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Upbeat mood at Vindependents tasting

Published:  18 January, 2022

Signs that life is returning to something closer to normal, at least for the UK’s independent merchants, were borne out in London yesterday (17 January) at a well-attended Vindependents tasting in Camden.

The members’ owned buying group, which recently welcomed Pall Mall Wines as its 50th partner, was showing Burgundies and the latest vintages of wines already in its portfolio, along with potential additions to be decided upon by its members.

Among those present, including the likes of WoodWinters, The Vineking, Cambridge Wine Merchants and Hennings Wine Merchants, the mood was generally optimistic.

Asked about trade over the Christmas period, Andrew WoodWinters MD Andrew Johnson said: “Trade has generally been OK, given how horrendous everything has been, and things can only get better.”

Matt Hennings, MD of Hennings, added: “Business has actually been not too bad, and it’s probably a good thing that [trade for many independents] has lifted away from competing with multiples, with good sales online and at a more premium level.”

Hamish Chambers, manager and buyer at The VineKing’s Reigate shop, described a quietish run up to Christmas, as consumers were faced with uncertainty about possible restrictions as the Omicron wave hit, but “a very busy last four days”, which brought sales back to a decent level.

From the Vindependents’ perspective, MD Jess Hutchinson said that throughout 2020 and over Christmas members had bought “lots of Champagne, especially grower Champagnes, and generally lots of everything, with sales going up and membership growing”.

In 2021 Vindependents launched a new subsidiary, Groupage Europe, to tackle the transport and shipping challenges of imports due to Brexit. Working with a French haulier that collects its pallets from all over Europe, these are then delivered to a bonded warehouse set up by the buying group in the South-West of France, helping to significantly reduce the paperwork and costs of onward distribution to the UK via consolidated orders.

“Now that we’ve sorted our shipping out and everything is arriving quickly, our warehouse is paying dividends,” said Hutchinson, adding that shipping time was “almost back to normal”.

“Brexit was such a pain, it caused so many problems, but it feels like we’ve got back to where we want to be, we’ve managed to reduce some of our RRPs, cutting the cost of shipping, and going back to where we were before Brexit.”

Another of the fallouts from Brexit, Hutchinson said, had played into the hands of the Vindependents.

“One of the things I hadn’t thought about before we set up the warehouse [is that] in order to import wine into the UK, you need to be a UK registered company,” she said.

“So we had Bordeaux chateaux, Armagnac producers, wine producers, loads of people contacting us saying ‘we used to send wine to the UK but we can’t do it anymore, can you do it?’, so we are able to do a bit of that as well.”