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Looking ahead: Stephen Finch, Vagabond Wines

Published:  03 January, 2019

Once again we are catching up with the trade to find out how businesses looked to make 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 Stephen Finch, managing director at innovative hybrid merchant Vagabond Wines, which came top of the class in Harpers’ 50 Best Indies list for 2018.

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

Vagabond is certainly in a much stronger place now than last year. Our stores have been performing very strongly and the first vintage from our urban winery was released in the meantime to both critical and commercial success.

As for the broader trade, it’s quite hard to discern. The news has been so pessimistic yet everyone seems to be doing well. My hunch is our sector is doing just fine despite the myriad challenges that come our way every year.

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

Our monster low for 2018 was losing our Spitalfields site. Still hurts.

We had two wonderful highs in 2018 — one was being voted the Best Independent Drinks Retailer in the Harper’s 50 Best Indies awards, and the other was completing the £3.5m investment from private equity specialist Imbiba.

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

Keg wine. There are now good wines available by keg. This will have a big impact up and down the value chain for years to come.

Craft beer. Continues to gobble up market share and mind share.

Crowdfunding. This was definitely the year in which everyone and their cousin raised funds for a drinks-related business from a crowdfunding platform at stupid valuations.

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

I honestly have no idea! I’m just trying to get through Christmas in one piece. No time for thinking.

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

Whenever there’s a crisis, there’s opportunity. Definitely more businesses will shut doors in 2019 and a lot of properties will come available. Those who survive have the opportunity to thrive if they press their advantage at the right moment.

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

The biggest challenge is to say anything other than ‘Brexit’ as the biggest challenge facing the trade in 2019.

That, and the looming labour shortfall.

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

I’m quite interested to see what Xavier Rousset and Gearoid Devaney get up to next. Their upcoming Trade club in Soho should be pretty cool.

Other than that, I wonder who will be the next Champagne house to buy land and plant vines in the UK?

Will non-EU wines become more popular as a result of Brexit shenanigans?

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

A bottle of 2015 Vin de Constance, an uninterrupted daytime nap, and 24 hours without hearing anything about Brexit.