Drinks Business Awards 2015: the winners
The Drinks Business Awards were back bigger than ever, as the London Wine Fair provided the perfect setting to celebrate the leading lights in the drinks trade.
The Drinks Business Awards was, once again, held at the London Wine Fair in May, although we had a new and bigger space courtesy of the exhibition, which this year moved into the Grand Hall at Olympia – and it was needed. As the photos show, 2015’s awards, now in their 12th year, attracted a large crowd, confirming their position as highly respected badges of achievement in the alcoholic drinks industry.
There were certain notable trends among this year’s award-winners. One was the high number of first-rate launches during 2014; another was the beautiful nature of drinks packaging at present, encouraging us to award more designs than ever before; while a further was, we are sad to report, the weaker nature of wine retailing among the multiples. These major off-trade players were once promoting their fine wine fixtures and in-store advisors, as well as bigger and more eclectic ranges. Today, it appears, they are more focused on range reductions and efficiency savings in a bid to hit key price points – an understandable move as the discounters increase their share of the drinks trade. But, as always, The Drinks Business Awards is a celebration of all that’s good about beers, wines and spirits, and over the following pages you can read about our worthy winners.
We would also like to add that we are extremely grateful to Crimson for their sponsorship of this year’s supply chain categories, and Les Grands Chais de France for supporting the independent retailer award. Further thanks go to London Wine Fair organiser Brintex for its support, Glencairn Crystal for the trophies and Ty Nant for the water. In addition, the following producers generously provided wine for the event: Marqués de Cáceres, Hardys and Domaine Paul Mas, while Bottega provided the Prosecco.
Click through for a rundown on this year’s winners…
Best Design & Packaging in Wine
Winner: BD Creative for The Wine Atlas series for Asda
Our judges were unanimous in their praise of the winner, who they said romanticised the idea of travelling via the wine you drink. They particularly liked the fact that the labels were designed to look like vintage postcards, with wine sold as a passport to discovery. The Wine Atlas series triumphed for being a genuine innovation for supermarket wines in the £5-7 price bracket, with the back labels lauded for being easy to navigate and offering a food match for each wine. “This is as revolutionary and as bold as it gets at that price point and illustrates that creative ideas always win out over gimmicks,” said one judge, while another revealed that they would buy the wine for the bottles alone to collect the set.
Special Commendation: dare! For Cabaret Frank
While the Wine Atlas series was the clear winner, our judges felt that Cabaret Frank deserved a special commendation for its quirky labels and the fun story weaved around them of captain Francis Frobisher (Cabaret Frank) and his extraordinary moustache. Special Commendation: Origin Wine for The Big Insult Wine Co The judges also decided to award a special commendation for the designs from The Big Insult Wine Company, which they applauded for being witty and well executed.
Best Innovation in Wine Packaging
Winner: Val d’Orbieu for Cuvée Mythique Twist to Taste
This year we gave out a new award for design innovation, which was given to Val d’Orbieu for its adoption of Amorim’s Helix twist-open natural cork, using the producer’s longstanding Cuvée Mythique brand.
• Origin Wine for Life
• dare! For Cabaret Frank
• Susana Balbo for Crios
• BD Creative for The Wine Atlas
• Val d’Orbieu for Cuvée Mythique ‘Twist to Taste’
• Co-Partnership for Limestone Coast Wines
• Origin Wine for The Big Insult Wine Co
Best Design & Packaging in Spirits
Winner: Stranger & Stranger for Aultmore
Taking Scotland’s moody and mysterious foggy landscape as its inspiration, Stranger & Stranger scooped the top award for its work on the Aultmore series of single malts taking in a 12, 21 and 25 Year Old, with the distillery becoming more enshrouded in fog on the clean white label the older the whisky gets.
Among a bumper number of entries in the spirits category, one judge dubbed it “the best design by far”, with all praising its powerful evocation of the whisky’s origins and its “beautiful” design, which includes an embossed bottle and a hand-signed, individually numbered label. “The range works really well together and invites exploration,” offered one judge, while another praised its attention to detail and the fact that a story can be powerfully told without a shouty label.
Runner-up: Stranger & Stranger for Don Papa 10 Year Old
Our judges felt that Stranger & Stranger’s design for the 10 Year Old expression of Don Papa rum was deserving of a runner up award, with one judge calling it “a great step up from the original with a superb finish”.
Special commendation: Here Design for the Bacardi rum redesign
Finally, our judges felt that Bacardi deserved a special commendation for its “bold” redesign of its core range. Playing on its Cuban heritage, the new bottles are embossed with the date the distillery was founded – 1862 – while the back labels use Art Deco fonts to tell the Bacardi story.
• Bacardi for Tang
• Here Design for Bacardi Rum
• Illva Saronno for Disaronno Riserva
• JDO Brand Design & Innovation for Elit by Stolichnaya
• Stranger & Stranger for Aultmore
• Stranger & Stranger for Don Papa 10 Year Old Rum
Vin de France Product and Packaging Innovation of the Year
Winner: Badet Clement for la Pâtisserie du Vin Chardonnay-Muscat
This new award recognises a wine from the 23 gold medal winners in the Vin de France Best Selection tasting. Our inaugural winner was La Pâtisserie du Vin Chardonnay-Muscat, which was chosen by the judges for being uniquely French, as well as fun and immediately appealing.
It was also felt that the varietal combination was innovative and complemented the attractive embossed label, which features a French pastry shop. One judge even suggested that this brand could be Europe’s answer to America’s successful Cupcake Chardonnay, which sells in multiple retailer Marks & Spencer.
Special commendation: Vindivin for la Belle Saison Sauvignon Blanc
The judges also decided to award a special commendation to Vindivin for La Belle Saison Sauvignon Blanc. Impressed by its simple, clear and attractive label, they felt that this brand effectively emphasised the values of Vin de France.
Sponsored by Anivin de France
Winner: Bibendum PLB Group for its Sake Range launch
Inspired by a niche but increasing demand for sake among London restaurants, in 2014 Bibendum launched a range of sakes with the help of Natsuki Kikuya, founder of the Museum of Sake. Bibendum’s buying team headed out to Japan along with Kikuya to source the new range, eventually settling on 15 premium sakes from four distinguished breweries. But that was just the start of the challenge, as the decision to list only top grade sake, presented both transport and storage issues due to very specific storage requirements. Bibendum had to organise for the sakes to be transported from Japan to the UK in chilled containers and then make sure that they were kept in cold storage in the warehouse so that they would arrive with customers in the best possible condition. Following this came the need for extensive staff training, as well as customer education, including a Bibendum-hosted trip to Japan for a group of customers and key influencers. The judges loved the way Bibendum had responded to a market trend, and were impressed by the results already: Bibendum has around 120 customers buying sake, of which 30% are brand new customers lured in by the sake offering.
Special commendation: Zonin 1821 for Zonin Primo Amore
Having conducted extensive research into the urban Chinese market with the help of Wine Intelligence, Zonin 1821 successfully launched Primo Amore wines specifically for consumers in Chinese Tier 1 cities, helped by marketing through a tailor-made website, social media, and POS materials.
• Accolade Wines for Echo Falls Fruits
• Bibendum PLB Group for The Bibendum Guide to Sake
• Zonin 1821 for Zonin Primo Amore
• W Communications for Coravin
Best Contribution to Wine and Spirits Tourism
Winner: Zonin 1821
If there was one entry this year that had all the judges keen to pack their bags and book the first available flight from London then it was the Gastronomy Experience in Puglia from Zonin 1821. Designed to draw attention to its Masseria Altemura estate in Puglia’s Salento Peninsula, Zonin has created a tour for visitors that immerses them not only in the wines of the region but also the local cuisine. With a strong educational element the judges were impressed at Zonin’s aim to highlight the distinctive wines and foods of Puglia, an area that’s not widely appreciated relative to other parts of Italy such as Tuscany or the Piedmont. As part of the experience, visitors are able to blend their own wines as well as make their own pasta, both of which they can enjoy over dinner to the sound of Salento’s typical music, called Pizzica. Since launching the full programme of events in 2014, the Masseria Altemura estate has seen a 50% boost in wine sales, and extensive publicity from food, travel and lifestyle publications. More than that, the judges applauded Zonin for its part in opening up Puglia to tourists through the wine company’s promotion of the flavours and traditions of the region.
Runner up: Stellenbosch Wine Routes
The judges were rightly impressed by the entry this year from Stellenbosch Wine Routes, which incorporates 152 wine farms across five sub-routes. Notable was the South African region’s new wine tourism visitor centre, newly-expanded social media presence and 2015 wine festival, along with its launch of the Stellenbosch Experience.
• Stellenbosch Wine Routes
• Susana Balbo Wines
• Taste Hungary
• Zonin 1821
Best Trade Campaign
Winner: Moët & Chandon UK and CUBE for Moët Academy
Despite the high quality of entries this year, it was Moët & Chandon UK and Cube Communications who won thanks to their innovative, exciting and educational campaign for Champagne with the Moët Academy. Comprising a sort of pop up wine school at OXO2 in London, Moët tasked their UK team and Cube to explain clearly the differences between Champagne and other sparkling wines as well as position Moët at the forefront of Champagne education. Consequently, groups of 16 people were exposed to an informative video as well as a living, breathing Moët vineyard, containing 20 vines dug out of the Epernay soil, before being taken into a recreated Moët cellar for a base wine tasting, and then finally an in-depth tasting of Moët Champagnes alongside Prosecco by Peter Richards MW or Susie Barrie MW. “They’ve been innovative and recreated a very Champagne atmosphere, and it’s not just a branded approach, but something educational that benefits the whole category,” commented one judge.
Special commendation: González Byass for Vilarnau Cava & Calçotada
The judges decided to award a special commendation to González Byass for a novel and fun approach to promote its Vilarnau Cava by encouraging diners in Spanish restaurants to partake in the winter Catalonian celebration of the Calçot – giant spring onions which are grilled and washed down with Cava drunk from a traditional glass pitcher.
• González Byass for Vilarnau Cava & Calcotada
• The WSTA for Drop the Duty
• Moët & Chandon UK and Cube Communications for the Moët Academy
Best Consumer Campaign
Winner: Laithwaites Wine for Wine with legs
This campaign offered a prime example of how to make a big impact on a tiny budget. Laithwaites’ creative, eye-catching idea saw the retailer pair an exotic range of edible insects with wines from its range. Not only did the initiative attract widespread national and even international media coverage, it helped to generate a significant sales uplift for Laithwaites during the competitive Christmas trading period. Even more impressively, the whole campaign cost just £500 to implement.
Runner up: Concha y Toro for Cono Sur and La Tour de France Grand Depart
The Chilean brand’s tie-in with the Tour de France was a high profile, high cost exercise that was nevertheless harnessed to deliver impressive results, not least by opening up some major new listings.
• Australian Vintage for the John Torode partnership
• Concha y Toro for Cono Sur and the Tour de France Grand Depart
• Hardys: Official Wine of England Cricket
• Laithwaites Wine for Wine with Legs
• Marstons for Pedigree
Logistics Company of the Year
Winner: JF Hillebrand
It was difficult to pick any holes at all in a strong pitch from this global logistics business, which has further strengthened its specialist drinks services over the last year. Among the biggest developments have been the opening of three new European warehouses, including a state of the art facility in Bordeaux; the introduction of VinLiner, a fully recyclable insulation liner; and the launch of “Kegspediter”, a new keg recovery service for the brewing sector.
On top of all this, Hillebrand continues to improve its delivery performance and has stepped up its focus on meeting the needs of smaller clients, while its directors play an active role in representing the interests of the wider drinks trade.
• London City Bond
• JF Hillebrand
Best Supply Chain Innovation – Spirits
Winner: Snow Grouse
Positioned as the first whisky specifically created to be served straight from the freezer, Snow Grouse needed to address the negative environmental impact of creating its distinctive acid-etched bottle, a process which also involved these bottles making an inefficient round trip from Scotland to France and back. Without undermining its core brand proposition, owner Edrington worked closely with the design agency and suppliers to reconfigure the entire bottle design technique and ensure that the whole process could take place in Scotland. Not only did this move bring significant environmental benefits, but impressive cost savings of £1.03 per bottle.
Hailing the brand as “a role model for this industry,” one judge commented: “To see this process carried out properly and to such great effect vindicates their whole approach.”
Award in association with Crimson & Co.
Best Supply Chain Innovation – Beer
Winner: Meantime Brewing Company
The judges were truly inspired by London-based brewer Meantime’s creative initiative to bring the experience of brewery-fresh lager into a pub setting. While acknowledging the challenge of finding venues with the right space to install one of these beer tanks, the judges were excited to see the traction this venture has already gained, as well as the concept’s strong fit with the wider craft beer movement. “It’s not just a delivery solution, it’s a marketing campaign, but with the genuine customer benefit of a better tasting beverage,“ remarked one member of the panel.
Award in association with Crimson & Co.
Best Supply Chain Innovation – Wine
Winner: London City Bond
Fine wine may represent a niche part of the global wine category, but this UK bonded warehouse business has positioned itself as the place for those seeking long-term storage for their investment-grade wines. LCB has invested over £1 million to transform its 200,000 square foot Vinotheque facility into a state-of-the-art, fully humidity and temperature controlled warehouse, tailor-made for preserving wine in perfect condition. The judges welcomed such a “visionary step” as a “very bold” commitment that provides invaluable support for the many merchants and private collectors who help to make the UK such a hub for the world’s fine wine.
Award in association with Crimson & Co.
Best Supply Chain Collaboration Project
Winner: JF Hillebrand
Through its projects with major operators Tesco and Ahold, this logistics specialist demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the drinks industry’s specific needs and an ability to work closely with retail partners in order to deliver more efficient systems that not only benefit the bottom line, but also the satisfaction of end consumers. 2014 saw Hillebrand make dramatic improvements of over 50% to Tesco’s lead time for wine deliveries. Its impact at Dutch retail group Ahold was no less impressive, transforming the speed and reliability of how the company transported 40 million bottles a year to its stores. Together these case studies provided a compelling example of how the drinks industry can raise its game to the level of other sectors.
Award in association with Crimson & Co.
PR Company of the Year
Winner: JK Marketing
Even with a large team the results demonstrated by this company would have been praise-worthy, but for just two people to have achieved such an impact is deeply impressive. Between them, Judy Kendrick and Ana Sofia de Oliveira proactively devised a series of creative, highly strategic campaigns that over-delivered on a tight budget.
Thanks largely to their efforts the UK is now the number one export market for Brazilian wine, after JK Marketing helped spark a volume shipment increase of almost 500% over a single year.
Then there’s the success of two initiatives that symbolise the rejuvenation of London Wine Fair: Esoterica, a zone for independent merchants, and new for 2015 Wine Unearthed, which matches would-be exporters to the right UK buyers. In short, this is a PR team that really understands the wine trade and what makes it tick.
Runner up: Phipps Relations
This was a very engaging entry from the energetic team behind several of the most effective campaigns in the last year, most notably those for generic bodies Wines from Germany and Wines from Rioja.
• Cube Communications
• JK Marketing
• Phipps Relations
On-trade Supplier of the Year
Winner: Liberty Wines
It’s been another impressive year for this dynamic merchant, whose team goes the extra mile to meet the needs of a demanding, highly competitive on-trade sector. A new in-house education programme, outstanding delivery service, committed environmental credentials and one of the most exciting portfolios out there are all validated by Liberty’s profitable sales growth. This is a business going from strength to strength, setting a high benchmark for its rivals.
• Corney & Barrow
• Liberty Wines
UK Drinks Company of the Year
Winner: Pol Roger Portfolio
Despite its small team and tight marketing budgets, the judges were extremely impressed at the amount Pol Roger Portfolio manages to achieve in the UK. Applauded for a fun and positive attitude, the UK team for the Champagne brand has been brilliantly headed by former MD Nick James, and, since January this year James Simpson MW. Rather than throwing large sums at a single high-profile sports or events, Pol Roger Champagne itself is involved in a wide and eclectic range of niche but highly targeted activities in the UK from Varsity Blind Tasting to real tennis, which has given it brilliant visibility while attracting loyal followers.
In the last year, the UK company has expanded its Californian portfolio in response to growing demand for fine wines from the US state in the London restaurant sector, while also taking on Islay’s Kilchoman Distillery to complement Glenfarclas Scotch whisky and Hine Cognac. The judges applauded the company for resisting the temptation of short-term gains through listings with the large multiple grocers, opting instead for a broad spread across the varied – and rapidly altering – retail, wholesale and on-trade landscape in the UK. They also like the company’s focus on staff training, and were intrigued by the advent of the Pol Roger Portfolio Defender – an entirely bespoke four wheel drive that doubles as a stand at events, including the London Wine Fair.
Runner-up: Liberty Wines
A very strong contender this year, in the last 12 months Liberty Wines has launched Liberty Wines Academy to train its customers, added 27 new producers to its portfolio, and achieved Carbon Neutral certification for both Liberty Wines UK and Ireland.
International Drinks Company of the Year
Winner: Viña Concha y Toro
2014 was a pivotal year for Concha y Toro – a company that evidently doesn’t like to rest on its laurels. Not only did the group invest in a series of major marketing campaigns to drive brand awareness and recruit new consumers but it managed to achieve annual sales of US$1.018 billion (£65m), ensuring the company broke through the billion-dollar mark for the first time, having sold 33.2 million cases in 2014. The UK, in particular, had an exceptional year with volume sales up by 16.9% to 6.5m cases. Casillero del Diablo broke into the market’s top 10 wine brands for the first time and the Cabernet Sauvignon is now the UK’s number one selling brand in this grape variety. Meanwhile, Cono Sur saw a volume increase of over 94% and Trivento over 200%. However, it was the opening of Concha y Toro’s Centre for Research and Innovation in Chile that particularly impressed the judges. Dedicated to fostering a more sustainable future for the wine industry, the company has made an initial investment of US$5m (£3.2m), to focus on the analysis of all aspects of healthy vine production, the development of new technology to increase product quality and the efficient integration of technology into winery practices. And thankfully, the facility is for the use of the industry, not just Concha y Toro.
• Liberty Wines
• Pol Roger Ltd
• Viña Concha y Toro
• Bibendum PLB Group
• Maverick Drinks
Independent Retailer of the Year
Winner: Hedonism Wines
Since Hedonism Wines burst on to the London drinks retailing scene just over two years ago, much of the focus has been on the high-priced labels on sale in its Mayfair shop.
However, as the judges observed, this store really deserves recognition for the unrivalled quality of its fine wine range, particularly from California, as well as the quality of its merchandising, high-profile events, Enomatic tasting machines, electric delivery vans and attentive nature of its staff, who speak 14 languages between them. The whole place is, as one judge said, “head and shoulders above other wine retailers”. It’s also, as another judge stressed, “not just another luxury retailer – it’s a bit edgy”.
Helping the operator stand apart is, of course, the sheer size of its range, which has grown by 5,100 lines since the store opened, making the full range over 12,000 lines, ranging from £5.40 to £127,000. In the past year Hedonism has served over 10,000 customers from across the globe, processing over 40,000 transactions, and shipping bottles to 38 countries. 2014 saw a dramatic increase in footfall through the Mayfair shop, with the average number of customers per day rising to 90 and hitting 300 at Christmas time.
Runner up: Vagabond Wines
The judges also wanted to recognise Vagabond Wines for its clever merchandising, take-away shelf-talkers, in-store sampling, and general ambience, created by the presence of comfy leather sofas and chunky farmhouse tables. They were also pleased to see that a third Vagabond store is opening in Old Spitalfields Market, followed by another two in the near future.
• Hedonism Wines
• Highbury Vintners
• Vagabond Wines
• The General Wine Company
• Master of Malt
Retailer of the year
Winner: Real Ale
The judges’ decision to award this prize to small operator reflects the challenging time that major multiple retailers are clearly facing to the detriment of their performance this year. As the big players tread water in the battle for market share, Real Ale impressed with its dynamic approach that is helping to drive the UK craft beer category. In addition to a comprehensive but well-curated portfolio of its own, including a forthcoming own-label collection, the company is working with far larger players such as M&S to help them source craft beers from around the country. Now 10 years old, Real Ale’s expertise, enthusiasm and innovation is generating exciting growth for its own business and a halo effect for the craft beer category as a whole.
• Real Ale
Online Retailer of the Year
A new face in the fast-moving world of online retail, 31Dover has been trading since 2013 and really drew in the judges with its accessible, well-presented website and a neatly curated range that is especially strong on spirits.
Full of advice, videos and cocktail recipes, as well as offering a next-day gift delivery service, the content is fresh, appealing and uncrowded. “It’s speaking the language of the modern website,” said one judge as the panel decided that such an interesting new player in this increasingly important sector deserved highlighting to a wider audience.
Runner up: The Whisky Exchange
This online outlet does far more than its name suggests, offering a veritable treasure trove for all spirits fans, especially those in search of rare, obscure or truly special bottles.
• Laithwaites Wine
Fine Wine Retailer of the Year
Winner: Bordeaux Index
One company stood out this year for its ability to maintain healthy sales despite the challenging nature of the fine wine market, and that was Bordeaux Index. In particular the judges praised the retailer’s entrepreneurial spirit, attractive offers, and broad range.
Despite its name, diversification over the past five years has taken the operation’s sales of Bordeaux from 90% to just over 50% today. Nevertheless, the fine wine retailer has retained a strong following for Bordeaux by switching from selling en primeur to physical vintages, with best-sellers by value in the past year including châteaux Margaux and Latour from the 1996 vintage.
Elsewhere, Burgundy, Champagne and Italy remain strong, with the retailer’s new Italian buyer opening up direct access to top estates, tapping into a growing demand among UK collectors for fine wines from Tuscany and Piedmont. Early last year Bordeaux Index also opened up a new area of sales by employing a dedicated spirits buyer. Consequently the retailer’s range has grown to over 50 fine or rare whiskies among other spirits, ensuring sales have tripled in 2014. Finally, a further new development in 2014 was an online Customer Accounts, Valuation and Instant Broking system. In addition to showing customers’ complete Bordeaux Index transactional history in detail, this allows clients who hold wine in BI Reserves to instantly offer their wines for sale through the operation’s website. According to the business, this has opened a treasure trove of mature bottles for immediate sale.
Retail Buying Team of the Year
This year it was the Morrisons team that impressed judges. Made up of 14 buyers representing 75 years’ industry experience, the team attracted particular praise for bringing an eclectic range of products to what is generally held to be a relatively cash-poor customer base.
Having overhauled the wine range and restructured the team over 12 months ago, the Morrisons team has achieved a 132% growth in own-brand sales and gained 131 awards for its own-brand wines. Driving such change has been the collaborative approach of the wine sourcing managers with the supermarket’s suppliers.
To exemplify the approach, Morrisons doubled the sales of its own-label Chablis Premier Cru last year by working with a new producer, while a gold at the International Wine Challenge for its own-label Grüner Veltliner saw sales jump to 160 cases per week. Similar trends were also witnessed in Morrisons’ beer and spirits ranges, prompting the judges to describe the team’s work as “tremendous”, with a strong emphasis on the buyers’ “personality”, while they applauded the effective “teamwork”, which sees wine sourcing managers focused on product quality and the buyers on commercial activities.
Travel Retail Operator of the Year
Winner: World Duty Free Group
It’s easy to be impressed by the scale of the World Duty Free Group’s retailing operations – it runs outlets in over 550 airports across 20 countries.
However, it wasn’t the size of the business that gained WDF the travel retail award for 2015. Rather it was the innovative and beautifully executed approach to selling wines and spirits, which has ensured that drinks now account for 17% of all revenue, making it the second biggest category behind Beauty. 2014 saw wines and spirits grow in sales by 11.5% compared to 2013, boosted by new retailing concepts such as the “Wine Collection” within 26 airports across Spain; “The Connoisseur Collection” for rare whiskies, Cognacs and wines in London Heathrow’s new Terminal 2, as well as new World of Whiskies stores within Heathrow terminals 2 and 5 and London Stansted and Glasgow.
The operator has also handled some of the most expensive and high profile launches of the last year, such as Diageo’s 160-bottle limited edition Brora, and pop-up store concepts, in particular the House of Hennessy – the first boutique from the brand outside the Cognac region.
Retail Buyer of the Year
Winner: Alpio Angeles from Dubai Duty Free
Alpio Angeles has played an instrumental role in driving double-digit growth in wine sales for his travel retail group in the last year. During 10 years working for Dubai Duty Free, which now operates 20 shops, our winner demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of wine buying and forecasting, with the number of SKUs more than tripling over the last seven years and a six-fold increase in value sales over the last decade. On top of this, he is closely involved with the shop floor, coordinating promotions, overseeing in-store displays and training staff in a mission to engage the broad spectrum of customers who pass through this airport environment. Thanks to these efforts, Dubai Duty Free is one of the most impressive forces in drinks retail today.
Young Achiever of the Year
Winner: Michael Vachon
Just three years ago Michael Vachon imported his first 120 cases of gin and whiskey from the US, distributing stock from his London flat. Today he is involved with the import, distribution and brand development of more than 100 different craft spirits from around the world through his own company, Maverick Drinks. With a mission to shake up the drinks industry by bringing new and interesting spirits to market, our winner has already scooped a series of awards, both for his portfolio and his business. Vachon’s craft spirit expertise sees him regularly called on to lead seminars and masterclasses, discussing everything from market opportunities to new production methods. This combination of enthusiasm and knowhow makes him a driving force behind one of the most exciting trends ever to hit the drinks industry.
Woman of the Year
Winner: Susana Balbo
Susana Balbo has come a long way since breaking new ground over 30 years ago when she became her country’s first female winemaker. Having set up her own winery back in 1999, she has guided it through uncertain economic conditions with a determined focus on exports.
The respect of her peers is evident from the fact that she has three times been elected president of Wines of Argentina, while her business acumen has been recognised by bodies well beyond the confines of the wine industry. Among the areas she has pioneered have been the pursuit of high quality Torrontés, as well as the exploration of new wine regions and winemaking techniques. Today our winner’s efforts are supported by her two children, Ana and José, who have joined the team at Dominio del Plata to take these achievements into the next generation.
Man of the Year
Winner: Paul Schaafsma
Renowned as much for his joviality as his no-bullshit approach to brand management, Paul Schaafsma has achieved an immense amount since relocating from Australia to London almost exactly 10 years ago. Arriving in the UK in 2005, he launched the European division of what was then McGuigan Simeon Wines, now Australian Vintage UK, with nothing more than his laptop. That year the company sold 100,000 nine-litre cases in the UK, but by the time he left the business in 2012, total sales had topped 7.5 million cases.
Similarly, this man’s impact was forcefully felt at Accolade Wines, which he joined in September 2012. Not only has he been responsible for the company’s increase in UK market share from 10% to 13%, but he has also revitalised the Hardys brand, with a redesign, major sponsorship of English cricket and, as a result, a sizeable rise in Hardy’s average bottle price. Indeed, he is so committed to the UK wine trade that he and his large family have taken British citizenship, although he remains one of the few Aussies to be running a major Australian wine business in the UK.
Winner: Nick James
This year’s recipient is well known to all longstanding members of the British Port and Champagne trade. Having spent over 44 years in the drinks industry, Nick James has represented Port brands such as Graham’s, and Champagne houses from Taittinger to Lanson.
In 1998, he joined Pol Roger, where he spent the last seven years as head of the Champagne brand’s UK office. Although he hit retirement age in November, he remained on the Pol Roger board until March this year, and remains in close contact with the team in London and Epernay.
Described at a recent dinner as a “true, great professional”, James has managed to successfully build a set of strong wine brands in the UK market, while also creating loyal friendships, even among his competitors in the trade.
Among his many achievements, he is credited with the successful integration of spirits Glenfarclas and Hine into Pol Roger’s agency business, while at the same time augmenting the operation’s reputation for wine and Champagne.
As well as his day job, last year he chaired the Champagne Agents Association. Today James is taking on a new drinks challenge as chairman of a cider producer called The Lambswick Drinks Company.
He owes his career in the wine trade to a godfather who owned sherry business González Byass, and freely admits that his academic record was poor – he was “chucked out” of Cirencester College twice. His “turning point” was attending the Champagne Academy in 1976, and he describes his period at Pol Roger from 1998 onwards as “the most amazing final part of my career”.
The drinks business must also personally thank our recipient for inspiring the magazine to collate one of its most successful online news story ever: Top 10 red trousers in the wine trade.