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Harpers reveals 50 Best Indies

Published:  25 September, 2018

Harpers unveiled the result of this year’s 50 Best Indies competition at a prestigious event held last night in the capital, with Vagabond Wines once again claiming the top spot followed by Oxford Wine Company and Berry Bros & Rudd.

Compiling our 50 Best Indies list is always a challenge, given the generally fantastically high calibre of so many merchants that are nominated up and down the UK. We are on the lookout for innovation, quality, great service and something that marks businesses out as a little different, those doing that little extra that helps drive the wider communication of and engagement with wine.

And once again our 50 Best is a cracking list this year, marking a recognition and celebration of the best in the business, flagging up those that are an inspiration – not just for wine drinkers but also colleagues and rivals in the trade.

1 Vagabond Wines, London

Under the innovative direction of Stephen Finch, Vagabond, with its mix of By The Glass dispense in-store sampling, platters of honest cheese and charcuterie, off-sales, wholesale and - most latterly - an urban winery in its Battersea Power Station outlet, remains at the top of its game. Moreover, with significant investment now behind it, this exemplary hybrid merchant will soon be rolling out its winning wine oasis beyond its already five-strong London Estate. Vagabond is a very worthy winner of this year’s 50 Best Indies Award.

2 Oxford Wine Company, Oxfordshire (Home Counties Regional Stand Out)

Ever full of engaging energy, Ted Sandbach and his team preside over this impressive regional merchant, counting three Oxford-based shops, a superb wine café, and a piano and wine bar in its portfolio. Customers, including a wide roster of wholesale clients, are faced with a fantastic range of around 1,500 wines, spirits and beers, making for much tantalising tasting from this thoughtfully-sourced and always fresh-looking range.

3 Berry Bros & Rudd, London (London Regional Stand Out)

The UK’s oldest merchant remains one of the very best, now with Dan Jago at the helm, bringing a wholly modern approach while retaining the DNA that has made Berry Bros & Rudd a much-respected British icon around the world. This £220 million-turnover company spreads its influence far and wide, with sales split between London retail, private clients, thriving Far Eastern offshoots in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and UK wholesale via its Fields, Morris & Verdin wing.

4 Cambridge Wine Merchants (East Anglia Regional Stand Out)

Whether surfing, strumming his guitar or selling wine, Cambridge boss and classics graduate Hal Wilson brings a quiet passion to all he does and this clearly shows in the calibre of what is on offer from Cambridge Wine Merchants. Now with five shops and three franchised outlets stretching from Cambridge to Winchester, the wine bar elements and a thriving wholesale side to the business, this is one of the most dynamic and successful wine merchants in the UK.

5 Borough Wines, London

Growing out of a charming, if slightly ramshackle, space at London’s Borough Market, Borough Wines has gone on to take London by storm, with eight shops now dotted around the capital’s neighbourhoods, plus one in Hastings and other possibles in the pipeline. Underpinning Borough’s success is its funky, sometimes left field and always fun approach to the wines and spirits its sells. Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are much in evidence, with Pet Nats sitting alongside Xarel-lo and Kombucha, beer and wine refills are available, and the vibe is entirely in tune with a new generation of unstuffy but thinking drinkers.

6 Loki Wines, Birmingham (Midlands Regional Stand Out)

What often singles out great merchants from the good is that they reflect the passion, character and professionalism of the owner. Phil Innes at Loki Wines, with outlets in Birmingham and now Edgbaston, brings together a fantastic, hand-picked list of some 600 wines and a great range of craft beers with a strong focus on tastings, a 60-cover deli, and a team that shares the knowledge and dedication of the owner.

7 Handford Wines, London

James Handford MW, senior buyer Greg Sherwood MW and the rest of Handford’s quality-focused team remain at the top of their game by focusing on their core mission of bringing great wines from around the globe to their customers. Add in the extra enticements of en primeur offers, cellar management, tastings, a wine club (for both corporate or private customers) and healthy trade sales, and this really is a perfectly formed independent merchant.

8 Hedonism, London

Hedonism more than lives up to its name, presenting an extraordinary cornucopia of wines and spirits in its beautiful Mayfair home, being a showcase for many of the most sought-after names in the world. Hedonism counts some 3,500 labels in its range, with prices starting at an affordable £15 but fast heading north for the most desirable finds, of which there are many in this wonderful wine-lovers’ paradise.

9 Salut Wines, Manchester (North West Regional Stand Out)

Headed up by the personable and professional Sara Saunby, Salut Wines has brought a buzzing and unstuffy approach to wine right to the heart of Manchester’s hip northern quarter. The operation combines wine bar, wine shop, great food and Enomatic dispensing machines in an industrial-chic setting that puts the wine at its heart on a thoroughly modern pedestal.

10 Woodwinters, Scotland (Scotland Regional Stand Out)

With shops in Edinburgh, Inverness and Bridge of Allen, where Doug Wood began the business to share what he’s described as the magic, not mystery, of great wine, Woodwinters has continued its canny growth, most recently opening a wholesale-focused office in London. The range, as you might expect, is fantastic, driven by dedication to quality and provenance, sold to retail customers and wholesale accounts alike with passion, knowledge and pride.

11 Yapp Brothers Wine Merchants, Wiltshire (South West Regional Stand Out)

The resident blue Citron van parked outside this Mere-based Rhône, Loire and Languedoc specialist has long been a welcome sight, marking a merchant that is second to none when it comes to sourcing and supplying both iconic names and great finds from its heartland focus and around the world. Headed up by second-generation family member Jason Yapp, this merchant counts many of the top UK restaurants among its clients for precisely those reasons.

12 Hennings Wines, Sussex (Southern England Regional Stand Out)

With third generation Matthew Hennings firmly at the tiller, this much-loved and quality-focused regional merchant has continued to grow sustainably, now with outlets in Pulborough, Petworth, Goring-by-Sea and Chichester, plus a strong presence online. The wholesale side has also grown, now forming a significant chunk of Hennings’ business, supplying restaurants and hotels throughout Sussex and beyond.

13 D Byrne & Co, Clitheroe, Lancashire

The word cornucopia could have been invented for this Ribble Valley treasure trove of wines, where even the three affable Byrne brothers that run the 130-year-old family business occasionally look surprised by something they’ve chanced upon on shelf or in the cellar. A wine lover’s dream of a store.

14 The Vineking, Surrey

Promising great wines and no nonsense when he set up the Vineking in 2003, Erik Laan and his team have grown their reach to five shops in and around Surrey, wholly delivering on this promise, with pop-up restaurants, tasting events, a personal sommelier service and wholesale to many good businesses all part of the offer.

15 Hanging Ditch, Manchester

Ben Stephenson is the mastermind behind this modern Manchester oasis, modelled on a Vinoteca concept and offering a superb range of wines by the bottle or glass, along with sharing plates and nibbles to encourage customers to relax and explore the evolving hand-picked selection.

16 Prohibition Wines, London

Owners Paul and Louise Shanley opened Prohibition Wines in 2013 because they wanted somewhere decent to buy wine in Muswell Hill and have since grown this passionate and funky merchant into a thriving business. Some 550 wines, with great strengths in North America, Spain and sherryfit Prohibition’s mission statement of “unspeakably good wines”. There are craft beers, too.

17 Harper Wells, Norwich

Founders Ed Wells and Dean Harper continue to build upon their founding principles of offering authentic, interesting and always quality-driven wines, selling more than 600 carefully sourced labels via their Norwich-based shop, online, and through a host of complementary services, ranging from wholesale and nationwide delivery to broking, investment and cellaring.

18 Jeroboams, London

Describing itself as “London’s local merchant”, Jeroboams is a leading force in the capital’s more swish neighbourhoods, offering cheeses and charcuterie alongside a fine list of wines, while supplying trade via its respected Layton’s arm.

19 Noel Young Wines, Cambridgeshire

Noel Young is a force in the wine world, often outspoken in his mission to source and sell great wines, brimming with interest and character, to both trade and consumers alike – a mission that this Cambridge merchant continues to fulfil.

20 Cheers Wine Merchants, South Wales (Wales Regional Stand Out)

Father and son team Andrew and Dafydd Morris clearly love what they do and this personality stands out in a highly engaging range that runs the gamut from Arrogant Frog to Franciacorta by way of exclusives from up-and-coming young German winemakers, some 60 artisanal gins and a host of local and regional craft ales.

21 Vino Wines, Edinburgh

Andrew Lundy is doing great work in bringing a wholly quality-focused and independent selection of wines, beers and spirits to the adventurous-spirited people of Edinburgh and Scotland via his four enticing wine shops north of the border.

22 Lea & Sandeman, London

This Chelsea, Kensington, Barnes and Chiswick-based stalwart continues to deliver a roster of great classics and well-chosen finds from around the world to the well-heeled wine lovers and businesses of the UK.

23 Theatre of Wine, London

Daniel Illsley and his colleagues continue to drive this energetic retail, import and wholesale business via its original Greenwich, Tufnell Park and Leytonstone shops, mixing up classic regions with a strong focus on interesting, esoteric and original finds from emerging parts of the world.

24 Tanners, Shropshire

Fourth-generation family member James Tanner continues to grow this fiercely independent retail and wholesale business with a dedication to delivering its far-reaching selection of estate wines via its Shrewsbury, Chester, Bridgnorth, Hereford, Welshpool and Llandudno outlets servicing the local regions and across the UK.

25 Grape & Grain, Northumberland (North East Regional Stand Out) – 1st regional award

Northumberland’s finest merchant, with outlets in Morpeth and Hexham, continues to deliver on owner Patrick Eyres’ mission to bring only independently produced, quality-focused wines to market, along with exclusive parcels, an extensive range of fine cigars and a soon-to-reach-100-label selection of malt whiskies.

26 The Old Bridge Wine Shop, Cambridgeshire

Presided over by owner and buyer John Hoskins MW, this is a smart wine shop within a lovely hotel with a great restaurant attached, bringing together all the strands to best show a list that ranges from classic regions to rare finds, by way of older vintages from the reserve cellar.

27 The Sampler, London

From its original Islington shop The Sampler helped revolutionise the staid world of wine retail, being the first high-profile merchant to line up Enomatic dispensers, also featured at its Wimbledon outpost, allowing customers to sample some of the finest wines available to humanity via affordable and manageable samples.

28 Adnams, Southwold

A regional brewer and hotelier with a rather good wine retail and wholesale business attached. Alistair Marshall is the imaginative and canny head buyer behind the independently-minded and enticing wine and spirits portfolio.

29 Ake & Humphris, North Yorkshire

Set up in 2010, the Ake & Humphris team has fast established a reputation as one of Yorkshire’s finest merchants, bringing a mix of good-value, high-quality wines, beers and spirits to the region via its Harrogate and Collingham shops, along with the supply to local businesses through its Spen Valley Wines trade arm.

30 South Downs Cellars, Sussex

With branches in Hurstpierpoint and Lindfield, South Downs Cellars’ owner Lucy Driver has built a popular Sussex business by blending an extensive, well-curated list with a mix of services, including tailor-made tastings, cellar management, flexible events and a growing local wholesale operation.

31 Butler’s Wine Cellar, Brighton

Henry Butler drives this popular two-outlet family businesses forward with a mix of enthusiasm, passion and quality-focused buying, also supplying great wines to many of the leading restaurants in the Brighton, Hove and surrounding Sussex area.

32 Philglass & Swiggot

Always a much-loved independent, Philglass & Swiggot was given a new lease of life in 2014 when a group of producers and wine lovers, including Justin Knock MW and Charles Harman of Klein Constantia, bought the business, continuing to drive a very independently minded offer out of its Battersea and Marylebone stores.

33 Taurus Wines, Surrey

Operating from a converted barn in the Surrey hills, owner Rupert Pritchett brings more than 800 well selected, characterful and keenly-priced wines to the good people of Surrey, Sussex and beyond, favouring a relaxed approach underpinned by passion and quality.

34 The Whalley Wine Shop, Lancashire

This Ribble Valley merchant is among the finest in the north west, offering not just an interesting and enticing drinks portfolio, but a host of well-honed complementary services for serious wine lovers across Lancashire and beyond.

35 Bottle Apostle, London

With four shops spread across London and a strong ethos that rails against a snobbish, intimidating approach to wine, Bottle Apostle provides a welcome oasis for both passionate and budding wine lovers alike.

36 Highbury Vintners, London

Highbury Vintners’ owner Sean Sweeny runs a great neighbourhood merchant, with some 400 craft beers and ciders, plus more than 500 spirits, adding even more spice to a wine list that never fails to delight.

37 Amps Fine Wines, Oundle

Fourth-generation family owner Philip Amps continues to drive this century-old business forward with a mix of passion and great knowledge, firmly believing that a good wine merchant should only stock wines that they would drink themselves.

38 The Good Wine Shop, London

Serving west London and beyond with shops in Kew and Chiswick, owner Mark Wrigglesworth runs a thoroughly independent and innovative business, focusing on often highly individual wines that represent the best of the region.

39 Christopher Piper Wines, Devon

Christopher Piper’s business has a reach that goes far beyond his retail base in Ottery St Mary, wholesaling from an extensive, quality-driven list across Devon and the wider West Country.

40 Flagship Wines, Hertfordshire

Operating out of St Albans but with a strong online presence, Flagship’s Julia Jenkins offers a 500-strong range of distinctive and well-selected wines, with a loyal following in Hertford and beyond.

41 Mumbles Fine Wines, Wales

In addition to a great range of wines and spirits, always chosen for quality and with boutique producers very much to the fore, Mumbles Fine Wines also offers a fantastic range of French, Spanish and Welsh foods to complement the vinous offer.

42 Bin Two, Padstow

Bin Two successfully mixes it up with retail wine sales, a great range by the glass and some seriously tasty dishes to boot, avoiding jargon and boorishness by putting the fun into the whole wine experience.

43 Leamington Wine Company

Since 2010, when Anita Mannion invited the first customers into her store, the Leamington Wine Company has built a loyal following for the quality of both drinks and service, with touches such as Enomatic dispensers very much part of the scene.

44 Le Vignoble, Plymouth and Bath

With a new opening this year in Bath, building upon the success of the original Le Vignoble in Plymouth, Yannick Loué has successfully cracked the art of blending wine retail and wine bar.

45 Reserve Wines, North West

Founded by Kate Goodman in 2003 in West Didsbury, Reserve Wines is one of the finest independent wine merchants in Manchester, selling, distributing and, with a focus on encouraging customers to experiment with different grape varieties. Since starting out, Goodman has opened two further outlets – in Altrincham and Warrington.

46 Amathus Wines, London

As part of its four-strong portfolio of retail shops – all located in trendy areas around London – Amathus Wines prides itself on a menu of exclusive agency brands with provenance and distinction central to wines sourced from all over the world. The shops also offer access to exclusive events, masterclasses, a click and collect service and free local delivery.

47 Jaded Palates, Devon

Both of Jaded Palates’ shops in Devon – at Chagford and Ashburton – have been designed to offer shoppers the best wine experience with a focus on avoiding the “stuffy, old-fashioned” approach. Features such as in-store chilled wine dispensers and weekly tasting evenings aimed at the more inquisitive drinker are all part of the package.

48 The Naked Grape, Hampshire and Berkshire

Founded in 2004, The Naked Grape has grown to comprise three shops in Alresford, Four Marks and Hungerford, from which it covers Hampshire, Berkshire and surrounding areas. In addition to wine and fizz, the trio’s extensive menu includes spirits, craft lager, real ales and liqueurs.

49 Vino Vero

Situated in Leigh-on-Sea, Vino Vero is a small, friendly shop that sells wines from family-run producers around the world, as well as craft beers and artisan spirits – all handpicked for their quality and value. The shop specialises in sustainable wines, with a strong focus on organic and biodynamic as well as low-intervention tipples.

50 North Coast Wine Co, Cornwall

North Coast Wine Company stocks more than 600 different wines and spirits alongside a plethora of ales and ciders from Cornish producers – all of which are available to buy and take home, or drink on the premises, with the Bude-based shop incorporating a bar and seating area from which it serves wine and cocktails. It is run and owned by Oliver Tullett, who’s been injecting his verve into the business since 2009.