DB awards 2017: profiling the winners
Following yesterday’s listing of 2017’s Drinks Business Awards winners, today we bring you a full report, including a profile of all our recipients.
As is customary, the winners in the awards were announced during the London Wine Fair at a ceremony featuring plenty of loud music, cheers and Champagne – the event is designed to be brief but celebratory, while providing a chance for leading industry figures to network with their peers.
Over the following pages we have profiled each of this year’s winners, giving a short description why they were chosen by our panel of judges, which include respected members of the trade with a range of specialisms, from education, marketing, retailing and design.
The results in part reflect the current strengths of the drinks trade, and consequently it is clear from the winners this year that areas of dynamism are the gin and whisky sectors, online and independent retailing, as well as drinks event management, and the important area of packaging.
We were also able to celebrate new and fast-growing businesses, such as the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled drink – Seedlip – the acquisitive wholesale-retail operation, Conviviality Plc, and the expanding discount retail sector: Aldi was named 2017’s retailer of the year.
And we were able to enjoy the wines from our sponsors – Ty Nant for the water, Marqués de Cáceres for the wine, and Nicolas Feuillatte for the Champagne.
Our thanks goes to all our entrants, our judges, our drinks sponsors, as well as Glen Cairn Crystal for the trophies and London Wine Fair organiser Brintex for its continued support.
The Drinks Business Awards, now in their 14th year, are engineered to recognise and reward top performers across the international drinks industry, and you can see the entry criteria for each category by clicking here.
Meanwhile, the recipients this year can be viewed by clicking below.
Best Design & Packaging for Wine
London Cru for London Cru re-design LDN SW6
Our judges loved the original way London Cru’s re-design tackled the tricky terrain of not being able to write the grape variety on the front label by using London street names similar to each grape like Charlotte Street for Chardonnay.
Having noticed how similar in shape the map of London was to a leaf, London Cru created its new logo – a vine leaf with the River Thames running through it, which successfully combines the worlds of London and wine, with the different leaf shapes educating imbibers in a subtle way about grape varieties.
Ultimately, they believed the elegant and impactful redesign created a strong visual identity for the London Cru brand.
Off-Piste wines for El Domador del Fuego Rioja Reserva gift box
With a brief to create a premium and distinctive gift box with a striking design and great shelf standout balanced with classic cues for authenticity for Rioja brand El Domador (the Fire Tamer), our judges felt Off-Piste Wines nailed it through telling the story of Rioja magicians of old.
The judges loved the clever and impactful way in which the story was told on the label, believing it offered great value for money visually for a £10 wine with its quirky, collectible gift box.
They also thought the design would be a fun talking point at dinner parties and were drawn to its beautiful illustrations and cleverly thought out details that took you straight to Rioja.
Denomination for the Fazzoletto range
Denomination for Four Winds
Best Design & Packaging for Spirits
ATOM Supplies for That Boutique-y Gin Company
That Boutique-y Gin Company bottles limited-edition gins from some of the world’s best distilleries. Our judges praised their fun and informative hand-illustrated labels peppered with gin industry folk and in-jokes and felt the bottles had great standout that would spur fans to want to buy the whole collection.
Not only did they enjoy the fun and effective element of the storytelling, they loved the way the fresh designs with a high quality finish pushed the boundaries in a cohesive, compelling way.
M&E for Method and Madness
Our judges praised Irish/Swedish design duo Matthew Bolger and Emelie Lidström of M&E for their bold Art Deco design that breaks the mould for what you expect of an Irish whiskey bottle, with the duo having been given a list of key words, including “authentic, unexpected, unconventional, distinct and daring”, from which to create the design.
The judges loved the bottle’s innovative embossing and felt its beautiful shape makes it a collectors item consumers will want in their cocktail cabinets.
Perhaps ahead of its time, they enjoyed its disruptive design that makes you curious to try the liquid inside and believe it has fantastic shelf standout.
Stranger & Stranger for Italicus
When a product is based on a century-old Italian recipe that was the drink of kings with ingredients grown, harvested and expertly crafted in Italy, then visually it has to say ‘a sip of Italy’, and this is exactly what Stranger & Stranger’s bottle design for Italian rosolio liqueur Italicus does.
The judges loved the elegance and simplicity of the design, which confidently says Italy without having to scream it, and drew positive comparisons to the perfume world, with the blue glass evoking the Mediterranean and the gold denoting luxury.
They loved the bottle’s elegant, innovative shape and Art Deco design, which they found both beautiful and ground-breaking, with one judge going as far as to call it “iconic”.
Dangerous Don for Dangerous Don Café Mezcal
Stranger & Stranger for The Circus
Consumer Campaign of the Year
Borough Wines & Beers for California Wine Month
Last September, Borough Wines & Beers celebrated California Wine Month with a consumer campaign designed to showcase and celebrate the breadth and diversity of Californian wines, as well as the beers from the region. While they were at it they added 23 Californian wines to their range, which took centre stage in store.
Our judges applauded “the effort, the buzz, and the results” for a campaign that delivered a significant uplift in sales for Californian wine. “They did everything, from the social media to the staff training, this is exactly how you would want your wine to be promoted in store”, said one judge.
Cultural Communications for the Cloudy Bay Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
An annual staple at the Chelsea Flower Show, last year’s Cloudy Bay Garden garnered impressive press coverage, including 184 published articles and 66 broadcast pieces, leading Cloudy Bay’s senior brand manager, Ines Maria Pina, to describe it as the most successful consumer media campaign in the brand’s history.
English Wine Producers for English Wine Week
Eulogy for the Chambord Chapter Eight Games
White Label UK for Stoli the vodka at Pride in London
Social Media Campaign of the Year
Clarity Comms for #HotCraftSpirits
Embracing the power of Twitter, Clarity Communications devised an inventive campaign to find the UK’s favorite craft spirit in 2016, asking users to vote using the hashtag #hotcraftspirits, resulting in positive engagement with consumers while boosting conversations about artisan and craft spirits. Soon after its launch online retailer Dover31.com was recruited as a sponsor, agreeing to stock the eventual top 10 brands, increasing brand incentive to take part and increasing their visibility. The team used a leaderboard to drive competition among distillers and encourage them to increase their engagement with social media users, with many running their own competitions alongside the campaign, Twitter ads and using printed POS at events to boost their ratings within the #HotCraftSpirits campaign. Overall, the campaign exceeded its target of 10,000 votes, receiving 20,447 from social media users for 81 craft spirits. 65 distilleries actively supported the campaign with nine securing listings with 31Dover.com. The campaign reached 1.1 million consumers and achieved coverage in a number of trade press publications. Furthermore, the campaign was funded on just £700; £200 for hosting the website, £35 on registering domains, £250 on the trademark, £130 on a photoshoot and £80 on postage, proving what can be achieved with a minimal budget. Judges praised the campaign for exceeding expectations, over delivering on a small budget and creating a campaign with longevity that could be rerun over time. Indeed, Clarity has just launched its 2017 contest, aiming this time for 50,000 votes and involvement from 100 distillers.
Richmond Towers for Franklin & Sons Tonic & Gin pairing masterclass on Twitter
Richmond Towers were this year’s runner up in the category for best social media campaign, for its work with Franklin & Sons mixers and an innovative ‘tonic and gin’ pairing masterclass hosted on Twitter. Executed in the run-up to Christmas, its aim was to educate influencers and inspire them to choose Franklin & Sons at during the festive period. Eleven “ginfluencers” were chosen to take part, with each receiving a hamper of mixers, gins, garnishes, a tasting mat, glasses and stirrers ahead of the live tasting and discussion, which was hosted by gin blogger and commentator Emma Stokes (@GinMonkeyUK). Within 30 minutes, #FranklinAndSons was trending in the UK. The judges praised the campaign for its execution and creativity, and careful recruitment of influential bloggers to drive its success.
ESOES Digital Solutions for International Sherry Week
Master of Malt for #WhiskySanta
Drinks Event of the Year
Wine Australia for The Artisans of Australian Wine
Swapping the typical tasting venues for a nightclub in Shoreditch, it was clear from the offset that Wine Australia had wanted to offer the trade something a bit different with its most recent tasting. The Artisans of Australian Wine event, held in September 2016, was the first UK trade tasting to focus solely on new-wave artisanal Australian winemakers, setting out to highlight what the country’s “young guns” are up, with 23 of Australia’s most exciting and innovative winemakers making the journey to London to present their wines. The tasting itself showcased just 120 wines from 43 artisanal wineries, showcasing cool climates, distinct terroirs, alternative varieties and natural and minimalist winemaking. The event succeeded in attracting a “new hipster crowd” to the Australian wine category, showcasing its wines to a brand new audience, with the age of attendants typically lower than it usual events. For the first time, Australia deliberately presented itself as being a modern, relevant category for the trade and a country that offers exciting craft wines. Judges praised the team for going out of its way to give the event an “edgy” feel, which appealed to the trade and also the “cool kids”, offering new wineries an effective platform into the market.
Matthew Clark for The Drinks Emporium
Matthew Clark has been running The Drinks Emporium tasting at Tobacco Dock in London for the past four years. However this year marked a “step change” for the event, which was put on in the style of a vibrant Victorian carnival. The team felt this theme would reflect the energy, enthusiasm and passion it has for the industry. For the first time, the event saw craft beer and premium spirits added to the showcase, which was set over an eclectic collection of spaces, including The Great Gardens, Daredevils, Curiosities, Helter Skelter Cocktails and The Alchemist. The wine section was laid out by country with the exception of The Big Top, which highlighted our more high volume, and high margin making wines. In addition to this, there was also a dedicated ‘Sommelier & Press’ room, which showcased its top picks and award winners. The event resulted in a 73% uplift in customer attendance (from 2016), with guest numbers totaling 1,352 – its biggest ever event – with 42% of prospects to this event converted into customers.
CUBE Communications for Finest Wine Bar (Tesco)
The winner of this year’s consumer drinks event was the Finest Wine Bar, a concept envisioned and executed by Cube to draw attention to Tesco’s finest* range of wines and prompt reconsideration of the brand among not only consumers, but also press and influencers across trade, specialist and lifestyle media. Held in London’s Soho, the pop-up bar offered guests 48 of the supermarket’s finest* wines with the aim of disrupting existing perceptions, forging a new relationship with a key demographic and enabling the finest* brand to “live and breathe” outside of the store. This approach marked a break from convention for the retailer, and allowed the team to “surprise and delight with more creative freedom”. Wines were presented standard 125ml and 175ml glasses, plus discovery wine flights to encourage consumers to explore different wine styles. Wine experts from Tesco were on hand throughout, with masterclasses also hosted twice a day by experts in a dedicated tasting room, allowing up to 20 people to experience a more in-depth tasting experience of four wines following a theme. The event attracted 2,893 visitors, 43% more than its target, with the stunt also resulting in more than 50 articles that were estimated to have reached 2.5 million consumers. The event was praised by judges for being “original, brave and beautifully executed”, and markedly different from other Tesco events.
Waitrose for The Waitrose Drinks Festival
The first Waitrose Drinks Festival took place in September 2016, and was the culmination of six months of work. The event was held at the IET on the Embankment spread across five floors and attracted 2,000 customers who were able to sample a vast array of wines, beers, spirits and ciders from more than 100 suppliers represented by Waitrose under one roof. In its bid to ‘not be like any other wine fair”, trestle tables, pop-up banners and tablecloths were banned, with its aim to create an informal yet engaging festival of food and drink. The event also featured a Cookery School demonstration room, wine, beer and spirits masterclasses, and a “craft your own gin” room run by Audemus Spirits. This culminated in one gin being tasted and selected to be produced and sold on Waitrose Cellar. The winning gin “L’esprit d’été” will be launched this summer. The event even turned a profit, via a combination of ticket sales and supplier fees.
The Whisky Exchange for The Whisky Show: Old & Rare, Glasgow
A special commendation goes to The Whisky Exchange for its Old & Rare Whisky Show, which builds upon its already established Whisky Show held each year in London. The first ever Whisky Show: Old & Rare took place in Glasgow over two days in February, showcasing more than 400 old and rare whiskies, including an Orkney distilled in 1894 and one of the oldest whiskies ever released – a Glenlivet Generations 1940 70-year-old. Tickets to the show were deliberately capped at 300 per day to ensure a “spacious and relaxed” space to taste, attracting 600 visitors over the two days.
Clarion Communications for The Aldi Wine Store
Launch of the Year
While strictly speaking this product was first unveiled in October 2015, judges felt that due to its “ballsy” approach, and that fact that it was introduced to the market throughout 2016, it was a deserving winner of this year’s best launch award. Seedlip was created by entrepreneur Ben Branson to solve the dilemma of “what-to-drink-when-you’re-not-drinking”. At the time of its launch it was the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits brand. During its first month the brand quadrupled its production, and has since attracted investment from Distill Ventures – a company that is backed by Diageo and helps fund innovation within the spirits sector. It was the first time that Distell had ever chosen to invest in a non-alcoholic product.
Seedlip is now served in over 50 Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park, The Fat Duck, Clove Club and The Ledbury, and is also stocked in some of the world’s best cocktail bars, including Dandelyan, The American Bar at The Savoy, and The Aviary in Chicago. More impressive is that the brand has not paid out any costs to distribution services. Instead, it has used direct selling to global markets, buoyed by the support of celebrity fans including Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Kate Moss, and a clever marketing strategy, to essentially create an entirely new category for the drinks sector.
ATOM Supplies for That Boutique-y Gin Company
Atom Supplies earns a special commendation for the launch of That Boutique-y Gin Company, joining its already established That Boutique-y Whisky Company.
As the “world’s first independent gin bottler”, That Boutique-y Gin Company offers gin lovers what it says whisky enthusiasts have long benefitted from, individual bottlings of small batch and experimental gins, that would otherwise be destined the languish in a distiller’s cellar due to a lack of resources to launch it, or a fear of diluting their established brand. The Boutique-y Gin Company works with some of the world’s most exciting distillers to bring these unique gins to the market. Most recently it launch a Moonshot Gin, made exclusively with botanicals that have been sent into near-space (at altitudes over 24km). Judges praised the company for having spotted a gap in the market, amid the growing boom of the gin category, and its “fantastic design”, with many of its labels hand-illustrated by artist Grace J Ward.
Aldi UK online wine shop
Ital Spirits for Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto
Pol Roger for Champagne Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2008
Best Trade Campaign
Pol Roger for A Duty to Delight
Kicking off with a memorable event in the grounds of Kensington Palace, Pol Roger’s new marketing campaign was designed to celebrate 100 years since the first documentary evidence of Winston Churchill’s inaugural purchase of the Champagne brand. It was timed to coincide with the release of the 2008 vintage, and created to celebrate this label’s British military and sporting history, using a strapline devised by St Luke’s advertising agency, which became: ‘A Duty to Delight Since 1849’.
The judges applauded the brand’s ability to distil the essence of the house into these six simple words, and the way the house managed to combine the launch of a much-anticipated vintage with a new marketing message, along with a novel event for the UK wine trade – the launch party was designed to incorporate the old-fashioned glamour of 1908.
PR Company of the Year
A longstanding feature of UK drinks PR, Phipps has been building its reputation, as a food and drink PR agency since it was founded in 1987, with 2017 marking its 30th year. However this isn’t a company to stand still in its success. This year it not only launched its digital and social team, but has re-launched the whole agency as a brand communications agency, based on the four pillars of PR, events and tastings, social and influence and trade PR and promotions. It has also boosted the spirits side of its business in the past 12 months, taking on new clients including Marks & Spencer, Pinkster Gin and Regal Rogue Vermouth, while continuing its work with long-term clients Wines from Rioja (10 years), Wines of Germany (19 years), Tio Pepe (9 years) and the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (5 years). The agency now takes in annual revenues of over £1.1 million, an increase of 12% from the previous year, and as such has increased its team to 14, bringing in two new members of staff. Our judges liked that Phipps was a business that had grown significantly over the past year, invested in its staff while maintaining a good range of clients, from big and small drinks brands to generic wine organisations, and in doing so was achieving good results.
Specialising in drinks communications, Cube was this year’s PR company runner-up, managing high-profile clients such as Tesco, Vins de Bordeaux, Moet & Chandon and E&J Gallo. Most recently, the team launched its own series of consumer events under the banner Drinks Fest 2017, which will see some 10,000 consumers attend events in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. For this, the company has also agreed a retail partnership with Amazon, allowing all exhibitors to sell through the online retailer, which it believes will be a “game-changer” for such events. Despite its ambition and clout, the company remains a team of just nine people, making its achievements all the more impressive.
Clarion Communications’ clients include the likes of Diageo, Aldi and Jägermeister. In the past year, the team has been appointed by Treasury Wine Estates, Conviviality PLC and, following an international tender, The Portuguese Cork Association. Most recently the team helped launch Aldi’s eCommerce platform, creating a futuristic pop-up shop in Shoreditch, pitched as the ‘Apple store’ of wine shops, where customers could buy their favourite wines from in-store tablets to be delivered to their door. Plans for 2017 include the growth of our newly launched Scottish office and the further development of its trade media buying service.
Best Contribution to Wine and Spirits Tourism
Isle of Arran Distillers
Isle of Arran Distillers impressed judges with its contribution to not just the Scottish, but also the wider whisky tourism industry. Last year, the distillery welcomed a record 104,000 tourists to its visitor centre at Lochranza – a 93% increase since 2012.
Judges also commended Isle of Arran Distillers for its ambition as, having turned its attention to the south of the island, the construction of its second £10m distillery and visitor centre is well underway. The distillery predicts that the two distilleries will attract more than 200,000 visitors by 2020 with the total turnover estimated to exceed £2 million by the same date.
The existing visitor centre has also been recently refurbished with the addition of a new tasting room and updated bar and seating areas.
Drinks Company of the Year
Conviviality, now the UK’s largest independent distributor, supplier and solution provider to the on and off-trade, impressed judges with its insightful pitch and achievements over the past couple of years.
Taking the drinks industry in the UK “by the scruff of the neck,” following a reverse takeover of Matthew Clark, Conviviality went on to purchase events agency Peppermint at the end of 2015, followed by Bibendum PLB in May 2016. In just 2 years, revenues have grown from around £360 million in 2015 to over £1.5 billion today.
With the current alcohol market worth £14.3 billion, Conviviality is responsible for around 8% of industry retail sales. The share price has risen accordingly to reflect these changes, rising to 307.50p (02/05/2017) from its float price of 1.00p (31/07/2013).
The company itself has grown, aside from the acquisitions, with the number of stores rising by 15% in the past year. The buyer team has also doubled in size, with Conviviality also launching ‘Future Buyers’ to promote and support upcoming talent.
Judges commended Conviviality for the high staff morale. In its pitch, Conviviality stated that “the greatest asset of any acquisition is the people” and the judges at this year’s awards recognised their success in bringing capable and skilled professionals together and placing them in appropriate roles.
Spirit of Harrogate
Logistics Company of the Year
It may have won this award many times over but JF Hillebrand shows no signs of complacency and as a business it is constantly innovating.
In the challenging world of beverage logistics, JF Hillebrand continues to lead the way as a specialist, ‘one stop shop’ for the trade.
With a network of local offices in 84 countries around the world and a number of carrier partnerships, JF Hillebrand is capable of handling bulk and cased beverages, adapting to circumstance and needs and offering flexible solutions to clients.
Last year Hillebrand’s shipment of Prosecco rose 17% on 2015, with 21 million bottles shipped in the last quarter alone. When one client was caught out by high demand for the sparkling wine around Christmas, Hillebrand was able to collect two containers from the supplier and managed the documentation.
To satisfy the demand for US craft beer, it created an East Coast US to UK groupage service in just two months. The service features temperature control and short time transit to bring craft beers to the UK in the best condition possible, something particularly important for unpasteurised beers.
It is also committed to sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. Hillebrand recently invested in a second recycling facility in the UK for Bulk Flexitanks and is now able to recycle approximately 80% of the bulk tanks shipped to the UK and 95% of the bulkheads, its stated aim is to be recycling 100% before too long.
Best Supply Chain Initiative
Liv-ex for Wine Matcher
Having scooped the prize last year for its SIB Passport and instant transfer initiative, Liv-ex has returned with a tool it calls ‘Wine Matcher’ that has far-reaching and practical implications for the fine wine trade.
Wine Matcher is machine-learning tool that is designed to help merchants quickly and easily work through wine lists in order to determine prices, find trading opportunities and move stock through the supply chain.
It works by taking a list and transforming the wine names and formats into a unique ID using Liv-ex’s ‘LWIN’ system. These numbers can then be shared with other systems, used to download price data from Liv-ex or put into a database for comparison.
Able to process 5,000 lines of data a minute, Wine Matcher will save merchants weeks of time-consuming work, making valuation and trade more efficient and more accurate.
Liv-ex has used Wine Matcher to standardise its library of over 50 million records collated over the last 15 years. It is this collection which gave Wine Matcher its initial intelligence and it is currently employed matching 45,000 lines of data a day. The tool will be available to internet users through the cloud as it is powered by Amazon web services.
The judges thought this a “very clever innovation” for a small but important part of the trade and thought it was an application that could be adapted.
LCB for its bonded wine insurance scheme
On-trade Supplier of the Year
The seemingly unstoppable Liberty won judge’s hearts again this year with its with its sharp acumen for targeting the on-trade through its focus on premiumisation, attention to customer service and diverse range of wines.
The company has recently expanded its London warehouse by 20%, ran a 24-hour operation last December, and created eight new on-trade specific roles in sales and sales support teams to improve customer service, leading to new accounts with casual dining venues like Jackson + Rye.
Our judges liked the company’s investment in education, logistics and staff in a very impressive business with carbon neutral status. “If I were a restaurant this is who I would buy from”, said one judge. Liberty remains the gold standard on-trade supplier.
The company grew its portfolio to 1,680 lines last year with significant additions in Portugal, the Loire, Burgundy, Spain, and South America, helping to increase both turnover and profits.
Berkmann Wine Cellars
A very close second to Liberty, which is setting the standard – Berkmann Wine Cellars is catching up and earned a big tick with the judges for a business that has changed a lot, and just won all the Young’s business.
Staying resolutely independent and family-owned, in the last year Berkmann demonstrated that remaining true to its vision is not only compatible with growth, but actively helps drive it. Having expanded its range in key regions like California and Burgundy, in the last year the company has grown its turnover from £46m to just over £64m.
Speciality Drinks was recognised this year for supplying a diverse portfolio of clients from five-star hotels to country pubs with a tailored approached that has helped the team deliver exceptional year on year growth in turnover of more than 800% in the last six years. The company recently won the contract to supply the recently opened and much hyped The Ned – a five-star hotel and member’s club in the heart of the City.
South Downs Cellars
Drinks Retailer of the Year
Aldi has had a very successful year, and while judges acknowledged the deflationary impact this discount retailer has had on some established wine appellations, they also applauded the interesting selection that doesn’t just back the obvious winners – and the fact that suppliers like doing business with them.
This year has seen Aldi’s wine sales grow by 15%, with beer and spirits not far behind, up 14.4% and 13.3% respectively – a performance well ahead of the BWS market. This has been boosted by the growth of its online wine operation, which sold nearly 2 million bottles of wine in its first year. The judges commended this successful launch, adding that it had strengthened the discounter’s presence in the UK market.
But innovation has also played a part in the keenly priced and well-selected range – the discounter launched ‘craft beer style’ wine packaging last autumn, and recently launched a new range of French wines designed to reintroduce customers to Old World wine using value prices and a New World style, as well as a range of organic wines.
Master of Malt
Retail Buying Team of the Year
Waitrose’s buying team consistently displays an impressive level of product knowledge and professionalism, which has not only earned it a great deal of respect within the trade, but also helped it scoop the buying team of the year award for a second year in a row.
The judged noted that in 2016, the well-respected team had added a highly successful consumer wine event to its repertoire, the Waitrose Drinks Festival, which was attended by more than 2,000 consumers. This culmination of six months’ work saw the buying teams not only active in planning and implementing the festival, but also provide ‘tours’ of their respective categories on the day, explaining the wines that they buy directly to the 200 customers who took part.
Other notable successes this year include the launch of a specially selected range of classic parcel wines on a ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ (WIGIG) basis for Christmas, priced at £10, causing many to sell out within two weeks, and the wine and spirit showcases, which are tailored by the buying team.
The retailer believe its offer is the broadest on the high street, with a good range in all of its shops and honest pricing and value – but the backbone of its success undoubtedly lies with its retail buying team.
Independent Retailer of the Year
South Downs Cellars
South Downs Cellars scooped the independent retailer of the year award, with the judges praising the “friendly”, “efficient and successful business” that really is part of its local community. They also noted the plethora of tastings and “real energy” in its approach, which helps give the retailer “masses of personality” as well as good sales results.
All these activities led it to celebrate a 16% increase in sales over the last year across its retail, wholesale and online operations. One highlight was its coordinated Wines of California month, on the back of a major refresh of its Californian portfolio, which saw Californian wines sales increase by 1,083% in volume and 1,436% in value on the previous year.
This year has seen it focus on the depth, value and quality of its range, adding wines from the Languedoc and England in addition to California, as well as increasing the number of craft beers to around 250, and expanding its boutique gin range by nearly 40%.
“We never stop looking around, listening to our customers and trying out new ideas to excite our team and the community around us,” the team says – and it seems to be bearing fruit.
Borough Wines & Beers
Master of Malt
The Whisky Exchange
Online Retailer of the Year
The Whisky Exchange
In a particularly strong category, it was the impressive year-on-year growth that helped The Whisky Exchange beat off tough competition from The Master of Malt to take this year’s title.
The judges were impressed by its online sales rising 25% during 2016, and although whisky remains a key driver, gin also saw exceptional growth, growing 30% year-on-year.
The Whisky Exchange has built an enviable reputation as a leading online retailer of over 10,000 whiskies and rare spirits since it was founded in 1999, but it refuses to rest on its laurels, instead building excitement and innovation into the range with products that boast genuine heritage and exceptional quality. Buyer Dawn Davies MW has been instrumental carefully curating the range and adding around 100 new suppliers over the last year, including some ‘risky’, out of the ordinary picks. And by maximising opportunities to widen its global reach with products that appeal to US consumers, who form its second biggest market, it isn’t just appealing to the domestic market.
A good online retailer also needs a great shop-front, and theWhiskyExchange.com has boosted editorial content on its site, embracing informative feature pages for each category, and driving its social media engagement, as well as going fully responsive, and improving its payment systems to help it fulfill the demands of its customers.
Master of Malt
Virgin Wines Online
Fine Wine Retailer of the Year
Ginsberg+Chan Wine Merchants Asia
Founded in 2008 by Jason Ginsberg and Mandy Chan, this eponymous Hong Kong fine wine merchant set out right from the start to present buyers not just with a diverse portfolio but also transparent pricing and an approachable and reliable level of service.
Offering clients everything from old and hard-to-find vintages to fortnightly ‘Wine Wednesday’ tastings at its offices (spanning Rioja, first growths, Super Tuscans Barolo, Burgundy and the La Las), the stated goal is to “delight” clients and cater to the varied and changing needs of the evolving and maturing Hong Kong market.
Run and operated as an “old-fashioned”, service-driven fine wine business where customers feel they know their wine merchant, the company has also worked hard to be technologically up-to-date; overhauling its computer systems in the past year, maintaining a cloud-based inventory system liked to the e-commerce store and with everything itemised to the bottle – with photographs.
The judges liked the ‘human approach’ and ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ employed by Ginsberg+Chan – and the overall fact that this merchant is working to develop a new wine market with a passionate team.
BI Wines & Spirits
Alan Lodge Young Spirits Writer of the Year
Margarett Waterbury, managing editor at The Whiskey Wash
This year we felt it was time to expand the remit of the Alan Lodge Young Spirits Writer of the Year award to include talented wordsmiths under 35 years old from the beer and wine sectors, alongside spirits and cocktails.
The award remembers Alan Lodge, website editor of The Drinks Business, who passed away suddenly in 2012 Alan was well known as both a passionate spirits fan, partial to an Ardbeg single malt, and as an adroit journalist.
It is fitting that an award in his name recognises and celebrates the raw talent of young, up and coming writers from across the breadth of the drinks trade.
It proved a popular decision to expand the award – the strong field of entrants left our judges pondering over a rather lengthy short list of spirits, wine and beer writers. This year’s winner stood out for her ability to explore complex subjects with warmth and wit, and the panel felt she was a real discovery for the future.
Margarett is based on the West Coast of the US and couldn’t attend the awards ceremony, but the award was collected on her behalf by Margaret Lodge, Alan’s mother.
The Other Side of Life Award – sponsored by Nicolas Feuillatte
Colin Thorne, Vagabond Wines
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte sponsored a special award this year to recognise and celebrate members of the UK wine trade who have brought innovation and dynamism into the sector. The deserving winner of The Other Side of Life Award is Colin Thorne of Vagabond Wines, who Nicolas Feuilllate said was to be commended for his commitment and passion.
A wine merchant, wholesaler, buyer, and educator, Thorne started his career in the wine trade at Oddbins more than 12 years ago, managing the busy Marylebone High Street store before moving to Jeroboams, and later overseeing the establishment of award-winning independent retailer Bottle Apostle. He joined the fledgling Vagabond Wines in 2010 to help establish and run its original Fulham store, the model which broke new ground through its innovative tasting-focused approach. Thorne has continued to hone his expertise, concentrating on selecting interesting wines to tempt Vagabond’s customers and clients, and as events director, he developed its internal and external tasting programme. In addition to his clear passion for wine, he displays strong strategic and commercial nouse, with his current focus on business development, cost control and profit generation strategies.
“Colin’s other side of life is the wine trade, he is through and through one of the most passionate wine advocates in the industry,” the judges said. “He brings a new dynamism and an innovative approach to connecting and engaging with consumers, and Nicolas Feuillatte is proud to present this award to him, and to support members of the trade like him who bring out the enchanting side of the wine industry.”
Young Achiever of the Year
Ben Branson, Seedlip
Ben Branson is the mastermind behind Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits. Judges admired the way in which Ben combined his upbringing on a farm, his love of cooking and food and his 10 years’ experience working with brand agencies, to create something truly unique.
He hand-labeled and bottled the first 1,000 bottles which sold out in Selfridges in three weeks, the next 1,000 in three days and his third batch in just thirty minutes online.
Ben has grown the company to a team of 15, including 2 people in the US, and Seedlip is now stocked in over 400 on and off trade accounts in the UK and is exported to 5 different countries.
It is now served in over 50 Michelin-starred restaurants including The Fat Duck and The Clove Club and stocked at a selection of the best cocktail bars, hotels and retailers. Last summer it was announced that through Distil Ventures, Diageo had acquired a minority stake in the business.
Retail Buyer of the Year
Dawn Davies MW
Happy to take risks, Dawn Davies caught our judges eye for her compelling yet streamlined product range at The Whisky Exchange, where she has brought in over 100 new suppliers and 1,000 new lines over the last year. Having doubled TWE’s gin range, Davies helped grow gin sales by 33%.
Meanwhile, she expanded the company’s Champagne range from 30 lines to 300, shining a light on small growers. Davies has played a key role in raising the company’s 2017 first quarter sales by 70% on 2016.
Man of the Year
Ged Feltham, founder, Portobello Road Gin
A bartender by trade, Ged Feltham is the founder and driving force behind the UK’s fastest growing independent gin brand. Just five years ago, he developed a new brand in an upstairs flat above a 19th century drinking den, Portobello Star, on London’s world famous Portobello Road.
Called Portobello Road Gin, the brand has quickly established itself as a favourite amongst trade professionals and the brand has experienced a 31% YoY growth. Furthermore, last year, it was the only London Drin Gin to be awarded the ultimate accolade of Master in the Spirits Masters.
Over the past 12 months, Feltham has spearheaded new international expansion for the brand and at the same time he has designed and opened a multi-million-pound site on Portobello Road for the brand’s new residence, production site and educational centre, called The Distillery.
The judges praised his entrepreneurial tenacity that has resulted not only in success for his brand but also played a part in the global ‘ginaissance’ currently being enjoyed by the gin category as a whole.
Woman of the Year
Diana Hunter, CEO, Conviviality Plc
Diana has been chosen for her work in transforming what was formerly Bargain Booze into Conviviality Plc, the UK’s biggest alcohol wholesaler. Her efforts also resulted in Conviviality itself being awarded ‘Drinks Company of the Year’ at this year’s awards.
Diana has fundamentally changed the business since starting at Conviviality in 2013. However, rather modestly, she insists that all she has done is extend Conviviality’s reach to different customers through a succession of deals, most notably the acquisition of Matthew Clark in 2015, followed by events agency Peppermint and Bibendum Plc in 2016.
Starting off as a graduate trainee, Diana spent 13 years at Sainsbury’s, working her way up to head of format development, before moving to Waitrose as head of merchandising in 2004. She later became business unit director and has been credited with the growth of the Waitrose store estate, and in particular, the creation of the ‘Little Waitrose’ convenience chain. She has been CEO of Conviviality Plc since February 2013.
Speaking to the drinks business in 2015 following the acquisition of Matthew Clark, she expressed her desire to expand the business and “to grow further into the South, Scotland, the North East and Yorkshire.” She certainly delivered: in 2017 Conviviality has access to over 25,000 restaurants, hotels and bars; over 700 retail outlets; and more than 400 independent specialists and events. The company is responsible for 8% of total industry retail sales.
The Lifetime Achievement Award
David Cox is well known to all longstanding members of the British wine trade. Having spent over 32 years in the drinks industry, he has held a diverse range of roles, from brand development to export sales management, along with other challenging tasks, such as running drinks-related associations in different fields.
However, what few of those in the trade may know, is that David started his career selling photocopiers – and very successfully. Indeed, he took a significant salary cut to leave Xerox to join his family company in 1985, having been invited to become export director for the UK’s largest wholesale business, Matthew Clark.
Since leaving that company in 1995, David has established the Brown Forman wine business in Europe – an impressive feat for a company famous for selling Tennessee whiskey – before taking up a position to be the face of New Zealand wines in this country, and then, most recently, the head of UK drinks industry charity, The Benevolent.
Sadly for them, David is leaving the charitable organization later this year, after more than four years reinvigorating its image and boosting its finances. But, such a move is inevitable for someone who has decided to retire after 48 years enduring the British railway system – he has always been one of the many long-suffering commuters into the UK capital.
As famous for his calm, sensible approach to business as he is for his skilled moves on the dance floor, David has given his all to the UK drinks trade for more than three decades.
Furthermore, he should be applauded for continuing his good-humoured, conscientious approach to business and social engagements, despite enduring the immensely painful loss of his twin brother and best friend to cancer three years ago.
In short, this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes a man who has given so much to Britain’s drinks trade, and someone who thoroughly deserves a relaxing retirement – and we wish him the very best for his new life beyond the world of wine and spirits.