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Traditional wine retail ‘is dying’

The traditional model of wine retail involving uninspiring walls of wine is dying out and being replaced by a more engaging, interactive experience according to one top indie merchant.

Enomatic machines are a key feature at Vagabond

Speaking to the drinks business, Stephen Finch, owner of Vagbond Wines said: “The traditional” model of wine retail involving bottles on shelves is dying.

“A creative crop of innovative wine merchants like Loki, Bottle Apostle and Hanging Ditch are offering a much more engaging and adventurous option.

“Whether it’s on-site eating and drinking, bottle refills or clever tastings, they are giving customers a reason to come in and stay longer.”

In keeping with this trend, London wine merchant Borough Wines is to open a new hybrid shop selling wine, beer and books in Hastings later this summer.

Rosé refills at Borough Wines
Rosé refills at Borough Wines

The new shop will sell books and host talks, readings and exhibitions, with writer and broadcaster Michael Smith in charge of the literary side of things, while Jess Scarrett, director of the company’s wholesale arm, will look after the wine side.

In addition to fiction, the shop will sell wine books, cookery books and art tomes.

Starting life as a stall in Borough Market in 2002, Borough Wines now has sites in Hackney, Dalston, Stoke Newington, Kensal Rise, Clerkenwell.

Selling wine and books together seems like a no brainer, with browsing for wine at a neighbourhood merchant often compared to the joy of scouring an independent bookshop.

“There is still a significant demand for good wine shops, just as there is for good bookshops, which can thrive in the internet age,” Charles Lea of Charles Lea & Sandeman told db.

Richard Bray of online merchant Swig also makes the comparison and is excited by the trend for a new breed of hybrid wine merchant.

“A lovely wine shop is a remarkable and wonderful thing, much like a good book shop. We’re going to see more hybrid shops with tables and chairs offering cheese or charcuterie for people to nibble while they drink their newly bought wine for a small corkage fee,” he told db.

Modern merchants encourage customers to stay and sip
Modern merchants encourage customers to stay and sip

An increasing number of merchants, like Humble Grape in Battersea, are offering customers the chance to pop their cork in-store for a small fee.

Roberson’s wine business development director Adam Green has also noticed a blurring of lines between on and off-trade venues and an increased focus on beers and spirits.

“A shift to being drinks rather than wine specialists via great ranges of artisan beers and spirits has set new a benchmark in terms of what customers can expect from the experience of drinks retail,” he told db.

In a twist on the trend, restaurants are also seeing the potential of adding a wine shop to their venue, allowing diners to buy the quirky drops they were recommended by the sommelier to enjoy at home.

Where Vinoteca and Kensington Wine Rooms have led, the likes of Jason Atherton’s new Social Wine and Tapas have followed.

A full analysis of the UK wine retail landscape will appear in the August issue of the drinks business, out next week.

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