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DB Awards 2016: a report on the winners

Having announced who was successful in this year’s Drinks Business Awards, we now bring you a full report on our winners.

The Drinks Business Awards was, once again, held at the London Wine Fair in May, and we were pleased to take over a large room alongside the main entrance to the Grand Hall at Olympia for the ceremony.

As the photos show, 2016’s awards, now in their 13th year, attracted a large crowd, confirming their position as highly respected badges of achievement in the alcoholic drinks industry.

The awards have continued to grow, and this year we witnessed more and better entries for our longstanding categories, while we added to our programme with new awards, such as those for social media and drinks events.

As always, certain categories stand out, and one area that seems particularly strong is wine packaging as producers put greater focuson their products’ appearance to entice customers.

Another area of strength is drinks events and marketing – people in this trade are inherently good at organising professional tastings and promoting them – while our retail categories were strong too, with the multiples seemingly responding to the discount threat with stronger online offerings, better ranges and improved merchandising, rather than panic price cutting.

It also seems that consolidation isn’t diluting company personality and flexibility – the UK’s newly enlarged wine distribution businesses have more diverse portfolios and a greater reach into Britain’s increasingly eclectic drinks trade.

Before considering our winners, we would like to thank 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 for the white and rosé and Ferrari for the sparkling.

Click through for a rundown on this year’s winners…

Best Design & Packaging in Wine

Winner: Altaland by Stranger & Stranger

There was one clear winner in this category – Catena Zapata’s Altaland, with labels designed by Stranger & Stranger. The brainchild of Laura Catena, the range explores Argentina’s regional diversity taking in Salta, La Rioja and Patagonia, and the grapes grown in each.

Stranger & Stranger took this theme and ran with it, weaving elements of Argentina’s geographical and cultural heritage, and the wildlife native to each of the regions, from flamingoes to penguins, onto the striking, playful labels.

Our judges praised the beautiful execution of the labels and the way they brought the brand to life through story telling. “It goes beyond the wine in the bottle into the world of legends, history and mythology,” said one judge.

Runner-up: Enfant Terrible by Denomination

Our runner up – Denomination for Enfant Terrible – impressed our judges for its fresh, fun and playful approach via and irreverent design that moves away from the safe and often boring labelling used on Côtes du Rhône wines.

Taking a traditional image of Napoleon and giving him a joke moustache in red pen, the graffiti-style label is tongue-in-cheek. Our judges enjoyed the naughtiness and cheekiness of the label. “It’s a Côtes du Rhône with attitude”, said one judge. “It’s fun and iconoclastic – I’d certainly buy it. It steps away from clichés and answers the brief,” chimed another.

Special commendation: Ramos Pinto RP10 by OM Design

Omdesign agency was given a special commendation for its eco-friendly packaging for Ramos Pinto 10 year old that engages with consumers and modernises the Port category.

Made from a pair of cork blocks, consumers are encouraged to reuse the packaging in interesting ways, turning the wine holder into everything from a pen pot to a vase. Our judges liked this innovative approach to sustainable design and the way it brings consumers into the conversation.

Special commendation: Winecraft by Stranger & Stranger

Stranger & Stranger was also given a special commendation for its canned wine mixers packaged under the Winecraft brand, which our judges viewed as a genuine innovation that opens the category up to younger consumers who may traditionally drink craft beer and RTDs. The judges also liked how fun the designs were, which they thought were perfect for its target market.

The shortlist:

• Altaland by Stranger & Stranger
• Enfant Terrible by Denomination
• Ramos Pinto RP10 by OM Design
• Winecraft by Stranger & Stranger

Best Design & Packaging in Spirits

Winner – Isle of Harris Gin by Stranger & Stranger

Stranger & Stranger triumphed again for its innovative design for Isle of Harris Gin. The only gin made in the Outer Hebrides, Stranger & Stranger took the brand’s location and its use of kelp and weaved those elements into the bottle design, from its sea blue colour to its twisted glass.

Judges praised the striking bottle’s shelf stand out and the way it powerfully communicated gin cues in an understated way. “The simple bottle and its marine colour gives it a sense of place. It’s clean, clever, impactful and isn’t trying too hard,” said one judge.

Runner-up: Quinine Gin by ATOM Supplies

Atom Supplies Ltd were our runner up for their work on 1897 Quinine Gin, which is made using cinchona bark – the traditional source of quinine. £5 of each bottle sold goes to Malaria No More UK.

Our judges loved the square bottle’s dramatic shelf stand out through an elegant design that pays attention to detail, from the wax seal to the cinchona tree that can be seen when you peer into the bottle. “The design is both beautiful and tells a story,” said one judge.

Special commendation: Chivas Regal ‘The Icon’ by Coley Porter Bell

A special commendation was awarded to Coley Porter Bell for Chivas Regal’s top drop The Icon, which our judges deemed to be a tasteful interpretation of ultra luxury packaging via its cream and green colour scheme, leather presentation case that harks back to the golden age of travel, and craft detailing. “It’s a stunning execution of an elegant and pared down approach to luxury”, said one judge.

The shortlist:            

• Chivas Regal ‘The Icon’ by Coley Porter Bell
• Isle of Harris Gin by Stranger & Stranger
• Quinine Gin by ATOM Supplies
• Sauza Tequila by Webb de Vlam

Vin de France Special Award, sponsored by Anivin de France

Winner: Domaine de Brau for ‘Pure’ Petit Verdot

This year, we decided to reward a design that was simple, clear and attractive, and, importantly, emphasizes the values of Vin de France – a category for modern, innovative wines.

Our judges loved the simplicity and modernity of the label within a traditional category, which they felt looked elegant and premium and would be a conversation starter at a dinner party. They also loved its shelf standout and the tasting note on the label.

Consumer Campaign of the Year

Robin Copestick (centre) presents the winners of Consumer Campaign of the Year

Winner: The Championships, Wimbledon, by Champagne Lanson

2015 saw Lanson take its Wimbledon activation to the next level, with the Champagne house delivering a true 360° consumer campaign. Activation across the on, off trade and specialist channels was ramped up significantly and two consumer competitions brought into the mix.
A defining element of the campaign was that it was activated using exclusively in-house staff and with a comparatively small budget. The team was tasked with making the activation fun while remaining premium in tone – crucial for both the Lanson and Wimbledon brands.  Judges praised Lanson for a “proper campaign” in which the team had “thought of everything”, from new Wimbledon-focused packaging for the brand to offering winning tickets to Wimbledon for participating customers and a profitable tie-in with ferry company Fred Olsen Cruises.

As a result of the campaign Lanson secured a 23% share of the Champagne category across the final week of The Championships, while sales of Lanson White Label grew 160% YoY without any secondary space or price promotion – indicating that shoppers now see Lanson as an integral part of the ‘Wimbledon experience’. The strength of the on trade activation drove a sales increase beyond the Wimbledon fortnight of 19% across the Lanson portfolio.

In summary, judges described Lanson’s effort as a “textbook example of how to turn sponsorship into a marketing campaign”.

Ben Smith from Concha y Toro UK

Runner-up: Le Tour de France, by Cono Sur

Coming a “very close second” in the consumer campaign category was Chilean wine brand, which invested in the Tour de France Grand Départ for the second time following a successful campaign in 2014.

In a ramping up the consumer marketing element of its campaign, limited edition bicycle bells were was added to 102,000 bottles of Bicicleta Pinot Noir on UK shelves – a move judges commended as “innovative and witty” – while a new visual creative was developed which helped to define Cono Sur as ‘the Official wine of the Tour de France’.

The campaign also involved a takeover of the Olympic Velodrome in Stratford and an eight-week radio advertising campaign on Magic FM and Absolute Radio, reaching an estimated 6.6 million listeners.

The campaign resulted in 32% growth YoY for Cono Sur and the addition of 130,000 new households for the brand in the last six months of 2015. Judges said it was “a smart campaign that was effective and actually got punters buying bottles”.

The shortlist:

• Domaine Evremond by R&R Teamwork and Hatch Mansfield
• Le Tour de France, by Cono Sur
• The Championships, Wimbledon, by Champagne Lanson
• Wolf Blass and The Rugby World Cup by Treasury Wine Estates

Drinks Launch of the Year

Winner: Domaine Evremond by R&R Teamwork and Hatch Mansfield

Communications agency R&R and wine importer Hatch Mansfield scooped the prize for the wine news story that got everyone talking, breaking the news that Champagne house Taittinger is to make English sparkling wine in Kent under the Domaine Evremond brand, having snapped up 69 hectares of farmland in Chilham.

The photo accompanying the press release featured Patrick McGrath of Taittinger’s importer Hatch Mansfield holding a French flag and Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger clutching a Union Jack in a symbol of unity between the two nations.

The story went not only around the UK, but around the world, garnering extensive column inches and reaching over 63 million people. The news quickly spread to TV and radio, both in the UK and France.

Our judges loved the way R&R spread its net to a wide group of targets rather than just the usual suspects. Many referred to it is the “dream” wine news story and were impressed at how much coverage the story got years ahead of a single bottle being produced. Essentially, R&R was selling an idea, which it did exceptionally well, gleaning serious bang for their buck on a small budget.

Social Media Campaign of the Year

Winner: Laphroaig #BIGOPINIONS by White Label UK

Few categories excited the judges more this year than that for Social Media Campaign of the Year. White Label’s #BIGOPINIONS campaign for Islay whisky brand Laphroaig harnessed the power of peer referral by using Twitter to boldly highlight Laphroaig’s ‘love it or hate it’ appeal.

White Label noted that, in a category full of big brands and celebrity endorsements, Laphroaig remained a small brand, though one with a loyal group of fans. Its mission, therefore, was to get them to pick up their pens (or keyboards or phones) and become active ambassadors for the brand.
As part of its campaign, White Label created a Twitter software API projection tool to convert tweets in real time into projectors and broadcast them on to the Laphroaig distillery wall — a perfect billboard. The campaign drew tweets from around the world, inspiring whisky fans throughout America in particular, with more than 1,000 tweets projected on to the Laphroaig distillery wall over five nights.

The award was based largely on a video White Label created detailing the campaign. Judges said it was “a very clever idea as well as being simple – and it works”. Judges also praised the #BIGOPINIONS campaign’s combination of local and international emphasis: “Social media is all about being global,” one judge said, “and this was a truly global campaign, but it was also local because it was tied into the Laphroaig distillery.”

Special Commendation: International Sherry Week by ESOES Digital Solutions

Organised under the auspices of El Consejo Regulador Jerez-Xeres-Sherry, International Sherry Week is an international celebration of the unique wines of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto and Sanlucar to Barrameda.
The worldwide event brings thousands of wine lovers together to raise a glass of Sherry at promoted events at bars, restaurants and wine schools, as well as numerous spontaneous gatherings. As the consejo points out, no other wine DO in the world celebrates their industry with a week-long event.

While ESOES Digital Solutions’ campaign had just a €20,000 budget, judges felt it had “achieved an enormous amount”. They added that it was “almost a grassroots campaign put together by sherry educators on a small budget – not a big-budget glossy marketing campaign by an agency”. Judges concluded that they were “very impressed” by the international nature of the campaign and by the fact that it had managed to turn the Sherry hashtag into a ‘thing’.

The shortlist:

• International Sherry Week by ESOES Digital Solutions
• Laphroaig #BIGOPINIONS by White Label UK
• The Last Days of Tua by Esporão
• #WhiskySanta by Master of Malt

Trade Event of the Year

Winner: The Showcase by Enotria & Coe

The merger of Enotria and Coe Vintners was easily the most important occasion in either business’s history, and as such, the launch of Enotria&Coe had to be the new two companys’ biggest and best event yet.
Taking over seven rooms of the Truman Brewery and welcoming more than 1,800 customers, the event achieved record attendance numbers and, with a comprehensive digital strategy, achieved high levels of engagement.
Featuring a wide range of wines and spirits across five rooms (Sparkling, Europe, Brand Owners, Americas and Tri-Nations) the event showcased Enotria&Coe’s extensive combined portfolio in a dynamic format.

Overall the showcase pushed the boundaries of drinks events, finding an innovative way of incorporating a huge portfolio in a way that still allowed our customers to engage with producers, suppliers and our team in an immersive setting.
The event impressed the judges because,as it had it incorporating two new businesses into one event, it presented many challenges. Judges deemed it “successful and well executed” and praised Enotria&Coe for “clever touches”, like speed-dating, so the sales force met producers the day before the event.

Judges concluded: “They overcame the challenge of integrating these two big companies” with “a successful and well attended event”.

Consumer Drinks Event of the Year

Winner: Direct Wines for The Sunday Times Vintage Festival

The 36th Vintage Festival was deemed a huge success in 2015, making a profit, breaking attendance records and achieving a 94% customer satisfaction score.
Marketing for the festival included a personalised campaign to repeat visitors, plus customers based in London or commuter corridors. The event also expanded its What’s On This Weekend listings and Sunday Times presence.
The event involved four sessions of 3.5 hours, with customers having a choice of 300 wines, guided by a colourful handbook and WSET-qualified stewards. Many wines were poured by their producers, including Hunters from New Zealand, Paolo Masi from Tuscany and some “merry Malbec makers” from Argentina.

Among the special features of the festival were a lively ‘Spanish Quarter’ organised in collaboration with Wines from Spain where customers could discover the diversity of Spain plus try traditional food matches; a ‘British Market’ offering artisan food and a ‘Fine Wine Room’ which 400 customers paid to attend and taste such wines as Krug, Lafite 1990 and Penfolds Yattarna.
As ever, Hugh Johnson OBE was on hand to open the event. Judges said this well-established consumer event “was beautifully executed” and were impressed that it had mnaged to make a profit. It was felt that the festival was a textbook example of how to do a consumer wine tasting.

Runner-up: The Whisky Exchange for The Whisky Show 

Now in its eighth year, The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show attracted more than 3,000 consumer visitors to Old Billingsgate to sample from 600 whiskies and 100 brands.
The Whisky Show aims to be both fun and educational, giving consumers a chance to try some of the rarest whiskies in the world and giving brands a platform to launch new products; while the event also raises money for charity.

Judges described this year’s event as “innovative” and “creative”. They particularly approved of the Whisky Exchange’s decision to include food pairings to stimulate visitors’ senses. While not groundbreaking the show was well executed and managed to raise the fine sum of £225,0000 for charity.

Judges felt organisers had taken elements from the wine world that worked, and recruited the right people to make the event work.

Drinks event of the year shortlist:

• Diageo Special Releases by Story PR
• Mercado Chileno by Wines of Chile
• Polo in the Park by Champagne Lanson
• The Sunday Times Vintage Festival by Direct Wines
• The Showcase by Enotria&Coe
• The Whisky Show by The Whisky Exchange

(Due to the large number of excellent entries, and the different requirements of planning and running an event for a trade, compared to a consumer audience, we decided to split this award in two)

Logistics Company of the Year

Chris Porter & David Mawer (right) from JF Hillebrand

Winner: JF Hillebrand

Scooping the crown for a second year in a row, it was difficult to pick any holes in a strong pitch from this global logistics business, which has further strengthened its specialist drinks services over the last year.

Among the company’s new initiatives are a service aimed at the brewing sector that provides a management of keg recovery in order to keep tighter stock and monetary control on the returns of the vast amount of kegs sent around the world. “JF Hillebrand is a hugely impressive company that, despite its size and success, is always moving forward – it never rests on its laurels,” said one judge.

JF Hillebrand has also delivered greater efficiencies for its customers by streamlining the process for the movement of their European groupage orders and working to avoid transport waste by improving equipment fills. Bucking the trend of rising oil prices, the company’s fuel recovery on a 40ft container from New World wine Countries fell from £282 in April 2015 to £26 in April 2016.

Joseph De Maio from STI

Special commendation: STI

Our judges felt that Italian firm STI deserved a special commendation for its excellent service, personal approach, and for showing that logistics is not just about the big boys – there’s a place for a family-run operation in a niche sector.

The shortlist:

• London City Bond
• JF Hillebrand
• STI Internazionale
• Kuehne + Nagel

Supply Chain Initiative of the Year

Bibendum’s Michael Saunders presents the award to James Miles, founder and director at Liv-ex (right)

Winner: Liv-ex for its ‘SIB Passport and Instant Transfer’ initiative, implemented through its Vine logistics network

With fine wine becoming an ever more tradable asset, the greater the likelihood it will change hands and with it location before it is drunk.

This is both financially inefficient and potentially damaging for the wine.

Using its ‘SIB Passport and Instant Transfer’ initiative, implemented through its Vine logistics network, Liv-ex is seeking to change this through nothing less than the complete immobilisation of all physical stock. Its system is nothing short of “groundbreaking” according to the judges.

The SIB (Standard-in-Bond) Passport is an electronic certificate that guarantees a case’s condition and is valid for three years (having been upgraded from two years in 2016).

The Instant Transfer allows any Vine customer to quickly and simply sell to another Vine customer and with a single click transfer ownership of the stock. The wine in question never has to move and lies perfectly undisturbed, even if it is sold 100 times, until it eventually ends up on someone’s table.

Liv-ex has worked assiduously to improve, refine and expand this system which impressed the judges who had already remarked that it was a forward thinking and practical system that could bring in “real changes” in the trade as well as “enhance traceability”.

In a clear sign of what Vine customers’ make of the system, the number of monthly transfers has risen from an average of 311 in 2014 to 1,112 in 2015.

PR Company of the Year

Winner: Deussen Global Communications

Based in New York, Deussen Global Communications took on the challenging task of bringing China’s national spirit, baijiu, to western consumers this year. Its campaign to launch HKB Baijiu was commended by judges for being comprehensive and well executed, yielding impressive results within a “difficult category”.

Despite it being the largest spirit category in the word by value and by volume,

baijiu is largely unknown to western consumers, making the company’s achievements all the more impressive. As part of the campaign, the team targeted mixologists and key players within the industry to raise awareness of the spirit and overcome the “haters” to position baijiu as a spirit for “for sophisticated palates”.

While the success of PR campaigns can be difficult to measure, Deussen were praised for generating measurable success that resulted in widespread coverage in high profile titles including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, as well as 90 further media placements, in the space of just 10 months. The campaign also generated 44 new accounts for HKB baijiu at New York bars. The campaign’s momentum has continued into 2016, with the number of feature stories featuring HKB expected to triple.

Judges described it as a “textbook campaign” that was not only successful in bringing HKB to a new market, but in demonstrating Deussen Global’s professionalism and effectiveness as a savvy PR company.

Runner-up: Phipps

Phipps’ high-profile roster of clients includes Wines of Germany, Matthew Clarke and Tio Pepe, who are managed by a highly experienced and capable team. While continuing to manage these clients, this year the team added to its portfolio Argentine wine producer Blends, and strengthened its presence within spirits with the addition of Portobello Road Gin. The team also launched a specialist digital division to offer clients greater integration across platforms.

While praising the team’s efforts to find new ways to evolve campaigns and attract new clients, judges were particularly impressed by their ability to retain existing clients – a good sign that they were continuing to provide a good level of service and dedication.

The shortlist:

• Clarion Communications
• Deussen Global Communications
• Phipps

On-trade Supplier of the Year

Winner: Liberty Wines

A well-respected and long-standing supplier to the UK on-trade, Liberty Wines impressed judges with its sharp acumen for targeting the on-trade through its focus on premiumisation, attention to customer service and well-rounded and diverse range of wines.

Judges commended the company for having achieved an impressive average on-trade selling price of £31.27 per bottle, almost £10 more than the UK average on-trade selling price of £21.51, according to CGA Strategy. Liberty Wines was also praised for its focus on education, with its Liberty Wines Academy programme training around 1,000 frontline staff from bar staff to senior sommeliers to date. This year the company expanded this programme, adding three new modules.

Currently offering 1,250 lines, this year the company increased its portfolio by 11%, bolstering its Italy, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Burgundy, England and Central European offer. Premiumisation is key for Liberty, whose portfolio is designed to encourage consumers to trade up through price points. Judges also commended the company’s attention to customer service. This year the company trialled 24-hour opening of its warehouse, which kicks in when order volumes and/or customer demand increases.

Judges were also pleased to note its dedication to operating in an environmentally-friendly manner, having reduced its carbon footprint by achieving an 85% + average van fill for London deliveries and moving over 70% of Italian wine shipments from road to rail.

The shortlist:

  • Bibendum
  • Enotria & Coe
  • Jascots
  • Liberty Wines

Drinks Company of the Year

Winner: Concha y Toro UK

Concha y Toro UK was voted the winner for its standout performance in 2015 – the most successful year in the brand’s 15-year history. “The business made some tough decisions a few years ago and its new strategy from 2013 has paid off. It has had an exceptional year, and it is now home to the UK’s best selling Cabernet, Malbec and Pinot Noir,” enthused one judge.

Its flagship brand, Casillero del Diablo, achieved sales of 1.9 million 9-litre cases equal to over £100m in retail sales and representing a volume growth of 18.3%. The brand also enjoyed success with its Sky Movies partnership.

“With its high profile sponsorships, this company is investing in its brands in the challenging UK market, and, at a time when retailers are promoting own label wines, Concha y Toro UK is spending big to make their products must-stock brands,” said one judge.

Runner up: Liberty Wines

Our judges felt Liberty Wines deserved recognition for its sustained growth, training academy and the fact that 2015 was its best year for new business.

“Liberty Wines has enjoyed 19 years of growth and has generated a profit in every year of its existence; it’s a massively impressive company,” said one judge.

Special commendation: Bibendum PLB

Judges awarded a special commendation to Bibendum PLB, which recently re-launched its spirits agency Instill to incorporate craft beer and cider, and Walker & Wodehouse, which sells to independent merchants.

The past year has been an enormous year for Bibendum PLB, which has undergone a massive integration process, and yet has managed to keep its business steady in a market that’s declining,” one judge pointed out.


The shortlist:

  • Bibendum PLB Group
  • Concha y Toro UK
  • Liberty Wines
  • Treasury Wine Estates

Independent Retailer of the Year (sponsored by Les Grands Chais de France)

Winner: Borough Wines

From a little outlet in Borough Market to last year opening its sixth and seventh stores.

Alongside a widened programme of supper clubs, cocktail glasses and winemaker dinners, Borough Wines stores have being playing host to drawing classes and book launches and the judges praised Borough Wines for this “imaginative” lifestyle approach that mixes wine with art and culture.

“Informal” yet with a keen business mind clearly at work (one of the new stores was opened in up-and-coming Hastings), the shops were also commended for contributing to a sense of community wherever they were located.

The expansion has also been deliberate and well thought out with each shop operating at a comfortable profit and online sales adding to the rising turnover.

Runner-up: Wood Winters Wines & Whiskeys

With an extensive rage of wines and spirits, the judges remarked that this was a “serious” business and one being built and developed in a measured and sensible way. The judges also liked the emphasis on being a local independent merchant that serves its customers well and which seeks to educate and advise drinkers, providing a worthwhile and credible alternative to a larger multiple-retailer.

Special commendation: Real Ale – The Shop

Now in its eleventh year, this Twickenham-based store continues to champion small scale British and international beers, ciders and perries. It’s role as supplier to multiple-retailer M&S has been a great step in bringing these products to a wider UK audience.

The shortlist:

  • Borough Wines
  • Real Ale – The Shop
  • Vagabond Wines
  • WoodWinters Wines & Whiskies

Retailer of the Year

Anne Jones from Waitrose

Winner: Waitrose

With a broad, high quality range and a strong performance in a declining marketplace, Waitrose once again stood.

The judges agreed that Waitrose’s range was arguably the best for a UK multiple retailer and they applauded the fact that the proportion of wine sold on promotion is less than that of its competitors.

The retailer’s support of English wine was also noteworthy and even more praiseworthy because it has made a success of it and not treated this emerging category as a gimmick.

The way Waitrose promotes its wines both in its publications and online was also mentioned favourably, as was the new whisky segment inside the ‘Waitrose Cellar’ with its 200-strong range of malts, including a substantial selection from Japan.

Consistent over the years and with a well-educated wine team, Waitrose nonetheless shows no intention of resting on its laurels.

Mike James, wine buyer for Aldi

Runner-up: Aldi

The judges were impressed by Aldi’s emergence as an important player in UK drinks retailing as well as the launch of a new online service and a growing premium element to its offering. With wines bought in Aldi now accounting for one in 12 bottles of wine sold in UK retail the judges noted the range was both “keenly priced” and often “extremely well selected”.

The shortlist:

  • Adnams
  • Aldi
  • Majestic
  • Waitrose

Online Retailer of the Year

Sukhinder Singh and Dawn Davies (right) from The Whisky Exchange

Winner: The Whisky Exchange

One of the early pioneers of online drinks retailing, The Whisky Exchange has become a well-recognised and respected outlet for whisky lovers keen to track down both high-end and rare whiskies and luxury spirits. Far from an “off-the-shelf e-commerce model”, its website was commended by judges for being easy to navigate, attractive and for offering added value at every turn.

Attracting 10.2 million users in 2015, its website’s 10,000-strong online selection of whiskies and spirits is the biggest in the UK, if not the world. It already offers at-a-glance notes on whiskies, helping to take the guesswork out of buying a whisky. However as part of its bid to replicate the consumer “in-store experience” online, this year it will go a step further by placing whiskies into various “flavour camps”, helping customers find brands or distilleries they like and help them to discover other whiskies made in a similar style. Demonstrating further added value, consumers can also take advantage of a bottle-engraving service on a wide range of products, with a live preview showing how it will look. This service is delivered seamlessly across all devices.

The retailer’s success online has contributed to a 10% increase in sales in the past year – a testament to the team’s efforts to create a website that fulfils the demands of its customers.

The shortlist:

  • Laithwaites Wine
  • Master of Malt
  • The Whisky Exchange
  • Virgin Wines

Fine Wine Retailer of the Year

Giles Cooper from BI Wines

Winner: BI Wine

In an age where Bordeaux has lost its complete domination of the fine wine market, the judges commended this merchant for its willingness to “embrace this new diversification” as well as having the “courage to rebrand”.

BI – formerly known as ‘Bordeaux Index’ – has shown its ability to adapt to what its buyers want with Champagne sales tripling since 2010, Italian wines seeing 5% growth last year and sales of Spanish wine growing 30% in 2015.

The judges were also impressed by BI’s valuation and broking services as well as the relaunch of its LiveTrade platform which now includes top Champagnes as well as Bordeaux.

Finally, although not fine wine the judges were also impressed at how BI has developed its spirits division, tapping into the clients’ interest in top end gin, whisky or Cognac to quadruple sales in just two years.

Runner-up: Goedhuis & Co

The judges applauded Goedhuis for its excellent and wide-ranging portfolio as well as its dedication to both its customers and staff education and development.

A “classy” and “friendly” merchant that caters to “drinkers” and has a loyal customer base.

The shortlist:

  • BI Wines
  • Goedhuis & Co
  • Hedonism Wines

Retail Buying Team of the Year

Nick Room, Waitrose wine buyer

Winner: Waitrose

Described as a “real team” by judges, Waitrose’s buying team is comprised of four MWs (and one in training), led by one of the most respected buyers in the business – Pierpaolo Petrassi MW.

The team has long been at the cutting edge of English wine, expanding its range in the past year to become one of the UK’s biggest supermarket retailers of English wine, which was described by our judges as a “smart commercial decision”. Special attention has also been paid to extending its beer range, demonstrating the team’s ability to tap into and capitalise on emerging trends using their collective understanding of the UK consumer habits and knowledge of the drinks industry.

The team is particularly adept at managing the buying process from producer to shelf, with buyers selecting, blending, labelling and pricing wines personally without the help of product developers or external negotiators. Products are well supported in store with a range of effective in-store promotions and customer-led marketing, including customer events and in-store tastings.

Judges commended the team’s high level of product knowledge and professionalism, which has earned it a great deal of respect within the trade.

Alistair Viner and Richard Ellis (right)

Special commendation: Hedonism Wines

Curated by a team of just three, judges were impressed by Hedonism Wine’s ability to create a flagship shop that has grown to become a worldwide destination for luxury wines and spirits.

Based in Mayfair, Hedonism’s buying team includes Alistair Viner, head buyer, and Richard Ellis, spirits buyer. Together they have curated a vast collection of wine and spirits and continue to add new lines, track down rare bottles on request and refresh successful lines, all while hosting numerous tastings in store. In the process, the duo has shown the UK wine trade what can be achieved within the independent retail sector. “If anyone want to see how to do a wine shop properly, visit Hedonism Wines,” commented one judge.

Retail Buyer of the Year

Daphne Teremetz

Winner: Daphne Teremetz (Spar)

Since joining Spar from Mark’s and Spencer Daphne Teremetz has successfully transformed Spar’s drinks range helping to increase value sales of wine by 4%.

In the past year Teremetz has re-set the retailer’s buying strategy propelling it toward its goal of becoming a “credible and confident choice for wine”. As part of this effort Teremetz developed seven new wines for Spar’s own label range in 2015, identifying quality suppliers and negotiating competitive pricing, which earned praise from key wine writers including Matthew Jukes, Olly Smith and Terry Kirby. Its Argentine Malbec was received exceptionally well, with the retailer tripling stock shortly after its launch due to demand. This wine also won ‘Best Red Wine Under £7′ at the Wholesale Q Awards.

In addition to this, Teremetz has also revamped the retailer’s range of French wines. Sales had been in decline due to the number of entry-level wines in the range. Teremetz successfully re-positioned the packaging and sourcing of its existing wine range and launched three new wines, resulting in an impressive 9%YOY uplift in sales from November to December 2015, and a further 15%YOY uplift from January to March 2016.

These changes and additions to Spar’s range have contributed to an overall 4% value increase for wine in 2015. Judges praised Teremetz for bringing a “new freshness and energy” to Spar. As a young buyer, judges commended Teremetz for having taken on a difficult job and doing it well, successfully raising the profile of Spar as a wine retailer.

Travel Retail Operator of the Year

Winner: Dubai Duty Free

Quality of service, excellent merchandising and an unparalleled selection of fine wines and spirits all marked out Dubai Duty Free for the judges.

Offering everything from classed growth Bordeaux to Jacob’s Creek and Marques de Riscal or Bell’s to Chivas Regal’s ‘Icon’, DDF has almost doubled its wine and spirits sales in the last two years. Alcohol sales hit US$293 million in 2015, which places the category just behind perfumes.

Best Contribution to Wine and Spirits Tourism

Sula Vineyards CEO Rajeev Samant

Winner: Sula Vineyards

Apart from revolutionising the wine industry in India since its foundation in 1998, Sula has made a major contribution to India’s international tourism profile by establishing Nashik Valley as a major oenophile destination.

Boasting a 4,500sq ft Tasting Room with a 35ft bar and spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding rolling hills, Sula Vineyards offers regular winery tours and limited edition wine tastings, while a short walk away stands Soleil by La Plage, a culinary fusion offering by India’s most iconic French restaurant based in Goa – La Plage.

With a 35-room luxury resort – Beyond by Sula – 10 minutes from its vineyards and credit for creating India’s premier wine and harvest festival, SulaFest, Sula has succeeded in attracting almost 230,000 unique visitors to its vineyards and winery in Nashik in 2015 – almost a 10% growth over the previous year. Revenue from all of Sula’s hospitality outlets stood at US$4.4 million in 2015 – up 20% on the previous year.

Judges deemed Sula’s contribution to this category particularly meritorious because it used tourism to promote wine in an area where wine is restricted.

Further, Sula had made a huge economic in a region that needs it. Sula’s pitch was thus deemed both “altruistic” and “benefiting the community at large”, and though it was self-promoting, it was not just about wine but about tourism.

Sula’s results-driven campaign had created visible growth which would continue over the long-term, the judges added.

Runner-up: Susana Balbo Wines

Already on a solid foundation having been recognised by The Drinks Business Awards as a finalist in the Best Contribution to Wine and Spirits Tourism in 2015, Susana Balbo Wines has continued to build on last year’s success with its energetic and innovative approach to wine tourism in Mendoza. Education, history, entertainment, quality and innovation are the watchwords by which Susana Balbo and her daughter Ana work. Now boasting two restaurants, Susana Balbo Wines aims to emphasise the gastronomic element of wine and “motivate the visitor to define their own palate, so they can understand how it evolves”.

Coming a “close second” to Sula this year, Susana Balbo was commended by judges for its “creative and unstuffy approach” which “ticked all the boxes”, adding that the winery looked like the sort of place they would really like to visit, a place that “made them hungry”.

The shortlist:

  • The Douro Boys
  • Sula Vineyards
  • Susana Balbo Wines
  • Tasting Table

Woman of the Year

Barbara Banke, chairman and proprietor, Jackson Family Wines

Having graduated from the UCLA and Hastings Law School, and spent more than a decade arguing cases before the US Supreme Court – as well as raising three children – our 2016 Woman of the Year turned her attention to the world of wine, devoting 20 years to leading a company she co-founded with her late husband, Jess.

However, when her beloved partner died in 2011 following a three-year battle with skin cancer, Barbara Banke single-handedly led the operation, continuing the same expansionist approach, while also nurturing the bedrock of its sales volumes: Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve – which presently accounts for 45% of the company’s volume, 60% of which comes from its Chardonnay alone.

On top of that our recipient has taken this vast family-owned company in new directions.

At the same time as expanding Jackson Family vineyards in its existing spheres of influence, such as Napa and Sonoma, she has also taken the company into different regions, above all Oregon, and into further countries, with a move last January into South Africa.

Overall she has spent more than US$100m in the past three years expanding operations, although still a small proportion of her estimated $2 billion net worth.

Looking ahead, Banke, aged 63, is aware that she’s readying Jackson Family Wines for the next generation. She compares her approach to the Antinori Family, which today is run by Piero Antinori with the support of his three daughters. “Jess and I have three children, and he has two older daughters from his first marriage, and we are all involved in different wineries, but we are a meritocracy,” she explains.

Her aim appears focused on the internationalisation of Jackson Family Wine’s winemaking and sales operation. Exemplifying the rapid pace of change in the latter, she says, “Today we have 45 people selling our wines around the world – five years ago, that was just six.”

Barbara says the positioning of the business is simple: “We just want to be known now and in the future for the best wines in the world.”

Man of the Year

Troy Christensen, CEO at Enotria & Coe

Renowned for a strong accent and an equally strong handshake, Troy Christensen has achieved an immense amount since returning from the US to London almost exactly two years ago.

Coming back to Britain in May 2014 to take up a post leading one of London’s leading drinks suppliers, just over a year later he oversaw the ambitious integration of two businesses – something he successfully achieved in under six months with minimal disruption to either operation.

Indeed, our Man of the Year identified huge opportunities through the union of two London-based operations to create a unique wine and spirits distributor with an integrated supply chain, and a compelling portfolio – which was shown to maximum effect for the first time at a tasting at the Truman Brewery earlier this year.

Already well-respected throughout the industry for his leadership skills, our winner had previously spent 14 years at the UK’s biggest wine company – Constellation – engineering several big-brand joint ventures and the construction of Europe’s largest bottling facility.

However, since he undertook the challenge to grow Enotria’s business, his profile has caught the trade’s eye due to his clear, confident strategy, not only for Enotria & Coe but for the drinks industry as a whole.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Mark Savage MW

This year’s recipient is a highly-respected member of the UK wine trade who has spent a career sourcing wines with ‘honesty’ and ‘originality’.

Born in Kampala in 1949 – where he remained until independence was granted to Uganda in 1962 – Mark Savage MW’s first taste of wine was a bottle of La Gratitude from South Africa, which probably explains his love of wines from the Cape that has lasted to this day.

But it was only when he had moved to the UK with his family in the early 60s, that his keen interest in all drinks made from the grape became apparent.

During his teenage years, while he was being educated at Ampleforth College, Mark set up a wine tasting society, while later, having gained a place at Oxford University to read Greats, became president of the institution’s revered Blind Wine Tasting Team – and competed victoriously in the Varsity Blind Tasting match as a contemporary of Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe.

Unlike these two prominent wine personalities, however, our recipient eschewed a role in the media following his graduation, and chose to mix practical trade experience with intense study to achieve success.

Having gained varied experience with Moët & Chandon, Harrods, OW Loeb and Tanners, he established his own business in 1975 – after receiving the Vintners Scholarship in that year.

In 1980 he became a Master of Wine – by far the youngest of his generation – and it was during this decade that he became interested in the wines of North America, making him one of the first British merchants to buy from this continent.

Initially, he was a regular visitor to California, but as the wine scene there evolved and prices soared, his attention was increasingly drawn towards Oregon, Washington and even Idaho.

Importantly, early on in his American travels, Mark visited Oregon Pinot pioneer David Lett of Eyrie vineyards, and, having discovered the quality of this then fledgling operation, was the first to introduce the Eyrie wines to the UK, establishing in effect Oregon’s international reputation for great wines from Burgundian grapes. And to this day Mark is considered the leading independent expert on the region.

David Lett’s son Jason recalls: “His adventure with Oregon wine began in 1980, when he introduced himself to my parents. They immediately established fellow feeling with a man whose curiosity never compromises a keen sense of taste. I have had the privilege to travel with him to other up-and-coming wine regions, and his unflappable stamina, energetic palate, and insight are without comparison.”

But other great wines owe their UK fame to our recipient, and prove that not all he sought was well off the wine world’s beaten path. For example, he was the first to introduce British drinkers to Billecart Salmon, Gaja, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and St Emilion’s still rising star, Tertre Rôteboeuf.

Just as we can thank Victorian plant hunters for the giant Sequoias in UK soil today, we should be grateful to Mark for finding and bringing these great wineries to our discerning market – and, in doing so, the world’s attention too.

Presently, he is working directly with about 50 small family wine estates in a dozen different countries through Savage Selection, although his specialisms are Austria, Hungary and Slovenia, the Piedmont and South Africa.

His portfolio has been described as “magnificently eccentric” by Jancis Robinson, while Oz Clarke has said of our recipient, ‘I don’t think he could buy a dull wine if he tried’.

Despite running his own business for over 40 years, Mark has no plans to retire, nor reduce his busy schedule of commitments beyond his day job, be they on the international judging circuit or skiing, playing real tennis, and studying wine in antiquity.

Mark is liked and respected in equal measure, and, despite his many achievements, has remained a modest and low-profile figure, who, our judges felt, deserves much greater fame for his pioneering work in the wine trade.

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