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50 Best Indies 2024: The full rundown

Published:  15 January, 2024

Meet our 50 Best Indies 2024, celebrating the most dynamic and quality focused merchants in this ever-vibrant sector

Welcome back to our 50 Best Indies selection, ushering in the new year with a round-up of the best in the business as they gear up for 2024. As ever, judging the 50 Best selection, drawn from a far longer list of Harpers readers’ nominations, was a tough but energising task, reminding the panel as to just how many quality merchants there are up and down the length of the UK. And, despite well-documented economic challenges, that quality is even higher than ever, with innovation seen across portfolios and business practices, driving this vibrant sector to new levels of professionalism and justifiable pride.

However, tasked with honing the list down to the 50 Best, decisions were made, pecking order decided and – sticking our neck out – the best of the best were nudged to the fore. Once again, the list remains decidedly dynamic, in the sense that the order shifts, newcomers break in, some narrowly miss, with the judging reflecting the past year’s ambition and evolution of each given merchant that finally features. And this, we believe, is one of its strengths, also delivering a truly regional spread of indies of every conceivable shape and size, all sitting cheek by jowl.

Words of thanks must go to our judges, who spend a significant amount of time sifting through and absorbing the entries, before joining the panel for deliberation as to whom to elevate to glory. And a big thanks, too, to our sponsor, indie-focused specialist supplier Walker & Wodehouse, for supporting 50 Best Indies 2024 and helping to make it happen.

Finally, and most importantly, a massive congratulations to all who made it into the UK’s 50 Best Indies 2024 list, many of whom we look forward to seeing again this year. Well done!

50 Best Judges

Simon Cairns, MD, Simon Cairns Consulting

Nicky Forrest, MD, Phipps

Kimberley Davenport, founder, Davenport Drinks Consulting

Patrick Mallinson, 50 Best Indies sponsor, Walker & Wodehouse Wines

Lee Sharkey, publisher, Agile Media

Andrew Catchpole, judging chair and editor, Harpers Wine & Spirit. 

1. Loki Wines

(50 Best Winner, Midlands Standout)

With three shops, folding in a fantastically welcoming hybrid side, backed by a superbly chosen 800-strong portfolio of wines and spirits, plus great staff, Loki has all the essential elements to be a 50 Best list-topping merchant. But there’s much more besides, with this multi-layered business complementing its classics with increasingly adventurous buying from Greece, Croatia, Ukraine and Japan, every bottle chosen on quality alone, and a rotating 48 or so always on by the glass. Ecommerce has been successfully grown here too, along with a newly launched wine subscription service adding to the regular roster of tastings and events – including those in private and workplace settings – plus biannual wine fairs which have tapped into the ‘experiential’ trend so well. Innovation and progress are almost everyday norms here, with owner Phil Innes and team offering a shining example of how an indie can get it oh-so right.

2. The Oxford Wine Company

(South East Standout)

Now with four retail shops and a concession store, plus a vibrantly healthy wholesale side, Ted Sandbach’s The Oxford Wine Company remains at the forefront of quality focused indie retailing, with staff, stock and service all on cracking form. From the 2,000-strong portfolio to the family-run Oxford Wine Café and new Oxford Wine Cellars, by way of an Oxford Wine School and busy schedule of tasting events, this four-decade-old company has clearly never stood still. Sandbach’s belief is that people and people alone make the business, and it’s the team here – led by MD John Chapman and always encouraged to come up with, share and execute ideas – that drives the spirit of this much-loved Oxford indie. At once both professional and sophisticated, while always being down to earth.

3. Hedonism Wines

(London Standout)

It’s tempting enough to elevate Hedonism to heady heights for its portfolio alone, with 10,000 references of wines and spirits all beautifully presented at this Mayfair oasis, which more than delivers on the name. But global reach and aesthetics aside, the nuts and bolts are also highly polished. For starters, there’s the hugely professional and knowledgeable team, backing up sustainably minded delivery, regular tailored events (both private and in-store), plus the synergies delivered by having the Michelin-starred Hide restaurant and now The White Horse in Shepherd’s Market under the same ownership. Attention to detail, whether an icon, an eclectic find or an accessible ‘entry’
bottle, is very much the order of the day here, all adding up to a very appealing package indeed.

4. Vineyards of Sherborne

(South West Standout)

A lesson in how, with the right people, blending passion and professionalism, a modest-sized business can punch well above its weight, both in terms of delivering a compelling environment in which to taste and buy, and delivering on an ethos of community focused inclusivity. Now in its 18th year, Vineyards has gone from strength to strength, as co-owners Hannah and Sadie Wilkins and the team build upon the telling of stories that draw customers in, bringing alive the drinking experience, all backed by a buying policy rooted in quality and interest alone. Tasting and charity events, pub quizzes, DJ nights, plus a big annual wine festival are all part of that mix, with sustainability also much to the fore. All in all a brilliant, unpretentious, welcoming Dorset gem.

5. Reserve Wines

(North West Standout)

Born out of a desire by founder Kate Goodman to make the world of wine less intimidating, Reserve Wines has grown to five stores, plus a strong online presence, all selling a fantastic range of more than 1,000 bottles to its loyal north west customers. Fully hybrid, with strong sustainable credentials, the company is on course for B Corp accreditation, with staff and social responsibility also to the fore. Now 20 years old, this merchant nonetheless remains youthful and innovative, both in terms of range and the growth of its ecommerce and wholesale sides, while driving imaginative hospitality-based activities too.

6. D Vine Cellars

From Friday Free Pours to Bar Hi-Jacks and the D Vine Jukebox, by way of artisan cheese and charcuterie, this sustainably focused merchant treads a fiercely independent-minded path, with the quality of the offer rooted in great staff and an equally compelling portfolio. The latter, which finds trade folk and somms frequently browsing the shelves, is rooted in organic and biodynamically produced wines, with notable strengths in Italy, Spain, Australia and South Africa. But more off-piste finds, such as the 20 Pet Nats, also enliven this indie’s
500-strong range, which champions smaller producers.

7. Headley Rothwell – Old Chapel Cellars

(Highest Climber)

This Truro-based merchant and wholesaler truly set out its stall when it became the first UK merchant to achieve B Corp status, helping to highlight its focus on increasingly sourcing direct from exceptional and sustainable producers around the world. Spain is a real strength, but with all wines the emphasis is on offering points of difference and real value for the quality, with wine on tap, key kegs and refillable bottles just some of the innovations to back this up. And, following a re-jig of the business just two years ago, the retail, wholesale and online platforms are going great guns.

8. Shrine to the Vine

(Highest New Entry)

Coming from Dan Keeling and Mark Andrews – the pair behind Noble Rot magazine and restaurants – you’d expect nothing but quality at their first foray into the indie world, and Shrine to the Vine absolutely delivers on its promise to ‘celebrate the best of wine culture’. From the classic high points of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont and Rioja, by way of grower Champagne, to artisanal finds from the likes of Portugal, Greece and Hungary, there’s something here for everybody, whether a collector, wine geek or regular punter. The original shop in London’s Lamb’s Conduit Street has now been joined by a second in Broadway Market in the East End, helping spread the taste of authenticity ever wider.

9. Bin Two

This diminutive Padstow hybrid continues to impress with its unwavering dedication to offering a mix of approachable and more off-piste wines, ranged by style, all backed by fantastic people and an irrepressible desire to innovate and explore the new. This latter impulse has led to the planting of its own micro-vineyard and a craft winery, which, in addition to exciting customers, feeds back into the enthusiasm of the staff, with its own gin also now well established. Bin Two has fun, as evidenced in its wine T-shirt merch, but also engages in serious business advances, such as its concession model, which has seen it partnering with delis on the wine side to help build the brand and reach of the store.

10. Tanners Wines

Shropshire’s finest is something of a stalwart in the indie world, but in the best possible sense, with a fantastic mix of traditional and more esoteric wines and spirits across its six stores. Buying directly from producers where it can, while priding itself on offering a very personal service to customers, the approach clearly works for staff too, over a dozen of whom have been with Tanners for three decades or more. This company continues to move forward and innovate, as evidenced by the introduction of its Passport to Wine, whereby customers collect stamps and rewards for exploring the world via their drinking. New portfolio additions include Patagonia, Algarve, Alto Adige and Savoie, with quality minded, independent producers always to the fore.

11. Jeroboams

Embedded in several of London’s most pucker postcodes, this ever-vibrant business continues to stride ahead, delivering superb service and a great wine list to boot. Some 90% of its wines are shipped direct, with specialisms such as Italy matched by a very varied offer, with fine wine parcels and a busy tasting and events schedule across the estate, all professionally delivered by the dynamic and knowledgeable team.

12. Berry Bros & Rudd

This venerable merchant may have 325 years under its belt, but it has never stood still, with an impeccable portfolio anchored by its St James’s premises, and a reach that extends to trading offices in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. A noted wine school and exclusive fine wine and dining experiences add lustre to its evocative labyrinth of cellars, all topped by two Royal Warrants.

13. The Good Wine Shop

Having just picked up a fifth site in Twickenham, this superb west London hybrid immerses itself in its local scene, with a busy in-store tasting schedule, plus community events, delivering education that is also enjoyable. The list focuses on smaller producers, with seasonal collaborations a part of the mix, feeding into owner Mark Wrigglesworth’s view that “it’s all about story-telling”.

14. Highbury Vintners

On numbers alone, with 1,400 wines on board and 40% imported direct, not to mention an impeccable spirits selection, this north London merchant deserves a high place. But this is backed by a strong focus on sustainability, impressive local community work and fundraising, all met by deserved growth of the business from this impressive indie.

15. Adnams

(East Anglia Standout)

This Southwold-anchored wine business may be part of a far bigger brewing and hospitality group, but nonetheless it’s established itself as an innovative and go-ahead entity in its own right, not least because of its mix of independently sourced and own-label offers. Sustainability, strong connections to local community and charitable activities are also much to the fore, delivering a fantastic all-rounder for
East Anglia.

16. Cambridge Wine Merchants

From lobbying for the indie sector as a whole, to its impeccable yet broad range of wines and spirits, this multi-faceted Cambridge merchant prides itself on offering individuality and real value, and imports direct as much as possible to underpin these ambitions. Co-owner Hal Wilson and his team very much consider themselves to be “part of the UK independent family” and, as such, represent a role model for the sector.

17. Luvians

(Scotland Standout)

A superb wine and spirits list that runs to some 1,000-plus whiskies alone is impressive enough, but this is also backed by the passion and incredible knowledge of the staff. The self-stated ethos is of ‘education through inebriation’, but this translates as encouraging customers – be they returning international golfers or local students – to taste, explore and experience as much as possible, to help spread that passion.

18. Chilled & Tannin

(Wales Standout)

If ‘selling bodacious wine with a conscience’ is a refreshing business ethos, then the trio of chums running this Cardiff bottle shop have taken and run with it in a most convincing way. Strongly sustainable in both business practice and what it sources, its 180-strong list features a growing roster of alternative packaging, matched by different ways of promoting these wines to the world, from wine and DJ-led pairings, to pop-up shops around its native Wales.

19. Lea & Sandeman

It’s class in a glass from this swish but never stuffy London merchant, where head honcho Charles Lea and team look to deliver ‘real value’ across the exemplary portfolio behind the five stores. Wines are most typically sourced direct from growers, with all the ancillary accoutrements, such as cellar planning, en primeur and general advice on everyday drinking, all very much part of a personal parcel.

20. D Byrne & Co Fine Wines

With the bottom floor of its warehouse now a complementary outlet to its refurbed King’s Street cellar, there’s even more opportunity to browse, sample and buy from this merchant’s extraordinary cornucopia of wine. Long described as a vinous Aladdin’s cave, this is nonetheless backed by a rich range of events, good staff training, ongoing investment and the new website which is to launch soon. A superb wine lover’s paradise in Clitheroe, Yorkshire.

21. Butlers Wine Cellar

From deep community connections to engaging podcasts, by way of small producer collaborations, this Brighton favourite is always brimming with ideas, while its social media presence, tastings and local tie-ins further boost its reach. At heart, though, this business remains very much rooted in a wine and spirit-focused bricks-and-mortar store, offering an excellent and extensive portfolio of the goodies the owners have found.

22. Taurus Wines

From its airy barn premises to its electric vans, by way of its own winemaking project, this Old World, classic-leaning merchant is ever on the ball, with sustainability and community focuses big too. Constant innovation of the range is matched by a strong emphasis on great customer service, making for an excellent experience all round at this sterling Surrey merchant.

23. Theatre of Wine

This London indie doesn’t seem to rest, using its bricks-and-mortar site to anchor a host of activities and initiatives that have driven strong growth across both retail and wholesale. Much direct shipping of often very individual wines, plus a ‘sommelier-style’ service, coupled with extensive tastings, and a slew of great new agencies, all adds up to a fantastic package.

24. Novel Wines

As an eastern European and Balkan specialist, this Bath-located business has managed to build a great reputation among trade and customers alike, shipping much direct, and mixing it up with in-store tastings, local events and passion-backed knowledge to bring the range to life. Moreover, much of the portfolio sits at £10-£20, backing the ethos of being ‘committed to showing the best, while being accessible’.

25. Ellis Wharton Wines

Recently certified as B Corp and ‘not here to follow the crowd’, this Cornish merchant has used its well-sourced portfolio of independent winemakers to grow a healthy and expanding wholesale side too. Short-term profit is eschewed in favour of long-term sustainable growth in all facets of this exemplary business.

26. Kask Wines

Having opened an on-trade offshoot in 2022, offering a ‘part event, part community restaurant’ space, this Bristol hybrid has simply reinforced its stated MO that ‘we simply don’t sit still’. The upshot is more of the vibrant and off-piste sustainable and natural-leaning wines that have been its trademark, backed with street food chef residencies, ‘choose your own adventures’ in wine tastings, exciting by the glass offers, with much on tap and in bag-in-box too.

27. South Downs Cellars

A great Sussex-based business that’s taken its blend of retail and wholesale to the next level, by championing local wherever possible, including collaborating on its own fizz with winemaking star Dermot Sugrue. Constantly looking to new regions and wines, with Greece and Georgia recently boosted in the portfolio, this indie also increasingly imports direct, not least to help with the cost of living crisis. A great all-rounder.

28. The Whalley Wine Shop

This dynamic, Clitheroe-based indie business has opened its own wine bar, grown its ecommerce side to new heights and boosted its wholesale arm too, all while keeping its 1,000-plus range refreshed and strong. And it all reflects the ethos of founder Tom Jones who, rather than reinvent wine retail, simply wants to do it “better than it’s ever been done” before.

29. Bottle Apostle

With a strong range offered across its four London outlets, this appealing indie looks to entice through a blend of classics and the more adventurous, though always with an eye on affordability and accessibility, keeping its core range at £10-£30. Every product has to be ‘up to standard’ and all decisions are taken with a ‘long term view’, a philosophy which shows across both the business and its portfolio.

30. Carruthers & Kent

(North East Standout)

This Newcastle-upon-Tyne hybrid operation hosts innumerable and appealing tastings and winemaker events, while the business has also been extending its range from places such as Canada and eastern Europe. It’s all part of a commitment to help mitigate the cost of living for customers and, if all goes well, a second site offering more of the same should be coming soon.

31. Handford Wines

From top Burgundies and South African stars to global gems, this London merchant boasts an impeccable list, backed by a depth of professionalism and wealth of knowledge. Add in a recently launched in-bond client service, pre-release offers from regions such as The Cape, masterclasses, a wine school and much else besides, and this smart indie shapes up as being a very grown-up choice.

32. Yapp Brothers

Counting innumerable Michelin stars among its on-trade clients, this Mere-based merchant still retains every ounce of its original appeal, rooted as it is in epic estates and more modern finds from the Rhône, the Loire and regional France. The ethos of ‘best in class’ from often under-sung regions remains at the heart of an impressive portfolio.

33. Define Food & Wine

Describing itself as ‘story-tellers, first and foremost’, this irreverent but professional Northwich indie delivers some imaginative touches, including guided wineland tours and themed ‘wines to lay down’ tastings, designed to encourage customers to start their own affordable cellars. Couple this with investment in Epos to help tailor individual loyalty schemes, and the upshot is a professional and engaging business.

34. Woodwinters Wine & Whiskies

Not content with three stores in Scotland, this thriving business has been busy growing its wholesale side south of the border too, helping to build the reputation of its ever-growing number of exclusive agencies. With 2,500 wines in the portfolio on any given day, the business is well-placed to deliver on its commitment to ‘eschew tribalism and represent diversity in depth’.

35. Harper Wells

‘In-store pour’ may still be the cornerstone of this Norfolk indie’s customer-centred philosophy, but there’s so much else besides. The esoteric side of the list keeps growing, backed by gigs and pop-ups, with brokerage access to Bordeaux covering off fine wine thirst, and all this backed by a strong sustainable ethos, as witnessed by the recent involvement in a regenerative vineyard project.

36. Amps Wine Merchants

Featuring a global list, but with specialisms such as Portugal and premium Australia, this Oundle merchant has shown quiet dynamism. It’s been successfully growing its wholesale side, while investing in its ecommerce, also introducing initiatives such as a Winefit system, plus ‘lucky dip value boxes’, and tailoring promos and offers to help combat the cost of living crisis. Quality stuff from an all-round good egg.

37. Hennings Wine Merchants

This four-store merchant is a quiet achiever, whether that be by offering exemplary wines and expertise to its walk-in customers, or great service to its impressive wholesale base among restaurants and hotels in West Sussex and beyond. Recent investments in business software to offer a ‘smoother customer experience and better interaction’ look set to notch up that professionalism again.

38. Vindinista

Showing that less can be more via an evolving 200-strong range of bio and off-the-beaten track wines, with bagnums, cans and half bottles to the fore, this merged shop and wine bar has both feet firmly in its local west London community. Initiatives include ‘blind wine dates’, offering glasses from leftover tasting bottles at £5 a pop, themed nights pairing the likes of Margaritas with jamon, and even helping to create a local community cinema.

39. Caviste

As an indie that ‘sells producers and distillers, not individual wines’, the stories and personalities behind the products are the vibe here, and rightly so, given how this three-shop Hampshire business has been thriving. As a part of that, the focus is on diving a little deeper into a given sub-region rather than trying to offer all things to all people, and the upshot is an enticing portfolio backed by seriously knowledgeable and passionate people.

40. Nickolls & Perks

Old school meets new at this 226-year-old Stourbridge merchant, where some 6,000 wines and spirits offer strengths in Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and whisky, yet cover so much more besides. Upgraded systems and communications strategies sit cheek by jowl with heritage, allowing for a modern-meets-tradition approach, which, coupled with a healthy events and community project calendar, brings loyal customers back time and again. 

41. Vino Vero

Described simply as a ‘bottle shop and bar’ in Leigh-on-Sea, this Essex outpost puts convenience at the heart of its retail experience. Its strong Iberia focus translates into an ever-evolving range to taste by the glass, all offset by enticing snacks and platters. Organic, artisan and authentic are buzzwords here, with sustainably farmed wine estates very much to the fore. 

42. Valhalla’s Goat

From a strong Greek offer to more classical German, by way of the staff championing of Grenache and Chardonnay, the clue is in the name of this iconoclastic Glasgow indie – the team like to break with convention. And the crew here do this very well, eschewing stuffiness for the likes of book readings and collaborative brews adding a dash of funkiness, but always with professionalism.

43. Mill Hill Wines

It’s ‘all about wine’ says this north London stalwart. But there’s much else to this merchant too, from strong sustainable credentials to a recent website facelift, with a new loyalty scheme and subscription service, all from a business that never stands still. Judges also commended the novel approach of having staff ‘ambassadors’ for different categories of drinks.

44. Cork & Cask

Small can clearly be attractive when it comes to encapsulating the spirit of what independent merchants are all about, with this Edinburgh indie showing strengths in low-intervention wines, artisanal beer and ciders and even its own whiskies, all making for a moreish mix. As such, it’s a true neighbourhood shop, with its small but passionate team hosting frequent and popular tastings to showcase this spirit.

45. Grape Minds

This Oxfordshire oasis majors in wines to drink now, with a broad and often eclectic portfolio ranging from classic regions to the likes of eastern Europe and the Levant, with a welcome specialism in crémants too. As an active participant in community events such as music festivals, arts, and food and drink festivals, it also has a new wine bar, all backed by ongoing investment in the business to help spread the message of great wine.

46. St Andrews Wine Company

When founder Peter Wood decided he wanted to open a ‘farmers’ market for wine’, this quality merchant was born. Focused on wines to drink with pleasure, rather than languish in the cellar, strengths here range from Bordeaux to Portugal, with much else besides. The upshot today is a compelling indie, as hot on community work and sustainability as it is on keeping wine vending fresh, passionate and fun.

47. Field & Fawcett

In steady growth, with more than 1,500 global wines and 1,000 spirits in its ample portfolio, this York merchant is the real deal when it comes to offering a mouthwatering range, backed by hugely enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. Add in community tastings for charity, supplier-attended annual portfolio tastings, and a genuine willingness to listen to customers – both retail and wholesale – and this is an impressive package.

48. The Wine Yard

A small hybrid enoteca it may be, but this Farnham indie punches well above its weight, with owner Nick Mantella distilling years of high-level drinks business experience into precisely the sort of place that he’d want to visit. You can sample all 600 of the wines stocked in this welcoming space, with excellent tastings and community events also very much part
of the mix.

49. The Winery

Pop impresario David Motion turned his passion for new wave German wines into a bricks-and-mortar business, buying the original London shop in 1996 and driving it forward against the odds. Germany remains at the core of the portfolio, but now with much else besides, all backed by an enthusiastic and sometimes off-piste take on how to communicate and inspire on the subject of wine.

50. 9 Vines

Owner Marc Wise describes his portfolio as a “greatest hits” both of wines he’s loved down the years and exciting new finds. In doing so he’s crafted a near-perfect neighbourhood merchant and enoteca, with a relaxed and welcoming vibe. The Rhône and northern Italy are clearly passions, but popular tastings and by-the-glass offers allow ample exploration of the 800 or so vinous gems that line the shelves of this Hove oasis.