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In-depth: 50 Best Indies winners

Published:  05 August, 2016

Voted for by our 100-strong and fully independent countrywide judging academy, these exciting new awards are designed to recognise those independent merchants that have done the most to drive forward quality and innovation in the retail of wines, beers and spirits.

First revealed at our recent Think Indie, Drink Indie event, we fully expect our 50 Best Indies list to stir it up a little, but also believe that it represents a great snapshot of those at the forefront of independent-minded retailing, acting as an inspiration to the sector as a whole.

Huge congratulations from the Harpers team to all who have been recognised for their work in the sector.

1. Vagabond Wines


Vagabond WineVagabond Wine

Stephen Finch set up Vagabond in late 2010 as a west London retail store and wine bar where customers could sample 100 different wines, offering the most enticing example of all the hybrid off and on-trade models that have continued to emerge at the cutting edge of the current wine scene.

In a short space of time Stephen has grown his business to four stores, with one opening the day after our awards, with further plans to open more stores, start an urban winery and create a microbrewery.

The company has displayed tremendous ambition and has established itself as the best independent wine merchant in the UK, offering an unrivalled customer experience, rooted in "creating a wine shop and bar for the rest of us - those who like wine but don't know a whole lot about it!". Not that there is any lack of in-depth knowledge and enthusiasm at these fantastic vinous oasis.

2. The Sampler


The Sampler, South KensingtonThe Sampler, South Kensington

The Sampler created quite a stir when Jamie Hutchinson and Dawn Mannis opened a shop in Islington just before Christmas 2006, dispensing fine and funky wines from Enomatic machines, on a mission to make wine non-elitist and fun. Ten years on, with a second shop in South Kensington, The Sampler remains a seminal merchant among the new wave that continue to open across the UK, increasingly sourcing its own range of wines and never offering a dull bottle.

3. Cambridge Wine Merchants


Cambridge Wine Merchants has converted all but one of its wine shops to the hybrid formatCambridge Wine Merchants

Cambridge Wine Merchants was established in 1993 by Hal Wilson and Brett Turner, and now has a seven-strong estate and a large wholesale business, offering a beacon of liquid good taste across the Cambridge and East Anglian landscape. The company is a specialist in individual and captivating wines, beers and spirits, and prides itself on excellent value, range and service, coupling this with an efficient wholesale service. One

of the largest independent merchants in the UK, Cambridge nonetheless clearly remains committed to its ethos "to be the best independent wine merchant in the country, and to have fun doing it".

4. South Downs Cellars

West Sussex

South Down CellarsSouth Down CellarsSouth Down Cellars

South Downs Cellars was opened by Lucy Driver and her passionate team in 2003 with a mission to sell only high quality wines from smaller, family-owned producers around the world. Today, with two shops and a growing wholesale business to boot, South Down Cellars remains committed to those excellent founding principles, with a reputation fast expanding beyond its Sussex roots.

5. Hedonism Wines


Hedonism WinesHedonism Wines

Hedonism Wines is a huge, modern, glitzy wine boutique in London's Mayfair that has wowed customers and trade alike with its audacious range. Set up by the founder of Russia's largest mobile phone retailer in late 2012, it covers 700m2 over two floors and lists some 5,500 wines and 2,000 spirits, including many of the rarest and priciest bottles in the world, providing a cornucopia of vinous and spirit delights for curious and well-heeled oenophiles alike.

6. Hennings Wine

West Sussex

Third-generation Matthew Hennings, has grown his family's business to four shops across the county, along with an increasingly successful and growing wholesale operation, all rooted in the quality and individuality that defines Hennings refreshing portfolio.

7. Noel Young Wines


Noel Young Wines has been operating since 1991 and has scooped many awards in that time thanks to its excellent customer service and huge but carefully curated range.  

8. Oxford Wine Company


Oxford Wine CoOxford Wine Co

With its Oxford wine shops, wine cafes and wine school, this merchant remains rooted in an independent and local ethos, while delivering its 900-strong range of wines, plus spirits and craft beers, to accounts in surrounding counties.

9. Tanners


Shropshire-based Tanners has seven outlets in north west England and Wales, and has been running in one form or another since 1872. Today it employs 100 staff and sells to corporate clients across the UK.

10. Bottle Apostle


Bottle ApostleBottle ApostleBottle Apostle

Bottle Apostle began life in 2009 in a cramped shop in London's Victoria Park, with the ethos of catering as much for the novice as the advanced tippler and now preaches from five shops across London.

11. Corks Out


Corks Out is a multi-award-winning regional chain in Cheshire that has always displayed great ambition and innovation. It is among the country's leading champions of Champagne and a pioneer in blending the on and off-trades.

12. HarperWells


The HarperWells team offers a mix of 600-odd esoteric finds and classic fine wines, sold regionally through their Eaton-based shop and countrywide through successful online and wholesale operations.

13. WoodWinters



WoodWinters first opened in Bridge of Allan in 2005. Now, with a second shop in Edinburgh, it is delighting shoppers with a great array of drinks while also supplying many of Scotland's leading hotels and restaurants.

14. Hangingditch


Boss Ben Stephenson champions esoteric and interesting wines through an ever-evolving selection, with in-store tasting and wines by the glass an important part of the mix.

15. Le Vignoble

Plymouth Le Vignoble is a recent Drinks Retailing Award winner and offers 250 different wines, Champagnes and liqueurs in a beautiful store and wine lounge in Plymouth.

16. Leamington Wine Company

Leamington Spa

Owner Anita Mannion has spent 20 years building this highly respected business from her retail HQ in Leamington Spa.

17. Red Squirrel


A much-lauded craft brewer that runs three bottle shops in Amersham, Chesham and Berkhamsted, with a fourth to open shortly in High Wycombe. It sells draught and packaged beers from 150 brewers.

18. Borough Wines


Having begun life as a stall at London's Borough Market, with natural, organic and biodynamic wines at the heart of its range, Borough Wines has grown to six London stores with a further outpost in Hastings.

19. We Brought Beer


Craft beer specialist We Brought Beer is a newcomer to the scene but has already scooped Beer Retailer of the Year at the Drinks Retailing Awards and is now set to open its third store in two years. 

20. Amps Fine Wines


Fourth generation proprietor Philip Amps and his team have carved out an enviable reputation for the quality, interest and individuality of their portfolio.

21. Lea & Sandeman


Lea & Sandeman is an institution in the wine trade, with four stores in west London offering a fantastic array of rare wines that benefit from minimal intervention.

22. D Byrne & Co


In this inimitable treasure trove of wines the great grandsons of the founder preside over an ever-changing list of 3,000 or so wines, plus much else besides.

23. Ten Green Bottles


Blending retail with wine bar in Brighton's bohemian North Laine area, stocking around 250 bottles from small vineyards, all chosen on the basis of exceptional character and quality.

24. The Bottle Shop


The Bottle Shop does a great job of demystifying wine and adding the fun back in via its 800-strong range in its Penarth and Roath stores.

25. Handford Fine Wines


James Handford founded the business in 1989 with the aim of bringing the highest quality fine wines from around the world to the good people of Holland Park and became the youngest Master of Wine in 1994.

26. Cheers Wine Merchants


Andrew Morris and son Dafydd have built an impressive business, retailing for 25 years in Swansea and latterly the Mumbles, also with countrywide reach via their online and wholesale sales.

27. Corks of Cotham


With stores in Cotham and North Street, this is one of the city's most eminent merchants, also selling hundreds of British ales and world beers, and boasts a vast spirits list.

28. The Old Bridge Wine Shop


Master of Wine John Hoskins has created a superb vinous oasis, comprising wine shop, restaurant and hotel, in Cambridgeshire's Huntingdon.

29. Duncan Murray Wines


Duncan Murray worked at Oddbins during its golden age and has tried to recapture that magic at his Cheltenham-based independent offering a superb choice of beers, wines and spirits, served up with infectious enthusiasm.

30. Favourite Beers


Leigh Norwood has in six short years carved out a big reputation for his specialist British beers, ciders and perrys, with Belgium, Germany and the US also adding to an impressive range.

31. Connolly's Wine Merchants


Connolly's has been family owned since 1976. With two stores in Birmingham and nearby Solihull, along with a wine bar, it offers a real treasure trove packed with great wines.

32. Loki Wine


Owner Phil Innes brings together a mouthwatering mix of over 600 well-chosen wines and spirits, with some 40 wines available for tasting.

33. Talking Wines


Talking Wines specialises in sourcing wines from small, independent vineyards and supplies trade customers in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, with a list of more than 800 wines, sake and whisky.

34. Grape & Grind


Darren Willis's independently minded buisness offers an enticing blend of seductive wines, craft beers, artisanal spirits, plus great coffee beans from the best UK roasters.

35. Yapp Brothers Wine Merchants


Widely recognised as a leading importer of French regional wines, Yapp supplies many of the best UK restaurants encompassing more than 50 Michelin stars.

36. Christopher Piper Wines


Chris Piper and John Earle have grown an impressive regional wholesale business from their retail base in Ottery St Mary.

37. Luvians Bottle Shop


Luvians Bottle Shop sells Old and New World fine wines and lists more than 800 single malt whiskies, including some of the world's rarest.

38. Bin 21


Northumberland's biggest indie merchant, with shops in Morpeth and Hexham, where Paddy Eyres presides over a great range of wines, craft beers and a spirits selection that includes 100 whiskies.

39. Ellis Wharton Wines

Par, Cornwall

The business is the result of a partnership between former restaurateur David Ellis and ex-brewery wine buyer Charles Wharton, and focuses on wines from family-owned, sustainable vineyards.

40. The Solent Cellar


Simon and Heather Smith combine backgrounds respectively in both wine trade and the professional kitchen to great effect, delivering winning wines plus a bespoke catering service.

41. The Secret Cellar


The Secret Cellar sells a diverse range of small-batch wines from around the world and recently opened a crowd-funded wine bar.

42. Tasting Room


Owners Will Baber and restaurateur Marcus Ashenford have created a buzzing fusion of wine shop, bar and brasserie at this vinous oasis.

43. The Vineyard


The Vineyard offers a broad range of beers, wines and spirits and has recently championed growlers to drive sales of craft beer.

44. The Fine Wine Company

Musselburgh, East Lothian

Founded in 2003 by Adam Rankine as a down-to-earth, friendly and helpful specialist wine shop, FWC's two Edinburgh stores focus on smaller-producer wines.

45. James Nicholson Wine

Crossgar, Northern Ireland

James Nicholson is a veteran of the Irish wine trade and his thriving independent wine merchant supplies hundreds of bars and restaurants across the country.

46. The Wine Centre

Great Horkesley, Colchester

Run by Anthony and Janet Borges, this local merchant combines a mouth-watering global wine list with great beers, spirits and regional deli produce.

47. The Wine Chambers


Ben Chambers set up the Wine Chambers in 2010 and now has two stores in picturesque north east towns Tynemouth and North Shields, stocking 750 wines and 250 whiskies, craft beers and cigars.

48. Old Chapel Cellars


Raised like a "phoenix from the flames" from the old Laymont & Shaw by Jamie Tonkin, this merchant still features a fantastic Spanish selection alongside its roll-call of global finds.

49. Bon Coeur Fine Wines

Melsonby, North Yorkshire

Bon Coeur Fine Wines was set up by James Goodhart in 1994 and has built up a specialism in Burgundy, Bordeaux en primeur, Champagne, Port and more over the past 22 years.

50. Define Food & Wine


Define Food & Wine offers a fantastic mix of well-sourced smaller domaine wines and great artisanal deli produce to the lucky people of Cheshire.