Indie supplier Vindependents boosts wine range by a third

Vindependents, the wine supplier set up by a group of independent wine merchants to exclusively supply the independent market, has boosted its wine range by nearly a third to 300 wines, as well as almost doubling the number of its suppliers.

The drinks group, which held its first press wine tasting this week, has also taken on two more employees, taking its total to four.

Managing director Jessica Hutchinson said the group had gradually increased the portfolio of exclusive wines over the last two years, building on the originally French base by adding areas requested by its members. A year ago it had around 40 suppliers, including a large portfolio of Burgundian wines covering 15 domaines and agencies, as well as Argentinian, US and New Zealand suppliers, but this has now swelled to 74 suppliers from South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Germany Italy and several more French regions.

Among the new wines on show at the tasting were wines from Bordeaux, the Jura, the Jurançon and a new range of 27 South African wines – the first time Vindependents has stocked wines from South Africa – including five wines from Beau Constantia, Lanzerac in Stellenbosch, Holden Manz in Franschhoek and Wildehurst in Swartland.

The supplier has also nearly doubled the range of Australian wines to nearly 50 wines, including new wines from Moorooduc Estates from Mornington, Harewood Estate in Greater Southern, Tasmania’s Holm Oak, and Margaret River producers, Bramble Lane and Flametree.

Australian wines have sold very well, Hutchinson noted, largely because of the difficulty independents have in sourcing more unusual wines direct from suppliers, because of the problem of needing smaller and more frequent shipments. As a result, she noted, independents have traditionally had to buy from UK-based wholesalers, larger suppliers and big brands – a situation Vindependents wants to change. “But we are bringing in new wines and good pricing and ship them every three months, so our members know the supply schedule and when the next shipment is, so can plan shipments [more easily],” she told db.

One area Hutchinson says has great potential is Jurançon in the South West of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where she is based, and Vindependents now stocks 11 wines from the AOC.

“Jurançon sec has the potential to be a Picpoul, and we’ve worked with Cave de Gan to come up with a selection,” she said. “Vinho Verde should also be massive, as it has low alcohol and is easy to drink.”

Brexit impact on prices

Hutchinson noted that following the fluctuations in the exchange rage in the wake of the Brexit vote, prices had gone up “across the board”, but because this was “inevitable” process affecting everyone, there was little alternative. “Some people have held off, but we’ve been lucky as the producers supplying us have dropped prices by around 3-4% to offset the currency,” she explained.

“But retailers have to meet key price points, and at the end of the day if the customer only wants to pay £10 a bottle and their favourite has gone up to £12, we might see some wine shifting different volumes, with more imaginative areas coming up.”

However, she argued that members seemed “pretty positive”.

“London members in particular had a great year with things going well since the Brexit vote,” she noted.

The group started trading in November 2014 having been established by seventeen well-known wine merchants. The membership has now grown to include 30 independent merchants, Hutchinson said, and is on track to boost this to around 50 merchants nationally by 2020. The group has succeeded in extending its base outside its South-East and Midlands heartland, with new merchants recently joining from Wales, (Vinomondo), Plymouth and Scotland, WoodWinters and The Good Spirits Co. There, however untapped potential in the North of England, Hutchinson said, ,particularly in Yorkshire, which it says has a large number of high quality merchants. As a result, the wholesaler is holding its next quarterly portfolio tasting for members in Manchester.

The group operates a strict channel management policy, offering its members the wines at a “razor thin” margin of 5% to allow them to compete better with other drinks retailers, as well as a number of membership deals with external service providers.

“The upshot of this for consumers is that the wines end up on the shelves around 20% cheaper than if bought through a traditional agent,” Hutchinson noted.

Last June, the supplier launched it first own-label range, a Prosecco and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which was hoped would gain customer recognition within the indie market and “become a brand that is synonymous with all that independent wine merchants can offer” and relied upon “in the same way as big brand products” by consumers.

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