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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Deborah Brooks, Boutinot

Published:  09 August, 2023

Midway through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. We continue our series with Deborah Brooks, head of marketing at Manchester-based supplier Boutinot, to find out how the year has gone so far, and what the remainder may bring.

How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

For Boutinot, the first half of 2023, has seen a return to more ‘normal’ trading patterns. In 2022, we were all facing the critical challenges of the limited availability of dry goods, transport and labour resulting from the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine and the lingering aftermath of the UK’s exit from the EU. We’re seeing these problems easing, which is good news. Having to adopt a pragmatic approach to the resultant higher costs has been difficult but essential. The important thing is to support our customers where we can.

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

The cost-of-living crisis has affected every aspect of the trade, but none more so than the hospitality sector. Staff shortages, higher costs and unpredictable trading are still creating pain for the restaurants and on-trade. It’s been so sad to see some cracking small independent restaurants and wine bars give up the trade because it’s just become too difficult.

To understand how best to mitigate the challenges, we listen and discuss the pinch points with our customers and suppliers, then try to find solutions and support. We also have to ensure that the portfolio reflects what a market in a cost-of-living crisis needs, for example high-quality wines at pragmatic prices.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

We’re very proud of Heaphy Vineyards, our latest ‘home’ in Nelson, New Zealand, which we acquired just over 12 months ago. Andy Nicole joined the Boutinot team as general manager and head winemaker. Within a short space of time, Andy has achieved a lot by focusing on understanding the lay of the vineyard, developing local relationships, and – together with the experienced Heaphy winemaking team – producing our inaugural vintage, 2023. After recently tasting the ferments and cuvees, we’re delighted with the results and can’t wait to launch in the autumn.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

We own vineyards, so we know the devastation that can be caused by calamitous weather conditions and with fires raging in Greece and Italy at the moment. There has been some concern for what climate change is doing to viticulture throughout the world.

Wilderberg, our home in Franschhoek, was affected by recent flash floods and although the vines were unaffected, the sheer amount of water damaged some of the out-buildings.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

Currently lighter red wines, those being produced from the thinner-skinned grape varietals (Cinsault, Pinot Noir, Frappato, Pais); darker, serious rosés from regions that are known for their production (eg, Tavel, Navarra, Bordeaux); lighter whites (Riesling, Vinho Verde, Garganega, Dry Muscat).

With the changes in duty on higher alcohol wines, going into autumn, it will be interesting to see if customers continue to drink the lighter styles. I think we may see a surge of wines craftily engineered to a lower alcohol level to maintain lower price points. We’re keen that quality isn’t compromised whilst finding wines that can be produced naturally at lower alcohol levels, too.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

Covid was certainly uncharted territory and the way that the whole company adapted to the unpredictability of each day was not surprising knowing how committed and hard-working our colleagues are. So, on a positive note, the lingering effect, if you can call it that, is the sheer focus and hard graft that our staff continue to put in and have done over the past three years.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

After the push and pull of the last six months, it’s possibly not wise to predict too far in the future. That said, the recent fall in the inflation rate is a hopeful turn in the road and all predictions are that the outlook appears more positive and less uncertain with inflation having peaked.

Customers and consumers may still be cautious in how and where they spend their money, especially in the run up to Christmas. Our focus will be to stick to the knitting and continue to do the right things by our suppliers, customers and colleagues.

Quick fire questions…

Old World or New?


Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit?

Slow sipping spirit

Vermentino or Vermouth?


Low or No?


Three star or bistro?


Desert island tipple?

White from any region of Burgundy