of nectarine, nutty preserved lemon scents and lots of texture giving it a dry, fresh and savoury palate.

Ideal food match: Ricotta and spinach ravioli.

The Hancock & Hancock range is available from Hatch Mansfield
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 13

Flame of love

With Valentine’s day on the horizon it’s a good time to revisit this forgotten classic that last had a day in the sun in the 1970s. It’s said that it was created by Pepe Ruiz, bartender at Chasen’s restaurant in Hollywood, for Rat Packer Dean Martin, and that Frank Sinatra once bought one for everyone in the place. It’s definitely one for those who favour a dry martini over a Piña Colada, and adds fuel to the sherry industry’s ongoing mission to deseasonalise UK consumption away from Christmas.

Chablis faces changes

Vines are sensitive organisms. So are the people who work with them. It’s in vineyards that climate change is often most visible and its effects most keenly felt.

The vignerons of Chablis, whose incomes have long been at the mercy of violent frosts, were attuned to variations in weather patterns long before global heating reached the top of the international agenda.

“Over the last 10 years, it’s easier to talk about good years in Chablis, because we only had two,” admits Paul Espitalié, president of the Chablis Commission.

“In all the other years, we had problems. Frost was very bad in 2021, very bad in 2016 and 2017 too; we had drought, and too much heat, in 2019 and 2020. And hail in 2016. So yes, we do have more problems than we used to have.”

very expensive too,” Espitalié points out. “In 2021 we had eight days of frost, so we need to light candles for eight nights. You use 300, 400 candles per hectare, and the candle is €10.”

Espitalié is pragmatic about the challenges. “I think we are now prepared in Chablis to have good years and bad years,” he says. “The time where we had only good years is really in the past. We know that the climate is changing.

“The problem we have in Chablis is that we will have two or three bad crops and then a very important crop; now we must think of average production, and don’t assume that we will be able to produce maximum production each year.

5cl good quality vodka

Fino sherry

Orange peel

Coat the inside of a martini glass with sherry, and dispose of any excess. Ignite a piece of orange peel and let some of the burnt oils drip into the glass. Shake the vodka with ice and strain into the glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Warmer winters are a worry: buds appear earlier in the season and are vulnerable to April and May frosts.

It may seem ironic to be fretting about environmental Armageddon in a region where it’s traditional to light candles, and to burn straw and paraffin, to keep vines warm, and where thick smoke is seen as a helpful way to keep ice at bay.

But just as the climate is changing, so is the way in which Chablis growers are responding.

Vignerons are fitting electric heating cables to the trellising, which activates automatically when temperatures drop. For a medium sized producer, installation expenses are around €30,000. Running costs are, obviously, extra.

“But when you burn candles, it can be

“I think people are getting used to this problem. And perhaps they will think of keeping more wine in the cellar, because usually they sold everything before harvest. Now people are thinking a bit differently. Keeping a bit more wine, and ageing more wine perhaps, too.”

It might even be that, decades from now, Chardonnay is not the only grape in town. Experiments are ongoing with newlycreated PIWI varieties that may stand up better to frost, but Espitalié says that part of the solution may be in the history books.

“It’s a little bit complicated because people want to keep Chardonnay, of course,” he says. “But in the past in Burgundy, there were other grapes. Chardonnay is now the main grape, but for not that far back, 100 years ago, you will find Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and many more.”

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 14
A château in vineyards near Sopot, Plovdiv Province, Bulgaria
Might Chardonnay lose its monopoly as vignerons cope with the climate?

Everyone loves a festive orangutan

How do you promote Christmas wines on a website? Cardiff indie Chilled & Tannin wanted to deviate from traditional festive imagery, which is how it came to commission a series of animal portraits from an artist who will only be identified as “Plonksy”.

“At Chilled & Tannin our philosophy is to sell ‘bodacious wine with a conscience’ and our Christmas boxes are no different, offering lots of sustainable, authentic and ethical wines delivered with the carbon offset and with a tree planted in ethical mangrove projects for every order,” says director Alex Griem.

“With this in mind we wanted to come up with a way of communicating our planetfriendly ethos while still having a little fun and keeping our collective tannin-tinged tongues firmly in cheek.

“This is why we decided to ditch the

usual stale approach of taking photos of bottles of wine lined up among somewhat sad Christmas baubles. Instead we worked to curate a menagerie of bibulous beasts to perfectly convey our different festive boxes and bundles and to encompass our quest to bring a little goodness back to the planet one bottle at a time.”

Griem and the team love Plonksy’s work and say it’s difficult to pick a favourite.

“The cheeky orangutan for our Wined + Grind vino and coffee box absolutely cracks us up every time we see it,” he says. “You can see this thirsty primate is up for a good time whatever time of day is it.

“And the excited polar bear opening up its Sustainable Christmas Case certainly hits home and tugs on the heart strings,

possibly being the cuddly creature most at risk of global warming of all the animals we featured.”

The images were published on social media as well as the website, though as yet no physical prints of the artwork have been created.

The team has been thinking about some futuristic ways of raising money with Plonksy’s handiwork.

“I tried to convince the other founders, Rob and Dom, to let us auction them off as non-fungible tokens for charity at the end of Christmas,” says Griem.

“But Rob thought a blockchain was a problem for a plumber to fix and Dom wasn’t sure if our customers knew what an NFT was either.”

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 15
Artwork by “Plonksy” helps Chilled & Tannin avoid Christmas clichés in its online marketing

br i g h t i d eas


Tasting on a Train

In a nutshell: Take one heritage railway, two intrepid wine professionals (with great balance), four English wines, and 70 excited participants for a tutored wine tasting to remember. The Wine & Steam experience included dinner and a wine tasting aboard the iconic Pullman cars on a trip through the Sussex countryside. Tickets were priced from £95 up to £450 for a private compartment.

How did you come to work with the Bluebell Railway?

“Bluebell had been looking to do a tasting of some sort and I’d met with their business development manager and we just got talking. Between the two of us we thought a wine supper on the Pullman would work. We sat down with their catering managers and just got planning. About six or eight weeks later, we did it and it went superbly well. We had been a little bit nervous, just because we’d never done a tasting on a train before, but the feedback has been great and we managed to come back with a few orders as well, which is always nice.”

Which wines did you serve?

“We thought, given the location, we should focus on wines from Sussex. I’m personally a big fan of Rathfinny and they’re not too far from Bluebell, so we started with their Classic Cuvée. Then we had the Nutbourne Blush, because they are very local to us, and it was good to have a rosé in the mix.

We had Henners Native Grace Chardonnay, which is barrel fermented, so something a little bit heavier. Then we finished with Nyetimber demi-sec. We chose wines that we really love and that we knew we had quantities of to sell afterwards if need be.”

Did you have to sell tickets or did Bluebell handle that side of things? “They did the actual advertisement for the tickets and we shared it on our social media. There was a good mixture of our customers and train enthusiasts. There were definitely people that had bought tickets through us because we recognised our customers on the night.

“It didn’t completely sell out; we had 70 people altogether, and we could have had 100. I think for the first one it worked quite nicely because it meant there were a couple of smaller groups.”

West Sussex

How hard was it to do your job on a moving vehicle?

“Because it’s a steam train it wasn’t too rickety. We had to move through three carriages. My colleague, Steph Aburrow, and I started out at either end and did a carriage each, and then arrived at the middle carriage, which we split. The food was served behind us as we went. We also went up and down the train to talk to people one-to-one as and when their meals were cleared. It worked really well. By the time we got to the second and third wine people got a bit more confident and asked lots of questions about the wines and about Hennings. There was also a team from Bluebell onboard so when we got asked questions about the railway, I could hand over to one of them. It was very interactive.

“The hardest thing was trying to pour 70 glasses of wine in an incredibly small area. It was a little bit nerve-wracking to start with because we really didn’t know how it would go, but we were all pleasantly surprised. It was so nice to be a part of it.”

Have you timetabled another?

“We haven’t got a date firmed up yet, but we’re looking to do two or three more next year. It was definitely worth it. We didn’t expect any orders on the evening, but we had about £1,300 worth, which we were really, really pleased with, and there were a couple of on-trade people there who enquired about using us as suppliers going forward, which is great.”

Amanda 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

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 16
The tasting was on the Bluebell Railway

Cosme Palacio White Reserva 2018

Old Viura vines in Rioja Alavesa produce fruit that’s already got star quality when it arrives at the winery. Ten months on its lees in French barrels, just part of a two-year ageing process, adds extra polish. Rich and complex, with suggestions of patisserie and blossom, and an enjoyable lime marmalade character.

RRP: £20.99 ABV: 13%

North South Wines (020 3871 9210)

McPherson Wines Don’t Tell

Gary Shiraz 2019

Gary the accountant was excluded from the early conversations surrounding this wine because winemaker Jo Nash was feeling sheepish about the “ridiculously expensive” French oak barrels in which the parcel of exceptional Victoria Shiraz ages. The chocolatey, raisiny result was worth the expense.

RRP: £11.99 ABV: 14.5% Vintrigue Wines (01207 521234)

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

It’s winter warmer season and those lower-alcohol reds with their zippy red fruit can stay at the back of the cupboard for a while. That’s not to say this Margaret River Cab is inelegant – far from it – but its stocky richness, spicy undercurrent and hint of tar are exactly what’s needed after an icy woodland walk.

RRP: £34.95 ABV: 14%

Jeroboams Trade (020 7288 8888)

Bresesti Corte Naranja 2021

Condor has some exciting new Uruguayan agencies including this family estate on the outskirts of Montevideo. Its orange Sauvignon/Ugni Blanc blend is a delight. Initially quite lean, stony and refreshingly sour, with some savoury herbal notes, it reveals some delicate but unmistakable peachy flavours as it unwinds in the glass. Captivating stuff.

RRP: £16.49 ABV: 10%

Condor Wines (07715 671914)

Boco by House Coren 2020

Expect to see more English Charmat-method sparkling wine in the coming years, starting with this 42% Reichensteiner/29% Chardonnay/29% Pinot Noir blend from Sussex. It’s a world away from what the county’s PDO architects had in mind, but there’s a simple fruity charm that may appeal to Prosecco lovers, if they’re prepared to pay a little more for their fun.

RRP: £26 ABV: 11.5% Awin Barratt Siegel (01780 755810)

Cantina Lavis Teroldego 2020

The Teroldego variety is at home here in Trentino, adapting well to the sub-Mediterranean climate of South Tyrol. It’s clearly in expert hands with the Cantina Lavis co-operative, which has crafted a soft and approachable wine with plummy notes, and an extra level of depth as a result of five months on its lees and some partial oak ageing.

RRP: £9.99 ABV: 13% Cachet Wine (01482 638877)

The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Yes, New Zealand has some sophisticated fare these days but there’s also room for cool, zesty crowdpleasers like this Awatere Sauvignon, and especially at this price. Now sporting a new livery designed to be more in tune with the style of the wine, it claims to be both sustainable and carbon neutral.

RRP: £12.25 ABV: 12.5% Mentzendorff (020 7840 3600)

BenMarco Expresivo 2019

This unfiltered and unfined Susan Balbo wine comes from the high-altitude region of Gualtallary in Mendoza and there’s a coolness to the palate that seems to evoke a landscape most of us will never visit. The tannins are squeezing, but there’s juicy Malbec fruit to relieve the pressure, and a satisfying crunch from the 18% Cabernet Franc component.

RRP: £33 ABV: 14.5% Enotria&Coe (020 8961 5161)

We’ve got a lot of corks to pull from a lot of bottles. The Wine Merchant Top 100 2023 is open for business. If you sell excellent wines to independents, our independent judges need to taste them. Visit for details of how to get involved, or email

Favourite Things


wine on my list

For the price, Olivier Coste Mourvèdre Illegal from Hallgarten & Novum Wines. It’s got a great story behind it, fun branding and tastes delicious. It’s also something a little different.

Favourite wine and food match

This time of year, I would have to say the San Marzano 62 Anniversario Primitivo di Manduria with roast lamb and all the trimmings. It goes great cuddled up on the sofa, after eating, with an easy-watching film too.

Favourite wine trip Narbonne, to visit the Gérard Bertrand wine estate. Absolutely beautiful and the wines are incredible. Gérard also knows how to throw one hell of a party.

Favourite wine trade person

Do I have to choose one? All my sales reps are lovely, but Jack Watts from Peter Watts Wines is always super friendly and can’t do enough to help. We also share a love for 2000s alternative music.

Favourite wine shop 10 Green Bottles in Brighton. It’s the perfect combination of wine shop/ bar and has some great wines by the glass that are ever-changing, and lovely platters to go with the wine. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly and it just has all-round good vibes. I could spend hours in there working through the list and trying something a little different.

Drinks price rise hits 30-year high

The amount you pay for a night out is now increasing at its fastest rate since 1991, official figures show.

All alcohol prices rose [in November] at pubs, restaurants and cafés.

The biggest price rise was for whisky, up 7.8% in the month, while gin, draught premium lager, draught bitter and wine by the glass were up by between 1.2% and 1.7%.

BBC News, December 14

Majestic holds the line until May

Majestic Wine has announced price freezes for its on-trade partners until the end of April.

In a bid to help hospitality businesses expand and “level up” their offering during a “difficult” period, Majestic Commercial said prices for more than 1,100 different serves would be locked.

Majestic is also offering non-commercial customers the chance to win a £1,000 to spend in its branches by recommending their favourite pub. The prize will be awarded if the pub opens a Majestic account.

Morning Advertiser, December 12

Weavers makes life a little easier

Nottingham wine merchant Weavers now has click-and-collect points in West Bridgford and Costock.

Boss Philip Trease said: “We’re delighted to be partnering with Elms Farm at Costock and Lulu B, a gift and coffee shop in West Bridgford, for click-and-collect orders. We deliver to pick-up points every 24 hours on weekdays, so now Weavers’ customers can pick up their wine order with easy and free parking outside the door.”

ByWire, December 13

Vineyards will be cleared of mines

Humanitarian non-profit organisation Roots of Peace has announced that, in partnership with The Rotary E-Club of Ukraine, it will begin work to clear mines from vineyard land in the country’s Mykolaiv region.

Much of the vineyard land in the region is now “held hostage” by landmines and other explosive remnants of the conflict.

The Drinks Business, December 5

The price will have gone up a bit more by the time he finishes pouring

BITS & BOBS Magpie
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 20
Lucy Jackson Wines by the Sea, Southsea

Just 200 bottles of Sheffield Champers

A Sheffield-based brewery has teamed up with a Derbyshire vineyard to create a sparkling English white wine using grapes grown locally.

True North Brew Co has released a limited-edition Sheffield Champers, made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown by The English Wine Project at Renishaw Hall. Just 200 bottles have been made, priced at £29.95 each

The Star, December 5

Herbicide U-turn angers vignerons

Winemakers have fired the first shots in what could be a damaging battle between producers and Champagne’s powers-that-be.

A group of Champenois winemakers published a letter in the French newspaper Le Monde opposing Champagne’s U-turn on its zero-herbicide policy.

The letter came after months of failed negotiations, during which the Association Biologique Champenoise pushed the Syndicat General des Vignerons to reinstate its commitment to the herbicide ban.

Wine-searcher, December 12

The dreary world of pub wines

The best-selling wine in the on-trade has remained unchanged over the past 12 months.

Jack Rabbit Pinot Grigio kept its crown with a 76.4% increase in value and a 74.8% rise in case sales. Fetzer Coldwater Creek Pinot Grigio was second, and third was Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial.

Morning Advertiser, November 28


�When we opened the ‘big hitter’ regions were the main focus, with prices as low as £7. As we’ve got to know our customers and brought in more suppliers, we’ve slimmed down regions such as Australia but greatly enhanced our more unique offering with wines from Japan, Croatia and Turkey. We still offer a few wines under £10 but the main range sits between £14 and £35. Our other surprise was how much grower Champagne we sell, in particular Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs.”

�Our wine list has changed massively. It’s certainly larger by 40%, and we’re importing about three times more than before. As trade has picked up and become more consistent we’ve had the confidence to expand the list. Our increase in importing is simply to lower our costs, while sacrificing our cash flow a tad, due to general cost increases over the last two to three years.”

�We have probably changed 10% to 15% of our range over the last year. If we have a style that’s not proving to be popular – let’s say a Godello, for example – we would swap it in for a more popular style, such as a Chenin Blanc. Then with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, instead of keeping the same one, we bring in ones from different vineyards, just to keep things fresh.”

�Our wine range is now more global. Entry-level wines for supply to the on-trade would typically have been French vins de table, but today they are more likely to be Spanish, Italian, Chilean or even South African. Also, the progression of sustainability and organic practices is becoming a major part of the selection process for our customers.”

The oldest wine house in Champagne: Äy 1584

How has your wine range evolved in recent times?
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 21

Tower Summit

Keeping the on-trade on course

Provisions in north London has launched a one-day education programme for the hospitality industry. The idea is to inspire a deeper connection with wine and better communication with customers, as Claire Harries reports

Provisions Wine School has launched an education programme designed specifically for the hospitality trade.

Run by wine educator Paris Barghchi, the one-day course, priced at £160, caters for professionals working in shops, bars, restaurants and hotels.

Barghchi and Provisions owner Hugo Meyer Esquerré believe there is a widespread problem in finding and retaining good staff and they hope their wine school will go some way to addressing the issue.

“A big part of what Provisions Wine School wants to promote is the idea that we are here to support your business,” says Barghchi, who has 18 years of experience in the hospitality trade.

“We’re here to provide an option that is accessible, affordable and tailored to help us bring new life into an industry that needs a new generation of people who feel inspired by what they’re serving and selling.”

In addition to running shops in Islington and Hackney, Provisions also imports and wholesales. “All our wine is craft, artisanal and at least organic-to-natural,” explains Meyer Esquerré, “and we want to incorporate that knowledge, to delve a bit deeper into the viticultural aspects such as soil health, why a wine tastes like it does, and provide a deeper understanding of wine production.”

The company’s wholesale customers always receive training as a matter of course. But the wine school offers much more in its programme, including food and wine pairing.

Barghchi explains: “The course is designed to be accessible to anyone who wants to learn about wine. WSET knowledge is not necessary. Likewise, you could be at Level 3 and still gain from this course.

“I’m doing my Diploma at the moment, but I came to study very late. A lot of my knowledge has come through experience of working in a winery, of selling and learning from the people around me. And, as someone who has worked in food and wine for a very long time, I have noticed that WSET doesn’t cover food and wine relationships in the same way.

“I really hope to have chefs on this course, and other people who perhaps have a real understanding of one area of hospitality and have therefore been introduced to wine but maybe find it a bit daunting. We’re working with a wider catchment.

“We will also cover service and more about how we communicate with the general public, in a way that is particular to the wines that we’re working with. The most important thing with anything is communication. It doesn’t matter if you are the most qualified or educated person, if you can’t communicate to the customer who’s in front of you, then that information

is not valuable.

“It’s not just about getting the basics down, it’s about presentation and communication. And that will be a big part of the activities that happen during the day, to give people confidence in going forward with that.”

Meyer Esquerré has been developing the Provisions Wine School for some years. He started it with the company’s former wine buyer, Sam Povey, who is a WSET educator. Nick Campbell, who works in the Provisions wholesale team, looks after the consumer courses for the wine school and Meyer Esquerré says Campbell’s background as a pastry chef further strengthens the food and wine links that Provisions prides itself on.

Barghchi believes that the industry has lost personnel with “top-end” experience and knowledge. “They’ve just dropped out of the industry because they’ve had a family, they’ve had a career change, they’ve decided that actually the pressure doesn’t work for them,” she says.

“But I try and look at it optimistically. OK, there aren’t the staff there. So let’s find people who are interested, and let’s empower them to step into a role working in hospitality, working in wine. And how do we do that? We give them the confidence to talk about something that they’re passionate about.”

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 23

I can see the future …

... though of course the usual terms and conditions apply as David Williams gazes into his knockoff crystal ball and speculates about what might be in store for the world of wine in the coming year

Before reading an article dealing in forecasts and coming trends, I always like to check the author’s track record. Are they really the far-sighted oracle the article implicitly suggests they must be? Or do they make their lordly predictions in the full knowledge that almost nobody will remember them once enough time has passed to prove them entirely wrong?

In this case, I’ve done the due diligence for you. That means you can read the following in the full knowledge that my predictive abilities are some way short of the late, great Paul the Octopus, the German cephalopod who, Wikipedia tells me, managed to foretell the results of 12 out of 14 of the major tournament football games his keepers at Oberhausen zoo “asked” him to predict in the 2000s and 2010s.

So, no, we are not all drinking the Canadian wines I said we would be back in 2017. And of course, Riesling and Sherry, those perennial features of the wishfulthinking lists of wine hacks all over the world, have still not made their oftpromised comeback.

Other speculations of mine have started to fade after promising beginnings. There was a time when Mencía genuinely seemed to have a chance of achieving the same sort of ubiquity as its fellow north western Spanish grape variety Albariño in the

UK, for example. But, in terms of listings, it seems to have fallen back in the past couple of years. Similarly, as far as I can tell, Slovenian and Croatian wines have not sustained the momentum I thought I had spotted at the turn of the decade.

So, you can take the following with a pinch of salt – a substance that has, incidentally, and in a way I didn’t see coming, become quite a popular tasting term over the past couple of years. My predictions for the year ahead start in that territory, amid the recherché world of tasting talk. If you pay as much attention as I do to tasting notes (as well as writing them myself, I edit and read thousands of the things written by other people each year) you will have noticed that wine talk

is in the midst of a generational change, with the emphasis increasingly switching from how a wine tastes (bye-bye superspecific fruits and flavours) to how it feels (hello endless disquisitions on long-chain tannins). I fully expect this trend of talking about wine’s structure or (an increasingly fashionable term, this) architecture, to continue in more mainstream communications and sales patter in 2023.

Of course, unless someone with some powerful language-analysis software and a lot of time on their hands decides to test my thesis, this is one assertion that I can make happy in the knowledge that its accuracy is all but impossible to check.

My second prediction is only slightly easier to measure, but it’s no less sincere: I genuinely think 2023 is going to be the year when Greek wines become part of the UK wine-drinking mainstream. The fact that I have said the same thing every time I’ve written an article like this over the past 20 years doesn’t, in my view, undermine my position: there’s been real, incremental progress by Greek wine over that time. But last year was the first time Greek wines routinely formed a key part of so many supermarket and multiple specialist ranges, and the quality-and-interest-tovalue ratio has never been better.

If that’s a trend I’m very happy about, I’m

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 24
I genuinely think 2023 is going to be the year when Greek wines become part of the mainstream. The quality-and-interestto-value ratio has never been better

rather less keen on the continued rise of passito-style wines in Italy. I imagine they’ll be even more numerous in 2023, since the method of using quantities of dried grapes in various ways seems to be an economical way of adding depth and sweetness to simple red wines, and so many of my nonwine trade friends seem to have fallen in love with them (and the value they seem to offer) over the past year. In 2022 I tried numerous so-so me-too examples from Argentina, South Africa and Australia, and I fully expect more producers in more countries to follow the raisin-scented money this year.

Other price-driven trends that it seems to me will escalate, should inflation and

the cost-of-living crisis continue, include more listings for charmat-method English sparkling wines and a revival of the fortunes of the cheapest of the bottlefermented sparklers, Cava. And, just as the supermarkets have put so much of their efforts into reviving the fortunes of that recently endangered species, the drinkable five-pound wine, so independents will be spending much of 2023 trying to find wines that satisfy their increasingly crucial £9.99 price point.

Moving away from the highvolume commercial frontline, judged on the tastings I’ve been attending lately, the fine-wine trend

for blurring genre-boundaries I wrote about in this space back in November is not going away, with skin-contact whites, orange wines, infused reds and structured rosés taking up more and more slots in suppliers’ listings.

Many of those wines make a virtue of the ever-growing love of old vines, an affection that has been impressively harnessed and developed over the past couple of years by the Old Vine Conference organisation. Mere age isn’t enough to satisfy the true old-vine heads, however, and the next big thing in viticulturally oriented wine production and labelling is already emerging. 2023 as the year of ungrafted vines? You heard it here first [and quite possibly last – Ed].

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 25
Clutching at straws: is passito wine already passé?

We made an IPA for our eighth birthday

Hop Burns & Black has marked its eighth birthday in style by collaborating with Beak Brewery in East Sussex to create its own IPA.

a perfect time to celebrate our long-time friendship.

“Although a lot of our team had already been down to Beak in Lewes, I hadn’t, so it was a very good excuse to get out of the office and visit them. It’s a spectacular location.”

For Ferguson, each collaboration starts with her approaching a brewery and presenting an outline of what she has in mind. “We want it to be beneficial to both parties,” she says. “We don’t want to do some weird style that’s going to sell very little. We want to make sure if they’re doing a whole brew for us that it’s a really popular style that’s going to sell loads and loads.

“We always go for either a pale ale or an IPA for our birthday brews because we know that Christmas is coming up and they’re both very popular styles.”

In the case of the Beak project, the starting point was Parade, the brewery’s core IPA. It’s a best seller at Hop Burns & Black and loved by the team, who thought if they could put their own spin on it, it was bound to be a winner.

A few recipes and ideas were “kicked around over email” before Ferguson and Nathan Taylor, the Peckham store manager, got stuck in at Beak for a day’s brewing, admiring the scenery, but also doing “the grunt work”, digging out the mash tun.

South London independent Hop Burns & Black teamed up with a much-admired brewery from Sussex to create an IPA to celebrate another milestone in the company’s history

Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams, who launched Hop Burns & Black in south east London in 2014, are no strangers to developing products that echo the name of their business. Since opening they have celebrated each year by collaborating with their favourite suppliers to devise their own limited-edition beer (hop), hot sauce (burns) and coffee (black).

“We’ve done so much work with Beak in the last year,” says Ferguson, “and we sell so many of their beers. They are certainly in the top three breweries that our customers are in love with.

“Apart from that, we’ve been friends with Danny [Tapper, who runs Beak] for many years. In fact I think he was cooking up the idea for the brewery sitting on our outside tables; it was still a little twinkle in his eye. So we go way back and this seemed like

“The beer is tasting fantastic,” Ferguson says. “We had an idea of what it was going to taste like because we knew how the hops were smelling on the day and we knew what the malt bill was going to be.

“I was working in Deptford on the day I had my first taste of it. It was pouring with rain and I thought, here’s this can with a smiley sun on it – a kind of bright spot on a very gloomy day. It’s really citrussy, it’s got this very lemony zest to it. It’s really easy drinking and just delicious.”

Hop Burns & Black took delivery of 650 cans of Bop before Christmas, which it will sell along with the latest birthday editions of hot sauce (a collaboration with Leedsbased Thicc), and coffee from Lomond, one of the team’s favourite coffee suppliers.

Bop will also be available to purchase from Beak Brewery, while stocks last.

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We’re listening.

The Wine Merchant magazine’s annual industry survey is back.

Every January, independent wine specialists from all across the UK spare 15 minutes of their time to tell us a little about how business is going, and how they expect things to pan out in the coming year. The data that we collect helps us put together unrivalled analysis of everything that’s happening in the indie trade, which we publish online and in our March and April editions.

We respect the privacy of all contributors, and don’t share any individual information.

Our partner once again is Hatch Mansfield, who have generously supplied prizes for five participants selected at random. Visit to take part, or follow the links on our Twitter and Instagram pages.

Charles is happy with Poundbury leap of faith

The Dorset Wine Co got a new landlord recently. Sort of. The business is in Poundbury, which sits on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, just outside Dorchester.

When the Queen died last September, and Charles became King, the Duchy passed to his son William.

“For a brief period the King was our landlord,” notes Dorset Wine Co’s owner Jonathan Charles.

The farmland on which Poundbury was built lay vacant until 1993 when construction started on a pet project for the then Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, a showcase for traditional and classical architectural styles in response to the austerity of post-war modernism and brutalism.

There’s no mistaking Poundbury. Viewed from the A31 as you travel east-west between south east and south west England, it looks something between toy town and fairy land, and has divided opinion for 30 years and counting.

Even those who live and work there don’t seem to know what to call it. “It’s definitely not a village,” says Charles, though he’s reluctant to plump for town, as the population is only currently around 4,000. Even Wikipedia sits on the fence, running with “experimental planned community”.

In 1993, the then Prince Charles took a gamble on an ambitious Dorset new town, and 13 years later Jonathan Charles did the same thing when he opened his wine shop in the centre of the community.

As Poundbury starts to properly bed in, Charles is seeing some returns on his hard graft, and beginning to think about some modest expansion for the business.

Charles set up the Dorset Wine Co in 2006, and moved within Poundbury to its current site in the community’s central Queen Mother Square – alongside Waitrose, a pub and numerous other independent traders – on its 10th anniversary.

It’s now on the ground floor of a palatial film set of an apartment block in a site that provides high ceilings and lots of natural light to make for an inviting hybrid wine retailing space.

“It means you can have lots of dark wood and natural materials without it feeling too gloomy,” says Charles.

He previously worked for local brewer Eldridge Pope in its chain of wine shops, and spotted an opportunity to start his own business when Pope pulled out of retail.

“Initially, we were a few hundred yards down the road,” Charles adds. “This didn’t exist when we first moved to Poundbury. When we started out, we were right on the edge of the development. The houses opposite hadn’t been built and the road stopped at our corner.

“We saw it grow up around us and decided we wanted a bigger shop, with on-site storage and room to do tastings.

“We put the feelers out with the Duchy for something in the square, which is the centre of

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 28

Poundbury. If we were going to go to the expense of moving it had to be here really, or it wouldn’t be worth it. It’s got pretty much all of our storage on site and room for 25-30 people for tastings.”

What was the attraction of Poundbury, rather than starting up in the middle of Dorchester or elsewhere in Dorset?

The Duchy is pro-independent business and it’s quite nice to have someone who’s actively looking for smaller independent businesses rather than the big chains. The rents are much cheaper than in town and the rates were more reasonable. The redevelopment of the old Eldridge Pope brewery is the other big development in this area and the rents are significantly higher than they are here.

It’s all free parking here as well and I felt that would be a really good draw for us. There’s a

growing number of apartments being built on our doorstep, and it’s reached a tipping point where there are enough businesses to attract more people to come and shop from outside.

So how much of your business is people who live in Poundbury?

It’s growing as the population increases, but I’d still say that it’s probably 35%-40% [of sales]. The population’s about 4,000 now, and ultimately it will be 5,000. There’s a mixture of ages and the demographic is still relatively old, but it’s come down a lot since we’ve been here. We see a younger clientele moving in.

It is really different. People who live here love it, but there is still a bit of a stigma about the place – the fact that it is Poundbury and has the royal association. We just try to ignore it.

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“Poundbury has reached a tipping point where there are enough businesses to attract more people to come and shop from outside”
Jonathan Charles, Poundbury, October 2022 Peter Fawcett, York, September 2022


The design brief [of the development] was nothing modern on the façades. There are no road markings, traffic lights or crossings, and the roads widen and narrow to slow traffic naturally. It’s very pedestrian friendly.

We have a licence for pavement seating in the summer but I would love to have more of a garden like they have in the pub next door. We’ve asked many times but it’s a flat “no”.

We do an event once a week over the summer with a mobile pizza van and commandeer the car park for seating.

It’s a generous space you’ve got to play with. When they build the big apartment blocks they focus on what’s up and not a lot of thought is given to underneath. It’s more of a case of whoever takes it will have to work with it, rather than it being thought-out as a retail unit.

We had our eye on a corner unit on the other side of the square that had a basement which we could have used for cellar storage and a bar, but the Duchy wanted it for a collaboration with a luxury spa, so what was three retail units is now a spa and a café. Those sorts of things are slightly frustrating because it’s a little short-sighted not to insist on more shops and restaurants in the square. They could have made more of it, reduced the parking and given the square a more open piazza-type feel.

The parking must be handy though. It is – and it’s great for deliveries. Drivers like it because there are no traffic wardens shaking their heads. And because it’s free parking people don’t feel under pressure to shop quickly.

Have you ended up with what you set out to create?

No. I had in my head five or six years of hard graft and a chain of shops throughout Dorset. A lot of people probably start off like that and realise it’s a lot harder than they think. I wanted somewhere where people could come and get expert advice and where the people in the shop really knew and had faith in the wines they were selling – and just to put together an interesting and eclectic range of wines suitable for all tastes and budgets. We’re still trying to achieve that.

Having started at Eldridge Pope, and knowing

their business and clientele, I thought I had a relatively good measure of the people in the area and that there was a great opportunity for a really good independent. There was only Palmers in Bridport and a couple of other people in Poole who were more focused on wholesale. Vineyards in Sherborne opened shortly before us.

How is it being right next to Waitrose?

None of this existed when we started, so it wasn’t there. There had always been a supermarket earmarked for across the road, but that was five or six years down the track. So we had a good head start and there wasn’t a lot of competition. The downside was that, because it was still a building site, no one would stumble upon us, so we had to work quite hard in getting the message out.

How did you do that?

We started at ground zero. We encouraged local people to spread the word and did tastings and events in the shop, even though it was quite small at the time. It was really just a grind of local events, including the county show and some local interest groups. Word spreads quite quickly around Dorchester. But we still have people coming in and saying “oh, you’ve moved” six and a half years later.

there restrictions on what you can and can’t do that you wouldn’t get elsewhere?
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 30
“I had in my head five or six years of hard graft and a chain of shops. A lot of people probably start off like that and realise it’s a lot harder than they think”

People from outside might imagine it’s an area with a lot of money. Is that the case?

It’s not particularly cash wealthy. There are lots of people who’ve lived here for many years and live in the family pile. But when I opened I got the impression it wasn’t as wealthy as I first thought.

Does that profile mean you lean towards the classics like Bordeaux and Burgundy?

Yes, we do. I think that’s because I’ve previously worked for more independent companies – I had a stint at Jeroboams as well – and they were more traditional in their listings, so that’s where my grounding in the wine trade happened. So we naturally lean towards the classic old world, but we have a lot of fun with South Africa, for example. There’s a lot of interest there with producers doing small-batch stuff that’s fascinating and good value. They’re classic grape varieties done in a different way.

Has that customer profile changed as time has gone on?

We’ve noticed an increase in organic, biodynamic and natural wines. In our early days they weren’t at the forefront of people’s minds. That goes slightly hand-in-hand with the average age coming

down. The traditional Dorset gent isn’t particularly interested in whether something is organic or biodynamic, whereas the younger consumer just naturally is. We’ve nothing too weird or wacky. We don’t have many customers who want funky, cloudy or cidery wines. We have a couple of wines in crown corks but they’re noticeably slower to move. Trends and fads tend to happen elsewhere before they filter down to Dorset.

How important is the hybrid element in the mix?

We needed an on-licence to do tastings anyway. I was conscious that a lot of retailers who’ve tried the hybrid model ended up being seen more as wine bar than a shop and I wanted to remain a wine shop, first and foremost. We do a few evenings with food trucks that are geared towards drinking-in. I thought there would be a much higher take-up for hybrid generally than there has been. We do have a few people who drink-in within normal retail hours, but it’s not something we’ve really pushed because I don’t think there’s enough space and call for it to justify the extra staffing. We can seat 30 but, realistically, on a regular basis there will be between 10 and 20 max.

How do you structure the on-trade offer?

Normally it’s £5 corkage, but with anything that’s under £10 we make it up to £14.95, so it becomes £6, £7 or £8 corkage – so £8.95 goes to £14.95, and £9.95 also goes to £14.95.

It’s so we don’t have people coming in just for a cheap drink. And so people don’t go to one of our pub customers and say “I can have a bottle of that at Dorset Wine Co for the price you’re charging for a glass”.

What does wholesale bring to the business?

It’s about 25% of turnover. It has been up to 35% but I like to keep it around 25%. Most of the customers are relatively local, so I don’t like to hold too many listings of similar things just for different customers. It’s enough that we can manage it quite comfortably without them being in conflict.

Do you have separate wholesale and retail lines?

No. There are a couple of wines I’d like to ditch from the shop but I have wholesale customers who love them, so I have to keep stocking them. It’s more or less the same list and pretty much everything is online as well.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 31
“ We’ve noticed an increase in organic, biodynamic and natural wines. In our early days they weren’t at the forefront of people’s minds. That goes slightly hand-in-hand with the average age coming down”
The Dorset Wine Company relocated to Poundbury’s central Queen Mother Square in 2016

High ceilings and natural light give the unit added appeal for customers wanting to enjoy wine on the premises

A lot of prospective wholesale customers used to be wary of the fact that their customers could see wines on their list and then online on our site at a third of a price, but I think these days people are much more au fait with restaurant wine mark-ups. They understand about the overheads.

Where does your retail pricing tend to fall?

It’s been increasing over the past three or four years. The sweet spot is probably about £12-£15, but for a long time, before we moved, it was £8-£12, so it’s gone up a notch.

We were fortunate during lockdown that a lot of people decamped from London and brought their budgets with them. We’re selling much nicer Burgundies, Italian wines and Bordeaux.

It’s also partly being in this more prominent location – and the word has got out among a certain set that it’s a good place to come and shop. It’s a combination of little factors but certainly we’re selling better stuff.

Tell us more about the wine range. We’re at 700 and there’s wine on tap as well. That’s

been very successful for us, both on-trade and off-trade. I’m really pleased we did it. We bought a stand-alone machine with three taps in it. We buy kegs from Uncharted, Graft and Caves de Pyrene, and some through Vindependents.

It’s easy when we do by-the-glass over the summer, because there’s zero waste and the kegs are easy to switch over. We do two glass sizes and carafes, and two sizes of bottle to take away and refill. The eco aspect of it is really good, it’s cheap to install and it captures people’s imaginations.

Who are your favourite suppliers?

We do a lot with Vindependents, mostly old world stuff and just a little peppering of new world. It’s easier to manage old world lead times. We use ABS and Bancroft, both of whom we’ve been with since the beginning. We use Alliance, and Astrum for Italian stuff, a bit with Armit, and Sommelier’s Choice – we really like them. It’s just a nice little smattering of different importers that give us a good range.

It’s a very good-looking shop with a lot of

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 32

attention to detail.

All the cupboards were built for our initial shop and the racking was shipped from the States. They came flat-packed and we put them together. The big ones hold 480 bottles and the smaller ones 144, and they provide display and storage all together.

I first came across them in a wine shop in New York. I took a photo and asked a carpenter friend if we could put some together for me and he declined. So we tracked the manufacturer down and imported them. We then designed the rest of the shop, the platforms and the like around the racking.

There’s a decent range of spirits on one of them. How do they go for you?

I’ve always done a small selection. In our last shop it was literally a cabinet behind the counter. We did quite well out of the gin boom which made us realise we could sell interesting spirits. There’s been a big tail-off in gin, possibly to do with

“ We were fortunate during lockdown that a lot of people decamped from London and brought their budgets with them. We’re selling much nicer Burgundies, Italian wines and Bordeaux”

subscription clubs that people can sign up to. Before people would be rushing in to find something they’d heard of for £40-£50, but now it’s all done for them. It’s fine. I don’t want to spend my whole life talking about gin.

Do you still hope to open a chain across Dorset? Not 100%, but I would like to have something else, whether it’s another branch or a wine bar. It’s just a question of finding the right place and the right people to run it for you.

What about web sales?

Online went bananas in lockdown. The first one happened just before we were planning to launch our new website. That went on hold, but at the beginning of 2022 we started with a new one which is integrated with our tills. It makes everything a lot easier, with one point of updating, whereas before we were juggling three different systems – for trade, retail and online. It was a lot of work but I’m really glad we did it. I think we could spend more time on it now and push it to work a bit harder but it’s about 10% of our turnover.

A substantial part of the business is still good old-fashioned walk-up retail, then?

Online sales went “bananas” during lockdown, putting a few miles on the clock of the trusty Land Rover

We are sticking to our original vision. We’re lucky. I think customers here are pretty loyal. We’ve got many who’ve been coming for well over 10 years on a regular basis … so we must be doing something right.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 33
Charles is hopeful of opening a second branch, or possibly a wine bar


Bottle Shock

Pétrus – What is the wine about? Imagine a cathedral lit with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, a stave of oak, a punnet of blackcurrants and the gospel according to Robert Parker. (With apologies to HG Wells)

What are the most important factors that affect the way you taste wine? Is it the inherent quality of the wine itself and its potential to communicate itself lucidly? Do your expectations condition how you taste and are you a label junkie? Or is that any fine wine may be thoroughly muted by being served in awful wine glasses, or at the wrong temperature? Or that the food and the surroundings must be appropriate?

All of these are, of course, significant contributing factors to one’s enjoyment of wine. The greatest – and what can turn the promise of fruit into ashes in your mouth –is your mood at the time, and the company in which you are tasting. (I am not talking about the impersonal surroundings of a large wine event when dozens, even hundreds, of wines are being tasted and where pitiless dissection is the order of the day.)

We can be a bit precious vis-à-vis our genuflective approaches to appreciating wine. Some of my most pleasurable experiences of fine wine, after all, have involved necking the liquid straight from the bottle à la Withnail. I have literally

gulped great 1er cru Gevrey-Chambertin on the hoof atop Parliament Hill with the most evil greasy doner kebab imaginable (perverse needs must) – ‘twas nectar – and experienced myriad similar crazy hippyhappy juxtapositions and epiphanies. Forty years after swigging Château Talbot ‘78 from the bottle under a Hebridean night sky heaving with shooting stars, I can still summon up the exact aromas and flavours of this beautiful wine. Wine is the means and the end of enjoyment, the catalyst for mood music. Who needs a polished Zalto glass and a table laden with Michelin standard food when you have the great outdoors and captivating views?

Anegative frame of mind kills natural beauty stone dead. Deader than a dusty wine glass. My theory is that wine responds to the personality and disposition of the individual who is tasting. I have been in the company of wine professionals who seem to wear metaphorical lab coats as they superanalyse the liquid for defects – as if every wine must be reduced to the sum total of said defects. The wine itself seems to shrink under such merciless magnification as the taster puts him or herself not only above the wine but everything that makes the wine unique or personal. The same wine, experienced with open-minded folk, who are determined to discover interest and enjoyment and may also want to understand why the wine is the way that it is, seems to blossom with the relaxed energy of such positive company. Go figure!

We all know people who suck the joy out of wine and make us doubt that this was ever a beautiful, living liquid. The power of negative thought is, to coin a proverb, the proverbial fly in the glass.

When the cultured snob emits an uncultured wow, when the straitjacketed scientist smiles, when scoring points becomes pointless, when quite athwart goes all decorum, when one desires to nurture every drop and explore every nuance of a great wine, surrendering emotionally to the moment while actively transforming the kaleidoscopic sensory impressions into an evocative language that will later trigger warm memories, the wine lavishes and ravishes the senses to an uncritical froth.

Such responsiveness is a kind of pure “unselfing”. Greatness in wine, like genius, is fugitive, unquantifiable, yet demands utter engagement. How often does wine elicit this reaction? Perhaps the question instead should be: how often are we in the mood to truly appreciate wine? Rarely, must be the answer, for if our senses are dulled or our mood is indifferent, we are unreceptive, and then all that remains is the ability to dissect.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 34
Tasting can be too precious. Wine is more than the sum total of its defects
Doug Wregg is director of sales and marketing at Les Caves de Pyrene Trying to quantify the unquantifiable


The phrase “cultivating Tuscany’s diversity” sums up the Frescobaldi philosophy.

Company president Lamberto Frescobaldi says: “The joy of even fleeting moments, and delight in its flavours, tastes, and sensory impressions: these are the sensations that are the gift of Tuscany, and what Frescobaldi wants in turn to convey to those who see in wine a true culture, quite beyond just the vine and its grapes.”

He adds: “My dream, and that of my family, is to share our work, our emotions, and our passionate commitment, through our wines. Ours is a life dedicated to understanding and promoting these unique terroirs, to ensuring that they fully become part of the spirit of Tuscany, as ‘the art of the good and the beautiful’.

“Our thousand years of history as a family constitutes for me a unique and irreplaceable treasure of knowledge and traditions, and my responsibility is to pass on to, and share, with future generations respect, passion, and devotion to these places of ours and to these timeless hills.”

The Frescobaldi wine estates

The nine tenute, or wine estates, are Castello Pomino (Pomino), Castello Nipozzano (Nipozzano), Tenuta Perano (Gaiole in Chianti), Tenuta Castiglioni (Montespertoli), Tenuta CastelGiocondo (Montalcino), Tenuta Ammiraglia (Magliano in Toscana), Remole (Sieci), Calimaia (Cervognano-Montepulciano) and Gorgona (Livorno).

Located in Tuscan districts with centuries-old reputations for making noble wines (DOC, DOCG and IGT), the estates differ in soils and weather, environment and history, thus giving unique

characteristics to their wines.

Each estate is managed independently, with its own team that directs its viticulture, vinification and wine ageing.

Tenuta CastelGiocondo, “Spirit of Montalcino”

This tenuta, in the Montalcino zone near Siena, consists of 815 hectares, of which 235 are under vine. CastelGiocondo, purchased by Frescobaldi in 1989, is one of the handful of producers who, in the early 1800s, introduced the first Brunello di Montalcino.

Beneath a castle and a small medieval hamlet, the vineyards enjoy conditions crucial to coaxing the best from the Sangiovese grape: an elevation around 300 metres, south west exposure to capture the afternoon sun, and well-drained soils of the local galestro marl.

The two estate crus are Ripe al Convento di CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, from meticulously hand-selected Sangiovese grapes grown in the eponymous vineyard

at an elevation of 350-450 metres, and the 100% Merlot Lamaione Toscana IGT. The estate standard-bearer is CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, the fruit of an almost obsessive quality selection of Sangiovese grapes grown under the rigorous conditions necessary for extracting the finest qualities from this ancient grape. The area’s galestro soils, rich in marls of clay and sand, contribute to the production of a wine of superb structure, great elegance, and fine balance, exhibiting intense, ultra-refined aromas, the quintessential expression of the Montalcino area’s clay, sandy and marly soils.

The portfolio also includes Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino DOC, a vibrant, well-balanced Sangiovese.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 35
CAMPAIGN FINANCED ACCORDING TO (EU) REGULATION NO. 1308/2013 Sponsored by Enotria&Coe Visit or or call 020 8961 5161
Tenuta CastelGiocondo is one of nine family-owned estates, each reflecting its special Tuscan terroir

The craft of Carménère

Carménère deserves a bigger fan base. The problem is, it’s a variety that even winemakers have struggled to get to grips with.

TerraNoble has spent 25 years studying the variety and trying to perfect its techniques, both in the vineyard and the winery. Its team has arrived at an interpretation of the variety that avoids unappealing green pyrazine notes, but also steers clear of jammy, over-ripe characters.

Oak influence has been dialled right back and TerraNoble’s wines, all sustainably made, now have a hallmark freshness and fruitiness.

Crucially – as was vividly demonstrated in a recent online tasting involving winemaker Marcelo Garcia and regional director Tomás Uribe – the wines reflect their terroir.

Working with fruit from Casablanca, Colchagua and Maule, TerraNoble exports to the UK via Pimlico Dozen, targeting independent specialists and the premium on-trade.

Feature produced in association with TerraNoble For more information, visit or

Gran Reserva Carménère 2019, Maule

This is TerraNoble’s flagship wine, first released in 1998. That in itself makes it important. But it’s also a signature wine in the sense that it’s a hallmark of the TerraNoble way of doing things, not just with Carménère but with all its other wines: juicy and generous, but elegant too.

There are no pyrazine notes in evidence but there is an appealing herbaceous character lurking in the background. Marcelo is proud of the black pepper note, which he says is a result of old, well managed Carménère vines having the freedom to express the natural balance in the grapes.

The style of the wine has evolved over the years. “If somebody suggested to me about 10 years ago picking the grape in early April or the end of March, I would say you’re crazy,” says Marcelo. “Or even if you said, use a toasted foudre to age the wine. So you see, it’s a continuous evolution. We

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are still learning about Carménère and every year can change the expression, a little bit.”

CA1 Carménère Andes 2019 and CA2 Carménère Costa 2018 & 2019, Colchagua

This is a terroir project, designed to show how the same grape performs in very different ways within a single area like Colchagua.

“CA1 is located in the foothills of the Andes and CA2 in a location called Lolol in Colchagua Valley, which is influenced by the Pacific Ocean,” Tomás explains. “The natural conditions for both wines are completely different.”

The CA1 comes from vineyards 370m above sea level, where there’s an abundance of organic material and big differences between day and night-time temperatures. The CA2 plot, 120m above sea level, has thinner, more calcareous soil and is influenced by ocean fog.

The CA1 is rounded and opulent, with great structure, while the CA2 is characterised by red fruit and spicy notes. Both have impressive acidity, but for different reasons.

“The natural conditions can highlight the different notes of fruit,” says Tomás.

“You will see more salty notes or bigger tannins in one wine than the other … more chocolate or coffee, red fruit or black fruit. But still you see the freshness is there; the juiciness is there.”

Marcelo is encouraging even more terroir expression in the wines by moving away from small barrels to larger ones with less toast. He’s also achieving decent results with concrete eggs.

Carignan Gran Reserva 2020, Maule

The vines were planted back in 1958 but Chile’s Carignan revival began in the early 2000s. Stung by criticism that its wines were reliable but a little unexciting – the word “Volvo” was often brandished –producers began to explore new terroir, new styles and new grapes … even if some of those varieties had been in the ground for decades.

Carignan has an enthusiastic following these days, Tomás reports.

Forty per cent of the wine is aged in concrete eggs and 50% in untoasted foudres, with the remainder spending time in very old barrels.

“This is very important because Carignan has a very particular expression,” says Tomas. “You see the expression of red fruit, like cherries, mixed with flower notes, like jasmine, and little mineral notes at the end. We don’t want to cover those flavours and aromas using classic toasted barrels.

“It’s a very nice wine to taste in summer because it’s very fresh and the tannins are very soft. It’s a very good choice to enjoy with, for instance, smoked salmon.”

The wines were really beautiful and it was really helpful to hear about the differences in planting location and weather for the Carménère, which really make such a difference to the taste. I especially enjoyed the Gran Reserva Carménère, the CA1 2018 and the Carignan.

Afterwards we shared the wines and the Zoom recording with the rest of our sales team and our purchasing manager.

As they are quite high-end wines they sell well in our shops, and we do have some more high-end restaurants we sell into.

We don’t have the Carignan so this will be something we will now look to add.

Debs Page, The General Wine Company, Hampshire

It was great to taste the CA1 and CA2 in different vintages and to compare with the Reserva. We were able to offer the samples for in-store tasting afterwards and sold quite a few on the back of that.

We know TerraNoble well and they offer superb wines at a really good price point. They tend to be a bit under the radar, so hopefully this will have shone a welldeserved spotlight on what they do.

Jane Taylor, Dronfield Wine World, Derbyshire

I thought it was fascinating to see how the same grape variety can be so affected by the site of the vineyard.

I’ve tasted lots of Carménère over the years, but this was a clear indication that these changes in sites can so clearly be reflected in the wine. TerraNoble seem unique in their approach here, which was great to discover.

My favourite was CA1 Andes 2019. It had for me the best balance of graphite fruit on the nose, and a wide, full-on palate.

Simon Evans, The Naked Grape, Alresford, Hampshire



Beers with a sense of place

One of the least surprising beer stories of 2022 was the decision in November by Japanese brewing giant Asahi to close the Dark Star brewery in Sussex. The brewery came as part of a job lot when Asahi bought Fuller’s in 2019 and, despite its Hophead cask beer being something of a modern classic, Dark Star always felt a strange fit for a company with a portfolio geared around international lager brands, including Peroni, Grolsch and the eponymous Asahi.

Born in the Evening Star brewpub in Brighton, slightly ahead of the craft beer curve in 1994, it never really conformed to modern funky beer brand conventions such as bold graphics, fast range churn and keg revivalism in the same way as, say, Tiny Rebel, Magic Rock or Meantime – the Asahi subsidiary that is now taking over Hophead production, despite not being set up for cask production.

Instead, Dark Star was a small regional brewery that behaved like a big one: understated branding, beers with a consistent market presence and a commitment to good old cask and bottles.

Above all, what Dark Star had, that many modern craft brands don’t, was a quality prized throughout the world of wine: a sense of place.

Though that can never work for beer in the same way as wine – with topography, soil, climate and weather conditions not contributing so directly to the end product – British ale brewing has a tradition of both being an integral part of the communities it serves and reflecting something of them.

Cloudwater makes some amazing beers but they can hardly be considered to be part of the fabric of Manchester in the same way as Joseph Holt, for example, or even Boddingtons before AB InBev royally stuffed it up.

That’s not necessarily Cloudwater’s fault; it hasn’t been around long enough to establish the same heritage equity, for want of a better phrase.

Sure, Dark Star had expanded Hophead’s

footprint outside its Sussex heartland even before being taken over by Fuller’s in 2018, but even in later years it still retained an essential Sussex-ness.

There are, thankfully, some relatively recent entrants to the modern brewing scene who manage to achieve national fame while staying connected to their roots.

Surrey’s Hogs Back is a great example, one that’s focused on the farming traditions of its location. Eight years ago it took advantage of the space around its Tongham brewery to plant 3.5 acres of hops.

After relatively small beginnings, it’s more than doubled its plantings of three varieties, including the local Farnham White Bine, first cultivated in the early 1700s just a mile and a half from where the brewery now stands, and rescued by Hogs Back from near-extinction.

Hogs Back makes its community aware of how the local geology – a rich loamy topsoil and chalky sub-strata – is ideal for hop cultivation and has dozens of willing local volunteers when it comes to each year’s harvest.

Of course, cost and space prohibit most brewers from taking a similar path – but neither should they need to in order to preserve a sense of place.

It could equally come from links with community pubs, or wooing the local specialist off-trade, or ensuring that beers, brands and the stories behind them say something about the place in which they were created.

Dark Star has left its Sussex roots, but other brewers capitalise on local links
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British ale brewing has a tradition of both being an integral part of the communities it serves and reflecting something of them
Hop harvesting at Hogs Back

Nature can be cruel, especially in Burgundy. Tasting through the 2021 en primeur wines of Chanson proves the point only too vividly. The quality is sublime; the problem is, there’s very little to go around, thanks to bizarre spring weather that delivered summer temperatures but also catastrophic frost. After that, the problem was mainly rain.

Nobody in Burgundy has the power to defy weather conditions or to foresee what climate change may mean for the region over the coming decades. But Chanson believes it is well placed to make the best of whatever nature throws at it – and mercifully, 2022 is looking bountiful.

The domaine traces its history back to 1750, but 1999 is just as important a date. That year the business was acquired by the Bollinger family and, although Chanson operates independently of its owner, it has benefited from some significant investment from the Champagne house.

Chanson’s medieval bastion on the outskirts of Beaune remains an evocative focal point: a four-storey building with eight-metre thick walls, perfect for the maturation of fine Burgundy. But a new gravity-fed winery was built in 2010 at Savigny-les-Beaune, allowing separate vinification of parcels from different terroirs.

Over the past two decades there has also been some fine-tuning done to Chanson’s entire winemaking approach, as export director Vincent Wallays explained on a recent visit to London.

“In the year 2000, we decided to go back to our original roots, which is a whole-bunch maceration,” he says. “It’s not the easiest approach. You need phenolic ripeness of the stem system, and that’s the last part of the bunch to achieve it: first comes the skin of the berry, then the pulp and the seeds.

“You have definitive phenolic ripeness in the stems or you do not; there’s no in-between. If you don’t, you’re going to create vegetal aromas in the wine, and a tannin structure that will feel like little

Chanson: making the Burgundy terroir sing

needles on your cheeks. The wine will not be balanced.

“But it’s the opposite when you do achieve phenolic ripeness. You’re going to create the backbone of the wine; you’re going to provide spiciness. The stem is cellulose, so it’s absorbing some of the alcohol, maybe half a degree. It creates freshness in the wine.”

Chanson also believes that extended cold soaking gives its wines a special character, or at least a character that truly reflects the vineyard from which the fruit – which is organically produced – is harvested.

The team has invented a seven-metre cooling tunnel which brings the temperature of the harvested grapes down from perhaps 35˚C to nearer 6˚C. The idea is to delay fermentation and allow natural enzymes to extract aromas from the skins. The cold soak can last as long as 10 days, achieving results that would be much harder to control were the bunches left to their own devices in the tank without prior cooling.

The wines are aged for 19 months and, even at the en primeur stage, there are

profound differences between them – as anyone who tasted the 2021 wines in London can attest.

“All the grapes are harvested by the same team and the wines are made at the same place,” says Wallays. “They are aged in the same place for the same time with the same proportion of new oak, which will be between 25% to 30%, and that applies whether the wine is a village, a premier cru or a grand cru. The only difference is that the berries are from different places.”

Despite the natural challenges of 2021, the Chanson wines have emerged fresh and balanced, with a precision that will delight lovers of a classic Burgundy style. Volumes are sharply down, but Wallays says he is being painstakingly fair with allocations so that all markets get to enjoy the results of the winemaking team’s travails.

The 2022 wines, when they emerge, will be a different story, and it shows from Wallays’s telltale smile. “It’s a blessing,” he says. “We had a very, very good vintage and everything was perfect, including quantity.”

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It comes as something of a surprise to learn that AOP Languedoc is one of the smallest regional appellations in France. Isn’t this meant to be a vast, sprawling wine landscape? Well, it is – but we’re dealing in something much more specific here.

AOP Languedoc was created as recently as 2007, replacing the old Coteaux du Languedoc designation.

“Coteaux du Languedoc was limited to Hérault and a small part of the Gard and Aude départements,” explains JeanBenoît Cavalier, a winemaker following a family tradition dating back to the 1700s. “Then, in 2007, it was extended to give it a broader, regional dimension, and was renamed AOP Languedoc.

“Back then, the most popular wines were vins de table, and designations of origin were struggling even to exist. But the winemakers of various sub-regions including Faugères, Saint-Chinian, Pic and Saint-Loup stepped forward to create a clear, vibrant range of Languedoc wines, giving the local wine industry a muchneeded boost. And today, AOP Languedoc is setting a gold standard throughout France and worldwide.”

The revitalised appellation takes in four départements and 531 winemaking villages, stretching from Nîmes in the east to Collioure, near the Spanish border, but production is relatively modest at an average 250,000 hectolitres per year.

Yet the 10,000 hectares under vine encompasses a wide variety of terroirs. “The vineyards clamber up the foothills of the Cévennes, cling to the lower Pyrenees,

Adventures in AOP Languedoc

wind their way up the Massif des Corbières and down the slopes of the Montagne Noire, then extend out along the lakes,” says Cavalier.

“There are vines everywhere, highlighting the incredible diversity of these landscapes – the one constant linking them all being the Mediterranean. Within its strictly defined boundaries, the Languedoc appellation has a range of terroirs expressing the region’s uniqueness.

“The vineyards enjoy a maritime influence, a Mediterranean-type climate which changes depending on altitude and proximity to the sea, producing

Mediterranean-style wines with a signature elegance and freshness, across all three colours.”

Another surprising detail about AOP Languedoc is that, although this part of France is dominated by red wine production, the appellation makes more rosé than anything else, with pink styles typically accounting for 58% of the crush. Red remains popular, with just over a third of production, while whites make up the remaining 10%.

Because AOP Languedoc sits in the heart of Occitanie, France’s leading organic region, it’s no surprise to learn

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It’s a small appellation in a large region, specialising in expressive wines with a Mediterranean flavour, as our tasting panel discovered.


that 30% of producers have some sort of eco-certification. Many more share these environmental principles but have not yet been formally accredited.

Ethical issues are also high on the agendas of AOP Languedoc producers, who are increasingly going beyond organic farming and addressing sustainability in a broader sense, with reduced energy consumption and innovative recycling initiatives.

The UK is the number two export market for AOP Languedoc, and the AOP is promising continued support for importers and retailers to help them continue that momentum in the year ahead.

The six wines we tasted


AOP Languedoc 2021

Blend: Grenache, Marsanne, Rolle

Co-operatives have been upgrading and modernising in the region. This one is based in the hills north of Montpellier and its Cuvée Or impressed the assembled indies. Bruno Etienne of La Cave de Bruno in East Dulwich said: “Every grape plays a role. You have lovely balance there, I’d say. There are definitely customers for this kind of wine.”


AOP Languedoc 2021 Blend: Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Rolle, Viognier, Roussanne. This co-operative is based in Cabrières, a region noted for its rosé and schist soils. The Clairette variety is also an important hallmark of local wines. An aromatic wine with fruity intensity. “It’s a lovely wine; a rounded middle palate and a nice length,” said Penny Champion of Champion Wines in Chislehurst.


AOP Languedoc 2021

Blend: Syrah, Grenache

There’s a sea of bland identikit rosés in the wider marketplace but our group of merchants was pleased to find some genuine character here. It’s an aperitif-style wine, easy to drink, with pleasant cherry and red fruit notes. A wine that prompted several tasters to consider taking a deeper dive into the AOP Languedoc rosé offer.


AOP Languedoc 2021 Blend: Grenache, Syrah

This Aude co-operative is making modern, eye-catching wines and our panel enjoyed the structure and depth of this Grenache-driven blend. The highaltitude grapes are picked at night to preserve freshness, and have a gentle spicy kick. “A rosé that works well on its own or with food,” said Nish Patel of Shenfield Wines in Essex.


AOP Languedoc 2021 Blend: Syrah, Grenache, Carignan

Although much of what emerges from AOP Languedoc is perfect for early drinking, many of its wines reward a little cellaring, and that was the verdict in the case of this blend from a relatively new producer. A dark, expressive and elegant wine, with notes of liquorice and black fruit.


AOP Languedoc 2020 Blend: Grenache, Syrah

Freshness was a running theme through all six wines and that description is apt here. Tasters enjoyed the delicacy of the tannins and the peppery undertones, agreeing it would be perfect with a hearty winter meal. As Bruno Etienne said: “It’s probably best with food. There’s more complexity, there is a structure and a depth there. It’s lovely.”

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Photo: Florian Vidot / CIVL

January January February April May May


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David Perry of Shaftesbury Wines always spotted the potential of the patch of land behind his shop. Now he’s counting down the months to his first grape harvest June July

After 13 years, I’ve finally got a vineyard of my own

Ihave a little vineyard behind Shaftesbury Wines. Probably the highest in Dorset and almost certainly the smallest.

Why? Well, why not? We have a little courtyard space behind the shop. Beyond that there is a patch of land which was attached to the neighbouring shop. It had been left wild and overgrown for decades. It’s slightly sloping and south facing, with a high stone wall on three sides, and for 13 years I looked at it and thought, “I could plant a few vines there”. I could see an old vine trailing among the ivy at the bottom, too.

Last December the shopkeeper retired, and the shop was done up and re-let. We have the same landlord, so we flipped my fence and the land became attached to my shop.

and knees – and there are only 40. Imagine thousands! It makes you realise just how much work goes into a bottle of wine.

All the new vines did very well. They are now going into the dormant phase following “veraison”: well, of the stalks anyway – no grapes for a while. In January I have the heart-breaking and back-breaking job of cutting them right back to the second bud and watching them start again, but by the end of next year the roots should be well established. In year three we might have a few grapes, which will go in with Nick’s 4,000 litres.

It’s such a shame that it took 13 years to get hold of the land. Next year I will be drawing my state pension. I suppose I should start to think about thinking about having to sell up, but not for a while. I want a few vintages first.


I started clearing it in January this year, and in May put in 40 dry-rooted Bacchus. Why Bacchus? My daughter’s partner, Nick, has planted a few thousand vines for a client of his just down the road. They are on the edge of chalk lands so he planted a mix of Bacchus and Chardonnay. This year he had to buy a few more to fill some gaps, and I had the spares. My soil is rich and loose, so it had to be Bacchus. (Bacchus gf1 on SO 4 op31, for the grape geeks.)

Those are the working vines. I also have a Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Chasselas and a wild thing that looks like it should be Grenache, but these are more like pets. The old vine at the bottom is probably a Black Homberg that escaped from a greenhouse that was demolished 50 years ago the other side of the wall. It had looped and rerooted so is now three separate gnarly old vines.

There is now also a sizeable veggie plot which has provided me and a few local restaurants with all sorts of stuff: runner beans, courgettes, marrows, borlotti beans, tomatoes, kale, cauliflowers and, still to come, purple sprouting broccoli. It was a lovely summer, so I’d come in an hour early and potter before opening the shop.

It’s quite an education. When the Bacchus broke through the wax seals I had to choose the strongest shoot and cut off the rest. That took ages on my hands

I don’t expect the little vineyard will add value to the business, but it might make it more attractive to someone one day. I hope they let me come and potter once in a while in my dotage.

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A piece of Piemonte

The wines of Tacchino showcase everything that’s wonderful about the Alto Monferrato subregion. A group of independent merchants enjoy Dolcetto, Barbera and a sweet treat to round off a happy lunch

Tacchino is, arguably, the producer of one of Italy’s finest Dolcetto wines. Du Riva has been awarded the exclusive Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri every vintage since 2008. This alone makes a Tacchino lunch, at Wilding in Oxford, an irresistible treat.

Located in Alto Monferrato, Tacchino has the cachet of being based in a still relatively unknown part of Piemonte. From here the business delivers fine, aged wines at prices that can still be described as good value.

Co-hosted by UK importer Bancroft Wines and export manager Romina Tacchino, the event is a fabulously convivial affair. Tacchino and Bancroft have been working together for 18 years, and there’s an easy confidence between the two that sets the tone for a fantastic tasting.

The focus is on the estate’s Linea Elite red wines – Barbera and Dolcetto – which are comparatively new additions to the Bancroft portfolio. Current vintages for both wines reflect seven or eight years of wine ageing, making them unique Monferrato offerings.

Before the wines, a bit of background. Romina and her brother, Alessio, are the third generation at the azienda. It was their grandfather, Carletto Tacchino, who purchased the land in the early 20th century. When he died, his wife was forced to sell off some of the land, to support the young family he left behind. Happily, 40 years or so later, his son Luigi was able to buy back these plots, and today

the property extends to some 25 hectares, half of which are planted to vines.

Romina and Alessio have striven to show the potential of the Alto Monferrato and to shrug off the idea that they are in some way the poor relation to some of Piemonte’s more famous DOCGs.

Listening to Romina, it’s clear the approach at Tacchino is one of thoughtful innovation. They’re not reinventing the wheel; rather, using the resources at their disposal with care, and maximising the opportunities to shine at their brightest.

Romina says: “We are certain that our wines should be sold when they are ready to drink, and this means we are bringing to market wines that have several years of ageing.

“In my role as export manager, I have heard people saying that their wines needed to be aged for another two years before they would be ready for drinking. In my opinion, this is not correct … we should sell wines that are ready to be enjoyed now, and yes, with maybe the potential to keep for more years to come.”

Tacchino has challenged the Consorzio too, lobbying successfully for the use of screwcap on its (much enjoyed) Gavi di Gavi. Theirs was the first to use the closure in the DOCG. Romina is hoping to follow with screwcaps on the more entry-level Line Tralci red wines.

Alto Monferrato

Serious wines come from special terroir and Romina talks about Alto Monferrato’s unique qualities. “Our vineyards are close to the Ligurian sea; maybe 20 miles or so, and we have cooling sea breezes. The calcareous-clay soils are mostly white and there is a good amount of minerality in them.”

These qualities, and the undulating topography, give a unique feel to the Barbera and Dolcetto wines that come from here.

DOCG Dolcetto di Ovada

Superiore Du Riva

A reference to Carletto Tacchino’s nickname, Du Riva is a Dolcetto with star quality. We are treated to both the 2014 and soon-to-bereleased 2015 vintages.

It’s 100% Dolcetto di Ovada, from south west facing vines, planted in calcareous-clay soils. The wine is aged in 550-litre tonneaux for about two years, depending on the vintage.

Everyone’s agreed that this is Dolcetto like they’ve never tasted it before. That

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“We should sell wines that are ready to be enjoyed now, with maybe the potential to keep for more years to come”
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 45
Romina Tacchino with winemaker Mario Ronco


the wine is released with such a significant amount of age is impressive, at the price. “This was the wine I preferred – which I wasn’t expecting – as I felt it had good fruit and a quite complex finish,” says Ted Sandbach of The Oxford Wine Company.

“The makers clearly understand the grape and what it can achieve. That the wines have been released late must contribute to their roundness and softness.”

Holly Salt of Hay Wines in Ledbury adds: “I think the Dolcetto is really interesting, and it’s not what people might expect if they’ve had Dolcetto before. It’s a handsell wine but if you got a customer who is engaged and happy to try something new, then I think that it would sell really well.”

There’s lots of nodding agreement about the need to put the wines in front of customers, and also that the Dolcetto di Ovada is very much a gastronomic wine. “It is a wine that is very good with food, but not something that is too heavy … perhaps, for example, agnolotti,” suggests Tacchino.

A slightly geeky look at Dolcetto – and what makes it so brilliant at Tacchino

Dolcetto may sound all sweetness and light, but it can be a fickle variety to grow and prone to reduction in the winery. It’s also a variety with many biotypes, and Tacchino considers itself fortunate to have plantings of the clone known locally as Nibiò (aka Dolcetto del Peduncolo Rosso, and no relation to Nebbiolo).

Nibiò has smaller bunches and berries than its relations, and yields more richly fruited wines with more tannic structure than you might typically associate with Dolcetto. This clone doesn’t necessarily ripen well in more northerly Piemonte, but it shines in Alto Monferrato.

DOC Barbera del Monferrato Albarola

Albarola is 100% Barbera del Monferrato and, like the Du Riva, is aged for not less than two years in tonneaux.

There’s some chat at the table about whether the wines will age further, and as we get a chance to sample the 2011 against the 2014, the answer to the question is an emphatic yes. There is clear evidence of ongoing development, and the response to the wine is enthusiastic.

Razvan Barbulescu of Bristol independent Corks of Cotham says: “The Albarola Barbera wines were my favourites of the day, with both vintages showing great length, balance and well preserved fruit tones. I believe there is a good market for well-priced, ready-aged wines and good potential for these to be included [in our portfolio].”

As with Du Riva, Albarola is a food wine and has the structure to pair nicely with full-flavoured dishes and fattier meat dishes. Blue cheese or Toma Piemontese were also touted as potentially delicious pairings.

A refreshingly sweet finish It would be criminal to sign off without making mention of Tacchino’s DOCG Moscato d’Asti which wins fans as an aperitif, as it did with a fruit-topped crème brûlée. Lightly sweet and delicately sparkling, there was no doubting the wine’s potential appeal.

It is a happy gaggle of indies that spills out on to Oxford’s Little Clarendon Street as lunch and the tasting draw to a close. The credentials of Monferrato wines, and their ageing potential, are in no doubt.

Visit or for more information

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 46
Sponsored by Bancroft Wines Harvest time in Monferrato

Ihave long been deeply distrustful of numbers. They’re supposed to be truthful but they’re not. The important thing is that they don’t really exist, they’re humans layering on meaning and symbol to pattern. This gets annoyingly metaphysical pretty quickly so best leave it there unless I need a neat line to finish this Amazing Lunch.

Numbers first started messing me about in 1989. Great Aunt Ina and one of the many John Rennies gave me a fiver to buy a battered half-chicken-supperlunch (the Lunch in question this month. I actually always make these columns about Lunches, you know, however well hidden they are.) This makes me sound like I’m from a family who go around handing out fivers for deep fried lunches, and I’m not, I’ll have you know. This John Rennie was almost the Lord Provost of Aberdeen or something! Not that there’s anything wrong with being from a family which hands out fivers for deep-fried lunches. Some of my best fivers/lunches have been deep-fried/Lord Provosts.

I had “my fiver” in my chubby little seven-year-old hand and then I saw a necklace that was all glitzy in Esslemont & MacIntosh (ask your maw) for £3.99.

Can I have this glitzy necklace from Esslemont & MacIntosh, I asked my maw.

Well, you have the fiver that your Great Aunt Ina gave you for an atypical battered half-chicken-supper-lunch. Why don’t you use some of that money to buy the glitzy necklace?


Retail Guru Phoebe Weller of Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow can prove that £30 is actually more than £50. Confused? Don’t be, because numbers aren’t real £3.99 is one of those magic prices, known by Retail Gurus such as myself as a Magic Price, which sounds a lot less than it is. Even now in 2023 (look at it, all pink and gurgling!) when there is literally no money at all it is literally no money at all. £3.99? Hardly worth even buying. Is it even real the thing that I am buying, does it even exist?

Early on in my “retail career” I decided against 99p. Don’t treat the customers like fools, was my thinking, they know what

99p is. All our prices are rounded square: .75, .50, .25, all rounded squares and very appealing. Especially .50 – but .50 can really emphasise the pre-point. £13.50 might as well be a hundred pounds.

£12 is an excellent price, a mere bagatelle. Not as good as the increasingly elusive £10, although there’s something so dated about £10 these days. People probably think it’s an arbitrary number that should be £7.75 but you did the old Rounded Shunt.

£20 is pure classic, a classic wine shop price. “It’s £20, great, I’ll take another bottle, something about the £10 mark, what about this one, it’s £12.”. Perfect.

£30 is loads, actually more than £50. A thoughtful price, £30. I’ll think about that £30 bottle of wine, yes. “What about this one, it’s £50.” Perfect!

£50 is £50 is £50 – although if you’re going to spend £50 you might as well spend £100. One hundred pounds is really only accessible if there is no pound sign preceding it or mentioned. I’m looking for something about the £50 mark. “What about this one, it’s a hundred.” Perfect, I’ll take it.

£80 is a small fortune. £78 is literally all the money I have. But remember, numbers don’t really exist, which is handy.

Vineyards in the Hunter Valley

Ha ha! Thought I, of course! My vast fiver will extend both to a glitzy necklace and uncustomary battered half-chickensupper-lunch! Woe upon woe when I was handed my pitiful change by Esslemont or MacIntosh. There’s been some kind of mistake! You’ve only given me a pound and a penny! Oh hang on a moment …

The Vindependents tasting takes place on March 21
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 47

Foraging in France

It’s often remarked that wineproducing nations “keep the best stuff for themselves”, and that what we see in the UK, or other export destinations, doesn’t reflect the true breadth and excellence of what can be found in the country of origin.

Could that really be true of France, with its pre-eminent position at the quality end of the UK wine market, and its centuries-old association with our most distinguished importers? Surely, after all that time and effort, we can’t really be missing out on undiscovered gems?

Well, perhaps, and perhaps not; but France is a big country, and not every producer currently has an import partner in the UK.

That’s where Business France comes in. Every autumn it organises the French Connections tasting in London, part of a global initiative called Tastin’ France. It’s an opportunity to discover unrepresented producers, and to search out wines that have thus far eluded the UK’s independent merchants and sommeliers.

Could there be treats lurking this time around? Each visitor will have come away from the 2022 event with their own subjective take on that question; but here, for what it’s worth, are the wines that stood out for us on the day.

Champagne is always a good way to begin a tasting and the wines of DrémontMarroy, a family business in the heart of the Marne valley undergoing organic conversion, did not disappoint. Blanc de Méandre Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut has a real bite to it, its pared-down fruit balanced by a warm bready note. DrémontMarroy’s Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut is also enjoyably bracing.

Champagne did not have the monopoly on quality fizz, however. Domaine de la Bougrie, another family-owned producer, makes sustainable AOP Crémant de Loire wines as well as a selection of still wines that weren’t on show in London. Its zippy Extra Brut is perfectly poised, with apple and pear notes on the palate, while the Brut seems to have more of a mineral character, with a pleasing texture and a nutty finish.

One of the most alluring still wines from the Loire came courtesy of Domaine des Pierrettes in Rilly, another estate under organic conversion. Its Malbec, classified as AOC Touraine Amboise, displays a less showy side to the variety than we often experience in the UK, and could potentially find an appreciative audience in the independent trade.

Another house based in the Marne, Champagne Pannier, may age its wines in medieval cellars but its wines are thrillingly modern, its fresh Brut Selection standing out for its hint of salinity, and the Brut Rosé for its elegance and restraint.

Maison Colin Seguin, an interesting business working with a range of growers to produce AOP and Vins de France wines, brought along some stand-out wines. Roger Peguet Côte de Brouilly Chardignon is an energetic and invigorating example of modern Beaujolais.

Pas de Phyllades Syrah, meanwhile, a Vin de France from the Rhône made entirely from Syrah, is cool and elegant and nicely understated, with plum and damson notes. It’s exactly what some Barossa producers

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Sommelier Mattia Scarpezza led a sparkling wine masterclass
The French Connections tasting in London provides an annual opportunity to explore wines from producers who don’t yet have a presence in the UK market. Here’s our admittedly subjective run-down of the best in show from last autumn’s event

would love to be making, if nature permitted.

Another Rhône-sourced Vin de France that caught the eye was Chai Saint Olive Viognier Cuvée 812, made in an urban winery in Lyon. Structured and serious, with keen acidity, it has definite Viognier character without being too peachy or rich.

Château MontPlasir classifies its white as AOP Côtes du Rhône Villages. An organic blend of Marsanne, Piquepoul Blanc and Viognier, it’s silky and tinged with apricot, but there’s a savoury element too that makes the wine quite moreish.

Also from the Rhône, Domaine de Maslauris’s L’Inopiné Blanc, made with organically-grown Roussanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc from the Luberon, is opulent and exotic, with rounded fruit flavours and a lingering finish.

Some of the wines on show in London were exactly what you’d expect to be served by the glass in a classic family restaurant deep in the French countryside.

Domaine de Malartic Mosaic Dry White from Côtes de Gascogne is one such example, which is not to damn with faint praise. A blend of Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable citrus-infused quencher that demands to be drunk outdoors, ideally over a lazy lunch on a terrace with a view of the Pyrenees.

The south west of France was also represented by some impressive Bordeaux wines, and perhaps the star was La Tourbeille Le Sceptre, a Bordeaux Supérieur with 12 months of barrel ageing. There’s lovely Bordeaux depth here, and rich black cherry fruit, but also a racy acidity that will work its magic as the wine mellows with age.

Producers whose wines were on show in London


Champagne Drémont-Marroy Champagne Pannier Champagne Philippe Dechelle Champagne Vincent d’Astree


Domaine de la Bougrie Domaine des Pierrettes Maison Gandon



Maison Colin Seguin


Chai Saint Olive


Château de la Font du Loup Château MontPlaisir Domaine de Maslauris





Domaine de Malartic GASCOGNE Domaine Guillaman


Domaine de la Tourbeille Flavones Maison Le Star Vignobles & Châteaux Vignobles Fournier

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SPONSORED EDITORIAL On the hunt for undiscovered gems French Connections features wines from all across France

A new era for Jascots

Recent investment means the London on-trade specialist is ready to broaden its offer to UK independents

Jascots has traditionally been an independent on-trade specialist, specialising in hard-to-find, directly imported, domaine-bottled wine from around the world,” explains managing partner Miles MacInnes.

“We’re now owned by Freixenet Copestick, which gives us some financial clout and some shipping efficiencies. But sourcing still remains independent. We’re still looking for really high-quality wine at all different price points, where we think the value is really exceptional.”

At the moment, just 7% of turnover comes from sales to specialist independent merchants. “And we would like to grow that, because we have a product range that has almost no exposure in the off-trade as a whole, and absolutely no exposure in multiple retailers. From a product point of view, we think that is a really good proposition for indie retailers.”

MacInnes adds: “We’re very London focused; 90% of our on-trade business is in London. We would like to find partners who are wholesaling as well as retailing in other parts of the country, where currently our range has no exposure.”

Jascots has traditionally been strongest in French, Italian and Spanish wines, but this specialism is broadening.

“The acquisition by Freixenet Copestick has made deep-sea shipping more affordable,” says MacInnes. “So we’ve built strength now in Chile, Argentina and South Africa; and we have growing strength in Australia and in New Zealand.

“The specialism we have is in sustainable producers from around the world. We’ve got a very high proportion of organic and biodynamic wines. We represent many wineries that have not previously had exposure in the UK and which are not of a

scale to supply supermarkets.”

Independents who work with Jascots have access to the entire list, but won’t be embarrassed on price by other stockists, MacInnes insists. He points out that the client list includes more than 80 Michelin-rated restaurants.

“So if you’re an indie retailer, there’s a testimonial as to the quality of the wine based on who’s buying those wines already,” he says.

“And they are being sold out there for mark-ups that highlight the value in the retail trade, where there is very little exposure for our range, 80% of which is imported exclusively by us.”

Freixenet Copestick has recently invested in its own bonded warehouse in Brackley, which Jascots shares.

“We’ll be able to offer UK-based in-bond stock of our entire portfolio, which is an exciting development for us,” MacInnes says. “We can be a bit cleverer with our stock holding and also our picking, so we can give people lower minimum order quantities and we can split pallets. I think that’s going to be a really important part of our offer.”

Jascots is not the first supplier to turn its attention to the indies, having built its reputation in the on-trade. But MacInnes insists the company is serious about developing this new strand of its business, and not merely sheltering from the economic storm that’s battering restaurants and bars.

“It’s very much a long-term strategy for us,” he says. “Frankly, in previous times the

range was a bit limited, especially with new world wines – it’s expensive to ship from further afield. But as part of the new group, we’ve managed to reduce those costs quite significantly, so that indie retailers can now see we offer really good value.”

What does MacInnes think that Jascots’ on-trade customers would say about their experiences of working with the business?

“The three things we hold ourselves to are flexibility, speed and reliability,” he says. “There’s great margin potential in our range. The quality is really good; the story is really good. And the sustainability credentials of the wines are really good.

“As people, we’re very open; we are straight down the line. We want to know what we can do to help and we want to add value. And that’s why we’re approaching the market at this time, in a more meaningful way.

“We think we’ve got a few ideas about why we might be able to add value for indie retailers and wholesalers. But we always have both ears open, we really want to get feedback, understand what we can do that would be most valuable for those customers – and then we seek to deliver against that.”

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Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau

“The oldest Riesling winery in the world – wine has been made on the estate for 1,200 years. It’s always been very good but recently it has hit new heights. So very, very exciting, and making wines both dry and sweet.”

Alfred Gratien, Champagne

“It’s a really high-quality boutique Champagne house; they make 300,000 bottles a year. And it’s fermented in oak, one of the only Champagne houses besides Krug to do that. So it’s a bit different, it’s well priced, and it’s got real heritage.”

Garage Wine Company, Maule

“Garage is responsible for regenerating a lot of the rural area around its winery. They created a market for these beautiful wines, made from old vineyards that have been neglected, and they try to arrest that trend of the local community moving to cities to work for large corporates instead of working their own land. And the wines in the Garage range are sensational.”

Mastroberardino, Campania

“We were amazed at just how much popular support there is already for this family-owned winery. The wines they make are really on point in terms of what a lot of wine lovers are looking for now. It’s kind of Barolo in style for the reds, and then really nice fresh white wines as well.”

Luna Austral, Uco

“A relatively new biodynamic producer. They’re making really amazing wines with a fresher and more European style. We were the first to bring the wines into the country about two years ago. The owner is hugely passionate about Château Cheval Blanc. One of his principal reasons for setting up a winery was to grow Cabernet Franc there – and their Cabernet Franc is fantastic.”

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More than just desserts

The much-admired Sauternes producer Château Suduiraut has unveiled a trio of dry wines –and they are just as thrilling as the classic sweet wines on which its reputation was built

Château Suduiraut lies in the commune of Preignac, one of the five villages that make up the Sauternes appellation, south west of Bordeaux. Aside from the exceptionally gravelly vineyards planted mainly with Sémillon and a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc, the 17th century castle is also home to magnificent gardens designed by Le Nôtre.

Now Château Suduiraut has launched a range of new-wave dry wines to complement its classic Grand Vins Sauternes, and its “second” wine, Castelnau de Suduiraut.

This is a major development for the estate, whose prized dessert wines ensured it was awarded Premier Cru status in the 1855 classification, and a decision that will enable its winemaker and technical director, Pierre Montégut, to harness the potential of the vineyards beyond the sweet treasures he already produces.

When it comes to classic Sauternes wines, every vintage is in the hands of mother nature. Not every year produces conditions conducive to noble rot. That might sound like a disaster for a Sauternes producer, but it presents an opportunity for Montégut and his team, who have always recognised the opportunity to create highly individual dry white wines from this Grade A terroir.

There has also been significant investment in the winemaking techniques and winery equipment to enable this evolution of diverse wine styles from selected vineyard parcels, and the modernising of the dessert wine style to appeal to younger palates – and pockets.

The new range includes the subtle re-naming of the Blanc Sec de Suduiraut, which has now become Lions de Suduiraut Bordeaux Blanc Sec. Conceived in 2015, this dry white wine with a generous, fresh and fruit-driven style is crafted from a specific terroir in the vineyard with fine, sandy gravel deposits, where the vines are on average 20 years old.

These are the same plots that produce the château’s lighter liquoreux wine, Lions de Suduiraut Sauternes. The Lions de

Suduiraut range now comes in two versions, a dry and a sweet, both with a unique style and personality: generous, bright, fresh and more rapidly accessible when young than the great wines.

Crafted in small quantities from a terroir ranked as a Sauternes Premier Cru in 1855, Château Suduiraut Vieilles Vignes Grand Vin Blanc Sec was created in 2020. The blend, mainly Sémillon rounded off with Sauvignon Blanc, results from a selection of fruit from old vines, whose average age is 45 years, from a small area dating back to 1855 in the heart of the property.

The year 2020 also saw the production of Château Suduiraut Pur Sémillon Grand Vin Blanc Sec, a 100% Sémillon created by AXA Millésimes’ managing director Christian Seely in partnership with Montégut. Another limited-edition wine made from strict selection of the best batches of fruit, it is a classic expression of Sémillon, which is so suited to the coarse gravel and sand of the estate.

“Since the launch of our first S de Suduiraut in 2004,” says Christian Seely, “we have been discovering the full potential of the 1er Cru Sauternes terroir of Château Suduiraut for producing top quality dry white wines with personality.

“We feel that the time is right for a strategic reorientation of our wine production to reflect this potential. Therefore, our three new dry white wine labels replace what has gone before and will be the basis for the future.

“Of course, the production of great vin liquoreux of the highest quality will be given the same priority as it has always been at Château Suduiraut. The Grand Vin Château Suduiraut Sauternes will continue to be made from the finest botrytised grapes from old vines at the heart of the estate’s vineyard. But we also believe the production of highly individual dry whites of the finest quality is a vital element in the future of this historic property.”

Published in association with Château Suduiraut Wines are available via négociants

For more information visit

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All images © Château Suduiraut and by, clockwise from top left: Serge Chapuis; Jean-Pierre Lamarque; Emma Tournier; Taylor & Yandell Christian Seely Pierre Montégut

Eight talking points for Australian wine

1. La Niña cuts the 2022 vintage down to size

After years in which drought, heat and fire were the abiding concerns for Australian producers, both the 2021 and the 2022 vintages were very much shaped by a La Niña weather pattern, which brought abundant spring and early-summer rain and generally cooler temperatures across the country’s main growing regions. The 2021-2022 growing season was the more challenging of the two, with the wettest November in Australia since records began (in 1900) contributing to a much lower crop than the bountiful 2020-2021: at an estimated 1.73 million tonnes, the crush was down by 13.5% on 2021, and by 2% on the 10-year average. According to Wine Australia, the lower yield wasn’t all about the weather, however. “Restricted winery tank capacity, together with reduced global demand and prices for red wines may have resulted in wineries and growers reducing overall production and/or intake of grapes,” the organisation said in its vintage report.

2. Exports take a knock, but there’s a silver lining “It will come as no surprise to many of you”, said Wine Australia chair, Louise Allan, in her introduction to the 2021-2022 Wine Australia Annual Report published back in September 2022, “that the Australian grape and wine sector has faced continuing unprecedented challenges throughout 2021-22.” Some of those challenges are far from being unique to Australia, notably the lingering effects of Covid 19, the war in Ukraine, and rising inflation, although the sheer distance to its main markets has meant the country has suffered more than most from the stillongoing global freight crisis. What is unique to Australia, however, is the punitive tariffs imposed on Australian wine exports to mainland China (up to 218.4% on bottled wine) which have had a predictably dire effect on sales in one of the country’s main markets, and which have sent total Australian wine exports tumbling 19% in value to A$2.08bn. On the bright side, value is actually up by 5% if you strip out the Chinese market; and the depreciation of the Australian dollar has made it much easier for Australian producers to compete on price.

3. Could the trade deal boost sales in the UK?

At first glance, the numbers don’t look all that good for Australian wine over the past year in the UK: according to Wine Australia, shipments to the UK were down by 14% to in value to A$395m and by 12% in volume to 222 million litres. That many Australian exporters don’t seem unduly concerned by the dramatic drop – and had, in fact, been anticipating it – is down to two factors. First, many importers stocked up on Australian wine during the transition period after the Brexit vote and ahead of the official departure date on December 31, 2020. Second, Australia, which sells most of its wine in the UK through the off-trade, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the swing from on- to off-trade during the pandemic.

As life in the UK turned to its post-Brexit, post-pandemic “new normal”, a correction was inevitable. The hope is that the absence of wine tariffs in the post-Brexit UK-Australia trade deal signed in July 2021 will provide a boost to both sales and the number and range of Australian producers present in the UK market in the next few years.

4. The rise of Australia’s natural wine fringe

According to the influential Australia-based wine writer, Max Allen, “the number of producers who today identify as natural or are a bit natural-ish or tick a lot of the natural boxes is uncountable” in Australia. Allen is one of many Australian wine observers who believe the anarchic movement, which began to emerge Down Under in the late 2000s, has been an overwhelming net positive, injecting some much-needed creativity and wildness into an Australian wine scene that had, with some noble exceptions, become aridly corporate and big brand-oriented. It took a while for the fruits of the Aussie natural scene to arrive on these shores – and much of it is still consumed via domestic cellar doors and wine bars. But the best – including Jauma, Luke Lambert, Koerner and Charlotte Dalton – have done an enormous amount to pep up Australia’s image in the UK and surely represent an even bigger share of its future.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 55 Continues overleaf
David Williams takes stock of a country which sometimes gets taken for granted in the UK, but where climate, viticultural choices and consumer trends are all gradually reshaping the landscape

Australia leads ‘rest of the world’

5. Sales are growing on the secondary market

While the arrival of the new, natural (and naturalish) wave of producers has offered a challenge to Australia’s established top fine wines at home, those same top wines still have the feel of being insurgents on the international fine wine scene. Progress, however, is palpable, with Australia’s finest now significant players in the world’s auctions and secondary markets. According to Livex, the country remains the leader of what it calls the “Rest of the World” secondary market, which is effectively wines from outside the dominant trio of France, Italy and California. In 2021 it had 36.2% of the RoW wines traded on the Liv-ex platform, putting it ahead of Spain (26.1%) and Germany (16.5%). And while China’s punitive tariffs affected fine-wine trading as much as the rest of Australian wine sales, Liv-ex singled out Henschke Mount Edelstone, Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz, Clarendon Hills Australis and Torbreck The Laird as wines with a rapidly growing secondary market following. Meanwhile, the biggest Australian name of all, Penfolds Grange, has cemented its reputation as one of the world’s most in-demand wines. The bottle of 1951 bought by a Sydney collector in 2021 for A$142,131 was, at time of writing, the most expensive bottle of Australian wine ever sold.

6. Old vines are a trump card for Australia

Old vines are a big deal at the moment. Some serious momentum is building behind initiatives such as Old Vines Conference, the international campaign dedicated to recognising, logging, understanding and protecting what the trade now understands is among its most precious resources. And there’s a real sense that consumers have grasped the idea of vieilles vignes as a quality cue. It’s hard to think of a country better placed to take advantage of this trend than Australia, which has long been setting the pace when it comes to looking after its old-vine heritage. Introduced in 2009, the Barossa Valley’s Old Vine Charter has set the template for much of what is happening elsewhere in the world by organising the region’s quite astonishing collection of old vines into four distinct categories: old vines (35 years old or more), survivor vines (70+ years old), centurion vines (100+ years old) and ancestor vines (125+ years old). With similarly old stocks producing some of the best wines in, among other places, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley in South Australia, Rutherglen, the Goulburn Valley and the Grampians in Victoria, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Swan Valley in Western Australia, this is one area in which Australian wine trumps Europe for historical depth.

Penfolds Grange has cemented its reputation as one of the world’s most in-demand wines. The bottle of 1951 bought for A$142,131 was the most expensive bottle of Australian wine ever sold

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Old vines in the Barossa Valley Mount Edelstone fetches impressive prices

Wendy Stimpson

Passel Estate Margaret River

We didn’t expect to buy the vineyards. It was more of a look-see, but we fell in love and made the decision to buy. I’m from England and my husband is from South Africa’s Cape winelands. We dreamt of making our own wine. We were maybe a little crazy, opening our cellar door at the same time as we launched our inaugural 2015 vintage, before we had sold a single bottle.

We currently have 6.8 hectares of vineyard, a handful of miles from the ocean, which brings important cooling breezes. Our viticulturalist, Andy Ferreira, describes the vineyards as having “Christmas cake” soils: a reference to the gravelly/loam surface, clay, and granite underneath.

It was our rockstar winemaker, Bruce Dukes, who suggested Ferreira to us. Bruce is just brilliant. He has experience of making world-class wines in Napa Valley and Australia and is extremely passionate. He loves the soils at Passel and knows this is the starting point for great wines. He is a humble and simply fabulous person.

We work sustainably and currently have winery certification, with vineyard accreditation coming soon. We also have a conservation project that’s very dear to us. The western ringtail possums are an at-risk species that we’re working

Chardonnay 2018

A near perfect vintage with a long, warm ripening season. The Chardonnay is a stunning reflection of the year with voluminous white orchard fruit, toasted nuts, and pristine acidity.

Silver medal, Decanter World Wine Awards 2022; Silver medal, International Wine Challenge 2021

hard to protect. We’ve installed soft release enclosures alongside the creek line, to enable the possums’ successful rehabilitation at the property. Our vineyards are surrounded by jarrah, red gum, peppermint, and ancient grass trees. Here the possums find shelter and have a chance to thrive. We love our local possums, and they are not a threat to the vines. We’re more likely to lose fruit to birds and kangaroos.

If it needs saying, it is the western ringtail possum that has inspired the winery name.

Our philosophy is to make wines that are the purest expression of our “passion paradise”. We make elegant, balanced, fruit-driven, single-variety wines that reflect both their terroir and the individuality of the vintage.

We have historically used Syrah on the Reserve wine label and Shiraz on the Estate. However, moving forward both wines will be called Syrah, to reflect their elegant Margaret River, and Rhôneinspired, style.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

The team did well to hold their nerve in this challenging vintage. The fruit has fantastic concentration and balance. Pristine red fruits lead to a savoury palate laced with graphite, blueberries and cedar.

Gold medal, Decanter World Wine Awards 2020; Gold medal, Australia & New Zealand Boutique Wine Show 2021

Passel: The collective noun for the Australian possum. It is also the name of an exciting young Margaret River estate, whose wines are arriving in the UK for the first time, imported by Frederick’s Wine Company.

For the future we are making plans for a traditional-method sparkling Chenin Blanc. It’s a few years away yet, but an exciting part of our ideas for expansion.

Margaret River’s terroir isn’t just about the soil beneath out feet, it’s also the local community. We are blessed to be in an area where the quality of the wines is so high. We’ve had a good deal of support from our neighbours, including some of the more famous estates. Our wines are beautifully made and have elegance and purity. We are something of a hidden gem, a small, family-owned winery with a passion for our single-variety Margaret River wines.

Lot 71 Reserve Syrah 2017

From select rows of hand-picked fruit. Tense and brooding. Red cherries, anise, and savoury spice. The wine has a bristling structure and texture, awash with minerality and eastern spices.

Silver medal, Decanter World Wine Awards 2022; Silver medal, Australia & New Zealand Boutique Wine Show 2021

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Australia’s new wine frontiers

7. Grenache can stand the heat

One variety that has benefited from the interest in old vines is Grenache, which was among the first varieties planted in the early days of Australian wine, and which accounts for some of the oldest working vines in Barossa and McLaren Vale. After years in which plantings declined dramatically, it has returned to popularity in the past decade. And while it still only accounts for some 1.1% of the total Australian vineyard (1.7% of total reds), its renewed reputation is reflected in the price per tonne of grapes, which went from A$577 in 2014 to $986 in 2019, with the average price of McLaren Vale Grenache actually eclipsing that of Shiraz for the first time in 2020.

The fashion for Grenache is partly explained by its ability to make fragrant, Pinot-esque wines in extreme heat; it’s also a key ingredient in the increasingly popular GSM blend – although intriguingly the name behind the “S” is not quite as predictable as it once was. While many merchants (and supermarket buyers) insist that Aussie Shiraz remains as popular as ever, it’s a curious

fact that many Australian producers are switching to Syrah on their labels to signal a more northern Rhône-like, cooler-climate style.

8. The rise of the Riverland

The Riverland is to Australia what the Languedoc-Roussillon is to France: the unglamorous hot heartland of production that tends to get overlooked when the quality hierarchy is drawn up. But while Riverland remains at the heart of most South East Australia-labelled brands, accounting for 30% of the annual Aussie crush (versus the 4% of the Yarra and the 2% of the Barossa), it’s also, like southern France, home to some of the country’s most creative and inventive producers, many of them working with unusual varieties (Nero d’Avola, Lagrein, Vermentino, Zibibbo) and natural (or naturalish) techniques. Brash Higgins, Deliquente and Unico Zelo are among the names to look out for from this “new Riverland”.

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Vineyards in the Riverland

While the Clare Valley is quite a small region, it has a very diverse and wideranging microclimates, largely due to the huge diurnal temperatures. With desert to the north and the ocean to west, the north-south valleys forged by the three ranges create unique pockets of weather and temperature, due to elevation, sun exposure, orientation and location in the valley. The sub-regions of the Clare Valley are often talked about, but they have never been ratified even though within these areas there is a lot of diversity.

Kilikanoon was founded on ripe and concentrated styles of wine that showed bold and structured varietal expressions. We enjoyed a lot of success with these wines and won many accolades. As Kilikanoon has grown, we have focused our energies in the Clare Valley and diversified our plantings. Kilikanoon has maintained its tradition of full and rich wines while paying attention to the modernising palate of wine lovers by developing more flowing styles – focusing more on the fruit and the unique place it is from. Each of the wines crafted has a distinct personality, one which is reflective of the season, the vineyard and the Kilikanoon style.

“Powerful elegance” is a phrase often heard at the cellar door. This contradiction in terms for me talks to the evolution that Kilikanoon is continually going through. Maintaining such a high standard of quality while transitioning the house style, and still paying homage to the vineyards, is a difficult balancing act – but one that is at the core of our winemaking.

The winemaking world is a small place that is amazingly interconnected. Sharing wines and ideas is the best way to inspire and open your eyes and palate to what is possible and what may be

interesting to further experiment with. The Kx range is the “sandbox” for this purpose. The true value of this sandbox is that if one of our visions is able to be created, then replicated and then celebrated, it will transition to find a home within the Kilikanoon core stable.

Climate change is very evident in the Clare Valley. Drought years in 2019 and 2020 saw harvest commence in early February and we had to get the fruit picked before the rapid ripening of the grapes spoiled the season. In 2022, with a prolonged, cooler summer and higher than average rainfall, the harvest began three weeks later, with many of the traditionally later-ripening red varieties stalling in their sugar production and having to be picked with lower than usual Brix/baume.

Kilikanoon has engaged in numerous sustainability practices over the previous decade which has positioned the company well, as it is now a member of the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia group, which is regulated and furthered by the Australian Wine Research Institute. The winery has highly efficient solar collection, and collects all of its wastewater, and treats it before it’s used to irrigate the vineyards.

The Clare Valley, and Kilikanoon, is renowned in Australia for Riesling. It also produces some of the most highly scored and acclaimed reds that often go unsung. With famed traditional varietals and icon blends originating from this small region for many years, there has been a true utilisation of the region’s diverse climate, soil and aspects to plant more emerging varieties that have found a home in the Australian wine lover’s consciousness. From soft and supple Grenache to varietal spiced Mourvèdre, the region is using its uniqueness to craft wines with their own identity. Kilikanoon

Killerman’s Run Shiraz

Crafted from parcels of Shiraz from the length of the valley, displaying fruit concentration from slow-ripening grapes due to our warm growing days and very cool nights. The rich variety and balance achieved from using different vineyards creates a wine that is softly layered with a rich depth of fruit; complex without being challenging.

Mort’s Block Riesling

One of the pillars on which Kilikanoon was built. Situated next to the winery, this vineyard is closely monitored throughout the season. Bunches ripen slowly on the west-facing slope. There’s a purity of fruit that retains a bright tension from a natural mineral acidity that carries the complementary flavour long on the finish.

Peter Warr Kilikanoon Clare Valley

is a very much part of this, and as we continue to push the style of our wines we hope to educate and show people at home, and abroad, the beauty and potential of the Clare Valley.

Prodigal Grenache

With some of the widest plantings of Grenache in the valley, this utilises some of our finest fruit. A true expression of what the variety can do in the cooler, higher altitude vineyards. Blue fruits are at the core of wine. An alluring softer and supple style of Grenache that is finding a lot of favour among critics and consumers.

Kilikanoon was founded by Kevin Mitchell in 1997 in the hamlet of Penwortham. Its wines are loved for their power, elegance, generous fruit, excellent acid structure and exceptional length. Imported by Mentzendorff
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Winetraders UK: Everything but the Boot

The importer will be marking its 30th anniversary with a tasting that offers a glimpse of everything but Italy, the country with which it is most associated.

Winetraders has worked to champion undiscovered, artisan winemakers and signed up producers from Spain, Australia, Germany and Peru.

Names such as Cornelissen, Miani, Inama and Massa have all been introduced to the UK market by the company.


Monday, January 23

67 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5ES

Louis Latour Agencies Tasting

This is the importer’s 34th tasting and, as always, an illustrious line-up of wines will be on show.

These include offerings from SimonnetFebvre, Banfi, McHenry Hohnen, Pyramid Valley, Smith & Sheth and Champagne Gosset, along with Cognac Frapin and Cobalte vodka.

A Vidal-Fleury masterclass with Antoine Dupré will highlight developments since he took over as winemaker. This will be followed by a Cognac Frapin masterclass with Thomas Soret, who will be joined by tea specialist Jameel Lalani.


Wednesday, January 25

The Haberdashers’ Hall 18 West Smithfield London EC1A 9HQ

Vin French Wines Tasting

Vin is a new French wine tasting covering all the appellations from Champagne to Corsica, the Loire to Provence and everywhere in between.

More than 45 French producers will be showcasing their wines at this event, which will be a great opportunity to try wines seeking UK representation and also talk to the producers who already have wines in the UK market.

For more details contact pandora.

Thursday, February 2

Lindley Hall

Royal Horticultural Halls 80 Vincent Square London SW1P 2PB

Jascots Portfolio Tasting

The team will be pouring over 200 wines from their premium list of producers from around the world, many of whom will be there on the day.

The tasting will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions.

Jascots made its name as an independent supplier to the London on-trade, including a number of top restaurants. Now, as part of the Freixenet Copestick group, it is broadening its horizons into the specialist end of the off-trade and building its business with independents.

To register for the tasting or classes, email

Tuesday, February 7

Westminster Chapel Buckingham Gate London SW1E 6BS

Austrian Trade Tasting

The Austrians are back in London and will be showcasing wines from more than 100 wineries.

This walk-around tasting will be a chance to revisit familiar names already available in the UK and discover those seeking representation.

There will be four masterclasses, though details of the themes were not available as The Wine Merchant went to press.

To register, for more information or to book a place on a masterclass, contact Victoria Medved. Email: event@

Monday, February 6

Illuminate,The Science Museum Exhibition Road London SW7 2DD

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 60

New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Tasting

This is the largest selection of New Zealand wines to taste under one roof.

There is as always a wide range of varieties and regions to discover, as well as the latest releases.

This year’s event will also feature wines that made the cut in The Wine Merchant’s New Zealand Top 50, as listed in the supplement published with the January edition.

To register, email

Tuesday, February 7

Lindley Hall

Royal Horticultural Halls 80 Vincent Square London SW1P 2PB

Top Selection Portfolio Tasting

More than 250 wines will be poured at this year’s event, which will feature some newcomers to the London-based importer’s portfolio.

Top Selection sources its wines from smaller, family-owned wineries across Europe and the new world.

These include Weingut Egon Muller, named best fine wine producer in Europe at the inaugural Golden Vines Awards; Charles Krug in the Napa Valley; SaintÉmilion Grand Cru Estate Château Trianon; and boutique Tuscan winery Villa Saletta. Register at

Tuesday, February 7

IET London 2 Savoy Place London WC2R 0BL

Fells Annual Portfolio Tasting

Fells predicts its 2023 portfolio tasting will be “one of the most exciting ever”, with a record number of its familyowned wine producers attending.

These include Philippe Guigal, Rupert Symington, Miguel Torres, Robert HillSmith, Jean-Frédéric and Charlotte Hugel, Francesco Ricasoli, Ricardo Tedeschi, Bruce Tyrrell, Eric Wente and Mike Ratcliffe of Vilafonté.

In addition to two masterclasses – one hosted by Robert Hill-Smith of Yalumba and Mike Ratcliffe – the tasting will include a number of food matching partnerships including Henriot Champagne with oysters; Barbadillo Manzanilla sherry with acornfed, dry-aged Jamón ibérico, provided by Brindisa; Pastel de Natas matched with Graham’s 20 year old Tawny; and Rococo dark chocolate truffles matched with Graham’s Six Grapes.

To register, visit

Tuesday, February 21

IET London

2 Savoy Place London WC2R 0BL


Portfolio Tasting

The E&C tasting is always a big draw for independents. This year’s event features a panel discussion co-hosted with the Sustainable Wine Roundtable.

For more information contact ej.bailey@

Monday, February 27

The Brewery 52 Chiswell Street London EC1Y 4SD

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 61
Anyone who stocks French wines can make new discoveries at Vin on February 2


12-14 Denman Street London W1D 7HJ 0207 409 7276

Louis Latour Agencies Annual Tasting

25th January 2023 at The Haberdashers’ Hall, London EC1A 9HQ

Join us and our visiting producers for the year’s most comprehensive tasting of wines and spirits from the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio. To register, please scan the QR code.

Vidal-Fleury masterclass with Antoine Dupré Meet Antoine Dupré on his first visit to the UK as Vidal-Fleury’s new winemaker for a tasting tour of the Rhône Valley and a look at the 2021 vintage. Antoine will discuss his working philosophy and highlight developments since he took over.

Cognac Frapin masterclass with Thomas Soret

Thomas will be joined by tea specialist Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co, in a talk and tasting which pairs Frapin’s single estate Cognacs with teas from the Huang family garden in Taiwan.

Our brands Still wines: Louis Latour, Simonnet-Febvre, Vidal-Fleury, Michel Redde, Château Sainte Roseline, Château des Demoiselles, Banfi, Morgenhof Estate, Isonto, McHenry Hohnen, Wakefield Wines, Pyramid Valley, Smith & Sheth, Smith & Co and Viu Manent. Sparkling wines & spirits: Champagne Gosset, Simonnet-Febvre, Cognac Frapin and Cobalte Vodka.

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hatch mansfield New Bank House 1 Brockenhurst Road Ascot Berkshire SL5 9DL 01344 871800
@hatchmansfield THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 SUPPLIER BULLETIN

Discover Navajas

Founded in 1918, Bodegas Navajas is a family-owned winery in the village of Navarrete, Rioja Alta. They own 30 hectares of their own vineyards and work closely with a further network of small growers in order to produce 2 million bottles a year.

What sets Navajas apart from many other Rioja producers is their attention to detail during every stage of the winemaking process; from monitoring the 150ha of their growers’ vineyards in Rioja Alta, to hand-harvesting grapes and vinifying them in their state-of-the-art winery.

The resulting wines are made in a classic Rioja style with intense red and black fruit in younger vintages, developing meaty, herbal flavours with age. These wines offer exceptional value for money.

gonzalez byass uk The Dutch Barn Woodcock Hill Coopers Green Lane St Albans AL4 9HJ 01707 274790 @gonzalezbyassuk VIEW OUR DIGITAL PRODUCT CATALOGUE ON YOUR PHONE Be part of the growing No&Low trend with Vilarnau 0.0 sparkling 32% of UK adults have limited/reduced their alcohol intake in the last 12 months* * Mintel, UK Attitudes Towards Low- and No-Alcohol Drinks Market Report 2022 SUPPLIER BULLETIN walker & Wodehouse 109a Regents Park Road London NW1 8UR 0207 449 1665 @WalkerWodehouse
more information, contact your Account Manager THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 64

jeroboams trade

7-9 Elliott's Place London N1 8HX 020 7288 8888 @jeroboamstrade @hnwines

hallgarten wines

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 65
Mulberry House Parkland Square 750 Capability Green Luton LU1 3LU 01582 722 538

Two new Australian whites for winter drinking

New to our list this month are two exciting white wines from Peter Lehmann Wines and SC Pannell. These richer, textured styles display lovely aromatic complexity as well as the body and structure to match the more robust flavours of winter dining.

The team at Peter Lehmann have added a Chardonnay to their popular “The Barossan” range, which showcases the outstanding fruit sourced from the many fabled sub-regions across the Barossa Valley, from a selection of key growers renowned for their quality and skill. Made from old plots of carefully tended vines on the Barossa Valley floor and part-fermented in French and American oak hogsheads, the Chardonnay has a lifted peach and nectarine character, seasoned with nutmeg and toasted almonds.

From “rockstar” winemaker Stephen Pannell comes the “Fifi” Fiano – one of Italy’s oldest cultivars that is very well suited to the McLaren Vale’s Mediterranean climate. Also partially fermented in oak, this complex and medium-bodied white is brimming with the fresh flavours of stone fruits, white currant, gooseberry, elderflower cordial and chamomile.

These wines and more from across our Australian portfolio will be available to taste at the Wine Australia annual trade tasting in London on January 24. We hope to see you there!

Luna Gaia Grillo ‘Agramarte’ 2021

Luna Gaia Zibibbo ‘Maganza’ 2021

Luna Gaia Nerello Mascalese ‘Logistical’ 2021

liberty wines 020 7720 5350 @liberty_wines richmond wine agencies The Links, Popham Close Hanworth Middlesex TW13 6JE 020 8744 5550 @richmondwineag1 THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 66 Three new biodynamic wines from our Italian producer Cantina Orsogna have arrived!
All have an RRP of £14.95. Please contact us for more details.

BERKMANN wine cellars

104d St John Street London EC1M 4EH 020 7609 4711

@berkmannwine @berkmann_wine

buckingham schenk

Unit 5, The E Centre

Easthampstead Road Bracknell RG12 1NF 01753 521336

@BuckSchenk @buckinghamschenk

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 67
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 68 SUPPLIER BULLETIN Fells Fells House, Station Road Kings Langley WD4 8LH 01442 870 900 For more details about these wines and other wines from our awardwinning portfolio from some of the world’s leading wine producing families contact: @FellsWine je_fells top selection 23 Cellini Street London SW8 2LF Contact: Alastair Moss Telephone: 020 3958 0744 @topselectionwines @tswine

“Great complexity on the nose, displaying pronounced caraway spice and herbal gentian aromas, supported by a touch of petrol and nut oil. The palate is equally appealing, with a lovely balance between the unctuous, syrupy mouthfeel and lifted, tangy acidity.” 96 points

international wine and spirits challenge 2021 Mentzendorff Kummel

Introducing the new look for Mentzendorff Kummel. Our much-loved liqueur is returning to its original bottle shape, in celebration of 200 years since the birth of our founder, Ludwig Mentzendorff. The bottle may have adopted a classic yet modern look, however, the carraway based liqueur remains the same. Mentzendorff Kummel is distilled by Combier Distiller in the Loire Valley in their world famours stills designed by Gustave Eiffel. For

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 69
Street London
020 7840 3600
more information, please contact your Mentzendorff Account Manager
AWIN BARRATT SIEGEL WINE AGENCIES 28 Recreation Ground Road Stamford Lincolnshire PE9 1EW 01780 755810 @ABSWines AUSTRALIA TRADE TASTING 2023 24th Jan Visit the ABS stand at the The annual Australia Day Tasting is back for 2023, and we’re looking forward to pouring our Aussie favourites for you. Whether you’re looking for cool climate fizz, aromatic varietals, blockbuster reds or simply want to try Australia’s renowned Rutherglen muscats, you’ll find them all on the Awin Barratt Siegel table. Contact your account manager for more information
THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 70 SUPPLIER BULLETIN They’re all smiles to your face …
Helfrich Wines 1, rue Division Leclerc, 67290 Petersbach, France 07789 008540 @FamilleHelfrich


Cliff Roberson London Cru and Roberson Wine

favourite player is Martin Chivers.

Who’s your favourite music artist?

Lou Reed. My favourite album of his is Transformer. I’ve seen him play many. many times.

Any superstitions?

Throwing salt over my shoulder … and I see a pin and always pick it up, as my mother did before me.

Who’s your favourite wine writer?

Peter Stafford-Bow. He takes the piss out of a lot of things that are close to home, an industry I know well and one that is partial to taking itself way too seriously. He’s very very funny.

Give us a Netflix or TV recommendation. The Inbetweeners.

Which historical figure would you like to meet and what would you ask them? Alexander the Great. “What do you make of all this?”

What’s your most treasured possession? My life.

What’s your proudest moment?

Planting trees in memory of my son.

What’s your biggest regret?

Cliff Roberson has worked in the wine trade for nearly 60 years. He’s sold wine to Dalí, Rockefeller and Warhol while working for Sherry Lehmann in New York. Château Lascombes was home in the 60s while exporting wine for Alexis Lichine. In 1972 he started Buckingham Vintners, importing bulk wine to sell to UK supermarkets. He developed London’s first urban winery, London Cru, having seen similar in the US. In 2017 he bought 40 acres of the Kentish Weald in memory of his son Luke. So far he’s planted over 4,000 trees.

What’s the first wine you remember drinking?

A claret. I was 16 and working in Peter Dominic’s wine shop in Worthing. It tasted like rubbish.

What job would you be doing if you weren’t in the wine trade?

I’d have been involved in music, in a band or behind the scenes.

How do you relax? That’s personal.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen. A fascinating story, brilliantly told. Marx was an interesting fella, lived in exile here in London for 30-odd years during politically turbulent times. He wrote most of his stuff in the British Museum library.

Do you have any sporting loyalties? Tottenham. I was born pretty much next door to the ground; they are my team. My

I try not to regret anything, but possibly giving up the Roberson shop in Kensington.

Any hidden talents?

Probably, but I don’t know where they are.

What’s your favourite place in the UK? Home. I live in Wraysbury and have done for 40 years. It’s where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago, near a 2,500-year-old yew tree. It’s where I and my family grew up and it’s full of all the memories of who I am and who I have been. It is beautiful. I overlook fields and it’s very easy on the eye.

If you could have a wish come true, what would it be?

That people were not so infinitely stupid. I include myself in that.

THE WINE MERCHANT january 2023 71
“My first wine was a Peter Dominic claret. It tasted like rubbish”
Cliff Roberson (right) with brother Sidney

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