2018’s Drinks Business Awards: profiling the recipients
Having revealed the winners of 2018’s Drinks Business Awards, now we bring you a full profile on every brand, business and brain that featured in this year’s ceremony.
The winners in the awards were announced during the London Wine Fair at a packed event that took place on Tuesday at 4pm, attracting a who’s who of figures from the UK drinks scene and beyond.
This year, putting in a particularly strong performance was The Whisky Exchange and its founder, Sukhinder Singh, along with the fast-emerging English drinks industry, with awards for Chapel Down spirits, along with English sparkling wine brands, Digby and Rathfinny.
The luxury end of the wine business was also celebrated, with an award for Harrods new wine rooms, while we were delighted to reward drinks trade charity the Benevolent, which has done a remarkable job highlighting the issue of mental health in the industry.
Our personality awards saw us celebrate great figures in Scotch and the Italian wine scene, as well as low-calorie lager and the world’s largest mail order wine business.
As always, every recipient collected their award to a loud blast of music, chosen to reflect their personality or category, while each trophy came courtesy of Glen Cairn Crystal, and each certificate was framed in cork, kindly supplied by Amorim.
There was also, as usual, plenty to drink, with wines generously supplied by the following sponsors: Gabriel Meffre, Barton & Guestier, Gérard Bertrand Ballerine, and Marqués de Cáceres. We also enjoyed Welsh water courtesy of Ty Nant.
We would also like to thank London Wine Fair organiser Brintex for its continued support of the db awards.
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.
Best Design & Packaging in Wine
Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino by Stranger & Stranger
Our judges fell in love with this quirky wine label, which they described as “iconic” and “its own work of art”. They loved its 360-degree design that wraps around the label and the clever storytelling of the Catena wine dynasty.
“It’s a great bottle to enjoy if you’re drinking alone as there is so much detail on the label,” said one judge, while another said, “The design is so striking it makes you want to pick it up. It’s a great wine to take to a dinner party as it will be a beautiful part of the furniture.”
Le Nez Moments range by M.P. Wines
Les Nez Moments range by M.P. Wines was highly commended for its modern design, sense of humour an engaging storytelling that celebrates life’s simple pleasures, which our judges believed will be a hit with the Instagram generation. Seeking to “challenge traditional wine expectations” the range, a collaboration between Bodegas Salentein in Argentina and Languedoc-based Domaine Gayda, comprises a Grenache rosé, Syrah and Viognier.
• BD Creative for the Spar wine range
• Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino by Stranger & Stranger
• Garçon Wines for Delivering Happiness
• Le Nez Moments range by M.P. Wines
Best Design & Packaging in Spirits
Chapel Down Bacchus Gin & Chardonnay Vodka
Our judges loved this daring duel design, which pays homage to Chapel Down’s winemaking heritage while tipping its hat to its entry into the world of distilling, with its frosted wine bottle top and cut crystal cocktail shaker bottom. “This bottle really has the wow factor – you want it in your bar,” enthused one judge.
Hellstrøm Sommer Aquavit designed by Olsson Barbieri
Our judges were full of praise for this emerald green Norwegian Aquavit distilled with seaweed that celebrates the midsummer solstice. They loved its 360-degree screen-printed design, herb and flower motifs, fresh colours and Scandinavian feel. “The bottle is so beautiful I’d want to keep it in my bedroom long after I’ve drunk that Aquavit,” said one judge.
Chapel Down Bacchus Gin & Chardonnay Vodka
Hellstrøm Sommer Aquavit by Moestue Grape Selections
Phenomenology by Stranger & Stranger
Woolf Sung The Hunter by Stranger & Stranger
Best Sustainable Packaging
Our judges were united in their praise for this clever, eco-friendly packaging that encapsulates Omdesign’s ethos of wanting to give back to nature, and loved the integration of cork within the packaging and the interactive element, as each LBV Port gift box comes with an acorn in a soil pot that the recipient can plant, bringing the consumer into the design and making them a part of the cork oak preservation initiative.
Sparflex award for English Sparkling wine packaging
Digby Fine English
Our judges praised Digby’s bright, fun, innovative design that told an engaging story of a colourful character. They loved that Digby is carving its own niche and celebrating Englishness with a memorable brand that has its own distinct DNA.
Rathfinny Wine Estate
In a hotly fought category, our judges commended Rathfinny for its beautiful, elegant design, which looks deceptively simple at first, but is intricately detailed on closer inspection. They particularly loved subtle incorporation of the Seven Sisters chalk cliff into the label design, reflecting the estate’s location in Sussex.
• Black Chalk
• Digby Fine English
• Hoffmann & Rathbone
• Rathfinny Wine Estate
Consumer Campaign of the Year
Clementine Communications for Cointreau #1Orange1Tree
This was a closely fought battle, but Clementine Communications’ Cointreau #1Orange1Tree campaign came out on top, as it’s big-hearted mission got everyone from Cindy Crawford to Naomi Campbell involved. The fundamental good cause of the campaign – to help restore Senegal’s biodiversity by planting orange trees – helped extend its reach to over 300 million people on social media, leading to the planting of over 15,000 trees.
“They got tremendous PR value from a small budget and there was so many positive touch points in the campaign, which was incredibly innovative for a historical brand,” said one judge.
Hope & Glory for Meantime DN-Ale
Our judges loved the way this campaign took the personalisation trend to new heights and helped re-establish Meantime as a craft beer company despite being owned by a big SAB Miller. “Despite its small budget, the clever campaign hit the headlines and went around the world with very strong results,” said one judge.
Clementine Communications for Cointreau #1Orange1Tree
Democracy for Eisberg’s Tour of Britain
Hope & Glory for Meantime DN-Ale
Seedlip Dry January
Trade Campaign of the Year
The Benevolent for #NotAlone
This year’s Best Trade Campaign was not for a new product or brand, but a cause closer to the hearts of the drinks trade. Earlier this year, drinks trade charity The Benevolent took significant steps to broaden the charity’s support network beyond practical and financial support, with the launch of a mental health helpline open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
Up until that point, The Benevolent would redirect members of the trade facing mental health issues to other specialist charities or organisations. Called #NotAlone, the campaign coincided with the appointment of Chris Porter as its new CEO, and sought to open channels of communication within the drinks trade on subjects such as stress, anxiety and depression.
Recently, the charity reached an agreement with its partner charity in Scotland, The Ben, to unify the national drinks industry under the #NotAlone campaign and expand its support network further still, ensuring that every drinks industry employee in the UK will have access to mental health support. The Benevolent plans to build on the campaign by continuing to expand the conversation about mental health, advocating for the creation of specific mental health HR frameworks to be used within the trade.
Atom Supplies for Ableforth’s Underground
The Benevolent for #NotAlone
YG Design for Alto Vuelo Kaiken
Lanchester Wines and The Co-op for the Members’ Choice Pioneer Pinot Grigio
Our judges believed this fun, inclusive campaign showed off The Co-op at its best and had the uplift in sales to boot. They liked the fact that it responded to current consumer trends and involved their customers during every step of the winemaking process. “It was a very strong, very well integrated, 360-degree campaign and is a great example of a retailer successfully working together with its suppliers and customers,” said one judge.
Social Media Campaign of the Year
Master of Malt for #WhiskySanta
Our judges loved the #WhiskySanta campaign, which they feel has come of age over the years and is now reaping real commercial benefits. They loved the way the company puts a heavy premium on innovation and enjoyed the humour of the campaign, which “takes the stuffiness out of spirits”. “It’s important to recognise consistency and we’ve seen this campaign develop and mature into a huge commercial success”, said one judge.
Drinks Event of the Year
The Whisky Exchange for The Cognac Show
Our judges praised this energetic effort to breathe life into the Cognac category and turn a new generation of consumers into brand ambassadors. They felt that both the consumer and trade elements had been very well thought out and successfully engaged with both groups at the same time by drawing in a compelling line-up of presenters. They were also impressed by the fact that the show made a decent profit in its first year.
Wine Australia for Women in Wine
Noting Wine Australia’s canny ability to innovate, our judges praised this cleverly crafted tasting, which, in celebrating female achievement in the Australian wine industry and shining a light on some of the country’s most talented female winemakers, captured the zeitgeist.
Buckingham Schenk Viñalba pop-up shop
Emma Wellings PR and Ramón Bilbao for Discovering Ramon Bilbao: A London adventure
The Whisky Exchange for The Cognac Show
Wine Australia Women in Wine
PR Company of the Year
The winner of this category was chosen for its sheer affability. The judges said that this PR firm seemed like “a fun team, and a company you would want to work for.”
The team at Clarion communications have been bursting with creative projects over the past 12 months, whether its launching a Scottish gin or teaming up with scientists to work out just why we love the sound of a cork popping. This PR team have made waves in both the trade and national press, picking up coverage with everyone from the Express to the Times.
But of course it’s not all just stunts. Clarion takes its clients’ concerns very seriously, and just recently released a trends report dedicated to the world of drinks, and brought on a new person onto its advisory board to ensure its campaigns continue to entertain responsibly.
This year’s runner up can always be relied upon to produce consistently great results. This firm has an outstanding reputation in the PR world for its client retention, and can be trusted with even the most complicated of tasks with clients; the changes to regulations in the Rioja region to name just one. Congratulations to Phipps, who the judges commended for “doing the job brilliantly.”
Hope & Glory
Natasha Najm PR
Best Logistics Company of the Year
Established in Mainz in 1844, JF Hillebrand today centres its approach to logistics on responsibility, collaboration and passion, all of which were heartily approved of by the judges.
In terms of responsibility, Hillebrand is committed to protecting the environment and supporting the communities in which it operates; moving towards a 45% reduction of its carbon emissions per container by 2025, which it is well on track to meet.
Logistics is a vital cornerstone of the drinks industry and one that is challenging and ever-changing due to the evolution of technology. Hillebrand is keen that its interactions with customers are increasingly collaborative rather than purely transactional with value hared across all parties. In 2017 it saved long-standing partner Accolade Wines cost savings of around AU$1 million and introduced a bespoke automated system that eliminated the need to input as many as 6,000 orders manually.
Thirdly, by ensuring its own employees’ knowledge of wine, beer and spirits is up to scratch, Hillebrand is better able to design and deliver logistical services for its clients, whatever their size and no matter the value of their cargo. Hillebrand recently put this to use by transporting two rare bottles of 1926 Macallan to Dubai, where they were eventually sold for the record-breaking price of US$600,000 apiece in April.
Kuehne + Nagel
Kuehne & Nagel’s ESP is the latest and most comprehensive digital supply chain management platform yet provided by the company.
ESP is designed to allow customers to connect, collaborate and manage their physical and digital supply chains from sourcing to delivery anywhere in the world with the objective of improving supplier reliability and product availability. In addition, Kuehne + Nagel has introduced ‘Sea Explorer’ to give customers a complete overview of global seafreight services.
Supply Chain Initiative of the Year
Liv-ex, for LWIN
Our judges praised Liv-ex’s innovative LWIN system, which helps to solve problems in the supply chain by giving every wine a personal identification number, and applauded the company’s “generous and selfless” decision to make the service free for other companies to use, acting “for the greater good of the wine trade”.
On-trade Supplier of the Year
Liberty Wines stood out in this category for its investment in staff training, both internal and within the on-trade, industry-leading service performance and impressive results, with a 27% increase in turnover year on year and a 12.4% increase in gross margin. Our judges praised Liberty’s insightful on-trade report, its bespoke staff training programmes for sommeliers and bar staff, and its carbon neutral status.
Speciality Drinks was commended for its strong sales growth, restless innovation, dedication to education and its focus on putting people first. The company grew its on-trade sales by 25% last year in a challenging landscape by developing an even more bespoke approach for its accounts, inspiring creativity across the trade and investing both in new and existing staff.
House of Townend
Drinks Company of the Year
Our judges were full of praise for Liberty Wines, which has increased its revenues by 27% both by via new accounts like Biondi Santi and through Sogrape’s additions to its portfolio. They found Liberty to be an incredibly well rounded company that prioritises staff training – investing £50,000 into it – and boasts an enviable staff retention rate.
“With its apprenticeship scheme and wine academy, Liberty is a master at big business practice on a smaller scale,” said one judge, with all agreeing that the company ticks all of the boxes and genuinely cares about both its staff and customers.
• Liberty Wines
• Love Drinks
• R&B Distillers
Independent Retailer of the Year
Borough Wines & Beers
Offering the convenience of a local shop with the scale of a larger retailer, Borough Wines and Beers is one of the capital’s most innovative the ever growing independent retailers. 2017 was no exception, with the retailer significantly expanding its footprint across London in the past 12 months into the south and west of the capital. It opened two new Borough Wines & Beers shops in Battersea Park and Turnham Green, it’s eighth and ninths outlets, with an as yet unconfirmed tenth opening in the offing.
Digital investment also saw the retailer boost its presence online, and help improve the service offered to customers in store, with an improved Click & Collect that meant orders could be ready to collect in store within 24 hours. In store, customers could browse and buy products not physically on the shelves – but available centrally – via new till-point tablets.
This has allowed the retailer to transcend the limits of physical space and increase its spirits selection alone to more than 200 lines. Online, website visits were over 100% higher than the same period last year and the value of online sales increased by 154%. Declared both courageous and innovative by judges, the retailer was also commended for its growing focus on non-alcoholic drinks, and for its positive messages on drinking in moderation.
Highly commended in the category, Taurus Wines impressed judges with its dedication and commitment to growth, successfully crowdfunding £280,000 through Crowdcube.com within 48 hours with the release of 10% of its business to investors. With this money, it has expanded from its former 300-sqft shop to a newly renovated 400-year-old 2,000 sq ft barn in Bramley, near Guildford. Taking steps toward becoming a ‘destination’ wine shop outside of London, the barn boasts enomatic machines, a cellar and fine wine climate-controlled cabinet and custom-made shelves with remote-controlled spotlights.
Borough Wines & Beers
House of Townend
The Whisky Exchange
The Drinks Retailer of the Year
Waitrose won our judges over this year due not only to the quality and strength of its wine offering but also its decision to invest in the category in a “classy and professional” way via the re-investment into in store specialists and staff training courses. “People talk about education and a lot of the time it can be window dressing but Waitrose know what they’re about and are delivering strong results in a polarised market,” said one judge.
Master of Malt
Online Retailer of the Year
The Whisky Exchange
Our judges were unanimous in their praise for The Whisky Exchange and its tireless pursuit of innovation and growth – its retail sales are up by 25% year on year. Our judges deemed TWE’s level of service and personalisation to be unrivalled and praised its growing wine focus and strong Champagne sales. “Sukhinder and his team’s passion for The Whisky Exchange comes across strongly and the firm seems to be in permanent revolution mode,” said one judge.
The whisky specialist has grown its offering to 12,500 different beers, wines and spirits, including over 3,000 different Scotch references. The company’s wine range meanwhile, has grown by 50% in no small part due to the input of its head of buying, Dawn Davies MW, which contributed to a 49% uplift in wine sales.
Master of Malt
Our judges commended Master of Malt for its excellent, easy to navigate website, high level of consumer engagement, incredible spirits selection and personalised Drinks by the Dram service, which offers consumers the chance to try over 6,000 different miniatures. The company has grown its spirits offering to over 10,000 different lines, including 2,600 whiskies, 1,000 gins, 650 rums and 300 beers. The extensive offer has contributed to Master of Malt’s most profitable final quarter last year since it launched.
• Master of Malt
The Whisky Exchange
Virgin Wines Online
Fine Wine Retailer of the Year
Opened in late April, Harrods’ new 8,000 square foot fine wine and spirits retail space is so impressive, a new benchmark has been set for luxury drinks merchandising.
The new shop is the product of a multi-million pound investment that is part of a wider food and drink offering the retailer has been dubbed ‘The Taste Revolution’.
db’s editor-in-chief, Patrick Schmitt MW, commented: “The overall appearance of the shop, thanks to designer Martin Brudnizki, is elegant, glamorous as well as cosseting, and has been inspired by the sort of Art Deco opulence captured in The Great Gatsby.”
With marble floors and oak shelving giving the appearance of comfortable opulence, there are also myriad details designed to both promote and protect some exceptionally fine wine to best effect; from ‘Hero Shelves’ that draw the eye to large format claret and Champagne to lighting that does not emit potentially damaging heat or ultraviolet rays and circulating airflows that maintains the optimum temperature and humidity.
The space also includes ‘aroma tables’ that deliver the trademark smells of key noble varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a space entirely devoted to Louis XIII Cognac.
Finally, Harrods has made an increased effort to source its wines directly and to no longer rely on the secondary market, ensuring both provenance and the “stamp of authenticity” its customers expect.
New Street Wine
Opened recently near Liverpool Street Station, New Street Wine boasts an impressive array of 500 wines for all palates and budgets ranging from indigenous Eastern European varieties to grand cru Burgundy – all of which can be consumed either in-store or taken away.
New Street Wine is focused on providing its customers with excellent, unstuffy service that draws them into the world of wine from all angles and shows it is a world to be enjoyed by all.
Retail Buying Team of the Year
One of the UK’s best-known retailers in the world of wine with well over 200 stores here and overseas, Majestic has continued to build on its reputation this year with meticulous attention the the consumer market.
From capitalising on vegan wines to the rise of English expressions and even bolstering its own-label range, Majestic has stayed ahead of the curve, and you only need look at the retailer’s sales performance to know that it’s working. The company is well on its way to hitting £500 million in sales by next year.
The judges singled our winner out for “fighting its way out of some difficult years with a new buying team that is receptive to new trends.” Despite reshuffling the buying team with a new head buyer last year and a managing director in january, Majestic has managed to continue its transformation and diversify its appeal to consumers, particularly with Majestic loves — the new own-label range designed for approachability. That’s why The Drinks Business’ retail buying team of 2017 has to be Majestic.
Our runner up was chosen for their consistent attention to “nurturing their staff, and achieving so much, while continuing to innovate.” From magnums to low-ABV, there is little Waitrose hasn’t done this year to shake up what grocers can offer in the drinks category, and it appears to be doing the trick. In June last year, the retailer reported that gin sales surpassed those of all other spirits, rising by 20% year-on-year. Since then, Waitrose has more than doubled its range of local and regional varieties, even and even became the first UK store to stock gin from Japan last February. Congratulations to Waitrose, which has been keeping its finger on the pulse of the industry all year.
• Master of Malt
Retail Buyer of the Year
Spirits buyer of the year
A rising star of the world of spirits, Guy Hodcroft joined Master of Malt as spirits buyer in November 2016, having previously worked with Dawn Davies MW at Selfridges. Under his watch, sales at the retailer have grown by 30%, growth he attributes to his philosophy of getting shoppers to actually taste the spirits that he so carefully selects: simple but effective. It’s this approach that has fuelled the growth of the retailer’s subscription service Dram Club, offering shoppers 6,000+ 30ml spirit samples to drive experimentation.
Most recently, Hodcroft’s mission to get more spirits into the glasses of his customers was supported by the retailer’s #whiskysanta campaign, which saw it hand out £150,000-worth of gifts via Twitter in the run up to Christmas. Judges were also impressed by Hodcroft’s approach to value and experience, recognising the importance of not only offering consumers a proposition at all price points, but the story behind a drink to make a purchase that much more appealing.
Wine buyer of the year
Xenia Irwin MW
Considered by our judges as an unsung hero of the UK wine trade, Xenia joined Waitrose as its wine buyer in 2013. Becoming a master of wine in 2003, Irwin has 24 years experience in the wine trade, having previously worked as an independent wine consultant, as well as a buyer for a large regional brewery, retailer and wine importer for the likes of Spar, Awin Barratt Siegel and St Austell Brewery.
However it was her work developing Waitrose’ “On the QT” (On the Quiet) range that stood out in the minds of our judges, working with winemakers to identify special limited edition own label wines or experimental barrels, often left lurking at the back of their cellar, and bringing them to a wider audience. Current treasures include an orange Gruner Veltliner from Austria’s Malat wine estate, and a Robert Oatley Fiano, made by winemaker Larry Cherubino.
Best contribution to wine and spirits tourism
Susana Balbo Wines
The winner of this category was praised for creating a travel experience that is “a tourism of the senses as well as the terroir.”
Since 1999, Argentinian-born Susana Balbo has been dedicated to creating the best expressions Mendoza can offer. She’s better known as the “Evita of wine,” back home, and with a community-driven tourist offering which steeps you in Argentina’s vinicultural history, it’s not hard to see why.
Whether or not you choose to dine in the restaurant at this winery, its tours offer the opportunity to discover the best of Argentina’s typical varietal wines through thematic tastings which enhancing their true potential. Alongside this, support from the local community makes this a truly authentic experience. The winery and wines themselves regularly receive accolades in Argentina and beyond, and our judges said its appeal is “clear and irresistable.”
This year, the judges have recognised a winery close to home for its commitment to showing the world how far English wine has come in recent years. Kentish winemaker Gusbourne has made some serious investments into its tourism arm over the past 12 months, joining forces with six other wineries in the county to create a whole new wine-tasting trail for visitors looking for a unique experience. It is this new tour and the winery’s “beautiful” new facility that made Gusbourne stand out to the judges.
The runner up in the spirits category was commended by our judges for its commitment to reviving far corners of the British Isles, and Scotland in particular. Scotch has witnessed something of a renaissance this year, and no one was quicker to take note than R&B Distillers, who successfully launched the first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay — a Hebridean island with a population of 160 — in September 2017, complete with tastings, tours and accommodation for whisky-loving visitors. Congratulations R&B, for bringing the Isle of Raasay to life.
The Alan Lodge Award for Young Drinks Writer of the Year
Dan Q. Dao
Dan Q. Dao is a 24-year-old writer based in New York City covering the drink, travel, and culture sectors.
Dan’s background as a bartender means he really has his finger on the pulse of the industry. In the past he has written and edited the ‘Drinking’ section of Time Out New York and served as deputy digital editor at Saveur Magazine. Currently, he tends the bar at Middle Branch, a classic cocktail bar in NYC, and covers food and drink for Playboy, Vice Munchies, and Paper Magazine.
This year, the calibre of entries to the award proved exceptionally high, but the panel was unanimously impressed by Dan’s work, which showed wonderful colour, structure and flow, and provided an excellent sense of the people and places behind the products. The features took readers on a journey and demonstrated excellent understanding of subject matter.
This year’s recipient is a 29 year-old avid Rugby player who, realising that he was consuming large amounts of liquid calories between matches, set out to find a drink that was less fattening but still tasted good. After setting up Skinny Booze (an online shop) from his garage in Cheadle at the age of just 23, our recipient saw the scale of demand for low-calorie alcoholic beverages.
As a result, he set up Skinny Brands, a company that now selling 2 million bottles of Skinny Lager. And, late last year, he secured one and half million pounds in funding to expand the operation.
Woman of the Year
Our winner this year is someone who exudes energy in such quantities, it’s only matched by Olympian athletes or children fired up on fizzy drinks. An obsessive runner, she says she could go on forever like Forest Gump, but has also become a serious swimmer, something she took up following a hamstring injury during a marathon. Indeed, she now sets her alarm for 5am to finish a punishing workout in the pool before breakfast – then followed by a full day’s work.
Such a sporting routine is only possible when she’s not travelling, which takes up a large part of her time, as she like to visit every market where her family’s wine brand is served.
This year, she was named president and CEO of New York-based fine wine importer Banfi Vintners; a role she has shared with her cousin James Mariani since 2007.
Splitting her time between Italy and the US, she also looks after Castello Banfi, the family’s 7,000-acre estate in Brunello di Montalcino, and says that she’s happiest with her three children at her home in Tuscany.
A “pursuit of excellence” serves as a personal mantra for our recipient, who has invested heavily in pioneering research into Sangiovese clones and fermentation techniques – even developing hybrid tanks, now patented, but licensed for use elsewhere.
But, aside from her drive, and her many achievements, it is the warm, welcoming manner of our recipient that has earned her such high regard wherever she goes.
And she is a particularly worthy recipient this year, because, not only does she celebrate taking the helm at the family’s US operation, but also the 40th anniversary since Castello Banfi was born, which is, incidentally, 99 years since the Banfi family began in the wine business.
Man of the Year
Our recipient is a man who has obsessively dedicated his working life to one particular alcoholic drink. Starting out his career at his parent’s business, a wine and spirits merchant in Hanwell, he began his love affair with rare drinks by collecting miniatures in the mid-80s.
10 years later, he had built up a vast collection of whisky, fuelling a passion for the drink that would inspire the creation of an empire built around Scotch.
When his parents retired in 1999, our recipient, along with his younger brother, decided to sell the family business and, with the proceeds, founded The Whisky Exchange – an online portal for buying, selling or swapping bottles of fine Scotch.
This business today is the world’s biggest specialist online whisky retailer, and now boasts a bricks and mortar presence too – indeed, it is opening a second London shop this month.
In his bravest move yet, our recipient hopes to bring his passion for whisky further to life through the company’s own distillery, having secured a piece of land near Port Ellen on Islay’s south coast.
And, we are told, he has just submitted a planning proposal. If all goes to plan, building work will commence later this year – ensuring he is involved in every part of the supply chain.
Our recipient is the brain behind a hugely successful set of businesses under the headings The Whisky Exchange, Speciality Drinks, Whisky.Auction and Elixir Distillers.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Our recipient dreamt of becoming a farmer as a child, and has since become an avid boat enthusiast whose collection includes a pre-war cabin cruiser moored in Henley.
Born in Lancashire in 1945, our recipient first got into the wine trade while studying for a degree in geography at Durham, where he met his future wife and business partner, Barbara.
Inspired by his love of the French actress Brigitte Bardot, he embarked on his first fateful trip to France in 1965, aged just 19, with the intention of working on an archaeological dig in Sainte-Colombe in the Côtes de Castillon. Sweltering and bored, he left the dig to work for the local wine co-op run by Jean Cassin, who would later become a mentor.
In 1969 our recipient got a job as a bottle washer at a Bordeaux winery. Inspired by his colleagues’ passion and the quality of the wines being made, he decided to set up his own business in order to bring quality French wines back to the UK.
The same year a number of producers in Sainte-Colombe clubbed together to buy him a Ford van to drive the wines home in, and a year later he opened his first retail space under a railway arch in Windsor, which he paid £5 a week rent for.
His game-changing moment came when he wrote an open letter to The Sunday Times following an exposé by the paper on fraudulent wine, telling its readers that they could trust the AOC wines he was bringing into the UK.
The letter led to the formation of The Sunday Times Wine Club, headed up by Hugh Johnson, who became a favourite travel companion of our recipient, who enjoyed wine trips with him to Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria and Romania.
In 1980 he planted his first three-hectare vineyard in Sainte-Colombe, and was one of the first to enter the English sparkling wine game in the ‘90s with a vineyard on a south-facing slope in Theale near Reading.
In 2011, the Duke of Edinburgh allowed him to lease five hectares of land in Windsor Great Park for the production of English sparkling wine.
He’s such a fan of home-grown fizz that this year he teamed up with Pantone to create a bespoke off-white shade of paint called ‘English sparkling wine’, which has gone on sale at B&Q.
Starting out with just five wines and 150 customers, our recipient has grown his company into a multi-million pound business boasting over 1,500 wines and 750,000 customers.
Employing over 1,000 people, the Berkshire based business with franchises in Hong Kong and India is wholly owned by our recipient, and turned over £340 million in 2016. Specialising in wines from Australia, France, Spain and Italy, the company prioritises personalised service above all things.
After a heart attack in 1988, our recipient was advised to sell his business and retire. Thirty years on he has no intention of doing so, and is keen to explore new wine frontiers in China in between penning his memoirs.
When it comes to his three sons, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His eldest, Henry, makes English sparkling wine under the Harrow & Hope brand; his youngest, Tom, works for the family company; and his middle son, Will, runs a brewery. All three are shareholders in the business.
With a net worth of £162 million, our recipient’s proudest achievement isn’t the money that he’s made but the customer loyalty he’s earned over his half a century in the wine business.