THE WINE MERCHANT.
An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 34, March 2015
There’s a reason why our sales people aren’t too pushy
New stores help indies to hit £506m sales high
Sales in the independent trade have broken the £500m barrier, according to exclusive research carried out by The Wine Merchant. up 4.8% on last year’s total of £483.2 million. The figure is ahead of the Consumer Price Index at 1.46% and the wine duty rise of 2.47%. The market is now worth £506.5 million, was down marginally from £681,997 to £673,583. they are “very optimistic” about the chances of a sales increase in the coming year – compared to 50% last time. Forty-seven per cent are “fairly optimistic”, it’s likely they will open one or more new 11% in 2014. Wholesaling and online sales are Fifteen per cent of independents say Forty-two per cent of respondents say
Why are independents suddenly less credit worthy?
4 comings & GOINGS
exactly the same figure as reported last year.
We don’t need wharfs but we like pubs and cafés
6 tried & TESTED
as a result of new entrants in the market, per shop has dipped slightly.
because average turnover per business and that average sales per business slid from The Wine Merchant reader survey shows
The growth has been achieved principally
branches in the coming year, compared to contributing less to independent turnover than a year ago, the survey found. • More survey analysis starts on page 18.
Some star picks from a frenzy of February trade tastings
9 merchant profile
The Naked Grape: shops don’t get much more independent
16 david williams
£927,517 to £920,971. The figure per store
Reviewing Robert Parker live in concert in London
26 SMALL WORLD
A new feature with generic news from near and far
36 GUEST COLUMN
Julie Frankland praises the WSET Diploma
37 SUPPLIER BULLETIN
Essential updates from leading agents and importers
43 make a date
Hattingley Valley is one of dozens of English wine producers already doing good business with independent merchants and hoping to make more progress during this year’s English Wine Week. Retailers discuss the category from pages 28 to 32.
A couple of April tastings for your diary
that the company’s percentage of cash factor in its regrading. “We’ve just done a successful bank loan
compared to total liabilities had been a and selling wine does,” he says. “We
manage stock carefully but need to have
“Cash doesn’t make any profit, buying
application and it’s not caused us any credit.”
problems, so no, there are no issues of
stock to sell it. Our debtor list is really good quality and we pay our suppliers well so and people, but Creditsafe penalises us stock.” “We invest heavily in stock, premises we don’t need to have huge cash reserves. for it and banks won’t lend money on the security of our main asset, which is our Robertson insists: “Our new enhanced Creditsafe’s UK managing director Chris
looking to expand their businesses coming up against a brick wall when applying for the overarching business indicators are positive. A report by rival credit rating agency
But the issue could see some retailers
bank loans or other funding at a time when
Wine shop credit ratings ‘junked’
Revised credit ratings for independent wine merchants could threaten relationships with suppliers and jeopardise traders’ expansion plans. introduced a new model for assessing companies in the second half of 2014, recommended credit limits. only”. Leading credit rating agency Creditsafe
Dun & Bradstreet showed the number of of 2014 was down 31% on the previous same period in 2013. Creditsafe’s recalibrating of healthy
business failures in retail in the last quarter quarter and less than half compared to the
ratings model has been tested extensively
to ensure it is accurate and will be applied
retailers’ credit ratings seems at odds with its own market analysis, too. As recently that British retailing had almost 10,000 and that only around one in 20 were considered very high or high risk. as November it put out a report showing
leading to businesses in the wine trade
new operators compared to a year earlier,
having millions of pounds wiped off their “many have been junked to cash status such as county court judgments and As well as using routine information
One leading wine merchant told us that
Eaton in the chair
It’s all change at the Rolleston Wine Group, the buying group of 28 independent merchants. Long-term chairman Chris Connolly has
published accounts, Creditsafe argues that its new model provides a more accurate by incorporating details of 88 million “trade payment experiences”. It describes its model as “a highly picture of companies’ insolvency potential
Lenders have modernised their methodology
to all companies on our database.”
stepped down from the role and passed the baton to Charles Eaton, managing director of Nethergate Wines. • Corks Out is rarely short of a marketing hook, as witnessed by this recent Tweet: “It’s Thursday! Officially the best day and adopt one today.” beginning with a ‘T’. We have shelves of
predictive analysis tool that uses the latest statistical algorithms”. It incorporates “public information, financial ratios, industry sector analysis and other performance indicators”.
Oxford Wine Co, says he is aware of a downgrading for the company, but is unconcerned about possible fallout.
Ted Sandbach, managing director of
there’s a problem and only want to go on a business behind it, then so be it.” Stephen Finch, managing director at
to what extent algorithms take account of the particular nature of their industry. The boss of a long-established wine merchant business says he has been told
The question for wine merchants may be
credit rating agency, without looking at the Vagabond Wines, says he was not aware of funding for its third London store, in Spitalfields, which opens in early May.
“My approach is that if companies think
wine desperate for a new home. Come in • The organisers of Independent Buyers Day have postponed this year’s event, which had been scheduled to take place in London on March 19.
any changes to its credit rating as it sought
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 2
Suppliers pay for space in indies
It’s common practice for supermarkets and other multiples to charge suppliers for prime retail space within their stores. Now independents could start going down the same road. merchant, is offering to rent out three Blanco & Gomez, the London wine
wonderful to reach other independent wine shops.
from a shelf or window display to an entire floor, so they can attract new customers by offering exciting, unique experiences and bargain.” collaborations – and make money into the
“Retailers can rent part of their premises,
prime positions in its 484 sq ft King’s Road run by a website called We Are Pop Up, which has investment from the former
coffee shop pop-up in a hair salon, a gelato brand in a florist’s and an art exhibition in a shoe shop, Freeman reports. suppliers renting space in the shop as a way of demonstrating the popularity of term listings in the conventional way. Blanco is open to the idea of wine
Recent ShopShare deals have included a
store as part of a scheme called ShopShare, backers of lastminute.com and Lovefilm.
“Our Man with the Facts”
• The Assyrtiko grape grown on the Greek island of Santorini is
for £180 a day, a prominent space near the front of the store for £120, and a smaller counter area for £80. condition is that is has to be a product Director Carlos Blanco says: “Our
The shop’s window display is available
their products before negotiating longerups are in vogue but you normally have really benefit small wine merchants.”
to rent the whole unit. This scheme could
“I think the idea is great,” he says. “Pop-
resistant to Phylloxera, though it’s unclear whether this is to do with which it grows.
its rootstock or the volcanic ash in • Mendoza accounts for two thirds of all vine planting in Argentina. • Until the 1990s the main material bottles was lead. This was phased out in favour of tin after concerns
related to the industry – if not wine then
glasses or decanters or something like that. We have had several approaches but they for things like jewellery and we refused.” Group, which routinely provided prime retail space to suppliers who were stock for free,” he says. actually pay them but they gave a bit of advertises space available in London, before paying retailers their share. We Are Pop Up, which currently only Blanco once worked in the Thresher
used to produce capsules for wine were raised about polluting landfill
Three slots available from £80 a day
prepared to pay. “Sometimes they didn’t
sites. In turn, rising tin prices led to producers opting for aluminium or synthetic alternatives. • Assuming that the bottle does not shatter, wine that has been drink once thawed.
administers payments and takes a cut
Not everyone is cowed by recent Wine Advocate correspondence, warning independents that a fee is payable should they mention Robert Parker’s scores in their marketing. retorts Steve Parker, of The Cheese & “I assume I can quote Parker points,”
the initiative “is helping independent retail of space”. She adds: “Retailers can transform their
thrive by thinking differently about the use shop and make big returns from small
Abigail Freeman of We Are Pop Up says
accidentally frozen is still fine to • Sweden’s alcohol retailing
monopoly, Systembolaget, was
spaces. For now, Blanco & Gomez are the only wine merchants that we have listed with us. However we have just launched spaces across the UK, so it would be a campaign to recruit similar ShopShare
Wine Company in Hampton. “Of course, it myself.”
set up in 1955 when private drinks sales were banned. There are now communities which do not carry stock but can handle orders.
would be a coincidence if the American Mr
Parker happened to give the same points as
426 outlets, plus 500 agents in small
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 3
Wimbledon bids farewell to Wharf
Wimbledon Wine Cellar has closed its branch at Imperial Wharf in Chelsea and consolidated its business in its original store. the freehold there and we just had a shop but I prefer the money.” Owner Andrew Pavli says: “We owned
premises, near Sudbury, but is hoping to trade. “We do a little bit of importing from
build a strong e-commerce and mail order Europe but we work with UK importers too,” he says. “I was with The Wine buy a bit through them.
independent bars and restaurants. with a basement. Oxford Wine Co is taking over a “It’s a little bit bigger [than
development of three former shops units Summertown] but not massively so,” says the Oxford University Press.”
Company in Colchester for 10 years and I Our core range is between £8 and £14 – sit.” “We cover as much ground as possible.
boss Ted Sandbach. “It’s a very interesting
position, close to the university offices and
magnificent offer for rental. It was a lovely 2006, 20 years after the Wimbledon site in Chiswick but now says he prefers the one location. One member of the Chelsea team has “The business here is phenomenal,” The Chelsea store had been open since
that’s probably where 70% of our wines
started trading. Pavli also operated a shop idea of a simpler business model based in
the Winefit dispense system. “We have an
on and off-licence and we hope to do a few
The wine shop has a tasting bar and uses
Crown duals as wine shop
William Mason Fine Wines has relocated after its owners took on a gastro-pub business in a small village six miles away. The Crown in Great Ellingham, near in nearby Hingham. The company now operates from
restaurant-style evenings,” explains Unwin.
Sandbach for more
Oxford Wine Co is aiming to open its second café in the city in June. the Summertown district in 2013 and the second is in a more central position in Little Clarendon Street The location is known locally as Little The first Oxford Wine Café opened in
returned to his native France and another has relocated to Wimbledon. Pavli says. “We’ve totally thrown out all of our old shop fit. It’s light and bright and basics with all the lovely comfy chairs – absolutely gorgeous. We’ve gone back to
Attleborough. Norfolk, having started out kept separate from the pub, which offers extensive lunch and dinner menus, but customers can place orders over the bar. dimension in 2009. The business was established in 1995 by The wine retailing element is being
and we’ve also moved the Steinway here.”
Trendy Street and is also home to branches of Carluccio’s, Café Rouge and numerous
William and Sarah Mason, adding a retail
Unwin’s cooking up wine business
in Suffolk says his business could eventually form part of a wider food retailing complex. shop opened in a former farm building to accommodate a cookery school. A nearby barn has now been rented to a by his family – could be suitable for food retailers. George Unwin’s Baythorne Hall wine
A wine merchant who recently opened
before Christmas and has since expanded cheese merchant and Unwin says other
buildings on the estate – which is owned
conversion into shops for butchers or other focusing on traditional retailing at the Unwin says the business has been
Vinoteca has opened its fifth and largest branch in Pancras Square, King’s Cross, London. Unlike in the company’s first four sites, including Farringdon (pictured), the shop area is being run within its own dedicated space.It lists more than 250 wines.
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 4
tried & Tested
McHenry Hohnen Rocky Road Chardonnay 2014
This superb Margaret River wine was stopping people in their tracks at the recent portfolio tasting. There’s a wonderful warmth and richness here, and by a linear citrus streak. Aussie Chardonnay needs reappraising and this is a great place to start. RRP: £15 ABV: 13.5% Louis Latour Agencies (020 7409 7276) louislatour.co.uk
Cederberg Cabernet Sauvignon Five Generations 2013
At this kind of price point you’re entitled to get richness and complexity and this velvety, multi-layered wine certainly doesn’t make you feel your investment has been wasted. Lovely cassis and dark chocolate make this the high point of a superb line-up. RRP: £31.60 ABV: 14% Bancroft Wines (020 7232 5470) bancroftwines.com notes entwine with the gentlest candy sweetness to
notes of peaches and nectarines, and it’s all tempered
Rui Roboredo Madeira Quinta da Cassa Reserva Tinto 2009
This Douro producer makes wines that are big on flavour and amazingly good value for money. Madeira and has crafted a serious wine with great dark-fruit also a bit of a crowd pleaser. RRP: £11.99 ehrmannswines.co.uk ABV: 13.5% has a spiritual connection with his remote bit of terroir concentration and tannins that aren’t shy, but which is Ehrmanns (0203 227 0735)
Equipo Navazos Bota 52 Palo Cortado
A single-vineyard Palo Cortado that spends a very brief period in contact with the flor before being whisked away, fortified and aged. It emerges as something very special indeed: zesty, raisiny and nutty and bursting with flavour. Unforgettably excellent. RRP: £50.59 ABV: 18% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com surprisingly elegant and light-bodied for a wine so
Monsoon Valley Shiraz Rosé 2012
Hallgarten’s Thai range just gets more beguiling. This example seems rather bland and dilute at first but the gentle strawberry and spice flavours shimmer it away but it’s perfect for subtler Asian dishes. RRP: £11.99 ABV: 12.5% Hallgarten Druitt (01582 722538) hdnwines.co.uk into existence like a mirage that becomes more fully-
Craggy Range Aroha Te Muna Road Vineyard 2012
This Martinborough Pinot is still improving – a frightening thought considering how well it’s drinking now. A very measured and accomplished wine, silky own time and to sublime effect. RRP: £55 ABV: 13% louislatour.co.uk
formed with each sip. Any really spicy food would blow
smooth, with pure dark fruit flavours and a sprinkle of
spice. The savoury elements reveal themselves in their Louis Latour Agencies (020 7409 7276)
Alemany I Corrió Principia Mathematica 2011
Made from Xarel-lo grown in Penedes, this is an intriguing wine that feels a lot bigger in the mouth than the modest alcohol content would suggest. French oak barrels. Pure pleasure. RRP: £17.69 ABV: 12% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.com Apricot and nut flavours abound, helped along by fermentation (and some ageing) in large untoasted
Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz 2012
There’s a luxurious softness to this McLaren Vale are dark savoury flavours bouncing around, it to emerge from Australia since Tony Abbott. RRP: £17.49 ABV: 14.5% Gonzalez Byass (01707 274790) gonzalezbyassuk.com Shiraz. Its more animal characteristics are cushioned by a smooth, vanilla outer layer and although there remains supple and fresh. One of the densest things
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 6
bits & BOBs FAVOURITE Lewis steps down
Mumbles Fine Wines Swansea
as Majestic boss
Pascal, chairman of the Ribera del Duero regulatory council. The varieties of white Viura, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino and several others. Decanter, February 19 grapes would be the same ones currently permitted in Castilla y Leon. These include
After 29 years with Majestic Wine, six of which were spent leading the company, chief executive Steve Lewis has left the business. decision to cut the minimum purchase was ending was a great success. But his real legacy is in the culture and, you see in our stores.” Chairman Phil Wrigley said: “Steve’s
Favourite food and wine match Whistler Wines Shiraz (Australia) with Beef Bourgignon. Favourite wine trip Exploring Bordeaux, staying at Chateau Rousseau de Sipian in the Medoc.
Favourite wine on my list Valpolicella Ripasso by Guiseppe Campagnola (Eurowines). Absolutely amazing wine which is a favourite of not only myself but the staff and customers too.
from 12 to six bottles just as the recession particularly, the level of customer service not come from the wine trade but would particularly online sales where Majestic The Independent, February 19 He said the new chief executive need
A handful of 1,500-year-old charred grape seeds could help scientists recreate one of the finest ancient wines. excavation site in the Negev, Israel, during a joint dig by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The vines growing in the Negev today They were found at the Halutza
need to understand “the broader market”,
could double its current level of revenues.
are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world,” said Professor Guy Bar-Oz of the university. Daily Mail, February 16
Liverpool is the capital of Prosecco and
Lewis: 29 years in the business
Favourite wine trade person Carl Rostrup, John E Fells. We always have banter about Welsh and English rugby. Favourite wine shop Planet of the Grapes. Every time we see or hear it said, it always brings a smile.
Cabernet Sauvignon is most popular in Slough, but Sauvignon Blanc rules Great Britain, according to a study of sales data by Laithwaites. most popular wine in almost every British town, city and county, but proved most popular in Birmingham. Sauvignon Blanc. Only Berkshire bucked the trend It found that Sauvignon Blanc was the
White’s all right
Ribera del Duero’s ruling council has launched a bid to permit the production of white wine in the Spanish DO region. production of Tempranillo grapes, but rules “It is about opening new opportunities and options for producers,” said Enrique The region is famous for its red wine
do not allow white wines to have DO status.
where Chardonnay is more popular than The Drinks Business, February 26
The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 755 independent wine shops. Except
www.winemerchantmag.com 01323 370451 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag firstname.lastname@example.org
one, and that’s deliberate. We’re now officially into our fourth year and would like to thank all the contributors are Nigel Huddleston and David Williams. Printed in East Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2015 Registered in England: No 6441762
advertisers who have supported the magazine (many from the very beginning) and to all the readers who continue to say nice things about us. The magazine is edited by Graham Holter and this month’s VAT 943 8771 82
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 8
merchant profile: the naked grape
Harper (left) and Wells: customer “The industry is crap for online retail. Everything that you can pressure prompted store opening possibly imagine can be wrong is wrong.”
Life on the other side
Simon Evans gave up merchandising for Thresher to start his own wine shop, directly opposite the Wine Rack he used to manage in a small but bustling Hampshire market town. As he contemplates his third branch, he’s as determined as ever to ensure his range is as exclusive as it can be
proclaimed “capital of watercress” boasts quaintly painted houses, dinky little course – a biannual duck race.
lresford is how screenwriters and novelists imagine middle England. The nation’s self-
department at Sainsbury’s, Evans managed the Wine Rack store in Alresford for Thresher Group branches. five years before leaving for London, merchandising and refitting more than 150 up with the idea of opening our own “Someone I worked with kept coming
Starting his working life in the BWS
a second branch has appeared in Four is likely to follow – location uncertain. Evans, who rarely stops smiling, is
Marks, a few miles to the east, and a third fiercely independent, eschewing buying brands widely distributed by the bigger
shops, a preserved steam railway and – of Evans and you soon realise that everyone knows each other – or maybe they just merchant, but also a town councillor and chairman of the chamber of commerce. Walk through the town with Simon
groups and the ubiquitous indie-friendly flying visit to Bordeaux – there and back in a single day – where he tracked down the exclusive parcels he craves.
Continues page 10
all know him. He’s not only the local wine
business,” he says. “Eventually we decided to do that. Here. It just so happened that the shop that was available for rent was right opposite the Wine Rack.” That was 10 years ago. Along the way
suppliers. He talks eagerly about a recent
THE WINE MERCHANT MARCH 2015 9
merchant profile: the naked grape
From page 9
but exceptionally tidy original shop, with George Davies, the general manager and
We meet in the office above the small
longest serving employee in a team of five. replenishment came in, when you had autonomy to buy for your own shop? Simon: Yeah. That was the fine wine store of the company, so all of the fine wine in I learnt a lot in quite a short time about
We’ve brought in grape varieties and nobody has known what they are
Did you get much support from suppliers 10 years ago? Was it easy to get credit? Simon: We didn’t have any issues buying any products when we opened. We went popular wine. For years. As soon as people tried it, they loved it. We sold tons of Chardonnay”. that. We’ve been through “anything but
Had you been at Wine Rack before auto-
the Thresher Group was under my control. fine wines, but I’d learnt a lot more in the doing the Diploma. So my wine life didn’t start there. previous years, working at Sainsbury’s and
through a process of tasting thousands of months. We didn’t have any issues with opening accounts with suppliers. If you a totally different landscape. such a thing?
Are people back on to Chardonnay now? George: It is coming back. Simon: We do sell quite a reasonable World. France has really increased.
wines in order to decide on what the range was for the day we opened, which took us
Is the business all your own investment or do you have a partner in this? Simon: I do have another financial partner. no longer with me, but I’ve got another financial director who works with me as in management meetings, but the day to and the staff. I started the business with one chap, who’s well. We meet and talk about the structure day business is run by myself, and George,
wanted to go and open an account now, it’s What’s the Alresford palate? Is there Simon: It changes. We try and lead it where we can, and we certainly have done that known what they are. quite successfully for some years. We’ve brought grape varieties in and nobody has OK, we’ll give it a go, and it was such a I always remember Picpoul. I thought,
volume, from oaked to unoaked. In the past two or three years it’s been very much Old Does that reflect your taste personally? Simon: Not really. What we learned [from Wine Rack] still very slightly underpins what we do now … we try and put on the shelf what people want. And we try and going to buy – but something slightly different and creative. push them into areas that are maybe not
bizarre and unusual – wines that no one’s George: They are willing to take our lead Simon: We do that through tastings,
and try things. Some will come in and ask us, rather than deciding what they want. because when we opened we didn’t have name. You’d come into the shop and not safety net?”
anything on the shelves that was a brand
recognise any of these wines. “Where is my every weekend, every month, inviting
people along just to say “we’ve bought this, we think it’s really nice – try it”. After two says it’s good, then it’s good.
We’ve spent years running tasting events,
or three years, everybody thought, OK, if he Once people are hooked on something, do they expect to find it in the shop
General manager George Davies (left) with Evans
every week, or do they want you to keep
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 10
making new discoveries on their behalf? George: We do have both types, but we will then find them something to replace it and they’re quite happy. Simon: We do go out to tasting events the shelf for years, because they sell. What are the mainstays? to find new things. So we do change our
range. There are wines that we’ve had on
Simon: Our Chilean ranges we’ve stocked for years. We’ve started to import a lot ourselves, in the last six to eight months; has been changed to wines that we buy in ex-cellar. Some of the Italian wines we the moment. own wines? Simon: Margin and exclusivity. We’re actively seeking trade customers – pubs, to be able to go into somewhere and say “I can provide you with these wines and brought them in, here they are” – you’re offering that customer a more unique service than other places. charging too much? Simon: Once you start to look into it, I would say probably not. Do you think that UK agents are or anywhere else – I’ve tasted them, I’ve so some of the real backbone of our range buy from UK agents … we sell quite a lot of
More and more of the wines are being shipped direct. The reason: “margin and exclusivity”
them so there’s no reason to change that at Why are you importing more of your
And how are you tracking down the wines you’re importing? Simon: Just thinking about what trade events I can go to; who do I know … we
paperwork, or the risk of currency movements … George: It’s a much more time-consuming way of us buying it, isn’t it?
restaurants, these sort of things – and so you won’t find them in the supermarkets
used to do it a few years ago, 2007 maybe, and then the euro exchange rate just went here you could buy it cheaper DPD. We’re finding it just by actively looking.
so badly against it that by the time we got it France Under One Roof and all these
Simon: Yes, but once we get the connection I was at the trade fair and tasted loads of Riojas and this lady came up to us who one do you prefer?” I said “that one” and it happened to be her wine and she was looking for someone to buy ex-cellars. We’ve got the wines here. slightly bigger spread. shipper.
… we’ve found people in the funniest ways. was on the stand and she was like, “which
different things. I went to one at Tobacco There are wine producers there who someone to buy ex-cellar. thought. don’t currently sell in this country, and
Dock, the French Wine Discoveries Tasting. they’re looking for me. They’re looking for that, quite quickly. A lot quicker than we A lot of independents like the idea of importing direct but are put off by the
George: We’ve got two shops, so we’ve got a Simon: I wouldn’t be worried about the George: It’s the cash flow more than anything else. logistics of it. We’ve got a really excellent
I’ve found some great stuff at events like
George: They’re earning their fair share.
Simon: That’s not what’s driving it. It’s the exclusivity that’s really quite important. put it into bond – you get quite close to don’t add up. on all those bits – the shipping, and if you what you’re paying DPD. Some wines just Where are you shipping from, mainly? Simon: France and Spain.
Continues page 12
But some wines we’ve found, once you add
I’ve found some great stuff at events like France Under One Roof, quicker than we thought
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 11
merchant profile: the naked grape
From page 11
Have you got a warehouse? Simon: No. We’ve got a reasonable store in this shop and quite a lot of space in our it adds up to put it in bond. Otherwise we ship it straight here. Is the shop at Four Marks a facsimile of this one or does it have its own personality? George: It’s just a box. Structurally. that is a 1960s concrete box. Simon: This is a 1765 listed building, and it to here. We’ve put the character in.
The third shop would ideally be within 40 minutes of here and about the same size
and Medstead is the same population as here. So we looked into all of that, did all the research – it took us months to decide. That was nearly six years ago. It’s worked. Is that shop profitable in its own right? Simon: Yes, it is. on Amazon and we get an email alert saying “post this product off to this person”, so we handle all the packaging side of things, which we would prefer to do. And send us our money. It works. It’s not a some good sales off it. massive part of our sales but we’ve had after so many days, after their cut, Amazon
other shop. We don’t put it in bond unless
George: But it looks as close as we could get Simon: The product range, the shelving, the floor, the lighting … everything is identical. We’ve built a shop that has little sections it interesting. We worked hard on it. But we do have a different customer
Do you focus on wines that are difficult to compare in price to other people’s? Simon: Well, our wines are already like that. There are quite a lot of wines in our range that you can’t get anyway. It’s not actually those that are selling! What sells is just random. You say you’d like to grow your wholesale business.
Evans: “We’ve had good sales off Amazon”
and corners and intricacies to try and make type. It’s only six miles away but it’s far line that runs between here and there don’t come in this direction. satellite of Winchester. Simon: Not really. Winchester’s seven miles away but this town serves tiny little here rather than to Winchester or Alton. George: It’s a busy little town. There’s But otherwise everything else is an independent. a Co-op and there’s the Tesco Express. Simon: And there are no empty shops.
enough to be different. There’s an invisible where the postcodes change, the phone numbers change. People in that direction Whereas here I guess you’re more a
Simon: It is growing, because we’ve got
Does it have a full-time manager? Simon: No. I sort of oversee both I suppose. I spend some of my time here at the beginning of the week, doing
the confidence to say, “this is our range
of wines, they’re exclusive, we’ve found probably better than what you’ve got”.
them, we think they’re better than what
you’ve got, the prices we can offer you are quite surprised at the prices we can offer. We’re trying to tie up with nice pubs and restaurants around here that care about their wine list. Tell me more about the big customer tastings that you organise. Simon: Most of the population round here know that there’s something happening here at Easter and Christmas. We do lots of little themed tastings, like Hampshire
villages to the north and south. The people that live around the country lanes all come
organisational paperwork, and then at the the shop here and most of my time in the shop at Four Marks. We’ve got some very good staff. You sell some wine on Amazon. How does that work for you? Simon: They contacted us to say, “we’re looking to expand our range of products we’d give it a go. We have a system with
end of the week I spend some of my time in
We’ve taken the wine list from big names.
The guys we’ve gone to have been really
Why did you open the second shop? Simon: It is just up the road but it does serve a growing population: Four Marks
and we think yours will fit”. We thought it through and we checked and we thought them whereby a customer buys something
sparkling wines; we’ve done ones where
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 12
it’s just under £10; we’ve done ones with
just organic and biodynamic wine. We we tie up with just down the road. The building we use is two floors, a
either do them in the shop or in a business kitchen showroom. We’re good friends It just feels clean and bright. We invite what they want.
coming into the shop and they will only talk to Simon, but we’ve got over that now. Simon: It can be frustrating. We’ve got
with the owner, and it’s perfect because it’s beautifully lit, nice granite surfaces, sinks. everybody we know. The place is packed. And then they walk up the street and buy had supermarket wines and matched We’ve done some tastings where we’ve
staff that are good, intelligent people in speak to them.
their own right and they hold their own
with customers and people come in and then. You have to enjoy it. If you don’t lifestyle that suits me. But I do enjoy it as much as I did back
enjoy it, there’s no point, is there? It’s a What about a third shop? Simon: We’ve been actively looking for some months to open another one. But
Wines that go well with duck (racing)
them with the wines that we sell. People thought some of the brand name wines opener for some of our customers.
were corked. It was like, “no, that’s actually
what it tastes like”. That was a massive eyeWhat about your community activities? Simon: I’m a town councillor. It’s about just looking after the town and trying to make first chamber of commerce meeting five or and get them to buy things in the shop.
we haven’t found the right location, and it would be within 40 minutes of here,
location is absolutely paramount. Ideally towns. We’ve looked at places that other there because we’ve done two and we know what to look for; we know the key things. And some of those independents have opened and closed again. We saw there, or there’s not enough business. Fot the third shop do you want
it the best place it can be. I turned up to my just wanted to tie up with other businesses It’s a really good group to be involved in
always dealt with a lot of suppliers. I just wine merchant and find.
like to find wines that you can’t walk into a Are you involved in any buying groups? Simon: No. I want exclusivity. I prefer to be in control of what I’m doing. It really does the history, where it’s come from and I’m What’s the turnover of the business?
really. We’ve looked at lots of local market independents have opened. We didn’t go
six years ago and they made me chairman. I
– you just get business connections. It’s one of the most active chambers of commerce in the whole of Hampshire. working with? Simon: We buy quite a lot from Ellis. Mark Isham the rep is excellent. He’s been a really good bloke to work with so we buy a reasonable amount from him. We – they do some good wines. Frazer at What wine suppliers do you most like
underline the fact that I’ve found it, I know
that there’s just not enough people living
entirely confident about selling it to people. Simon: I think its 720-something. We’ve been up for the last couple of years. But have weekly financial meetings where we’re monitoring what we’re doing.
somewhere just like the first two, or maybe a bigger space where you can broaden the offer? Simon: It needs to be about the same size. This works. We know what products we can get here, fridges and displays and counters. It does work tying up with local businesses to do events, because it plays back in your favour over time. There are to work with you. like-minded business out there that want George: You’ve talked about a wine bar … Simon: We read your magazine; we go to other places on days off and see people one of the things we’ve learnt locally in We are a wine merchant. who have expanded into other areas. But
we’ve been actively working on that. We Monthly P&L reports. Thanks to George know exactly where we are financially.
buy a little bit from Enotria. Cachet Wine
Department 33 is good as well. He’s a great independent supplier, he’s got some really good Bordeaux. We picked a crémant as and it absolutely motored. Prosecco’s OK; want something in between. We buy a little bit from Veritaus. We’ve one of our stand-out sparklers at Christmas Champagne’s good. But a lot of people just
and the financial director we work with we Are you still enjoying the job as much as you were 10 years ago? Are you as public-facing as you were then? George: Yes. He is. I try and hide in the background! Simon: I love working in the shop. George: We have had the problem of people
business is not to confuse your customer.
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 13
The point of Robert Parker
Forget the caricature. The world’s best-known wine critic has a quiet folksiness that contrasts with the overtly commercial approach being taken by the Wine Advocate’s new owners. We’ll miss him
he London press conference where Robert Parker announced his retirement from the discipline that
anyway exaggerated by the press. And he once again defended his points system, saying it was only ever meant to be an “real story” could be found. accompaniment to his notes, where the
made his name – reviewing en primeurs It was a rather less spiritual, corporate-
– had a touch of The Last Supper about it. flavoured recreation, admittedly, but the There he was, the bearded messiah, at
framing from Da Vinci’s painting was all in the centre of a long table in a conference room at Marylebone’s Landmark Hotel,
of his speech, and not for the reasons he intended, was when he described the
Perhaps the most eye-catching nugget
expansion of the WA. The very first, homeBridges considers the perks of playing Parker
produced issue, he said, featured a mere 300 wines; in 2014 Team WA covered 28,000 wines. While Parker was making a broader
flanked on either side by his disciples: the the Bordeaux spring circus, Parker’s longgood, Neal Martin.
seven critics that now make up Team Wine time protégé, the Essex boy blogger-done-
Advocate, led by the anointed successor for
with a distinct end-of-era feeling.
much involved and that he would never
Wedding at Cana. There would be no water turning to wine, here. Quite the reverse, in fact, as the booze press pack, having been greeted with a glass of Nyetimber, exited And much as the Avocate’s formidably polished editor-in-chief Lisa Perrottifrom the Advocate’s new sponsor, Badoit. Brown MW attempted to focus attention upscale events, non-wine sponsorships,
Certainly, this was more Last Supper than
retire – he’d sooner “die on the road” and himself by reflecting at length on his 37 years as a critic.
Despite insisting that he was still very
point about just how far the wine world many more noteworthy wines are now being produced, for me the comparison
has come in the past few decades, and how only served to emphasise the differences in culture between the pre- and post-sale WA – and the contrast between Parker himself and the rapidly evolving operation from which, bit by bit, he is drawing back. him will tell you, Parker in person is caricature of angry message-board documentaries. He’s unexpectedly, nothing like the imperious, arrogant As most people who have encountered
he will “never” give up the Napa reviewing
gig – Parker contributed to the elegiac note
with a goodie bag containing a single bottle
MUCH OF WHAT he said was familiar from previous Parker state of the wine world addresses and articles: he lamented the the growth in fraud that has inevitably accompanied it, saying nobody should buy any old Bordeaux from 1982 back rise of wine as an investment vehicle and
on the future of an empire that has added by Robert Parker) to its portfolio, most of the audience understandably came away
contributions or selectively edited wine
and a glossy lifestyle magazine (100 Points
since “there’s no way you can guarantee liked the limelight” even at the height of his fame and power, which he said was
its provenance”. He claimed to have “never
disarmingly charming in a shuffling, folksy, self-deprecating way, a bearded, bear-like man who could be played by Jeff Bridges biography of The Emperor of Wine. or John Goodman if the Coen Brothers ever What Parker’s ubiquity also tends to
‘The real story is in the notes, not the accompanying store’
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 14
decided to option the rights of Elin McCoy’s obscure is that, as well as being the world’s most powerful wine critic, he was also for many years one of the wine world’s most
successful independent businessmen. He may slightly overplay the down-home image at times, as he did here, reflecting drinking jugs of Gallo Hearty Burgundy. on his childhood on a farm and his youth But, no matter how you might feel about something admirable about his rise and story, a rise of the little big man that, in the odd tech or hip-hop entrepreneur his taste and influence, there was always
Advocate put it to me after the event, the
new set-up is a very different beast from involved in doing what he loved, giving people who want a return, it changes
the one Parker sold at the end of 2012. “He used to run it as a way of keeping himself himself a lifestyle he enjoyed. But, like any things, there are different pressures.”
David Williams is wine critic for The Observer
the way he managed his business. His was a quintessentially 20th-century American the socially stratified post-Reagan years,
business, as soon as investors are involved, None of which is to say that the new
of Bordeaux and close association with Moyes after Ferguson.
set-up doesn’t have a lot going for it. As critic said to me, “they really do their
Parker, the en primeur at least has a chance of being more Paisley after Shankly than fortune from the sale and claiming to be had the “best two years of its existence”. For his part, Parker, sitting on a
notwithstanding, is increasingly unusual. hard not to feel a little sad about another triumph for big money over small-scale As someone who has worked with the
Monica Larner, the Advocate’s new Italian homework” on the contributors, and the panel they’ve assembled is a formidable once-in-a-generation sportsman (Jack
AND EVEN FROM a British perspective, it’s
team of all the talents, rather as if a single Nicklaus?) had been transformed into the Harlem Globetrotters or the Galácticos of quirky Martin, with his long experience
unconcerned by his legacy (“you’re dead
then”), reckons the post-sale Advocate has But while his many critics will be pleased at this latest stage in the slow ending of an era, I can’t help feeling that we’ll miss him – and much of what he represents – when he’s gone.
initiative, another win for every-last-cent
monetizing over for-the-love-of-it passion.
Real Madrid. And in the fiercely individual,
WINE TASTING MACHINES
The leading choice for Independents
• 4-bottle and 8-bottle wine dispensing & preservation systems • For sta use or self-serve ‘try before you buy’ • Integrated software and wine card features • Beautiful Italian design in stainless steel with choice of optional colours • ISOL+ patented preservation – no cross contamination • Three customer determined measures • Automated features; easy to use and clean • Sold in the US and Europe since 2010, now available in the UK • Unrivalled reliability and quality of manufacture – 24 MONTHS PARTS WARRANTY! • Save money on your capital outlay, improve your on-going sales margins
Competitive pricing without any compromise on functionality, design or quality
CALL US TODAY FOR A FREE QUOTATION!
Call us on 01635 282230 or visit www.wineemotionuk.com or email email@example.com
THE WINE MERCHANT march 2015 15