Top 5 London wine merchants: The classics

Davy’s Wine Merchants

Davy’s Wine Shop in Greenwich

Founded: 1870
Locations: Greenwich HQ and shop, plus 21 bars and restaurants across London.
Turnover: 2019 £14.6m vs. £13.9m in 2018 (up 5%)

Davy’s Wine Merchants was founded in 1870 by Franck’s Edwin Davy, first in the form of a “wine house” just off the Strand called the Rising Sun, marking the beginning of a family wine business that would span five generations. Later, a headquarters and warehouse was set up in Barking. The merchant’s own-label wines (which are still a strong feature of its portfolio) in 1902 by F.E. Davy, and Ports also feature strongly, having built a reputation as a major shipper during the early 1900s. During the 60s, the business expanded to include wine bars under the helm of 4th generation John Davy, and in the 1990s the company made its first steps into online retail. It was at this time that the merchant added a private cellar division and began offering en primeur sales. A wholesale business followed the acquisition of Wine & Spirit Merchant, Mayor Sworder, and in 2015 Davy’s purchased Fleet Street-based wine merchants, El Vino, with five El Vino Wine & Tapas Bars now operating across the capital. Today the business’ headquarters and flagship shop is based in Greenwich.

“The past 12 months were very positive until Covid-19,” says James Davy, fifth generation chairman of Davy’s. “Sales suffered immediately after the Brexit vote, but had come back strongly and all departments of the business were trading very well. Over the past year, we have reinvested in our online shop which is really paying dividends. Our fine wine division was seeing double-digit growth, as was wholesale.  All parts of the business had a very successful Christmas.

“We began working with a number of excellent new producers including Gilvesey in Hungary, Bousquet in Argentina and Te Kano in New Zealand and their wines have been well received by our customers and the media. We have spent more time keeping the press up to date on our portfolio that has really paid off with more positive write-ups – and awards – than ever before. In turn, we are now being contacted by journalists more and more and there has been a real snow-ball effect.”

Speaking of its range, Davy says simplicity is key. “We like dealing with independent, family businesses that are a similar size and have a similar philosophy to ours. We are only interested in quality and being fully independent we only need to buy wines if we like them.  So we taste and re-taste and don’t settle for something if it doesn’t hit the spot. We like a good environmental approach too.”

This year, the company was set to celebrate 150 years in business, a key milestone that has been somewhat overshadowed by the coronavirus lockdown. All of its wine bars and restaurants, are currently closed, but despite calling this period in history “truly awful”, Davy remains upbeat.

“While things started very positively in January, we have obviously had to cancel or postpone almost everything since. We were excited to develop an exclusive label with Pol Roger which was to have been launched at a tasting on March 17, unfortunately just as the whole lockdown started. Having put so much effort into creating a busy calendar of events, offers, content and competitions for our customers, it has been a real shame; but we will reschedule what we can for later in the year.”

At such an uncertain time, Davy’s is working to adapt to the challenges emerging due to Covid-19, reporting a 600% increase in online sales on the previous year. “Unlike some who have had to switch the focus for their business entirely, we are lucky in that we have diverse interests,” says Davy. “So, while our wholesale operation came to an abrupt halt in March, we already had a strong online, mail order and private client business. Considering what we’ve lost in wholesale and whilst we are significantly down year on year, we have managed to retain a lot of momentum because of record breaking sales through those other channels. Our internet sales are 600% up. As with any Merchant and Shipper, three months of stock has become two years’ stock over night but online is helping to keep it moving and our sales teams are picking up new customers all the time.

“A time like this calls for fresh thinking and a collaborative approach. Our wholesale team are supporting the other independent merchants that we supply as much as they can and we are seeing benefits from that.  We are working closely with private clubs, caterers and restaurants that we supply and finding new ways to support their members and customers.”

One Response to “Top 5 London wine merchants: The classics”

  1. John Edwards says:

    Lea and Sandeman seems a glaring omission?

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