Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Top 50 Drinks Wholesalers 2022

Published:  06 June, 2022

After the hiatus of the pandemic years, when lockdowns and restrictions caused chaos and pain across the supply chain, Harpers’ Top 50 Drinks Wholesaler list has returned, celebrating the leading companies in this vibrant sector.

Gaining a place on the Top 50 list is no mean feat, with reader-nominated entrants being whittled down from a long list by our panel of judges, applying several clear criteria (see below) to the entries then requested from those companies.

Company ethos, service, portfolio, training and social and environmental aspects of sustainability were all taken into account, along with innovation and investment in all shapes and forms, to inform the decision-making process.

The ordering of the final 50 that do make the cut can drive much deliberation and debate, but what was noticeable this year is how well aligned much of the individual scoring was from the judges ahead of the final judgement day.

The result is a list that shines the spotlight on 50 of the very best drinks wholesalers in the UK, each of which firmly deserves its place as one of the most go-ahead, innovative, successful and popular operators in this influential market.

Congratulations from the Harpers team to all who feature in our Top 50 Drinks Wholesalers this year.

1. Liberty Wines

Liberty has crowned our 50 Top wholesaler list before and for good reason, being widely recognised as a smart, well-run operation, with the people, professionalism

and, of course, portfolio to back this up. Founder David Gleave MW may have now passed the MD baton to Tom Platt, while becoming chair, but it’s been a smooth transition, long in the planning. This means it’s business as usual for this exemplary £120m turnover London-based merchant, with its 3,000 accounts and its 1,500- strong portfolio. Liberty’s “quality-led approach”, backed by a strong emphasis on great service, is also underpinned by great sustainability credentials, with the company achieving carbon neutral plus status in 2021. Big, clearly, can be beautiful, and quality of list and service can win through.

2. Speciality Drinks

Speciality Drinks is a premium spirits wholesaler supplying whisky and other spirits, wine and Champagne to the UK. It is known as an industry leader with a lifelong passion for driving spirits education and leading the way, using its expertise to provide the best products to the on-trade. The company works with more than 1,500 of the best bars, restaurants and hotels across the UK and globally, from the smallest pop-up bars to large international groups. Founded in 1999 by Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh, Speciality Drinks has built a strong reputation by focusing on exceptional service, sharing its passion for drinks and introducing new producers and categories to bars and restaurants in the UK. The company boasts one of the largest portfolios with a curated range of more than 10,000 products, including exclusive bottlings in the UK.

3. Hallgarten & Novum Wines

Judges were full of praise for both Hallgarten & Novum’s portfolio(s) and the dynamic duo of MD Andrew Bewes and boundary-pushing head buyer Steve Daniel, who between them have built a formidable reputation out in the trade. As with most successful businesses, Hallgarten & Novum has a clear ethos and aims, supplying across the trade’s various sectors, but strictly adhering to a ‘trade sales only’ policy, even during lockdowns, and focusing above all on the quality of the offer. Turning over upward of £50m annually, servicing more than 2,000 accounts from its 1,100-strong list, the company added a remarkable 164 new wines from 36 new producers in the past 12 months, spread across the more classic Hallgarten and cutting-edge Novum lists. A real gem.

4. St Austell Brewery

Independent, family-owned St Austell Brewery has been brewing beer and selling wine in Cornwall for more than 170 years. With a network of six depots across the West Country, the company is the leading regional wholesale distributor of wine, beers, spirits, ciders and soft drinks. Despite St Austell’s longevity, the business is still an independent, family-owned wholesaler. Its roots remain in Cornwall, but St Austell has expanded its distribution network to cover the entire West Country region, supplying its growing customer base and selling more than 3 million bottles of wine each year. St Austell has a large dedicated wine team, strengthened by the addition of Andrew Turner (pictured) as MD, Beer & Brands in March 2020, who ovesees the beer and wholesale drinks side of the business.

5. Vine Trail

With its focus originally on artisanal vignerons in France, with northern Spain and Sicily also now firmly represented in its outstanding portfolio, Vine Trail was scored highly on multiple fronts by our judges. MD Nick Brookes famously financed the first list of 27 wines in 1989 off the back of a winning bet on the horses, but 30 years later the company has gone from strength to strength, building up an enviable portfolio of individual, always characterful and quality-minded producers. Sustainability forms a big part of the company’s DNA too, also reflected in an enthusiasm for wines that are low in sulphur and moderate in alcohol, with purity and freshness to the fore.

6. Alliance Wine

Founded in 1984 by Chris Bouteiller and still based in Beith, Ayrshire, Alliance Wine has been in business for 38 years. It is now a UK-wide importer and distributor, and remains independently owned and run by the business directors who are all involved daily.

Alliance has invested heavily in creating its wine brands and producing wines across the world. The company makes wine in four regions across three continents, carefully selecting areas where they can make a positive difference. Thistledown Wines in the Adelaide Hills is the best example of this. Over the past decade, Thistledown has become recognised as one of the outstanding producers of Grenache in Australia, winning numerous awards and top scores.

With other operations in Chile, Roussillon in France, and in Spain, Alliance is identifying all-but-forgotten vineyards or overlooked varieties, breathing new life into them to offer their customers wines of great quality, made sustainably and that will sell.

7. Bancroft Wines

Majoring on family-run wineries and with a passion for quality and sustainability, Bancroft has an impressive list, boasting 1,500 labels from 190 wineries globally. Founder Adam Bancroft initially specialised in Australia and Burgundy, but more latterly Spain and South Africa have also become mainstays. Bancroft’s portfolio was given a boost when it smartly folded in many of the FMV agency wines during the pandemic, further strengthening its offer. The quality of agencies is a given here, but this is backed by a well-run business, putting outstanding knowledge, customer service and support at the heart of the operation, with special focus on supporting the on-trade over the past couple of years. A popular choice and well-deserved slot on our Top 10.

8. Graft Wine Company

Graft Wine Company is a specialist wine importer with a vibrant, producer-led portfolio covering established and emerging wine regions across the globe, created in 2019 from the merger of Red Squirrel (voted third in this list in 2019) and The Knotted Vine. The company’s small, experienced team of nine supplies both on-trade accounts and independent retailers in every region of the UK (including Northern Ireland). As well as bottled wine, Graft is one of the country’s pioneers in quality keg wine. The company offers its customers the specialist knowledge and relentless commitment to quality and personal relationships that come with working with a small company, but the customer service standards, range and resources you expect from a big one.

9. Les Caves de Pyrene

Les Caves de Pyrene has long been a hugely influential and dynamic importer, first making a splash as the most important driver of the game-changing natural wine scene in the UK. The continuously evolving list, with new finds from Greece and Lebanon the most recent additions, is backed by so much besides. There’s a sister company in Melbourne, the annual Real Wine Fair that Les Caves de Pyrene organises, plus The Real Wine Month, and celebrated London restaurants including the seminal wine bar Terroir. This is a company that wholly succeeds in being “more than a two-dimensional transactional company”, with 12 of its “semi-collective” employees being shareholders and decision-makers.

10. Lea & Sandeman

Lea & Sandeman is an independent wine merchant that continues to source fantastic grower-led, artisanal wines from producers primarily under 20ha in size worldwide. L&S has its own warehouse, vans and drivers delivering, and an incredibly reasonable minimum order where even a single case can be fully mixed. The team goes above and beyond to deliver the best and most personal service to every one of its customers. Allied with an award-winning portfolio, L&S encourages its clients to differentiate themselves from the mainstream and offer wines that each have their own story, which engages their customers, creating a loyal following.

11. Berkmann Wine Cellars

Turning over £96m annually, Berkmann stands out as one of the medium-to-bigger sized importers that is still family run, still owned

by Joseph Berkmann, with son Rupert as CEO. The portfolio is impressive here, with iconic names well represented, but some 180 grape varieties spread across the 1,500-strong portfolio giving a clue as to the diversity also on offer. Service is to the fore, with its own fleet of drivers, all adding up to one of the stalwarts of the UK wine scene.

12. Swig

Focusing on small, family-run producers, Swig champions wines from off the beaten track. In 2015 Swig launched the New Wave South Africa tasting initiative, which completely changed the game for South Africa in the UK, and opened the eyes of restaurants, shops and other importers to what South Africa could offer as one of the most dynamic wine-producing countries in the world.

Swig also takes a stand by not importing from producers unless they are organic, in conversion or have a clear vision for sustainability in their vineyards that they can explain and demonstrate. The business has moved to 100% recyclable packaging, including paper tape.

13. Flint Wines

Flint Wines was set up in 2006 by Jason Haynes and Sam Clarke, with Gearoid Devaney MS joining as director in 2010. From day one, the company has specialised in the wines of Burgundy and, in 2013, won IWC Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for Burgundy. The thing that stands out at Flint is the sheer range of Burgundy available to customers. Unlike many merchants, Flint’s stock belongs to the business, allowing it to provide a strong offering of wines at all price points. Flint’s customer base includes some of the most prestigious restaurants in the UK, which need the security of ongoing listings and access to exceptional vintages and library stock.

14. Adnams

Suffolk-based Adnams is as independently-minded and multi-faceted as they come. This company is a brewer, a hotelier and pub owner, a retailer of wines, spirits and beers and a wholesaler across its impressive drinks portfolio. Now in its 150th years, the business prides itself on its inclusive culture, individual thinking and values that continue to deliver an impressive record on both sustainability and community support.

15. Indigo Wine

Since its inception, Indigo has done more than anyone to highlight what is now widely dubbed the ‘new wave’ of Spain. Henshaw and his growing team soon applied the ethos of buying from genuinely individual, artisanal producers to other countries, to great effect – in the past year alone 20 new agencies have come on board, from Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Chile, South Africa, and the US. A great list for real value, with the knowledge and enthusiasm to back that up.

16. Daniel Lambert Wines

This year marks the 30th year of trading for Daniel Lambert Wines, in which it has featured on this list twice before and been awarded IWC Small Agent of the Year three times; Burgundy Merchant and Loire Merchant twice. The company has been a leading voice in changing laws that could have damaged the industry as a whole; for example, DLW was instrumental in stopping VI-1s and is now campaigning hard to prevent the excise reform proposal.

17. Thorman Hunt

As a family-run specialist exclusively featuring artisanal-scale wines for the on-trade, Thorman Hunt has long been held in high esteem by sommeliers and restaurant buyers. This is a company that buys on quality alone, preferring the wines and their stories to do the talking, with the team offering a very personal service and in-depth knowledge to back the portfolio.

18. Inverarity Morton

Inverarity Morton is Scotland’s largest independent drinks wholesaler, founded in 1945. Offering a full range of wines, spirits, beers and soft drinks, the business is primarily focused on supplying premium wines and spirits to the on-trade, with more than 2,800 customers. Servicing Scotland from its depot in Glasgow’s Southside, the business recently introduced a retail Bottle Shop at Bonnie & Wild in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter, focusing on premium and rare spirits.

19. Boutinot

Believing that “all people should be able to drink good wine”, Boutinot describes itself as being a people business as much as a wine business, acknowledging the amazing staff behind the mind-boggling array of wine around the world. In addition to the 150-odd producers represented here, Boutnot’s team gets its hands dirty, having a partnership with a co-operative in Italy, plus two vineyards in France, a farm in South Africa, and an English garden vineyard, adding further points of difference to the 1,600-strong portfolio.

20. Yapp Brothers

Yapp Brothers supplies many of the best restaurants in the UK, encompassing more than 50 Michelin stars, and hosts a range of tastings and dinners at these establishments around the country. Founded in 1969, the merchant is widely recognised as the UK’s leading importer of French regional wines and was named IWC Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for the Rhône in 2021.

21. Clark Foyster Wines

Founded in 2002, Clark Foyster is a specialist importer of hand-crafted wines from primarily small family estates, supplying the on and off-trades and a few multiples. Clark Foyster recently helped develop an en primeur initiative for Austrian wines with The Wine Society and Lay & Wheeler, and – in its own words – “would be unlikely to take on a new producer who was not following sustainable production principles”.

22. GB Wine Shippers

GB Wine Shippers was founded at the height of the pandemic in 2020 by long-term friends Gus Gluck and Richard Bray. The firm currently manages a high-quality portfolio of 21 wineries, supplying a diverse range of clients in the retail and hospitality sectors. The judges were particularly impressed with the strength of the Australian offering, including some private-label wines made from fruit that would have otherwise been discarded.

23. Mentzendorff

With more than 160 years of experience, Mentzendorff’s portfolio combines leading brands like Champagne Bollinger and Taylor’s Port with a diverse wine and spirit offering from family-owned producers. Mentzendorff has recently expanded with a dedicated team of four supplying 250 accounts in London and across the south east.

24. Enotria & Coe

A tour de force in the UK trade, Enotria Wine Cellars started out as a specialist Italian importer in 1972. Merging with Coe Vintners in 2015, the firm now represents 68 countries and over 2,000 wine labels. Its claim to fame is being the only UK distributor with expertise in all channels – Enotria & Coe launched a DTC platform in 2021.

25. Cambridge Wine Merchants

Established in 1993 by two friends, Hal Wilson and Brett Turner, Cambridge Wine Merchants supplies Cambridgeshire and the south with a 2,700-strong range comprising wines, craft spirits, beers, ciders and soft drinks. The business added a new website in 2021, and there will be further developments in wholesale and spirits websites in 2022.

26. Dayla Drinks

Dayla is a fourth-generation family business, established in 1851. Having started out as brewers and mineral water manufacturers, the current owners supply a broad range of beers, ciders, wines, spirits and soft drinks to an eclectic audience. The judges expressed delight at the number of craft beers and spirits on offer, helping to maintain dynamism in the independent sector.

27. Woodwinters

From its original store-based roots in Scotland, Woodwinters has managed to successfully grow its agency wing, adding on a healthy wholesale operation too, with strengths in Scotland, Manchester and the north, and the greater London area, where it also has an office. Italy is a mainstay of the portfolio, but there’s a global reach to the list and a superb selection of whiskies is a major feature.

28. HT Drinks Group

Boasting an impressive scope and remit, HT Drinks supplies more than 10,000 clients across a range of channels. The firm scored very highly on technological innovation and social responsibility – HT Drinks recently launched a click and collect service that is free to use on any smart phone with a free HT app. In addition, the business offers a free lunch every day to all of its staff working in the depot.

29. Carson & Carnevale

Founded in March 2017 by the two eponymous families to combine expertise in both wine and distribution, C&C Wines now represents a diverse range of wineries from Spain, Australia and the US. However, the core strength of the business is in Italy, where C&C exclusively represents 22 wineries, with several more agencies set to join in 2022. The still-young enterprise has also made strides in sustainability after switching all of its own-fleet vehicles from diesel to ultra-low-emission vehicles.

30. Uncharted Wines

The London-based independent merchant is “at the forefront of the wine-on-tap revolution”, focusing on small domaines that work sustainably and ethically. Uncharted works predominantly with restaurants and independent wine shops, sometimes helping clients implement bespoke tap installations, enabling them to pour uncharted wines from environmentally friendly kegs.

31. Jascots Wine Merchants

Jascots is a market leader in sustainability, with the business having been certified carbon neutral for 12 years. It specialises in offering clients a strong portfolio of sustainable wines from small and family-owned wineries across the world, with no presence in the multiples. The judges applauded the quality of South American labels, helping indies who find it commercially difficult to import from outside of Europe. The range is also very strong on the Loire Valley, with a surfeit of food-friendly and great value wines, ideal for the on-trade.

32. Jeroboams (& Laytons)

The Laytons story started more than 80 years ago when Tommy Layton, unable to find decent wine for his restaurant in Soho, started his own import business. This later became part of Jeroboams Group, which is now a collection of neighbourhood wine shops, a fine wine team and supplier Jeroboams Trade.

33. Raymond Reynolds

Raymond Reynolds is one of the UK’s leading Portugal specialists, with a diverse collection of styles from every major region. Corporate responsibility is taken very seriously by the owner; there is ongoing investment in team training and development to provide unrivalled customer service. The firm has also unveiled a landmark carbon reduction project involving Niepoort Vinhos SA to set up the first ‘By Sail’ trading route from Portugal to the UK.

34. New Generation Wines

As the name suggests, New Generation Wines is a business looking ahead to the future. Its 600-strong portfolio combines family-owned, boutique, organic and biodynamic producers, with some of the best-known names in the wine world. In addition, New Generation typically works with a dedicated group of growers, winemakers and distillers whose common goal is to produce the true expression of their origin.

35. Amathus Drinks

A 45-year-old family-owned business, Amathus Drinks offers more than 3,000 wholesale lines in addition to 800 wines imported directly. As if that wasn’t enough, the business represents around 50 distilleries and brewery agencies. The range includes several major brands, such as Cristal, alongside many smaller, hard-to-find niche labels – a sulphur-free wine from Argentina is just one example. The judges noted that Central and South American spirits such as tequila, mezcal and pisco were another key strength.

36. Matthew Clark

Founded in 1810 by Matthew Clark as a wine and spirits broking business in the City of London. Its customer base is now built around its pub, bar, hotel and restaurant customers. Matthew Clark boasts thousands of alcohol products from 80 countries, consolidated into a single order and delivery system. Its award-winning ecommerce platform, Matthew Clark Live, allows customers to order from a selection of 7,000 products, with access to unique pricing and promotions and options for one or two-day delivery.

37. Hammonds of Knutsford

After trading for more than 60 years, Hammonds of Knutsford has accumulated

an impressive client base in the on and off-trades, stocking more than 2,500 SKUs. The company has heavily invested in people to grow its customer base across the independent sector, while simultaneously focusing on expanding its range of Scotch whiskies. Yet Hammonds is not afraid to innovate; it recently agreed UK distribution for major American ready-to-drink cocktail brand, Buzzballz.

38. Oxford Wine Company

The original Oxford Wine Company was founded in 1840 and traded from 125 High Street, Oxford, until 1914. These days, this indie merchant stocks more than 2,000 products, ranging from well-known classics to esoteric curiosities across wines, beers and spirits.

39. EWGA

EWGA Wines celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but the company has no desire to stand still. In addition to supplying on-trade venues in the North West and South West of England, EWGA continues to source directly from producers for its exclusive wine ranges bottled in the UK. The judges were mightily impressed with the Spanish selection, including super-premium wineries from Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

40. Hills Prospect

Hills Prospect is the largest independent composite wholesaler to the on-trade in the south sast. As such it services pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs, boasting 45 years of outstanding service from every department, including its ever-growing quality wine portfolio, backed by a fleet of 38 lorries.

41. Sustainable Wine Solutions

Formerly trading as Borough Wines, Sustainable Wine Solutions is determined to be the UK’s leading supplier of eco-friendly formats. It currently offers several sustainable wine delivery systems, including Wine-on-Tap, Vinotap, the bottle return scheme and a rebottling sampling service. Combining the quality control benefits of a commercial bottling and kegging line with a premium approach, SWS is able to improve all aspects of the supply chain, enhancing business margins, quality, service and choice.

42. Marta Vine

Marta Vine started 12 years ago and is a Portuguese wine specialist. Three years ago, the company decided to start importing from other European countries with the proviso that all the wines were certified organic. Marta Vine now works with wineries in Spain, France, Austria and Croatia to back up its impressive Portuguese portfolio.

43. Ellis Wines

There are few on-trade buyers not familiar with Ellis Wines. Supplying clients in London, the south east/west and Midlands, Ellis brings choice, value and premium quality to the table. The owners have a strict policy of only working with producers that share their ethos of partnership and sustainability. Customer service is at the heart of this operation, in addition to technological innovation, Ellis recently invested in two electric delivery vans.

44. Majestic

With the buying power of a national business, Majestic offers market-leading value with the personal touch of a local supplier. The wine is delivered by Majestic staff every time with a stock hub of more than 200 stores open seven days a week and, without the restriction of agency agreements, Majestic can source the best products from the best producers in the world.

45. LWC Drinks

The UK’s largest independent drinks wholesaler is a vital and much-loved part of the trade. Supplying more than 13,000 businesses across the country, there is scarcely a high-quality brand that does not appear in the LWC portfolio. Yet size has not made LWC arrogant or monolithic in its corporate ethos – friendly and approachable customer service is a major part of the mission statement. The breadth and depth of the Champagne and sparkling wine offering is outstanding.

46. Museum Wines

Museum Wines was started in 2003 by Alex and Gretchen Boon. Having successfully introduced wine shops at the very popular Museum Inn in Farnham, Surrey, and The King John Inn in Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, the company needed to expand due to the high demand and evident gap in the local market. Museum now has retail locations in Tarrant Hinton and Cranborne – both in Dorset – and supplies wine across the county and nationwide online.

47. House of Townend

Despite the ongoing labour shortage, House of Townend has no problem retaining exceptional staff. Indeed, the average length of service is over 10 years, a testament to the positive working culture that this family-owned, independent business has created. France is the key strength, particularly Burgundy and Languedoc-Roussillon. Moreover, agency sales have doubled in the past 12 months, driven by active electronic digital marketing, focusing on new wines and offering free tasting samples.

48. Bibendum

Bibendum is a London-based premium wine, beer and spirits merchant. Known as a specialist for the on and off-trades, it delivers excellent service across England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. With a portfolio including 260 wine producers, more than 90% of which are exclusive, Bibendum works with some of the world’s most talented winemakers. The company also sells an extensive range of premium spirits, craft beers, ciders and sakes.

49. Maisons Marques et Domaines

MMD is far more than simply a mouthpiece for Louis Roederer. Established by the Champagne house in 1986, the company has expanded significantly over the course of the past three decades, acquiring agencies in both the New and Old Worlds. Active in all sectors of the trade, the firm added two new wineries in 2021 – Diamond Creek in Napa and Tuscany’s Ornellaia.

50. Wines Under the Bonnet

Under the Bonnet started from a south London basement in 2015 as a time-consuming hobby with a simple aim: to promote naturally made wines. With roots in the Muscadet area, it was only natural to first focus on the diverse wines of the Loire. Since then, the business has ventured further afield to embrace the rest of France, Germany, Italy, Chile and, more recently, the UK.

How Harpers’ Top 50 Wholesaler List was compiled:

Based on a survey questionnaire of our on-trade readership, all nominations were vetted and a “long shortlist” of possible candidates for the Top 50 list was drafted.

Our judges then convened to assess each wholesaler on its individual merits, drawing on information in entry packs provided by the shortlisted companies (available ahead of time to allow judges to mark and thus create their own order of preference, to be discussed and debated on the day), along with a wealth of first-hand knowledge shared by the on-trade representatives on the judging panel.

The challenging task of ordering the Top 50 listing then began, with comparisons made, points discussed and strengths (and weaknesses) highlighted, until positions were – one by one – decided upon.