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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

Oddbins head buyer Lynne Coyle has brushed off rumours that the company's wine-buying team is being forced to list wines produced by parent company Castel, and has insisted that the company is looking to focus on its traditional strengths, namely interesting wines from small producers'. On the light wine side, which is my responsibility, I've had no targets whatsoever for Castel products,' Coyle told Harpers. Speaking at a press tasting held by the retailer in London last week, Coyle was also bullish about current sales at the company, after a slightly disappointing 2003, during which gross profits rose by 2 million, but turnover dropped by 12% to 136 million, and the company incurred a pre-tax loss of 600,000. Our sales data [for this year] is not consistent with the rest of the multiple specialist sector,' Coyle told Harpers, referring to the sector's 15% drop in market share during the past year, according to AC Nielsen MAT figures up to June 2004. The market is very competitive, but we are still opening stores, and we are still rolling out the "fine wine" range to more stores. What we have done over the past couple of years is reduce the number of branded products and to get back to smaller producers - the things we do best, in other words.' Coyle's comments are, not surprisingly, consistent with the open letter submitted to press and suppliers by managing director Jacques Duley earlier in the month. Duley had said that the claims being circulated that anywhere between 10 to 25% of our range is occupied by Castel-produced wines are completely without foundation and mathematically impossible.' The company has 2,000 lines in active circulation, according to Coyle, with 78 sourced from Castel. Oddbins has been on the PR offensive in recent weeks after a number of high-profile staff left the company, and an anonymous letter from a disgruntled employee was sent to the press. Coyle denied there was a staffing crisis in the buying team, and said that she was very close' to recruiting a buyer to replace the departed Grant Ramage and Tony Allen.