The Wine Merchant issue 29

 

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The Wine Merchant issue 29

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THE WINE MERCHANT. An independent magazine for independent retailers Issue 29, September 2014 I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together Suppliers hit out at lazy buyers and late payers Independents have been accused by suppliers of “lazy” buying and urged to take the plunge with more specialist wines. Merchant revealed frustration among countries and regions. A straw poll of importers by The Wine admiration for the independent sector, there were concerns raised by some businesses about slow payments. “The margins are so the system,” said one supplier. tight in wine at most levels that we owe it to each other to keep the cash flowing around expect too much marketing support. Several suppliers also said independents Although suppliers broadly expressed THIS MONTH 2 BACCHUS Proof that wine is more popular than religion 4 comings & GOINGS some companies that many independents are failing to do justice to up-and-coming One supplier said: “Independents can Good news for Warwick and Wells-next-the-Sea 6 tried & TESTED sometimes be a bit lazy with their ranging and their buying, and maybe not as “I wish they would embrace more the innovative as some of the smaller suppliers. suppliers that are akin to them – the small businesses that have specialist ranges.” told to bring free stock in order to do them,” said one. “So we pay for fuel, our time, we paying for the privilege.” “We’re asked to do tastings in a shop and We boldly plug our palates into the mains 9 merchant profile educate and sell the wines for the merchant, • Shame to be the same – pages 18 to 20 and we have to pay for the stock too, so we’re Wine Bear Richard Shama gives suppliers a mauling 14 david williams Fine wine frauds affect us all, not just the super-rich 26 make a date New Zealand and Ribera del Duero want your attention 28 focus on Champagne What independents can offer beyond the grandes marques 34 call of duty Architect Arthur Casas designed a long hallway for Mistral, Brazil’s most respected wine retailer, taking customers on an enticing journey to the bar beyond. Bottles are presented from a wall of high-gloss plastic, with mirrors and unfinished wooden slats adding texture and colour. It’s just one of several concepts that are changing the face of wine retailing across the world. Turn to page 16 for more examples. The pros and cons of shipping wine DPD, or opting for a bonded alternative 36 suppler bulletin Essential updates from leading agents and importers

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BACCHUS here last year and I had plenty of time to sit and worry and think about what the hell I should do.” build a sturdy dinner table, capable of for the hot pans carried from the rear kitchen by Smith. A cabinet maker friend helped Smith October and a week hasn’t gone by without me having bookings. Some weeks it’s every night – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. it but by the end of this first year I will probably see a 20 per cent growth in worth doing.” “Obviously this is the first year doing seating 10 people. A central piece of slate has been inset in the wood, which is ideal “What I cook is what they get,” he says. business as a whole, which makes it well Iain’s recipe for sales success Every wine merchant has quiet times for sales, and Smith’s Wines in Exeter is no different. But its solution is novel. untrained chef, has started cooking meals His outlay on equipment was just £400 digit increase in takings. Owner Iain Smith, an enthusiastic but “I ask if people have any allergies or any weird food requirements and warn them that the meal is unlikely to be vegetarian and Rioja. or fat free. A big dish for me is lamb shank “I used to DJ for a living and spent a and chorizo marinated in balsamic vinegar long time up in Bristol, and got my hands on a really good jerk marinade, so I make get bored so I try different things out on people. “I match three different wines at for his customers up to three times a week. – an investment that has yielded a doublevery residential area called St Leonards, which is quite affluent,” Smith explains. Leonards just bugger off – they’re gone, “In the summer the good people of St “I’m out of the city centre of Exeter in a jerk pork belly. What I cook in the shop is what I would cook for myself at home. I do Coleman’s EP is available on Spotify different price points with the food. A glass of the least expensive wine is £2.50, the next is £5 and the naughty wine is £7.50shelf. So I’m matching food with wine all work delightfully.” plus, depending on what gets pulled off the the time and giving my customers a choice of price points to choose from, all of which cooked food involved minimal red tape. “It’s quite an easy thing to do. I had to change my licence so I was able to sell Smith says the decision to start offering Diva returns to the Ditch Hangingditch is inviting a former member of staff to attend its wine fair in November – opera singer Jennifer Coleman. Manchester Cathedral and will feature soprano, who once helped finance her The fair will be held at nearby they’re not here. Trade tends to slip a bit. We had a particularly good summer down musical interludes courtesy of a string quartet and vocals from the 24-year-old studies at the Royal Northern College of Music with a part-time job at Hangingditch. drinking and music students,” says owner Ben Stephenson. “We’ve got another coming up behind Jennifer in the ranks.” “There’s a bit of a connection between wine for consumption on the premises, and the police insisted that the wine must be served in conjunction with a substantial plate of food – so that’s not a problem. “I did a basic food hygiene course so I could have a piece of paper on the wall, and registered the business as a food outlet.” £400. “There was little financial risk,” Smith says. The table cost nothing and the cooker “I started cooking at the beginning of soprano doing a bit of work with us who’s and involve music where possible. When so we do the opposite: we have an opera break in between the drinking.” He adds: “With our larger events we try Smith: “What I cook is what they get” you go to the opera, there’s a drinks break, THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 2

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Looking for more draughty shops “People are getting single-estate Italian wines for the equivalent of a screw-cap from Aldi,” declares Charles Dark, owner of the Horsham Enoteca. so popular that a second branch is about to open, in Godalming, just months after the first was established. The concept is based around wines The shop’s draught wine offer has proved be able to achieve margins “in the 30 per cent area – that’s what we work on,” he than that.” He adds that terms are flexible and says. “People in some areas could get more draught wines are already being sold to clients. The company’s new shop is just off Flying Füchs a number of independents and on-trade a central pedestrianised area near the town’s main car park and the high street. “The Godalming branch will also have a wine bar, which we don’t have space for in Horsham,” says Dark. “It will be like we wines will be, there will be a seating area so you can have a glass of wine and also snack food from a deli counter: cured start with.” meats and cheeses and a bit of antipasti. dispensed from 10 or 20-litre bags, either channelled through a barrel or – as in the case in Horsham – a false wall. and a rosé on tap, all directly imported, representing about a third of turnover. wines; every day customers come in something different,” says Dark. The store currently offers three whites “Our Man with the Facts” • According to research carried out by YouGov for The Wilson Drinks wine. are here, but bigger. Where all the draught Report, 78% of British adults drink • France is still the most important wine exporter to the UK market. The value of its sales in 2013 was Australia on £288 million. £813 million, according to Statista, “We have customers who only buy draught bringing back bottles to re-fill, sometimes for the same wine, other times they take “We’ll stay open three evenings a week to independent merchants, who can also buy barrels supplied by Dark at cost, or opt to dispense via a system of their own. of draught wine at Horsham, and admits The wines are now being offered to other Worship wine at Stamford tastings “We do our tastings on a Sunday morning and call it an alternative to church,” says Blake Johnston, manager of The Stamford Wine Company in Lincolnshire. time for a customer event, but for Stamford – which also operates as a wine bar – it makes perfect sense. “Our inside bar is rather small – there It might not sound like the most obvious followed by Italy on £547 million and • As recently as 1990, 70% of pricing was originally less ambitious than it could have been. “We were doing wine at £5.50 a refill, which is too low,” he says. it’s not as price sensitive as we thought.” Dark has been taken aback by the success South Africa’s grape harvest was used for purposes other than wine of Cape grapes are channelled into winemaking. production. Today the vast majority “We can get £7, £8 or £9 a bottle. We’re not hitting the ‘I just want to get drunk’ market; Retailers buying wines from Dark should • London accounts for one third of all Champagne sales in the UK. In the to Christmas. market as a whole, 44% of sales take place in the 12 weeks in the run-up • According to Nielsen research, are only five tables – so we struggle to hold tastings in the evening when the bar is tasting,” Johnston explains. open because it means disrupting regular “So we taste on a Sunday morning and customers who aren’t necessarily here for a the events are really well attended and so it goes into the early afternoon.” the number one barrier (56%) to people enjoy it. We throw in lunch as well Roll out the barrel and earn margins of 30% purchasing online is not being able enjoy going to a physical store. to see and touch products. Fifty-three per cent of those questioned say they garden area, accommodating 10 tables. The business plans to create a covered THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 3

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Town that loves its independents Cellar by the Quay, a new Norfolk independent, has praised the support it’s received from suppliers since opening in April. and Hallgarten and the help we’ve got “We deal with Boutinot, Enotria, Musar premises in Kings Road, Clifton Village, Down Road site. because of the redevelopment of the Clifton that when we took it on – we were able to trial a new shop for a year without big commitment to leases and at a very literally just behind the old one.” Director Richard Davis says: “We knew attractive distressed rent. Now we know it works, we’ve moved to a smarter shop from day one has been fantastic – you can’t knock them,” says David Sleight, who owns the business jointly with Peter Chalmers. of Wells-next-the-Sea, a small town on Norfolk’s north coast where chain stores appeared on the southern fringe of the are conspicuously absent. “People like to go to the butcher, the The shop is situated on the waterfront Leap of faith Warwick residents Tom Fisher and Hannah Lovell have opened an independent store in the town in the Wells-next-the-Sea’s latest small trader form of The Square Wine Company. working for SH Jones, Bottoms Up and The couple, who have experience are virtually unheard of. A Co-op recently town but big names like Boots or WHSmith baker and the fishmonger and the other we came here,” says Sleight. particular style. and we’re both big fans of Bordeaux and Shiraz and a good Pinot Noir from New Zealand.” independents – that’s one of the reasons Burgundy. But we also love a good Aussie “Peter loves his Italian, I like my Spanish Majestic, said setting up their own shop has been “a dream for some time now” and the availability of a lease in Market Square persuaded them to take “a leap of faith”. food-matching events. A large table takes centre stage in the “We will be looking to wholesale in shop and forms the focus of tastings and losing that seaside feel and becoming more 125 new houses in the town, which has got to be good for business. There are plenty of people around here that enjoy a good are on holiday.” bottle of wine, whether they live here or of a 12-month destination. They’re building “It’s a town that’s slightly changing. It’s Italian specialist Shoreditch has another independent wine merchant with the opening of Passione Vino in Leonard Street. off the premises until late from Monday to Saturday, and host tastings for up to 18 people – a figure that was imposed by the licensing authority following representations from neighbours. Bruschetta and Luca Dusi. Parent company Pandemonio is an The shop will sell wine for consumption for Roberson in the late 1990s. “Our career paths went different ways but we stayed friends,” says Sleight. “We always talked about having a shop and ended up having a conversation one evening. I said I’d found a location, and dragged him down to look at it.” that it’s possible to attend tastings in Sleight and Chalmers met while working Italian importer owned by Federico Lovell and Fisher: wholesale ambitions London. Buying decisions are shared. The pair work alternate shifts, meaning DBM relocates Bristol independent Davis Bell McCraith has moved to new premises due to the scheduled demolition of its original shop. The business is now operating from a month or so and are just finalising “We’re actually quite similar in taste, which is quite useful,” says Sleight. “There are the … ‘oh’. But there isn’t a bias towards one odd wines we’ve tried and gone ‘yes’ … ‘no’ our portfolio with a focus on boutique wholesalers are not currently selling,” generic so we hope to hand-sell some spirits and quality wines that national says Fisher. “A lot of the wine lists in the area sell themselves short and are fairly THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 4

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interesting wines from around the globe and possibly Italy if discussions with an importer go well.” but with a focus on Australia, New Zealand Store no more Bacchus et al, the Guildford independent, is now up and running as a shop-free business, under a new name. coming under increasing pressure from by director Mario Pavli to sell up and The company’s store had been the same name that has been home to the business since 2009. heard on the grapevine it was becoming available. In Queens Park, which is very Chris Rackham of Salusbury says: “We Vinorium pops up Vinorium’s pop-up wine shop in two converted shipping containers opens for business on London’s South Bank on October 6 for a three-month stint. bottles and feature three Enomatic machines in a custom-built pod. The units will combine to house 1,000 The pop-up will represent the first much a residential area, we are a local wine olives. It’s a bit of a one-stop shop for some people. Tooting Bec so a little bit residential and we’re hoping it will be the same sort of people.” supermarkets and the decision was taken shop but also with cheese, meats, pasta and “The area in Balham is a little bit towards rebrand the business as Rosso Bianco Fine Wines, trading online and selling direct to private clients. It is now based in Woking. appearance in the UK of The Flute, an Bec to the future Thorold Wines in Balham, owned by Applejack Trading Company. concept and have the same impact on local Thorold and has been run by cider and spirits wholesaler Applejack for a few focus on its core activities. expansion for Salusbury. Rackham says it is possible that the Enomatic created for sparkling wines. The containers, which are both 20ft The Salusbury Wine Store has bought Thorold Wines was established by Daniel long, will appear at various destinations McCloskey. across the UK in the new year, according to the Kent-based company’s director Stuart the Queens Park site and is being renamed The Ritherton Wine Store, after the road of The shop is being refitted to resemble years. The business has now decided to second site will pave the way for further why not recommend something a little less ordinary? YOUR CUSTOMERS NEED WINE STORAGE; • The right conditions • Space to store large amounts of wine • A commission scheme to thank you for introducing us to the client • An opportunity to help your customers keep their cellars stocked up Wine cellars less ordinary TEL: 020 7101 7928 . MARKETING@SPIRALCELLARS.COM THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 5

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tried & Tested Trentham Heathcote Family Reserve Shiraz 2009 We’re promised “ripe fruit aromas of pepper, plum and chocolate” in this seductive offering from New South Wales, and by god we get them, along with soothing underwater in a high-class bath,” purred one of our more excitable tasting panel members. RRP: £15.95 ABV: 14.5% Seckford Agencies (01206 231188) seckfordagencies.co.uk herbal and menthol notes. “It’s like putting your head Domaine Entretan Cuvée Polère 2012 Tasting this Minervois wine is akin to plugging your palate into the mains. Proceedings commence with wistful aromas of Imperial Leather and baby talc, but riot. Firm, but much more than fair. RRP: £12.99 ABV: 14.5% Unity Wine (+33 468 43 59 48) unitywine.co.uk that’s really just to soften you up: prepare for an all-out attack on the gums as star anise as coffee flavours run Willow Bridge Dragonfly Cabernet Merlot 2012 Australia doesn’t always represent the best value but for 11 quid you really can’t argue with this Western and chocolate – but there’s a herbal edge and a quaffer, with an attractive simplicity. RRP: £10.99 ABV: 13.5% barwellandjones.com blend. Its a master of the dark arts – liquorice, coffee Celler del Roure Parotet 2012 This Valencian producer prizes local varieties: this one rich, fumy wine with a spicy prickle. There are alluring flavours of black cherries and smoked meats, but remarked that “it tastes of a health food shop”. RRP: £19.99 ABV: 14.5% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.co.uk the effect isn’t entirely decadent. Indeed one taster is 75% Mando, blended with Monastrell. It’s made with indigenous yeast and aged in clay amphorae, creating a lightness of touch at work that makes it an enjoyable Barwell & Jones (01208 418 2888) Ashbourne Sandstone 2008 Bottle age has given this Hemel-en-Aarde blend of Sauvignon Blanc (77%), Chardonnay (20%) and Semillon (3%) a rich golden hue. The sense of Anakena Ona Special Reserve 2012 When a blend contains disparate varietal elements the temptation is to write it off as a gimmick, or simply points the other way. Hailing from Leyda, it neatly RRP: £12.99 ABV: 13.5% a means of shifting unsold wine. Here, the evidence opulence is reinforced by a bottle that weighs almost on the nose but the wine is surprisingly nimble and tight, with hints of butterscotch and elderflower. RRP: £16.49 ABV: 12.5% hallgartendruitt (01582 722538) hallgartendruitt.co.uk as much as a frozen chicken. There’s a cosy mustiness combines the buttery fat of Chardonnay, the peachy Bottle Green (0113 205 4500) bottlegreenwines.com warmth of Viognier and the steely spritz of Riesling. Oscar Truschel Reserve Particuliere Riesling 2012 A pure, fruity offering from Cave de Beblenheim that would give novice Alsace drinkers a pretty good introduction to the style. The acid is in check, and the rounded finish gets steadily more exotic on the straightforward wine, certainly, but it’s not boring. RRP: £10.99 ABV: 12.5% Bottle Green (0113 205 4500) bottlegreenwines.com finish. There’s no trickery and no fuss. It’s a simple, Nostros Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2012 This Casablanca Pinot pours as pale as dilute fruit squash, and the similarities don’t end there. The sweet, juicy berry flavours have a cordial character on a sunny day. Just keep it away from the kids. RRP: £7.99 ABV: 13.5% Alliance Wine (01505 506060) alliancewine.co.uk too, topped off with the vanilla resulting from three months in oak. Probably best served lightly chilled, THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 6

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bits & BOBs FAVOURITE THINGS Barry Starmore StarmoreBoss Sheffield Wine gets older quicker at home A study has found that wine stored at home can age four times as fast as wine stored in a professional cellar. Mach Foundation wine academy in Italy, said: “A relatively small difference in the even promotes new reactions. Dr Fulvio Mattivi, of the Edmund Magpie Abbey arrivals A wine range inspired by Downton Abbey has gone on sale in the UK, distributed by The Oxford Wine Company. Marc Delong in Entre-Deux-Mers. The Claret is 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet and 5% Malbec. The Blanc is 70% Muscadelle and 30% Semillon. Both retail at £12.99. Company said the wines were in Theo Sloot of the Oxford Wine The wines are made by Jean- Favourite wine on my list Vino Chisti E 3 by Tim Manning who is based in Italy. Hope to see his vineyard later this month. Favourite food and wine match If I am allowed a fortified wine this would be the Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortada with an aged Iberico Serrano de Bellota. temperature speeds up several chemical “After six months under domestic reactions associated with wine ageing and conditions the wine in the bottle was The house-stored wine was ageing approximately four times faster.” Daily Mail, August 11 approximately as ‘old’ as a bottle stored for two years under cellar conditions. great and good of England at the start of in the US market. Oxford Mail, August 12 Favourite wine trip So far my favourite trip has to be the nine-day whizz tour as a guest of De Bortoli in 2006, meeting most of the team and all the family. There were some great tastings, including the 1982 Noble One. Favourite wine trade person So many really great and good … Anna and Susanna Grassi of Azienda Agricola Grillo are delightful, creative and fun. A super estate continuing the family tradition and allowing modern techniques to enhance their skill. the 20th century. They are already on sale the style of those enjoyed by the Quake escape The impact of the magnitude-6 earthquake that jolted the Napa Valley Egrets, he’s had a few may not have been as widespread as originally feared. and in some cases barrels and tanks were damaged, and bottles smashed. The Hess Collection alone lost 15,000 cases of Cabernet. Clay Gregory, the president of Visit Many wineries suffered in the quake King’s daily bottle Richard III was drinking a bottle of wine a day at towards the end of his life, according to a study of his teeth and bones by the British Geological Survey and the University of Leicester. diet also included swans, herons and egrets. The Telegraph, August 18 Isotope analysis found that the king’s Napa Valley, said: “It’s not a catastrophe. It clearly was a very bad thing, and it But it’s not a catastrophe.” New York Times, August 25 Favourite wine shop Theatre of Wine in Greenwich. The guys won’t know me. I love the whole idea and the efforts being made to take wine to the people. RIP the old Oddbins! impacted some wineries and some homes. The Wine Merchant is mailed freely to the www.winemerchantmag.com 01323 370451 Twitter: @WineMerchantMag winemerchantmag@gmail.com owners of the UK’s 740 independent wine by Graham Holter. Printed by East Print. © Graham Holter Ltd 2014 England: No 6441762 shops. Except one, and that’s deliberate. Edited Registered in VAT 943 8771 82 THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 8

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merchant profile: wine bear “The industry is crap for online retail. Everything that you can possibly imagine can be wrong is wrong.” The Chipping news Wine Bear owner Richard Shama works out of a magnificent space in the Cotswolds. But life isn’t necessarily idyllic, despite a healthy increase in turnover. Suppliers, he argues, could do more to make things more straightforward for independents, particularly when it comes to online sales R ichard Shama began trading as Winebear.com in 2010 and opened his bricks-and-mortar operation just ahead of Christmas 2012 in the Cotswolds town of Chipping Norton. that should be infamous? – by the close Jeremy Clarkson and Alex James. But top quality wine. Wine Bear’s focus is on supplying the The town is made famous – or perhaps main square was built of Cotswolds stone space, earmarked as a cigar humidor in future plans. wine range, the shop sells coffee for to take home. As well as an interesting and eclectic in 1796, as the home of a brewery, and its The spacious site just off the town’s sturdy safe is a striking feature of the retail “People either see you as a wine shop or as a beer shop but not both. To attract a beer buff you’ve got to keep 100 lines of the sales are 12, 24 or 36 bottles.” Shama likes to run a no-frills or so and they’re only buying one or two “It was a pain to be honest,” he says. bottles at a time, whereas with wine most operation and has eschewed the modern conventions of Enomatics in favour of proximity of the likes of Rebekah Brooks, more everyday rural folk of the area with immediate consumption and beans in bags still to come but bottled beer has already been and gone. Spirits are seen by Shama as something being a traditional wine merchant with a Continues page 10 THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 9

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merchant profile: wine bear From page 9 modern image. don’t know what you are’ because we have tables and sell coffee but don’t look like That’s it.” a café. But does it really matter? A good wine merchant is one that does good wine. “We do get a lot of people who say ‘we This was a nice space and I couldn’t really resist it. A foolhardy thing to do cases coming in of one product, and five to be there for weeks. You keep fit! clients want it next day, five clients want it two days later and five clients aren’t going Eventually the family grew – kid, dog – had grown from 200 to 2,000 stock items, from our suppliers. That had follow-on because we were broking a lot more items of everything because the industry is crap for online retail. Completely and utterly shit. In what way? Everything that you can possibly imagine can be wrong is wrong. There’s an unbelievable unwillingness from anyone specific examples of orders he could not fulfil because his suppliers had failed to – and there was no way of logging on to their systems to check availability]. in the industry to fix it. [Shama gives some communicate that wines he listed on his it was just easy to remember and an option that was readily available with “wine” in it when it came to securing a web domain. thinking it’s a wine bar or that it’s ‘wine and beer’, but no … it’s Wine … Bear.” How did you get from London to Chipping Norton? We spent nine months in London. We took a spot just off the King’s Road – this must have been late 08 – and just took some longer to finish, so we spent most of our time trying to make money from actual shop sales rather than online sales. The restaurant next to me went stock in there. The website took a little bit for a shop,” he concedes. “You get people “To be honest, it is rubbish as the name And there’s no great secret to the name – and we moved up here to the country. This resist it. Foolhardy thing to do! problems – now we don’t have bottle shots was a really nice space and I couldn’t really How did life start out in the new shop? We took this on in 2012. We opened just about for Christmas. It looked like a Then we shut in January to finish the building site. We just stuck in tons of stock. refurbishment and reopened in February of 2013. I guess trade’s up by about 20%, 25%, which is great. Was the website at the core of business? The original site was going to be a selection of about 200 items. Very quickly that list a lot of different things. morphed to more and more and more. You By the time the website was finished it don’t really need to look at stockholding to site were no longer available for him to buy Their claim would be, if you had stock in bankrupt. The new owners came in, and online out of a flat in Battersea, which bought my lease. I went back to just doing was slightly painful because I lived on the fourth floor. On occasions you’ve got 15 your shop, we’d give you an update when your stock has run out. But they don’t really do that either. I spend, on a good week, 10 per cent, 15 per cent of my time, on the phone, to customer service departments of various other. suppliers, asking them about what vintages are in date; what this, what that, what the So you have a 21st century online wine retailing industry being serviced by a late 19th century supply base. Yeah, basically as far as I can see the wine industry is set up for when there were one on-trade, and off-trade. or two regional wine merchants which had multiple facets to them, from wholesale, to The business has a turnover of around £650,000, of which £150,000 comes from the shop THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 10 miles that way, eight miles the other way. There are tons of merchants now, eight

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These are relatively small distances. You then go down into London and there’s a wine merchant every mile or mile and a with small accounts. half, and historically that wasn’t the case. These are small independent merchants all of the customer base knows about So it’s completely changed; it’s all online, things, and they just want to find that wine quickly and get what they want. And they should be able to get what they want, from Do online businesses need to offer as many as 2,000 wines? There’s no real point doing an online shop if it’s got 100 items on it, because it’s not really why people go online. If they want a very small selection – you may as well go to your local merchant and speak to him about why he’s chosen those 80 down and have a conversation and get internet. 100 items or 200 items – in other words, whoever. Why it’s not happening … no idea. The shop plays host to tasting events of varying popularity – and packed-out music nights tasting notes? Your space could be filled doing is basically fulfilling orders, and supplying me with a list. very quickly by a computer. All that you’re If they are just a distributor, then fine, any retailer tastes everything. Some merchants say they do. That’s bollocks. I think retailers will make any retailer to say, yes, we’ve tasted every nonsense. Because vintages change, and you need single product on our shelf, all the time, is to make a decision. You need to put an order in for the 2012 and you get an replacement?” email back at 4.30pm saying: “2012 is efforts to taste as much as they can, but for different reds and 80 different whites. Sit relationship, which you don’t get on the those additional benefits of a face-to-face The real purpose of internet sales is to but work on very tight, small distribution margins, sometimes lower than 10 per higher. So do the job properly. want to work on 30 per cent, sometimes In six years of business I’ve been sent cent. That’s not what they want to do. They give people diversity and good fulfilment, those aspects are impinged upon slightly but not having up-to-date data. particularly, unless you’ve got oodles of Online isn’t working for anyone, good service, quick turnaround. And all of a questionnaire by one company, Liberty. I work with 30 people. One company has our service to you?” Whether they listen to me or not I have no idea, and I guess taking bottle shots. order in on a Thursday: you’ve put the asked for what I want: “how can we better people will ask for different things. But for starters there should be a uniform way of Do you taste everything in the shop? We don’t taste everything – I don’t think out, it’s now 2013 – are you OK with the send me something else? And while that may work in London, possibly, it doesn’t people just say yes, send a case. Sometimes you may say, no, can you cash like Naked Wines. Any of the guys who are working with multiple suppliers, even major issues. suppliers? The majority of importers in this country claim to be agents, but they don’t information on them. particularly represent any of the people properly. They don’t really have that much if you haven’t got bottle shots, proper ones as big as the Wine Society, are having particularly work anywhere else. So a lot of Continues page 12 What other concerns do you have about How are you representative of a vineyard Importers claim to be agents, but they don’t particularly represent people properly THE WINE MERCHANT SEPTEMBER 2014 11

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merchant profile: wine bear From page 11 Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don’t know. I taste the majority of what I sell in the shop. important. Because I’ve got one taste, I’m not 100 per cent sure it’s massively Will they then get round to tasting it? If you speak to 10,000 people, potentially no one will know what WineSearcher is And you see a lot of merchants like that. How are you performing financially? The website does about £150,000 to and the private customers are about Burgundy en primeur, Bordeaux en primeur, Piemonte. if you’re up 20%. Well yeah, we’re a good wine merchant. shitloads about products, I work with all the best importers in the UK. Whilst I know shitloads about wine and I know I’m critical of their inability to jump into the 21st century, it doesn’t mean I don’t Altogether we’re about £650,000 a year. going to put tons of north west Italian wines on my shelf and I’m going to have 60 different Nebbiolos”. And I’ll be a specialist in Nebbiolo in Chipping Norton, for what all, actually. The majority of what people want is that’s worth – it’s probably worth bugger decent wine in a certain price bracket, you’ve got one taste; the next person who comes in the shop has got another taste. tasted it. They’ve got a good palate. And also you’re working with distributors that are good at what they do, and they’ve How do you decide what to buy, then? When I was in London it was very easy to suppliers either have warehouses quite case here or a case there. close to where you are or they have vans Up here it’s much more difficult. Oneget small drops with no extra charges. Most passing, and will occasionally drop you a case drops up here cost 80 quid. The only way to work up here is to get pallets, half 15 different guys you’re running out of pallet orders on a regular basis. £200,000, the shop does about £150,000 £300,000. People buying finer wines: and a selection of taste sensations and but the majority of people who ask for You’re obviously doing something right styles, rather than a particular country. People come in and go “I want Fleurie” Beaujolais or Fleurie really mean “have you got something at six quid that tastes quite sweet?” When you show them Fleurie at what they want. £16 they have a semi heart attack and you Maybe it’s just Chipping Norton but pallets, at a time and if you’re working with stock lines at a rate that is too slow to put The problem with that is that you don’t necessarily have the range you’d really desire to have if you had flexibility. with 12 people, I think. So here I work with one or two people. have to scoop them out of the shop. It’s not you do get a lot of people coming in and Noir?” or “can I have a white Malbec?” and events programme comes in. Yeah … but I don’t really think people want tastings either. We did a tasting last week, we had 16 people; it was all right. tonight: we’ve got about three people. We’ve got an amazing rosé tasting appreciate that they do tons right. They’ve got amazing stock, they’re sitting on tons of saying “have you got something light, like a Malbec?” or “rich and heavy, like a Pinot Presumably that’s where your tastings of cash. So I just went, sod it, and worked The original stock list a year and a half When I started the shop I had a little bit ago was really nice. Not perfect, but really nice. Slowly but surely it became really hard to restock certain things because I So we moved to one or two suppliers wasn’t in a cash position to put in another here. The only problem with that is from all the tastings over the past eight years, the really good stuff is, but now you’re A coffee machine, but no white Malbec £5,000 or £8,000 order with that supplier. a wine perspective, where you’ve gone to stock and under huge cash flow pressures, ultimately for our benefit as retailers. Do you have particular areas of passion? It’s a difficult one because you’ve got to sell what the consumer wants. It’s very People have told me they want tastings about wine”. Blah blah blah. ever since we opened: “When are you going to do classes?” “I really want to learn more list and we struggle to get more than four people for an amazing rosé tasting in the middle of summer. Whereas when we do music events here we get 40 people, which There are 400 people on the mailing you’ve done all this work to find out what shackled to work with one or two people. risky to say “I love Piemontese wines, I’m THE WINE MERCHANT september 2014 12

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There is no Enomatic machine. “What’s the point? Just open bottles every single day until you’ve spent £8,000” is basically come and listen to a band, drink wine until you can drink no more, eat food until you can eat no more. interesting wines; I’m going to tell you a I’m going to give you some really what’s the point in having one Enomatic machine at eight grand? You can showcase eight wines. Just open bottles every single samples. Just put the cork in, take it out of the fridge next day and it’ll probably taste better. Does direct importing appeal? Maybe to ensure you’ve got wines that can’t be people on the streets, potentially no one brief thing about them at the start of the can ask me. No one does come and ask much about wine. Those that do want to sign up to the day until you’ve spent £8,000. That’s a hell will know what WineSearcher is. Speak to 10,000. Why are people concerned about night, because it’s vaguely about wine, this place. And if you want to know more, you me; I don’t think people want to know that WSET course, and they’re really proud that they’ve done a course and they’ve learned tastes nice. something about wine. I think the majority of people just want to drink something that I sense that you don’t subscribe to the modern blueprint of a wine merchant: running “meet the winemaker” events; Enomatic machines; seeking out wines that nobody has heard of … [Laughs]I subscribe to portions of this. The Enomatics cost £1,000 a bottle to do, so of a lot of samples. You can get discount on price comparison? There isn’t really any at find yourself turning to WineSearcher or the moment. If you’re looking for a specific to Google. You might then go and buy the that are making good wine on a regular basis. I’m not 100 per cent sure it’s what it’s set out to be. necessary. I think the extra margin you product at a specific time you might slowly cheapest thing, but you might not as well. compared to wines in other merchants? Ninety per cent of consumers have got memories like goldfish – they can’t remember what they drank last week. miles down the road. So they definitely don’t know that you’re selling the same product as a shop three A couple of years ago people were I think it’s hard to find unknown estates make from shipping direct is not always and yes, you can get an extra 15 per cent, But I’m not selling 50 cases of each wine. the customer base and be up to £5,000 or £6,000 a week. At that point we might But that’s something for the future. Maybe in five years’ time we’ll have getting really annoyed with people selling a couple of quid under the price of high that much price comparison. People seem to think that everyone street retailers. I just don’t think there’s but you have to take 50 cases of each wine. I looked at shipping some Italian things uses WineSearcher. If you speak to 1,000 purchase everything four times a year and spend a quarter of a million quid on stock. THE WINE MERCHANT september 2014 13

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just williams Notes on a wine scandal Rudy Kurniawan is behind bars for selling very expensive bottles of fake wine. You might find it hard to have sympathy for his rich victims, but anything that chips away at trust in the wine trade is bad news T he wine crime of the century reached its denouement in a New York court this summer. been following a trial that saw Burgundy superstars Aubert de Villaine and Laurent infamous Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years of jail time, fined $20 million and ordered to pay back more than $28 million to his victims, after being found fake wine in a series of auction sales. For disinterested observers like me In the unlikely event that you’ve not Ponsot take to the witness stand, the now- guilty of selling millions of dollars worth of who only very rarely dip their toe in the secondary wine market, the Kurniawan saga, both before and during the court case, has been for the most part like an a cast of unappealing, larger-than-life characters, from the swaggering hip- entertaining real-life mini-series, with the Burgundians the homespun heroes amid hopper-turned-auctioneer John Kapon of Acker Merrall Condit to the apparently But for the global fine-wine trade – humourless billionaire collector Bill Koch. buyers, sellers and producers alike – the case has, of course, been rather more and soul-searching, and the cause of As with sport, revelations about cheating fuel suspicions about the wider industry painful, the subject of much hand-wringing genuine fears that the network of trust and gentlemanly agreements that has fetching orange ensemble, now seems the learned from an affair described by Judge Richard M Berman as a “bold, grandiose, unscrupulous but destined-to-fail con”. 1. Selling fake wine is, apparently, a more serious crime than murder “Nobody died. Nobody lost their job. right time to ask what, if anything, we have Nobody lost their savings,” Kurniawan’s lawyer, Jerome H. Mooney, argued during sentencing. And while Mooney’s millionaire client was nobody’s idea of a you’re rich, then the person who did the severity of Kurniawan’s sentence does underpinned the sale of old wine for so into the stratosphere. long is simply not fit for purpose in a world where fine wine prices have disappeared So, as Kurniawan prepares to swap his Robin Hood – and while Judge Berman was surely right to ask: “Is the principle that if defrauding shouldn’t be punished?”– the custom-made black Hermès suits for a less THE WINE MERCHANT september 2014 14

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David Williams is wine critic for The Observer rather suggest the American justice system has a somewhat skewed set of priorities. As Kurniawan’s co-consul Vincent Verdiramo put it: “I’ve had murderers of the rich and famous meant the real tragedy of the story was missed. The But the rush to censure the peccadilloes to childish naivety, an effort not to ask any difficult questions. The joy has gone, in other words. who got less time.” Other crimes that have been punished with a lower sentence in New York in the past year: kidnapping, extortion, arson, rape. reason most – not all, by any means, but most – people are intrigued by old bottles comes with owning them. It’s more about the chance they offer – to put it poetically – to taste history. On this reading, serving in a news story, or Photoshopping an old picture: in a horribly insidious way, it distorts our relationship with the past. 3. Is the experience of drinking fine the athletics? It wasn’t Ben Johnson that did it. The final, his improvement so rapid from Canadian sprinter was so grotesquely of fine wine is not for the status-symbolism or the expression of wealth and power that IS THE SAME happening with fine wine post-Rudy? The drip-drip of revelations has certainly continued. In the week couple behind a series of exclusive Kurniawan was found guilty, the Danish Club, was accused of refilling bottles of wine. Meanwhile, Maureen Downey, the 2. People who don’t love wine love to see people who love wine looking stupid All over the world, the mainstream press tabloid to long-form investigations in loved this story, the coverage – from British Vanity Fair and the New Yorker – outdoing any wine story since the last big wine fraud case, Hardy Rodenstock and the “billionaire’s vinegar” of the fake Thomas Jefferson bottles. As with the Rodenstock was plain. It played to an unshakeable prejudice about fine wine among the up fake wine is like serving up fake quotes members-only fine wine parties, The White the usual suspects (DRC etc) with inferior indefatigable US fine wine evaluator who did much to bring the Kurniawan case to light, has suggested that there is a whole this alone,” Downey told Wine-searcher. com. “He’s being hung out to dry.” at advanced Lance Armstrong-inspired It seems to me that, if we’re not quite load more still to come out. “He didn’t do wine now as compromised as watching case, the appeal for editors with Kurniawan uninitiated, a feeling that the whole trade is fundamentally ridiculous – an extreme case of the emperor’s new clothes where a fake from the real thing. The tone of the reporting was, even those most involved are unable to tell consequently, moralistic, offering a cool outstripped by cash. As Bill Koch has pumped in the 1988 Olympic 100-metres Old wine isn’t just about status. It’s a chance to taste history levels of paranoia, we can’t be far off. Certainly, the next time I’m lucky enough to try a rare expensive bottle it’s going to draught of schadenfreude in its descriptions of a world where sense is apparently far said, there was very “little sympathy” for Kurniawan’s victims, who had paid up to perhaps especially, when they’re moved experience on national TV. previous seasons, he felt like an anomaly. No, what destroyed athletics for me was the slow drip-drip of revelations in the years following his disqualification, the $100,000 for a single dodgy bottle – even, realisation that pretty much everyone in the sport (and everyone in that race) was for, say, Usain Bolt or Bradley Wiggins, be hard to ignore that seed of doubt about its authenticity. That may not qualify as a died. But in a world where wonder and something very precious has been lost. joy are strictly rationed, it would take a to tears, as Koch was, while recounting his doping. Much the same is true of cycling. I still watch both sports, but my admiration tragedy. As Mooney said, nobody will have hard heart to disagree with the idea that requires a leap of faith now, a willed return THE WINE MERCHANT september 2014 15

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