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Rolling update: Strong Christmas trading from independent wine merchants

Published:  02 January, 2014

Independent retailers have put in a strong performance over the Christmas period, with some reporting sales up by as much as 37%.

In a snapshot poll of independent wine merchants across the UK, initial reports show sales are have at least marginally grown, with others citing growth of between 20-37% on last year.

Tuesday January 7, 2014:

 Brian Howells, of Fine Wines Direct UK in Cardiff, said: "December sales were 20% up on 2012, on the back of a very good November and a great year on the whole.

"The sparkling wines category performed extremely well, sales of Prosecco in particular some 450 cases more than 2012. Sales of our premium single vineyard Cava (R.Canals Canals) and our Grande Marque Champagnes were very strong, and our growers own supported this category with sales up 40 % on last year.

"We also saw a great uplift on our Bordeaux and Rhone wines, with our Gigondas Domaine Grapillon D'or and Chateau du Seuil Graves selling really well, we also had tremendous sales of Crianza Rioja - a great category for us anyway, and the Gaudium Reserva Especial from Marques de Caceres some 50 cases up on 2012. Sales of our  Marlborough Sauvignon - Allan Scott Estate also held up really well.

"Online sales this year trebled thanks to a new redesigned site and an aggressive online strategy, definitely an area that will continue to grow.

Stephen McDonald of online independent wine store the McDonald Wine, said it showed "substantial growth in the last four weeks of 2013 with in excess of 70% increase over November".

He identified Champagne, Prosecco and top end wines from the Rhone Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Argentina and California being particularly strong. "Premium wines were very strong right across our European range", he added.

Roberson Wine tweeted that its online sales were up 89% compared to December 2012.

Nik Darlington, of the recently established Red Squirrel Wine, said the Christmas trading period was "exceedingly busy" with sales up 250% year-on-year for December - off a small base. He said it showed "significant growth in corporate gift sales and with retail customers through our wine club, the Red Squirrel Wine WineBox". Darlington recruited extra seasonal staff at its new Chiswick premises, and saw sales of Champagne, English sparkling wine and reds from Liguria, particularly the Rossese wines of Altavia in Dolceacqua, surge. It is also recruiting two new staff on a permanent basis for its Chiswick store for 2014.

Jamie Hutchinson, co-owner of the Sampler, which operates two London stores, said sales were "slightly up" on last year. "We started off thinking we were going to be miles up, but between Christmas and New Year has been really down - sometimes it depends on the way the days fall."

Hutchinson said he had seen a "return to the classics" this season, as Bordeaux wines in the £10-£40 range had started to sell again after a "very difficult couple of years". He said recent bad vintages and rising prices had put customers off, but that the "fashion [for Bordeaux] was coming around again". New World wines didn't fare so well, he added, with sales of Argentinian and Australian wines falling, he said.

Ted Sandbach, managing director of the Oxford Wine Company, which saw sales grow by between 7-8% on last year, identified a similar trend. He said white Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine were the standout performers over the festive period. "We're finding more and more people are going back to European wines this year - Australian sales were virtually non-existent though Chile's still quite strong."

He also said there is people were "getting fed up" with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and moving towards more "subtle" French versions.

Sandbach said the group's online business was 30-40% up on the same period last year.

Hal Wilson, managing director of Cambridge Wine Merchants, said its December sales were up 20% on the previous year to £600,000 for the month. He said there has been strong growth in spirits - it now stocks over 50 different gins - and sales of Languedoc ROusillon wines had "been epic". Wines from this region have sold well over £500,000 for the year. Its bestselling wine is a Carignan from near Montpellier which outsells its nearest rival by two to one. 

Meanwhile, Doug Wood of WoodWinters, which operates two stores in Scotland, said sales were up 37% overall - with a lot of the growth in the wholesale side of the business. The company's Bridge of Allan shop saw sales increase by 18% although its Edinburgh store showed no growth. Wood said the combination of offering wines at the right prices - such as a Prosecco footfall driver at £7-£8 - and making more use of social media, was paying off.

"People are not coming in so much for Australian Shiraz, which used to be our bestselling red, but Rioja has still got lots going for it, both the newer and more traditional styles. There's also much more focus on Touraine Sauvignon Blanc at around £9-£10 rather than a Sancerre at £15."

Jane Cuthbertson of Barrica Wines in Lancashire, said that sales had gone well but were "not storming". She said December sales were up 10.2% on the previous year, although 2012 was not the best comparable year.

"Hopefully things are getting stronger. We've worked for it - we started a wine club and have diversified and offer lots of tastings. You've got to be quite proactive." Cuthbertson said  Barrica's white Burgundy sales were 50% down compared to the average Christmas, with customers opting for its large Argentinian or Portuguese range instead. It also saw sales of wine accessories and hampers soar.

Independents: Let us know how your business performed over the festive period by posting below, emailing or tweeting @harperswine.