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Woodwinters talks plans for London and beyond

Published:  03 July, 2017

Despite the Brexit-induced cloud hanging over London, the draw of the city and pressure from winery partners to be represented in the capital was behind Woodwinters’ decision to open up an office in the south.

Last week, Harpers reported that Woodwinters’ new London office will be headed up by former Armit Wines on and off-trade sales director, Andrew Johnson, who owns the expansion 50/50 with company founder Douglas Wood.

After 12 years in the business, having established themselves as one of Scotland’s top merchants of fine and niche wines, it was either a case of letting southern distribution be carried out by another party, or taking on responsibility themselves.

The decision to grow a London base was put properly in motion earlier this year – well after the Brexit bite was felt in wine circles.

Despite this, Johnson said, the importance of London to producers endures: “As an distributor representing a winery, you have two jobs. One is to sell the wine. While we are fine wine merchants and a lot is on allocation, there is a volume expectation for so much to be sold.

“Job number two is building their brand. Woodwinters has done an excellent job in Scotland, but wineries want to be distributed nationwide and particularly in London. London is still seen as a top international destination and having one of the most dynamic restaurants scenes in the world. A lot of our partners were saying ‘we love what you do, but we want to be in the London market’.”

Beyond London, Johnson has ambitious plans to have a national presence, beginning with some of the big country hotels and restaurants outside of the capital.

Johnson recognises that expanding beyond London has it challenges, especially for a fine wine distributor without the volume power of other potential partners.

The increasing influence of consolidation and giants like Conviviality is felt here, as Johnson and co look at how they might bridge the gap between being a London-based distributor and one that can reach customers in the far reaches of the UK market.

Undeniably, regional partnerships make things easier for on the ground delivery and quicker response times, which is something that Woodwinters’ London branch will be looking at in more detail going forward.

“Regional wholesales are by definition established businesses. They import a lot of their own wines, so finding a regional wholesaler which is prepared to take on a significant portion of our portfolio is going to be difficult.

“A lot of the wineries we work with are boutique and often we only get 120 bottles on allocation. For the moment those regional partnerships are not that important, but as we grow and take on larger wineries, those may become more necessary,” he said.

For the time being, Woodwinters will use logistics firm LCB in Tilbury to directly distribute to those individual country estate hotels and high end restaurants, many of which like the reassurance of going direct for their fine wine.

The distributor will be building on existing links in the south which may have already bought wine or whisky sporadically from Woodwinters in the past.

As well as bringing some of the wine into the English market for the first time from Scotland, Johnson also plans to add some of his own picks to the London portfolio, continuing Woodwinters’ specialist area, Italy.

Woodwinters will be holding a London tasting at Ember Yard in Berwick Street on July 17 to introduce the new London branch.

Woodwinters founder, Douglas Wood