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Living with Lockdown – Daniel Lambert Wines

Published:  14 May, 2020

Agent-importer Daniel Lambert talks to Andrew Catchpole about bypassing critics and trade with live access to winemakers, the dangers of having all eggs in one basket and why its boom time for indies.

What’s your take on where the trade is at now?

It's been an interesting one, it's a mixed bag, obviously the independent sector is doing well – there have been amazing figures from some of the [off-trade] market, but not for some others, not all supermarkets are doing so well getting wines on shelf.

I’m constantly talking to different sector of the trade, finding out what is going on and how it is working, or not, as the case may be. We know the story with the on-trade. There it’s more a question of what people are putting in place plan-wise, against a completely uncertain gradual reopening, possibly from the 4 July. It’d take a brave person to put all their eggs in one basket and start supplying just the on-trade again.

You’ve been running live tastings with producers on Facebook – how’s that going and how well is it feeding into the business?

The format was actually the idea of Peter Wood at St Andrews Wine Company and he did the very first one of these about two years ago. He came to me about seven months ago and asked of we could [do this] for one of our producers in Austria.

To cut to the chase, when the Covid close-down happened, we decided to do this on a regular basis. What we are basically trying to achieve is to bypass the necessity for wine critics to review wines. The idea is for consumers to be able to have had a virtual tour and visit a winery online through the form of a tasting and an integrated video. Getting the winery to do what they are good at, communicate directly with the consumer. And the consumer actually has the wine in their hands.

We’re using Facebook Live and this is where it gets quite clever. The video for the Winemakers Live page can then be shared, on the winery’s Facebook page, but also by agents around the world, and by their customers. The scope is interesting, because it’s not about an independent or supplier in the UK, it’s about the wholesale and retail and [their] customers, bringing the customer back to the wineries and talking to the winemaker. Forget about all the people in the chain, the consumer actually has the chance to ask questions, without all the bullshit that goes around the trade – we want to break that wall down.

So that’s what we are trying to do and we’re now getting 3,000 views per episode on the third episode, with the fourth coming up next week. And there’s a good uplift on sales, which is important.

How much do you think the pandemic will change the way the wider trade engages with the consumer?

I think that the wine trade has been very slow in its technological advance, that's for sure, but I'm as guilty of that as next guy, to be honest. [Covid-19] has forced the industry to work in a very different way. Will the industry change going forward? Absolutely. There's no question that the industry is already changed and I can't see it reverting back to the way it was a month ago, I simply don't see that.

The first thing I see is that I honestly believe the high street national retailers have got an incredibly tough time ahead of them. They failed to achieve and perform in this crisis, in the sense that they haven't had the stock, they haven't been able to serve and deliver as quickly as [rivals], when consumers have got used to being able to have a delivery from Amazon within a maximum of 48 hours to anywhere. And consumers have got used to that, with every other product. So the wine industry has now got to achieve those levels.

The national retailers simply can’t achieve that, and this is where the rise and rise of the independent has come from - normally same day delivery from an online order. And that's something that the independents are absolutely taking advantage of.

We're winning here because we can attract new business from merchants, for good products. The consumer has realised – through complete fluke really – that wines from smaller producers are better, because they've been forced to go through different channels to find their wine, just out of convenience more than anything else. And they're finding that the independent sector has better wines, and for the same prices.

We’re talking about people that just want to drink a glass of wine. Supermarkets need to buy in volume, and people in the trade can be very snobby about branded wines, but they have their place and do a good job at raising the profile of wine and bringing people into the category. And companies like Waitrose are doing a very good job, with their independent range too.

But when you go down ‘Mr Branded route', because of what has happened, consumers are realising that branded wine isn’t anywhere near as good as wine made more naturally, by independent producers, which doesn’t have a big marketing budget attached to it, so you just pay for the wine. And consumers have been quite surprised by the quality level they’ve been getting, from wines that aren’t mass-produced.

So the genie is out of the bottle, the independents are in an incredibly powerful position now, and it's interesting that all the agents have realised this very quickly.

People are adapting their businesses very rapidly to support the independents, because for a long time they’ve been trying to bypass the independents and supply the on-trade direct, but you can’t do that now. And there are lots of interesting things going on, like [suppliers] supplying the public direct, which I can understand in the short term, but is fundamentally a fatal error as it’s not going to serve them well with the regional merchants.