The Wine Merchant issue 65

 

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The Wine Merchant issue 65

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 65, January 2018 Delivering natural wine by van is cheating THIS MONTH © Auemar / stockadobe.com Frenchmen Amaury Levisalles (left) and Alexandre Bal are two of the four co-founders of the new Authentique Epicerie & Bar in north London. Full story on page six. Picture: Laure Monrozier Indies on a high as new players take hybrid route The number of specialist independent wine merchants in the UK has hit a new high. There are now 855 shops operated by 624 businesses, according to the latest data compiled by The Wine Merchant, a net increase of 31 premises on the figure recorded in January 2017. That figure is below the net growth of 40 shops seen in 2016, but encouraging news for an industry which is feeling the effects of the weaker pound and faltering confidence in much of the retail sector. Twenty-three new wine merchants appeared last year, with the rest of the growth accounted for by existing businesses opening new branches. There were a number of closures, but these were easily outnumbered by the number of openings – and for once several indies were sold as going concerns. Although last year’s Wine Merchant reader survey found that just 28% of independents sell wine for consumption on the premises, 13 of the 23 new entrants have some form of onpremise offer, which may offer clues about the future direction of the trade generally. Just over half of the new shops – 16 – appeared in London, while three were opened in Wales. • Analysis: pages 12 to 14 2 BACCHUS Swiss wines on a roll, and why smaller cases might be a good idea 4 comings & GOINGS Good news for Nottingham, Ludlow and Eccleshall 8 tried & TESTED Wines that got us excited, despite the feet they stained 18 latitude wines A Leeds success story, underneath the arches 24 david williams Brexit, veganism and craft beer all pose challenges 28 reader trip to austria Four days to spread horizons beyond Grüner Veltliner 42 natural wine Rob Bagot of Buon Vino explains the appeal 50 make a date Looking ahead to a packed February tasting calendar 55 supplier Bulletin Essential updates from agents and suppliers

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BACCHUS b higher level. “There’s so many adverts for Virgin and Laithwaites and all of the other wine boxes, and a small wine merchant in Weymouth is not really going to be competing with that. So this is designed more as a local option for us and an extra revenue stream really,” he adds. Macshilton has the advantage of two extra spaces in a standard box, which come in handy for popping in the cheese and biscuits. Four wines can Another good use be better than six for French oak Featured wines were priced £60-plus Carl Macshilton, owner of Delicious Weymouth, has embraced the drinkless-but-better philosophy with his monthly wine box promotion of four hand-selected wines rather than the more familiar six or 12. “I wanted to do something different for my customers, and I’m always looking for ways to interact with them and keep things interesting,” he says. Each month is themed and tasting notes are provided, which makes the box, at £42.50, a little more thought provoking. Customers are emailed the following month’s theme in advance so they can decide if they want to take part in any of the additional offers. The store is also a deli, so there are opportunities for upselling with cheeses and other goodies. “I’ve gone for four bottles rather than six because there’s no room to manoeuvre at six bottles at all in terms of making any money from it,” says Macshilton. “You can for example have a £20 bottle in there and then three bottles at £8. It gives you a lot more freedom in terms of varying the prices. The point of having a wine box is that you get the chance to try some things that you wouldn’t normally buy and it gives me the freedom to sell at a Islington’s Made in Little France keeps it authentic with vintage shelving made from old French oak and cherry wood. Owner Maxence Masurier says: “I have a good friend who is a carpenter and his company called Abois. He sourced some old stock from a carpentry shop in Paris – the wood was sliced in the 1950s. It is cherry wood. The rest is oak for my counter and some of the display. This guy is a real magician.” The handmade shelves come from 1950s wood THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 2 Swiss wines on a roll in London The Sampler has discovered a love of Swiss wine – and its customers who attended its dedicated tastings at the Islington and Wimbledon branches are firmly on board. Islington manager Matt James explains that the business imports the wines direct from Adank, Georg Fromm and Schlossgut Bachtobel wineries. “Being a small shop we often look for smaller wines that we can bring in ourselves and obviously we don’t need massive quantities to fulfil our customers’ needs, so small producers work for us in that regard,” he says. James admits that Swiss wine presented a bit of a personal learning curve, but he was impressed with the excellence of the Pinot Noirs. “Not many people have had the opportunity to try Swiss wine and it offers something a bit different, especially those looking for quality Pinot Noir,” he says. Prices started at “about £26 and then went up to the £50s and £60s. Some people bought a couple of bottles on the night and some bought a couple of cases.”

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Chix untangles red tape with Tejo A buying trip to Portugal’s Tejo region with The Wine Merchant inspired Chix Chandaria to import some of the wines she encountered. It’s taken a year, but the owner of Brixton’s Wine Parlour and Herne Hill’s Vintage 1824 is now bringing in a selection of five wines from Quinta da Badula. “We have a white, a red and a rosé which we’ve taken as our house wines, so they have our label on,” she says. “We also have two slightly more premium wines from them – a red Reserva and a white Colheita Selecionada with a bit of barrel ageing.” Chandaria has wide experience of importing from various EU countries. “But we never encountered the kind of problems we had with Portugal – there was a lot of bureaucracy Worth the bother for top house wines and red tape,” she says. “Quinta da Badula was probably one of the smallest wineries we went to and I think absolutely gorgeous … lovely and hardworking. I don’t think the delays I experienced were issues to do with them. I think it was the CVR [Comissão Vitivinícola Regional] who dealt with all the legalities such as the labelling. “In the end they decided they had to have a trademarked company on the label – we’ve never encountered that before. We wanted the brand to be By Chix, which I haven’t trademarked, so in the end we got round it by using my old brand name, Chix & Buck which we have trademarked – it was silly things like that.” Chandaria struck an exclusivity deal for London for her wines. “They are doing really well,” she says. “We hand-sell all our wines and it is interesting for people to hear about another Portuguese region. When they taste the wines they really like them, and Portugal is really good value.” Coravins to be won in survey Five Coravins are up for grabs as once again The Wine Merchant gets under way with its annual reader survey. The survey, now in its sixth year, is the most important condition check for the independent wine trade in the UK. It measures not only the trading performance of specialist wine shops but also provides insights into confidence levels, areas of specialism, the relationship with suppliers and the changing business styles of independent merchants. Once again Hatch Mansfield is our partner in the survey and the company will be presenting Coravin devices to five participating merchants selected at random. For details, see page 38 of this month’s issue or visit www.winemerchantmag.com to take part. All information provided is treated in the strictest confidence and will not be shared in a way that could identify the individual or business taking part in the survey. THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 3 Flying Füchs “Our Man with the Facts” • The practice of removing the sediment in a bottle of Champagne after secondary fermentation by dipping the neck into brine at -27˚C dates back to 1884. The idea is credited to a Belgian named Arman Walfart. • The Arneis grape of north western Italy, historically grown to add softness and aroma to Nebbiolo, takes its name from the Piemontese word for “little rascal” – a reference to its temperamental nature in the vineyard. • During the Seven Years War between England and France, supplies of Bordeaux wine were in jeopardy. Enterprising importers avoided the ban on French goods by claiming the wine had been plundered from French ships in acts of piracy in the English Channel. • By 1850, Irish whiskey was outselling Scotch whisky even in Scotland. The industry went into decline after a ban on grain imports, the potato famine and a crusade by a monk named Father Matthew, who persuaded 60% of the Irish population to pledge total abstinence. A third of pubs were shut and distilleries closed.

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Turkey on the menu at hybrid wine shop Laura Christie and partner Chris Boustead have opened Linden Stores in Highbury, north London, a five-minute walk from their home. “We love the area and have lived here for years,” says Christie. “There’s some great restaurants and great wine shops and nice pubs but there was nothing in the middle. So that was what we were aiming to be.” Their new venture comprises a groundfloor shop and a below-stairs restaurant, where a flat £10 corkage fee applies to all wines. Christie is working with Red Squirrel, Boutinot and Armit to curate a list of around 50 wines, with retail prices ranging from £7 to £21. “I wanted certain price brackets and some cool labels and wines with interesting stories behind them,” she says. “They brought me things to taste based on that brief and I chose the list from there.” Christie is the co-founder and owner of contemporary Turkish restaurant Oklava in Shoreditch, and Boustead is a chef. “We wanted to look at doing our own place which would give us a bit more control, particularly over Chris’s hours,” she says. Christie is a big fan of Turkish wines. “What I love about them, and why I wanted to have some at the shop, is that in pretty much every other area of the world governments are really supportive of the industry, but there is none of that in Turkey,” she says. “The admin, tax and the amount of hassle – it’s a real labour of love. The government is becoming less moderate and that is reflected in their lack of support for the alcohol industry. It’s ridiculous really because it’s one of the oldest winegrowing areas of the world.” Christie is completely unfazed by the forthcoming second branch of Oklava, hot Laura Christie has curated a list of 50 wines, on which a £10 corkage fee applies on the heels of Linden Stores. She explains: “We deliberately set up Oklava in terms of systems and things so it’s easily replicated. So when we opened Linden Stores all the behind-the-scenes bits, like suppliers, admin, stuff like that … it’s just a copy of what I’ve done before. It’s a matter of being really organised, having good systems and working with great people who you trust.” The experience Christie had at the Salt THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 4 Yard Group plays a role in her approach. “I was their ops manager at 23 and what I really loved was that Sanja [Morris] and Simon [Mullins] from the very beginning were like: get the job done but we’re not going to stand behind you and watch you do it. “Work the hours you need to get it done, and the results are what it’s judged by. That’s the kind of manager I try to be now.”

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France comes to north London Tufnell Park in north London will soon be home to Authentique, an epicerie, bar and shop focusing on 12 Frenchspeaking regions from around the world. Alexandre Bal, senior sales executive at Yapp Bros, and Matthieu Sevagen, currently at Majestic in Mayfair, are the wine experts behind the venture. They are joined by their friends and fellow Frenchmen Thomas Guidez and Amaury Levisalles, who will provide the marketing and food specialism respectively. Bal will continue to work for Yapp Bros, from where he is sourcing about 75% of Authentique’s list. “We both have the same vision and have been importing small wineries from all over France,” he says. The team have found premises conveniently situated just “a stone’s throw away” from a French high school and next door to a bilingual primary school. The 150 sq m of floor space will provide plenty of room for the shop and bar, which is being designed to be “classy but approachable”. Bal adds: “It needs to be warm and modern, a mixture of wood and copper, some warm colours with a young edge. “We want to represent all the Frenchspeaking regions, so not only France but Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec and maybe North Africa for a few products. The idea is to have a journey through the regions so half of it will be a store and the other half will be a bar.” The store will list around 200 wines and 50 beers as well as a large variety of food and drinks. The bar area will have seating for 38 people. Brewery opens wine bar and shop Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham launched its first micro-pub and wine cellar last month in a former sweet shop. The Barley Twist will be managed by Yvette Marshall, who previously ran the brewery’s Canalhouse gastropub. “This is the first time that Castle Rock has ventured into wine in a bigger way. It’s a new concept for us and quite exciting,” she says. Will these vans make it from Mere to Tufnell Park? THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 6 “Hallgarten has put together an amazing wine list for us. So far we have 70-plus wines. We’ll be offering 10 whites and 10 reds by the glass, a house Prosecco, and everything else is by the bottle so customers can choose to drink in or to take away.” There will also be over 100 bottled and canned beers and 10 craft beers available on draught. The premises is close to the train station, guaranteeing a lot of passing trade, but that’s not the only reason that Marshall is so positive about the venture. She says Nottingham businesses continue to benefit from the city’s many regeneration and development projects. “There is trade here to be had – during my 11 years at the Canalhouse, each year consistently we’ve done better and better. If you look at Nottingham as a city and you look at how many places are opening, there seems to be a lot of interest and enthusiasm towards craft beer and wine.” Hybrid format for new Ludlow store In May we reported that Martyn and Jane Emsen had applied for permission to convert The Angel Hotel in Ludlow into a hybrid wine bar and shop. The plans were approved and the premises is now open. At the time of publication there had been two sell-out tasting events, and customers were eagerly placing case orders for Christmas. Two Enomatic units were on the way. The hospitality part of the business looks to be in safe hands as the couple are already experienced in this area with their successful Chicchetti bar nearby. At The Angel, Martyn says: “We specialise in wines on tap which we bring in ourselves from Italy. We have seven on

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Adeline Mangevine draught.” And the retail element sounds extremely straightforward: “If somebody likes a bottle of wine, we take 20% off and they take it away.” Wines Etc becomes Three Pillars Wine Opportunity comes early for O’Brien When Kieran O’Brien read Comings & Goings last April and saw that Wines Etc in Eccleshall was up for sale, he contacted the owner. Seven months later he finally launched as the newly branded Three Pillars Wine. “I was working for Loki [in Birmingham] up until the end of August and I left while everything was still being negotiated as I needed to put the time into setting it all up,” he says. Prior to Loki, O’Brien was manager of Laithwaites in Surbiton and when his family moved back to the Midlands, he worked at the Solihull branch. He says he always knew that one day he’d open his own shop, just “not necessarily as soon as this, but when I saw this opportunity … it’s a lovely high street and a nice area. There’s lots of potential here”. O’Brien has made a few changes to the décor, giving the Staffordshire shop a more “rustic, wine merchant feel with lots of wood and blackboards”. While he was impressed with the existing range of spirits, he has given the wine list an overhaul, “bringing in more interesting, small-production wines” with the help of suppliers including Liberty, Walker & Wodehouse, Tanners and Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines. Hasty despatches from the frontline of wine retailing He’s there, waiting for me to open up on my first day of trading after all those fun seasonal festivities. He’s shuffling from one foot to the other in an awkward way, and in his hand is one of our bags with a bottle that has clearly been opened. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the returned bottle. I unlock the door and welcome him inside, wondering why on earth he couldn’t have waited until I was ready to serve customers. But he’s probably been counting the days off the calendar until my triumphant return from a quick flop and drop. He coughs. And splutters. Then he blurts it out, painfully. “Um, well you see, I hate to do this but, well, we opened this on Christmas Day and, um, er, um …” “There’s something wrong with it?” “Er, um, yes. We think it’s corked.” Think? I can smell musty cardboard from 10 paces and when I open the bottle – just to check it is the right cork jammed in the right bottle – it is still happily honking, even though it was opened two weeks ago. Dontcha love TCA and its ability to hang around like, well, a bad smell? “You did the right thing bringing me back the bottle,” I say, reassuringly. The relief on his face is priceless. He opts to take a different wine at the same value and he almost skips out of the shop. Why is bringing back a faulty bottle of wine such a big deal? It’s organic matter. It happens. Get over it. Yet for every nervous person who is frightened of telling you, the wine merchant, that a bottle was bad there is another customer expecting a fight. They think that you will shout at them and tell them to never darken your shop door again. They are always disarmed when you thank them for bringing the bottle back with most of the wine still inside. There are always those chancers who bring back an empty bottle, and tell you how terrible it was – nice try. Then there are the customers who casually mention that the last bottle they bought from you “was a bit fizzy” and can they try something else? And after they’ve gone, you secretly open a bottle to check … We welcome customers brave enough to tell us that our wines absolutely honk Luckily, most suppliers are happy with a picture of the batch number to issue a credit note, or will take it back to test for themselves. But forms have started to creep in. As if small independents don’t have enough admin to deal with already. And that fizzy wine I secretly tried? It was gurgling like a babbling brook. Fortunately for me, when I called my supplier, I wasn’t the first merchant to bring this to their attention. Credit note instantly issued. Unfortunately for me, they had no intention of picking up the 60 bottles of accidentally sparkling reds. Cue an afternoon of me, a sink and a corkscrew. Faulty wines suck, and not just for my customers. THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 7

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tried & Tested La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2009 It’s only made in exceptional vintages and Julio Sáenz believes that 2009’s effort is “even more intense and aromatic and has greater ageing potential” than the 2007. Four years in American oak have imbued it with whispers of vanilla and caramel, but the elegant and perfectly judged fruit is the real star of the show. RRP: £50 ABV: 13.5% Armit Wines (020 7908 0655) armitwines.co.uk A A Badenhorst Raaigras Grenache 2016 There are only 12 rows of what Adi Badenhorst believes are the oldest Grenache vines in the Cape, planted in 1950. Whole-bunch pressing and old oak preserves the purity and perfume of the fruit, which comes from clones that offer a restraint and elegance that you don’t necessarily find in all modern counterparts. RRP: £37 ABV: 12% SWiG (0208 995 7060) swig.co.uk Philippe Bouzereau Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Les Duresses 2015 The estate isn’t certified organic but prides itself on its sustainable practices, and the aim is for minimal intervention and a true expression of terroir. This hits the spot very nicely with its lightness of touch and its combination of cherry and peppery elements. RRP: £39 ABV: 13.5% Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines (01582 722 538) hdnwines.co.uk Consolation Red Socks Carignan 2014 Andy Cook makes the Consolation range in Roussillon “for fun”, in tiny quantities. This fresh but meaty Carignan takes its name from the stains it left on an American friend after foot treading (he happens to be a Boston Red Sox fan). Another wine in the range is called Dog Strangler, for reasons best left opaque. RRP: £25 ABV: 13.5% The Wine Treasury (020 7793 9999) winetreasury.com Quinta do Soalheiro Terramatter Vinho Verde 2015 It’s one of those wines with the kind of fruit purity that serves as a great advertisement for hands-off, let-nature-decide winemaking. But it’s also a good advertisement for chestnut barrels, in which the Alvarinho undergoes partial malolactic. Unfiltered, unfussy, unforgettable. (Enough with the slogans. Ed.) RRP: £23-£25 ABV: 12% Raymond Reynolds (01663 742230) winesfromportugal.com Alphabetical Vin Ordinaire 2016 David Cope and Simon Wibberley rent cellar space in Stellenbosch and source fruit from growers there and in Swartland. Here they’ve crafted a juicy blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that pops on the tongue and has enticing flavours of chocolate, dark fruits and cloves. A modest name for a wine that definitely over-delivers at the price. RRP: £12.95 ABV: 14% SWiG (0208 995 7060) swig.co.uk Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Reserve Chardonnay 2015 Chardonnay has a bit of an identity crisis in some parts of the world but here we get both the buttery richness and the fresh acidity that you’d hope to find in the best examples. Whole-bunch pressed and fermented and matured in small French oak barrels, with hints of pineapple and apple juice. (Not suitable for breakfast.) RRP: £16.50 ABV: 14% Armit Wines (020 7908 0655) armitwines.co.uk Pax The Hermit Syrah 2015 If you’re going to call your Syrah The Hermit, you’re inviting obvious comparisons, yet this robust and eminently drinkable wine, blended with fruit from vineyards across California’s North Coast, is comfortable enough in its own skin. Deep and fullbodied, it’s enriched by hints of eucalyptus, pepper and the friendly aromas of a well-ordered shed. RRP: £18.50 ABV: 13.3% Indigo Wine (020 7733 8391) indigowine.com THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 8

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FRENCH CHARACTERS TRADE EVENT | 10.30 – 5 PM The Vinyl Factory | 51 Poland St | W1F 7LZ London MONBAZILLAC CADILLAC COTES DU RHONE BORDEAUX COTE DE LOT Last year, we went Beyond The Classics. This year we would like you to meet some Independent French Characters! CHAMPAGNE SAINT-EMILION VINSOBRES COTES CATALANES GAILLAC (...) To register email pandora.mistry@businessfrance.fr Website: events-export.businessfrance.fr/frenchcharacters THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 9

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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Sam Owens Thirsty Cambridge Favourite wine on my list I’m utterly mad for Riesling and Rhône reds. But it’s probably got to be the Riecine Chianti Classico – think of it as Chianti made Burgundy-style. Beautiful, sexy, silky stuff. Favourite wine and food match Andre et Michel Quenard Chignin Vieilles Vignes with Tartiflette. The crisp freshness of an Alpine white cutting through the cheese and fat of Savoyard cuisine. I used to live in the French Alps and we have a wholesale business out there, supplying all those thirsty skiers. Favourite wine trip Rheingau, Rheinhessen and the Pfalz in Jan 2016 with my two partners – which gave us an amazing overview of what Germany’s best young winemakers are producing these days. Favourite wine trade person Let’s pick out a recent favourite – Nico Espenschied of Espenhof in Rheinhessen. He’s a young guy, is shaking things up all around him, makes beautiful wines (red and white) – and even took time out last harvest to brew some beer. Wine glasses are just getting bigger Wine glasses in the UK are now on average seven times larger than they were 300 years ago, according to research by Cambridge University. Wine glass size increased from 66ml in the 1700s to 417ml in the 2000s. The average glass size in 2016-17 was 449ml. Wine consumption increased almost four-fold between 1960 and 1980, and almost doubled again between 1980 and 2000 as wine became more affordable. The Telegraph, December 13 A volunteer is tattooed to prove the point It’s official: wine is better than maths A neuroscientist has claimed that tasting wine is more stimulating to the Magpie brain than solving maths equations or listening to music. Gordon Shepherd of Yale university said that drinking wine involves “a very complex motor act”. He explained: “The molecules in wine don’t have taste or flavour, but when they stimulate our brain, the brain creates flavour the same way it creates colour.” The Independent, December 7 Jancis joins The Wine Show on ITV The Wine Show has moved from ITV to a prime-time slot on Channel 5, with Jancis Robinson one of four new presenters joining the line-up. The second series, aired from January, features segments filmed in France, the USA, Canada, Georgia, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Bosnia and Germany. The Drinks Business, December 11 • Ian Botham is to launch an English sparkling wine. A range marketed in partnership with Broadland Wineries will include still wines from Australia and New Zealand. The premium tier, branded Sir Ian Botham, will feature English fizz from a yetto-be-chosen producer. The Drinks Business, December 13 winemerchantmag.com 01323 871836 Favourite wine shop I’m a big fan of Vinoteca’s places in London – a great selection of interesting wines, zero baggage and pretence, lovely food to nibble with the grog. And Charlie Young is a damn fine bloke. winemerchantteam@gmail.com Twitter: @WineMerchantMag The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the owners of the UK’s 855 specialist independent wine shops. Every one of them, as the previous sole exception to the rule has now closed down. The magazine is edited by Graham Holter. Printed in Sussex by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2018 Registered in England: No 6441762 VAT 943 8771 82 THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 10

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TUESDAY 6TH FEBRUARY 10:00 - 18:00 @ THE DUTCH CENTRE Featuring… The Bedrock: 30 of our core producers, The Topsoil: 10 new producers Soil Sessions: Producer-guided focus tastings, Know Your Roots: Blind tasting competition ‘En Pinkeur’: First look at 2017’s rosés! RSVP: afarrell@bancroftwines.com Three New Year’s resolutions from Winetraders 2018 is our 20th anniversary and we’ve been changing perceptions of Italian wines since we started. However, with the current economic backdrop it’s hardly the time for resting on one’s laurels. Winetraders’ priority for the coming year is not just about uncovering more innovative producers with great wines; the challenge today is to help customers sell our wines more easily. We will be actively pursuing three initiatives in 2018. > Persuading our producers to create better value cuvées An example of this is the new Barbera from Walter Massa, set to retail under £10. It is no longer enough to introduce a new grape such as Timorasso to the UK. Now we need to use our expertise to enable customers to capitalise on the appeal of Massa’s estate (and Timorasso in particular). The creation of a new wine – exclusively for the UK – will allow our customers to win new business via a more accessible price point. > Making it easier to order Stockholding is a bugbear for everyone and Winetraders realise that importing 25 dozen of one wine just to win a better price deters clients to encourage breadth in a range. The ability to draw on a mixed range from UK stocks at EXC prices allows our customers to be more flexible in their ordering and will lead to more exciting ranges with less financial risk. There will be those for whom this is less practical and a new price band for smaller drops – just 24 bottles within the M25 – will be available. We are confident that these strategies will allow our customers to remain nimble and able to make the most of opportunities even amidst the looming shadow of Brexit. > Encouraging producers to seek third-party endorsement Winetraders and most of our clients are jointly sceptical of reviews. However, third-party endorsements can be hugely influential. Our estates consider the production of great wine to be their duty, so it’s necessary to stop them being unnecessarily modest to garner the positive reviews which encourage customers to try new wines and to trade up. It won’t affect how Winetraders buy or what we like, but a 98-point score for the Brunello di Montalcino 2013 from Renieri is unquestionably easier to sell than a similar wine without a score. Winetraders (UK) Ltd Tel: 01993 882 440 www.winetraders.eu THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 11

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market analysis And still the growth continues Despite all the misgivings about 2017, it was a year when the number of independent wine merchants continued to soar. Claire Harries finds out what’s going on Independent retailers face a series of daunting hurdles. Spiralling rents and rates, the increasing National Living Wage and a Brexit-fuelled slowdown in consumer spending are all taking their toll. Yet amid the gloom there is good news for specialist independent wine retailers. Last year saw the emergence of 23 new wine merchants across the UK. A further 19 premises were opened by existing independents expanding their businesses. At the time of going to press, The Wine Merchant counted 855 specialist bricksand-mortar wine retailers across the country, operated by 624 businesses. But that figure is almost certain to be out of date by the time of publication. The indies seem to be more than holding their own in a climate that has seen the recent loss of some big names from the retail scene. Stalwarts like M&S and Next are having to re-evaluate their high street offer. Banks and post offices are closing, with all the implications that has for customer footfall (not to mention the nuisance factor for small businesses which need to collect or deposit cash). At the same time, online spending has continued to increase. The Centre for Retail Research predicts that e-commerce will claim a 17.8% share of consumer purchases when the figures for 2017 are totted up, the highest level in western Europe. That compares with 9.4% in 2010 and 16.8% in 2016. Many bricks-and-mortar independents are thriving, however, by providing consumers with a different type of shopping experience. To use the jargon of the marketers for a moment, the trick is to be experiential rather than merely transactional, and to tap into a consumer mindset that perhaps regards buying wine as a leisure activity rather than a chore. Perhaps it’s no surprise that 13 of the 23 new wine merchants chose to have an on-trade element THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 12 Analysis by the Local Data Company and the British Independent Retailers Association indicates that businesses with some sort of hospitality element are booming. Cafes, restaurants, bars, salons and nail bars are all in the top 10 business growth areas of the past year. So perhaps it’s no surprise that 13 of those 23 new wine merchants chose to have an on-trade element, and with these new consumer expectations in mind, that could make all the difference to high street longevity. Not all of the 23 wine merchant start-ups can be attributed to optimistic millennials. While it is true that some of those ventures involved people in their 20s, an equal amount were older, in their mid-30s or 40s, either leaving behind quite different careers or ploughing their professional wine knowledge into retail. London welcomed the most new shops, a total of 16, nine of which were a result of expansion. These included a ninth store for Borough Wines, a sixth for Vagabond and a third for Theatre of Wine. Wales was the second most popular place for new businesses, having notched up a total of three new shops, two of which have gone the hybrid route.

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Borough Wines in Battersea was one of 16 wine shops that opened in London during 2017 The Wine Merchant noted the closure of 17 shops over the course of last year. However, four of those were taken over and continue as wine merchants: Tivoli in Cheltenham, Market Row (now The Salon) in Brixton, Best Cellars (now Jaded Palates) in Ashburton, Devon, and Aitken Wines (now McNicoll & Cairnie) in Dundee. Wines Etc in Eccleshall, Staffordshire went on the market in the spring and welcomed its new owner just before Christmas (see Comings & Goings, page seven, for the full story). Meanwhile, The Bottleneck in Broadstairs is still on the market. “We thought we had a sale but it fell through in June,” says owner Chris Beckett. Although he says the local housing market is buoyant with young families relocating from London, ready to take advantage of the high-speed rail service, he admits that the Brexit situation is having a detrimental effect on his plans. “Nobody knows where we’re going to be in two years’ time and I don’t think banks are particularly adventurous in lending to commercial businesses at the moment,” he says. “The whole atmosphere is not conducive to selling.” London and Scotland saw the most closures, with four apiece, and Cornwall lost a total of two – although Tamsin Jones from Mission Wines has plans for a new shop. Jones had to say goodbye to her premises in Polzeath last year and is continuing her search for a new base. “It’s pretty tough here but we are willing THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 13 to hold out for the right spot,” she says. “Mission Wines is kind of on life-support. I can’t decide which direction to take it in until I know if we’ll have a new site for 2018. It will always be retail and eventsbased.” Jones says she is keeping the business going by supplying a few “patient individuals” as well as running ticketed tastings at her local pub. Finding a bricks-and-mortar base can be tough, partly because business rates continue to be out of kilter with current rental values. High streets are shrinking because often Continues page 14

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market analysis From page 13 when a retail unit closes, it is re-purposed as housing or office space. Local councils have been urged to revitalise town centres by increasing parking facilities and making parking charges more realistic, which would perhaps have a more immediate impact than the government’s efforts to regenerate the high street by implementing the Portas Pilot scheme. Five years on, the 12 pilot towns awarded a share of the £1.2m fund along with support and advice from retail guru Mary Portas have still seen around 1,000 shops disappearing from their high streets. Obviously postcodes play a huge part in the equation, as Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson points out. “Fundamentally the high street is adapting and evolving, and that’s happening at a different rate depending where you are in the country,” he says, “and that is a reflection of that micro-economy. “So I can look at places like Market Harborough and they remain fairly untouched. I can go to places like Market Rasen [one of the Portas towns] and that is massively challenged for a whole host of reasons – you have to look at the residents, visitors and workers and what money is flowing around that economy.” It seems the overall growth of wine merchants we are seeing reflects the bigger picture in the high street. According to figures from LDC and BIRA, the first half of 2017 saw a 181% increase on 2016 in the growth of independent shops on the high street, while the chains remained in decline with a net loss of 659 shops across the UK. However that loss has slowed considerably from the 2,001 units the chains lost in the same period the previous year. Cafes, restaurants and bars are all in the top 10 business growth areas So, what are the independents and, more specifically, the wine merchants doing right? Hopkinson says: “I think what it’s all Duncan Murray: “People know who he is” about is differentiation and building a relationship with the customer. “I live near Market Harborough where there is a very well known wine merchant called Duncan Murray. “When Majestic opened about five years ago he was obviously a bit nervous but actually – and I have to say that Majestic do a very good job at linking to their customer base – the thing about Duncan and his merry crew of people is that people know who he is. He goes off and visits vineyards; there’s a great depth of knowledge there.” Hopkinson concludes: “Consumers want something experiential and, tied into that, I’d say educational. “A good independent wine merchant has to be an exceptional relationship person and a storyteller. They know their stuff. They are amazing.” The first half of 2017 saw a 181% increase in the growth of independent shops, while chains stayed in decline THE WINE MERCHANT January 2018 14

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