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UK’s 50 Best Indies 2021: The Top 10

Published:  09 September, 2021

Welcome to the final release instalment of our UK’s 50 Best Indies 2021, featuring the chart-topping Top 10, along with all of those that have made it into the ranking this year.

It’s been an exciting and fascinating list to judge and compile, with the quality and dynamism across the sector higher than ever as we emerge from the challenges of the past 18 months.

Once again, big congratulations from the Harpers team to all below for making it to our UK’s 50 Best Indies 2021 list and we hope to see many of you in person soon.

50 Best Indies 1-10



Crowning this year’s list is the superb and multi-faceted entity that is Cambridge Wine Merchants, with our judges unanimous in awarding this top billing. From bricks-and-mortar retail to wine bars, import and wholesale to consultancy services, by way of a franchise and supply service, there’s also the sheer range of the collective 2,900-strong portfolio of wines, spirits and beers running in its favour. Never standing still, Cambridge invested in a major new integrated business system just ahead of Lockdown 1.0, followed by the roll-out of a new website, also allowing this indie to up the ante

with a strengthened offer of fine wines. Revenues have risen accordingly, on the back of new customers and trade business. But the final winning touch has been MD Hal Wilson’s tireless and successful campaigning on behalf of all indies and importers to win concessions and change from government over Brexit-related red tape. Huge congratulations to all the team at this exemplary British merchant.



Founded with the aim of “demystifying wine and opening it up to wider audiences”, the hybrid model that is Loki has now grown to offer its seamless mix of classic and esoteric finds to an audience across three sites, while never losing sight of its founding ethos. Always noted for its innovative approach to drinks retailing, the pandemic simply accelerated this, with a host of smart adaptations crowned by the success of Loki’s virtual tastings, helping list sales jump by 35%. The range has also evolved to meet pandemic-enforced change, with the ‘ancient world’ of Greece, Georgia and Armenia a recent focus. All of this has been matched by investment in the loyal team, with boss Phil Loki also continuing to drive his company down a sustainable path as Loki heads for its fourth shop opening. A superb merchant by any measure.



Forty years since its founding, Luvians continues to delight the locals in Cupar, St Andrews, and far beyond. With its impeccable and eclectic range of wines, whiskies and so much more, it deserves a high placing on portfolio alone. However, it’s the passion, commitment to excellence in service, truly independent ethos, roster of fabulous tastings and related charity work, lockdown era tie-ins with local businesses, plus staff education and advancement, that all feed into this winning package of a merchant. The ‘Luvanistas’ also tackled the past 18 months head on, embracing and growing UK-wide online sales, while developing ‘shipping hubs’ at the stores to underpin buying power in a post-Brexit world. Self-professed ‘nerds’, this team is nonetheless as professional as they come.



Vagabond is a veteran of this list and for very good reason. This ever-energetic and innovating independent collection of wine bars was seminal in bringing hybrid wine appreciation to London, now with the rest of the UK in its sights. Never resting on its laurels, the challenges of Covid restrictions delivered a slew of new developments as diverse as the recent Tap & Pour app, allowing guests to dispense from self-pour machines via their phone, and a new wine subscription service offering a refreshingly different model coming soon. Conceived as an ‘experiential’ wine bar, Vagabond’s driving force Stephen Finch has also successfully migrated this concept online, pulling in a ‘massive new following’, allowing the Vagabond vibe to go national.



This awesome little wine shop in Sherborne, run by an all-female team of “WSET winos”, set out its stall as “trying to change the norms of the wine world – one bottle at a time”, with a portfolio that sidesteps the mainstream. Tastings, festivals and events, and a lively presence on social media are all part of the deal, plus a by-the glass menu and drink-in section in the shop, as well as a growing regional trade supply arm, mirroring the strong commitment to local community and all things sustainable. What really shines here, though, is how the team consider themselves narrators of the stories of the wines on the shelves, also buying blind without price, to truly ensure the most stimulating and engaging experience with wine.



From its origins in founder Ted Sandbach’s garage to the 2,000-strong portfolio today, sold though its vibrant Oxford shops, a concession and a strong wholesale arm, the Oxford Wine Company is the full package when it comes to grown-up independents. Opening a new flagship shop in central Oxford in the middle of the pandemic, while evolving the range to meet increasingly adventurous customer tastes, staff hiring continued apace, as did a pivoting of business from wholesale to private customers. A year on, much of the new business has been retained, with Oxford’s new Jericho Wine Rooms tasting space and a hectic event programme just some of the initiatives continuing to grow and push this business forward. Above all, this is an indie that also believes in enjoying life to the full.


When this plucky and dynamic Cornish hybrid shot into our list a couple of years ago, it impressed for its Devil-may-care and can-do approach to selling wines and spirits, seemingly knowing no boundaries or restraint as to what it could do. From a base belief of “making people feel welcome and comfortable in our space”, the offshoot activities continue to be nothing short of remarkable – not least for its size. From Txakoli by the glass from a goat-herding priest to a WhatsApp group allowing merchants to support each other through the pandemic, by way of Cornwall’s first home-grown Pet Nat and the planting of a small vineyard, BinTwo continues to combine quirky enthusiasm and originality with a hidden dose of business acumen. Great wines, great culture and great schemes, all delivered by a great team.



The starting point at this north London landmark is the breadth, depth and quality of the 2,200-strong range of wines, spirits and beers. But while retail remains very much at its heart, this shop supports a multi-faceted business ranging from strong online sales, on-trade accounts, en primeur offers, a wine club, wine storage, and regular roster of tastings and events. This merchant met the pandemic head on too, using strong community roots to tie in with varied local businesses, with catering partnerships to the fore, also growing online sales from 7% to 35% of overall turnover, having overhauled the website, and invested in staff and customer services.


With two outlets in Norwich and Norfolk, this merchant has grown far beyond simply retailing well, with several impressive strings to its bow. Its fine wine brokerage service has been flying, while the roll-out of a concession model has gathered pace with the aim to have five in place by Christmas. These champions of independent and artisanal winemakers have also started making their own wine from a local vineyard. And there’s a Norfolk gin. This underscores the company’s strong local ethos, with a successful and growing wine-and-dine-at-home programme all part of the enticing package of projects that show no sign of slowing down.



A firm favourite on the indie scene, this merchant has always been far more than just a great portfolio of wines. Recent investments, backed by a fresh business plan for growth at the beginning of 2020, have seen a revamped website underpinning a big lift in ecommerce, a retrenchment from hybrid to retail in the mothership store, the very recent opening of a wine bar next door and investment in increasing the wholesale operation to better tap into the reopened on-trade. Add in a strong sustainable ethos and huge emphasis on customer care from a passionate team, and it’s no wonder that sales continue to grow year on year.

50 Best Indies 11-50


From its 2003 birth in Didsbury, this merchant has grown to five sites, with a sixth coming soon, offering a hybrid model, with aspects like wine on tap very much part of this multi-faceted and quality-focused business. Reserve Wines remains true to its founding mission of “creating great platforms and environments for people to enjoy and experiment with wine”. This is evidenced by its responses to lockdown – tweaking ranges, ramping up the quality of its online offer, partnering with local market traders and producers for delivery and virtual events, creating pop-ups, driving the agenda of local and sustainable, and generally doing its utmost to excite and satisfy the customer.


Adnams is East Anglia’s favourite wine and spirits merchant-cum-brewer, with some great hotels and pubs in the mix too. Ever individual and highly independent, with an impressive sustainable ethos, this business offers the full gamut of global drinks, but with emphasis on smaller producers and unearthed gems, plus a superb own-label range. Work within and support for the local community is also a big deal here, adding to this great all-rounder’s appeal.


From humble beginnings at London’s Borough Market, this merchant has always ploughed its own furrow, championing organic, biodynamic and low-intervention winemaking, with an inspiring emphasis on sustainability at the core of all it’s achieved. It was early with wines on tap, sustainable packaging and bringing in quality bulk. But Borough has taken this to another level during the past 18 months, becoming the ‘quality bottler’ of choice for tasting samples for events as diverse as California Wines and London Wine Fair. A remarkable company, pointing the way to the future.


This ever-popular London-based merchant is one of a kind, with eight shops firmly rooted in ‘London villages’, where local community links and trust are nurtured and delivered, alongside a normally thriving wholesale arm. The in-store range of wines and spirits is exemplary, as is the knowledge and service. But this ever-innovative company also met the crisis head on, quickly revamping its online operation, delivering a £682,000 uptick in the past 12 months. Great communication with customers has, needless to say, also been key to its ongoing success.


Hedonism is perhaps the most stunning wine emporium in the UK with its incredible range of 6,000 wines and 3,000 spirits all artfully arranged in its beautiful Mayfair showroom. The business also folds in a standalone Michelin-starred restaurant, plus a new cafe and deli and a wine pub, all just a short hop away. A 15-strong team of wine and spirits specialists are on hand to offer a bespoke buying experience across a range that was tweaked to source exciting new references from inaccessible travel destinations, plus adding many half-bottles in response to customers being locked away at home. A great drink-from-home response from a real gem.


This two-store merchant is as independently minded as they come. The Butlers team buy what they like, when they like, currently with a strong focus on Portugal and California, and sell on the tickets of big enthusiasm and fun. Equally impressive, though, is how deeply rooted this merchant is in the community, with its engaging social-media-backed presence complemented by charity work that has gone above and beyond in supporting NHS workers and local food banks. A true local indie, but with increasingly national recognition.


As a traditional merchant with a high-end but nonetheless far-reaching list, this indie ticks all the boxes impeccably, climbing 17 places in this year’s list. But the team here also responded to the pandemic by going into overdrive with customer engagement, using digital engagement and Zoom tastings to seriously boost its reach, drawing in a raft of new customers and boosting its online sales by over 600%. Meanwhile, the MW-peppered team also responded fantastically to the growing demand for less well known wines. In their words, “it’s all about finding the right wine for the right customer”.


This hybrid operator combines indie retail, deli and restaurant to great effect in terms of – in their words – “providing a stage for the most colourful wines on the planet”. Its 1,200-strong portfolio is particularly good on grower Champagne, South Africa and Italy, plus wines by the glass. This Northwich-based merchant also flexed cleverly to meet the challenges of the past 18 months, taking its website from a standing start to £250,000 revenues in 12 months, while also running initiatives in support of charities, including raising thousands for the Lebanese Red Cross.


This smart London-based merchant, with its five stores (the latest opening during the pandemic), plus healthy online and on-trade wholesale reach, simply oozes quality and characterful independence. Unlike many, the business has decided to stick to its roots, eschewing the hybrid model. Instead it focuses on an impeccable list and excellence in customer service, with a tantalising schedule of tastings and other events to back up this seamless package.



With a bar as its hub, this dynamic business has upped the ante in Bristol with its mix of organic and minimal intervention wines, offering a great range on tap, home delivery, online tastings and DIY tasting kits, all aimed at both individuals and corporates. To complete the package, there’s also cheese and charcuterie on offer. Ever responsive in the face of Covid, the reach of this business has grown nationwide, with a second Bristol site and organised ‘real’ vineyard and winemaker tours coming soon. A truly multi-faceted hybrid.



‘Authentic’ is a word used a lot, but at this new-entrant Welsh merchant it translates as a true dedication to sustainably focused producers – those that really care about their environment and what they put in the bottle. Or, as this crew puts it, “bodacious wines with a conscience”. The result is a list, and a vibe, that delivers fresh excitement and refreshing wines, all washed down with enthusiasm and independent gusto from the three chaps behind this new wave indie.


This may be Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, but it’s one that has constantly developed and moved with the times. Its retail base and HQ in St James’s is complemented by offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, plus a busy wine school in the London cellars, strong business with private clients and a recently trimmed wholesale arm. Cellar plans, wine investment services, warehousing, education and private events are all on offer here, together with a far-reaching portfolio of quality wines and spirits.


This is an indie that describes itself as “an experience-led” retailer, with The Wine Library – a tasting room featuring 32 wines on Enomatic – plus The Grape School, offering “fun and informative” wine experiences. Adding to this mix are soon-to-be-launched Tivoli tours of wineries, distilleries and brewers across the three counties surrounding the business. This merchant is also a big champion of English and Welsh wines, with a strong programme of online events backing this up, along with ample tasting in the hybrid store. And the local focus is clearly working, tripling sales in just five years.


Climbing some 21 places, this Birmingham and Solihull-based merchant actually sold off its wholesale arm last year, to refocus instead on getting its retail heart 100% right. There’s a hybrid element to the business too, plus a revamped range focused on more modest quantities of, for example, Langhe Nebbiolo, Maule Valley Semillon and other boutique wines that almost invariably have an engaging story behind them. Lockdown initiatives laid the foundations for further evolution, such as a monthly subscription service, helping introduce new customers to Croatia, Georgia, Portugal and Greece. Meanwhile, online and home delivery also continued to remain strong, and there’s a new wine bar on its way soon.


At 25 sits a two-branch Sussex merchant that is much immersed in buying from, selling to and working closely with local and regional producers. It also folds in a broader, complementary retail and wholesale operation that supplies regional pubs, restaurants and hotels. All of this has been tied together in what South Downs Cellars describes as 360-degree “shop front mentality”, which allows an holistic relationship with all customers. Driving both retail and online sales up – the latter by 1,251% – during the pandemic, this has been achieved by putting the customer at the heart of all this indie does.


This west London business’ strapline – “Good wine, real people, great stories” – absolutely holds true across its four-shop portfolio. The wine offer comprises smaller, family-run producers of quality, with sustainability and personality all part of an enticing blend. The range constantly rotates, too, with the likes of Morocco, Japan and Mexico all in the most recent mix. This is backed by a constantly evolving series of marketing activities and events, all designed to bring customers and budding wine lovers closer to the winemakers behind the wines. An indie brimming with energy and innovative approach.


With 40% of wines being shipped direct from producers of ‘integrity’, this Inverness-born company has since grown an impressive private client base, along with a thriving wholesale business that now has its own London office. Managing to hold 2,000 quality wines at a time, with a rotation of 3,000 sold throughout the year, none of this would add up to so much if it wasn’t for the impressive service, knowledge and passion offered to private, retail and trade customers alike.


From hand-picked classics to exotic finds from emerging regions, this merchant has it all and backs this up with a tirelessly accessible approach to engagement that has delivered 1,000 (virtual) tastings during the pandemic alone. Brexit, then the Covid crisis, also inspired this operator to evolve many aspects of its business, including staff training, stock and sales systems, marketing, and tie-ins with platforms such as Deliveroo. At the heart of it all lies a commitment in communicating to the customer the really pleasurable experience delivered by great wines, spirits and beers.


With its impeccable core range remaining largely unaltered during lockdowns, this quality merchant nonetheless expanded its entry level, winning away supermarket customers, and keeping them hooked with a combination of improved online presence, social media and dedicated retail customer service. Amps’ website sales rose 650% during the pandemic, underpinned by incredibly popular Zoom tastings, along with partnerships with local food providers. This latter was conceived to best help serve the community, also forming part of a broader company focus on sustainability.


A sterling merchant that made its name specialising in the Rhône, Loire and Languedoc-Roussillon, but has deftly added to its core French regional portfolio with countries as diverse as Germany and Australia, South Africa and Argentina. The historical sales split was around 50:50 between retail and wholesale, with the latter comprising a dizzying number of Michelin-starred restaurants around the UK. Facing up to the pandemic, and a sales mix that shifted to 80:20 retail to wholesale, the focus shifted to D2C, plus selling to indies, hybrids and brokers, inspiring this merchant to up its range by 10%.


A superb all-rounder. From its quality portfolio of both esoteric and more mainstream wines to varied customer services and in-depth staff training, this Northern Ireland-based indie also continues to grow its high-end agencies across the Emerald Isle. With greater emphasis on one-off parcels and gifting during 2020, online sales witnessed an overall uptick of 49%, also reflecting 3,000 new customers that flocked to this vinous oasis.


The name of this small but enticingly formed company says it all, with a range rooted in individual and often eclectic finds from Central and Eastern Europe, along with emerging Mediterranean hotspots and more besides. Founded with an aim to “excite the curious drinker”, this West Country merchant nonetheless used the crisis to focus on expanding its range around £10 to help draw in retail adventurers straying from the supermarkets. All of this was backed by a roster of virtual tasting events, mixed-case deals and a new line-up of novel spirits.


With three stores and a very loyal following, this Scottish star met the pandemic head on, flipping almost its entire range online, accelerating an ongoing shift from wholesale to ecommerce, while moving to the portfolio-protecting safe haven of UK buying. All of this simply represents the latest in a series of ongoing innovations and evolutions since Vino first opened in 2010, keeping this unstuffy but quality-focused indie ahead of the game.


Founded in 1999, this specialist has since become the number one online retailer of whisky and other spirits, with a simple guiding premise of “never resting on its laurels”. Innovation and outstanding customer service, coupled with word-of-mouth recommendation and fair pricing, have driven strong growth in recent years, with the company taking the challenges of lockdowns in its (online) stride. Listing 9,500 products, this nonetheless is a merchant that makes every single one count and its spectacular range is still growing.


One of the UK’s bigger family-run indies with six branches to its name, plus a thriving wholesale side. As such, this still very independent Shropshire-rooted merchant continued to do what it does best during the pandemic, swinging its premium focus on to private clients and online trade, while keeping its supply to the on-trade “agile”. Climbing five places, Tanners upped its social media presence, while also showing a neat blend of tradition and modernity – all befitting one of the stalwarts of the indie trade.


With two hybrid sites, a straight wine shop and now a dedicated wine bar, this Surrey favourite has firmly stuck to its founding principles of “great wines, no nonsense”. Virtual tastings and wine-focused tours, refocused logistics and a shift to featuring wines from stricken on-trade accounts to help out have all been part of the mix. This is a merchant that has managed many innovative twists and turns throughout the pandemic, while expanding and fine-tuning its superb range.


Tucked away in Hereford, the long, bottle-lined entry corridor more than hints at the breadth and diversity on offer at this multichannel indie. During the pandemic Secret Bottle Shop once again upped its game, working hard on its quality entry-level offer to lure shoppers away from the supermarkets, while fine-tuning its delivery services. It also ramped up its highly successful Zoom tasting series and continued to work closely with suppliers, including whisky producers, to deliver new release and limited-edition bottles. An all-round enticing package.


With more than 60 years’ experience under its belt, this third-generation family business has never stood still. Hennings has steadily been adding to its two-shop strength as a traditional retailer with an incredibly healthy and still growing wholesale side that has for a while now led the business. There’s a fantastic breadth to the portfolio here, with many wines brought in direct. Add in much emphasis on high levels of customer service that carried over into the recent growth of online, and this merchant remains a regional star.


With two connecting stores and wine bars, a healthy wholesale arm and a now vibrant online operation, plus 40 years’ experience of sourcing from hand-picked quality producers, the integrity of this merchant clearly shines through. And, as the pandemic forced a shift to online, use of cheeky, energetic and ultimately highly successful engagement via social media – including supplier-backed competitions and charity tie-ins – formed the icing on this tasty vinous cake.


Thirsty is a stereotype-breaking East Anglian merchant that focuses on small, similarly independently minded producers, with organic and natural liquids to the fore, complementing a highly sustainable focus throughout all it does. Throw in comedy and music nights, tastings and bottle swaps, a double-dozen great beers on tap and strong support of local producers, and it all adds up to a dynamic mix of indie energy.


The sheer spectrum of spirits alone offered by this merchant might be enough to make our 50 Best. But add in the expansion into a great wine offer and great roster of craft beers in the two new shops, plus a “fiercely independent” and passion-driven approach to sourcing, selling and educating, along with canny adaptation during the pandemic, and it’s no wonder this company has become a Glasgow institution.


This firmly family-owned business in North Wales excels for its range, its customer service and “putting our heart and soul into what we do”. The pandemic emphasised this ethos, with “no dumbing down”, but rather a redoubling of local community focus and customer service, including working with suppliers of other victuals on deliveries. Additionally, Gwyn Llyn worked ever more closely with its own suppliers to ensure that the quality of the offer remained to the fore.


Innovation has always underpinned all that this Scottish merchant does, with online tastings already part of the mix pre-pandemic. However, when lockdowns hit, the team ramped it up, instantly switching to a delivery-only model, honing its buying and offering pre-ordered sales, assisting other businesses with their ecommerce sites and creating initiatives such as ‘Winemakers live’ – a smart online tasting experience, in partnership with Daniel Lambert Wines.


From its original mini-Aladdin’s cave in East London to its four neighbourhood sites today, this fabulous merchant continues to push its ethos of appealing to the novice drinker as much as the seasoned wine buff. To do so, its dynamic and quality-driven team actively seek out highly characterful finds that offer true value and interest, with staff passion, rotating tasting samples and much immersion in the community all adding to the appeal.


Climbing five places is this Leicestershire favourite, offering “wines, beers and spirits with personality” to both retail and wholesale customers. Personality is the keyword here, with its eponymous owner and team packing in so much in terms of events and charitable activities, alongside a bijou wine bar, pop-up initiatives and a growing online presence. And this all feeds in to the passionate but unstuffy approach.


Describing itself as “a small, friendly neighbourhood wine shop in an unfashionable part of west London”, this indie nonetheless makes waves with its off-the-beaten-track selection, rooted in passionate sourcing and buying. Very much embedded in the local community, with a good sustainable ethos to boot, this is a merchant that has also reached out very successfully via social media and online to punch above its size.


Housed in a beautifully restored barn on a farm on the Surrey–Sussex border, this merchant offers the whole indie deal. With a strong ethos of sourcing direct from “classic regions” underpinning the mix of retail and fast ramped-up online sales, plus a highly active wine school and great sustainable ethos, this indie also did much throughout the pandemic to support suppliers and trade customers alike.


Describing themselves as “good people, selling good things to good people, made by good people” with no desire to make “shedloads of cash”, this idiosyncratic Glasgow outfit continues to cut to the heart of what makes a great independent. This translates as tasting, talking, truly listening to the customer, not taking themselves too seriously – except with the quality of the often off-piste wines, beers and spirits they find – while always injecting an element of fun.


As a specialist wine and bottle shop, comprising Enoteca, delicatessen, wine tasting and events space, all housing over 500 artisan wines, specialist beers and premium spirits, plus a counter full of extraordinary cheeses, charcuteries, condiments and chocolates, this Geordie oasis covers all the major necessities for life. During lockdown periods, the slow food/slow wine ethos behind this company was successfully grown through a massively expanded delivery service, a huge drive to boost wine club members, a fully revamped website and many other dynamic initiatives besides.


Ake & Humphris is an enticing family-owned business in Harrogate that majors in artisanal and less-well trodden finds. The dynamic team here, each bringing individual specialist areas of interest, such as South America, Riesling, whisky and craft beer, adapted fast during the pandemic, upping the ante on already strong elements of range, service, themed online tastings and – satisfyingly – sales.