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Looking ahead: Nik Darlington, Red Squirrel Wine

Published:  18 December, 2018

Once again we are catching up with the trade over the next few weeks to find out how businesses are making the most of the all-important Christmas trading period, while also looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities 2019 will bring.

Our series continues with insights from Nik Darlington, managing director, Red Squirrel Wine.

Would you say that the trade is in a stronger or weaker place now than at the same time last year, and why?

Stronger. We are seeing no end of new openings in both the on-trade and specialist independent sectors, and in most regions of the country. The UK has a more regionally balanced and imaginative wine trade than ever before. With potential storm clouds on the horizon in 2019, this diversity and energy is going to be ever more important.

What were the highs and lows for your own business in 2018?

In common with many in the wider hospitality trade, the long hot summer holds bittersweet memories. After a fast start to the year the dip in trading in July in particular was unexpected and disappointing. Thankfully things have rebounded since, and the springboard was our first portfolio 'tour' in September, taking our annual tasting to Bristol and Manchester for the first time, alongside the Knotted Vine. We are fortunate to work with such brilliant winemakers, people who never shirk a challenge and who rolled up their sleeves on more than one occasion!

The highlight of my year has probably been taking nearly twenty winemakers from all over the world to visit vineyards in Hampshire with Black Chalk winemaker Jacob Leadley at the beginning of September. I think they were genuinely awestruck at the sight of an English vineyard under warm late summer's sunshine and in such rude health. It was a special moment.

What were the most significant trends in the drinks world that occurred in 2018?

I can only really speak for wine, so in our sphere I would say the onward march of wine-on-tap. It's perhaps easy to forget now that at the beginning of the year - for our customer base at least - this was still an extremely niche pursuit. It's remarkable now how much that has changed.

What drinks trends do you predict will emerge or become more firmly established in 2019?

Consumers' thirst for knowledge. Compared to other alcoholic drinks, wine is fiendishly enigmatic; that's why people want to know about it in the first place. Making wine 'accessible' too often means banal over-simplification, which comes across as defeatist and ultimately excites no one. Conversely, we see more and more demand everywhere we go for wine education and experiences that celebrate how beguilingly, beautifully complex a glass of wine is. When someone's eyes light up, it is magical.

What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2019?

If there's no Brexit after all, being ready to pounce on the likely venting of economic activity. If Brexit happens, and especially if it happens badly, then keeping our heads.

What will be the biggest challenges facing the trade in 2019?

Brexit. If it happens. Not because it's going to mean we all run out of wine, but because people are going to rein in spending on eating out and interesting bottles from their local independent.

Who are the people, companies or sectors to watch in 2019?

Craft beer. Too many in the wine trade treat it with condescendence bordering on disdain, yet there's far more affinity with wine than most spirits.

What, for you, would make for a perfect Christmas?

Family, rising early, eating well - in that order.