Our HQ is situated on the busy A20 between Leeds Castle and the medieval village of Lenham. The A20 is a main arterial road and often doubles-up as the main drag when the M20 is closed, however, for the past two weeks it’s been unnervingly silent. Now the deluge of winter rain is behind us, I am back on my bike and speeding around the villages of Kent. Leaving work for an evening training session feels peculiar – rarely do I see a single person and vehicles are few and far between. All is silent and still with all village shops and pubs closed. Only the woodlands and verges are gaining ground whilst much of the UK’s population are safely behind closed doors.
I am pleased to report that my team and I are all well, save for the odd sniffle, but we do opt for a daily bottle of wine as an antidote. Our normal routine has changed slightly as we start our day a little later and attempt to finish early as I am keen to see my team home safe and sound, and as early as possible. We are respectful of the government’s directive regarding essential travel to work and are far from defying their recommendations. As it stands, The Vinorium cannot operate from our respective homes. This was trialled last week - Shontelle is self-isolating as key members of her family are high-risk. In short, it failed and not through lack of effort. Simply, The Vinorium is a collaborative operation which requires much input from all members of the team and our partners. That said, I will not hesitate to close our doors and stop our daily operation as soon as we are advised to do so, or I feel it is in the best interests of my small team.
March has been a record-breaking month, but I am cautious in many ways to share the good news. Then again, The Vinorium is here to offer a little distraction from all the sadness. As one would expect, the build-up to Christmas is the golden window which many independent wine merchants cherish. As reported last year, December ’19 was our best month in our history yet, last month’s figures obliterate our past achievements. With the exclusion of shop sales, as ours remains firmly closed, bottle sales have increased by a truly staggering 89% with 131 sell-outs (many will not be returning). Christmas is a time of luxury and giving, with a higher order value anticipated. Clearly, and based on March’s evidence, our customers have been treating themselves to some fabulous wines as the average spend for the month increased by 26% - again, quite astonishing. The total sales value (except for trade sales) has increased by 37% which I never thought would be possible. Much of this extraordinarily generosity comes by the way of our existing customers, but we welcome 130 new customers / orders this month accounting for 16% of our total revenue… The number of daily parcels leaving our HQ has been overwhelming at times, forcing my team and I to run two, daily picking and packing sweeps to manage the volume of orders, with our packaging dwindling very quickly. We have started a new month and we all wonder, can this continue? As I type, April will be the new benchmark as daily website orders are increasing…
We are now seeing January’s work coming to completion including the much-anticipated arrival of Dan Standish’s 2018 collection. The vessel docked on Thursday with an ETA into our bonded warehouse this week. Our bonded provider, LCB are continuing to operate, albeit on a reduced service, which is perfectly understandable. Consequently, I envisage to ‘physically’ take possession of the Standish collection the week commencing 13 April… The team will be in touch shortly regarding the delivery or safekeeping of your pre-arrival orders. The collection (including both 98-100 point Lamella and Standish The Standish) will be released for general sale (by the bottle) as soon as it arrives at our HQ warehouse. Personally, I cannot wait to sample the five wines – My report will follow soon after.
New wines and vintages from Nocturne, Hobbs, Artisans of Barossa and Eastern Peake also form part of the same shipment. We will introduce each wine as soon as they are landed at our HQ – It’s something to look forward to and the restock is certainly needed. Unfortunately, one of my favourites, John’s Blend will be missing for two years. The follow-on vintage is small, and John & Margarete are prioritising longstanding customers, which I respect. The 2016 was not produced at all therefore, we may not see these magnificent wines until 2022. The ’14 Cabernet Sauvignon is one bottle away from selling out and the ’14 Shiraz is soon to follow. Grab what’s left as the wait is going to be a long one.
We have another vessel docking mid-month containing a very special collection from cult Tasmanian producer, Dr Edge and a raft of new releases from Barossa producer Jaysen Collins. There is also a further vessel arriving early May which houses a special, mature collection purchased directly from the cellars of Wild Duck Creek. It’s substantial and highly impressive and can be viewed here. Magda and I have also been busy buying wines. Of course, it is difficult to measure the future however, and given it’s a three-month journey from Australia to the UK, we must be decisive and order with courage and confidence. Soumah, the award-winning winery located in the beautiful Yarra Valley has been appreciatively received by you all. Many wines have either sold-out or are close to which is no wonder given their quality to price ratio. We have increased our order to four pallets (circa 2,200 bottles) which will be departing after the Easter break. You will be pleased to hear that we have secured a larger allocation of the Equilibrio Pinot Noir. More news will follow on each wine as and when they arrive.
Our warehouse and shelves are far from empty, but and if sales continue at this rate or higher, we estimate that 50% of our portfolio will be sold-out within eight to ten weeks which is quite a frightening thought. Subsequently, Magda and I are figuratively hoovering-up parcels of wines which we feel either offer exceptional value or are just too irresistible to say no to. We have created a little collection below to highlight some of the new arrivals. Next week we will be receiving a modest allocation from one of the New Worlds most sought after producers, Kusuda (Martinborough, New Zealand). Hiro Kusuda is meticulous to an almost fanatical degree (every grape is rigorously checked before making the cut), but it explains the exceptional quality and amazing precision of his wines. We will be receiving his Riesling, Pinot Noir and super-rare TBA in half bottles (just 12!). Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) means literally "dry berry selection." This very sweet dessert wine is made from individually selected shrivelled grapes that have the highest sugar levels with flavours concentrated further by the fungus botrytis cinerea,. TBAs rank among the greatest sweet wines in the world and are such a privilege to taste.
We have also purchased a full pallet from the excellent Chilean producer, De Martino, which we hope to offer next week. We have opted for a mix of wines ranging from their estate collection (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon & Carménère) which will be offered at around £57.00 per six pack (super quality) to their ‘top’ wine, the 2016 Vigno which received 97 points from Luis Gutiérrez of Robert Parker.com… We plan to offer the 66 bottles at £33.50. Luis note “This wine is nothing short of spectacular, with a complex nose intermixing aromas of smoked bacon, wild flowers and berries, earth and tree bark, in a rare combination of power and elegance that takes them to a completely different profile than the rest of the Vigno association. Other than the intoxicating nose, the palate also reveals strong minerality and the austere and serious tannins from the granite soils. This is not only among the best Vigno bottlings, it's also one of the finest wines from Chile. This Carignan-based field blend matured in 5,000-liter oak foudres for 24 months. It has to be the finest year for the De Martino Vigno, very varietal, pure, precise, elegant and powerful”.
We will continue to hoover and will keep you informed as soon as each wine arrives….
Sections of the wine trade have been operating a broken model and for a long time, which is recognised by many people however, they have not found alternative ways of working. For myself, the answers are simple, but the implementation would take an enormous amount of courage, which most FDs & MDs of the biggest suppliers lack.
The government requested that all restaurants, bars and the hospitality sector close and close without delay. The consequences for the on-trade suppliers is awful and I sincerely wish them all the very best. The industry’s senior figures have been vocal with calls for urgent action to be taken by the government to protect jobs and to keep business afloat. The suspension of VAT will certainly help everyone in the trade and has been warmly received. Some have called for duty to be suspended but this has not been forthcoming.
The biggest saviour is the Job Retention Scheme which many of the UK’s largest wine suppliers are implementing ‘en-masse’. Some have cut their entire workforce save for a handful of staff. Others have ‘furloughed’ anywhere from 40 to 60% of their staff which is a distressing number.
I am grateful that we do not work in the ’on-trade’ as The Vinorium would be facing the same challenges. It was a conscious decision from the outset as I have no intention of funding anyone else’s business, which is the perpetual problem and the cancer which is crucifying many wine suppliers. How they choose to operate is entirely their choice, but I wonder how they sleep at night. I am not a fan of Boris Johnson however, I do congratulate our government’s efforts with the introduction of the Job Retention Scheme. For now, it offers some solace to the huge numbers of wine, restaurant and hospitality staff who have no job to wake-up to. But, and it’s a big ‘but’ I am not convinced they will all be returning. The duration of Covid-19 and the commercial instability it will create is unknown to us all being one factor, the other being sublime recklessness by our alleged industry leaders.
Covid-19 has brought many communities closer together and the outpouring of appreciation to our National Health Service has been wonderful to witness and is long overdue. As ever, there are pockets of ugliness and stupidity, but sadly that’s the world we live in. Equally, it has been both fascinating and at times frustrating watching the wine industry come to terms with the economic impact. Like us, many independent wine merchants have closed their doors to the buying public however, and unlike us, most do not offer a full ecommerce platform as they concentrate on the local rather than national or international business. I feel for them and I hope they survive the coming months – I truly do.
This week, and those who follow us on Twitter, would have seen our robust commentary concerning some scandalous decisions taken by some major wine importers. I recognise the impact of losing their on-trade business - it was overnight which left no time for any preparation. I also identify that some suppliers are now operating in survival mode. Many independent merchants are reporting a significant uplift in sales as the nation self-isolates with lots of wine! Unlike The Vinorium, the majority buy from UK suppliers and do not carry or are unable to fund large stock positions - regular restocking is their way of operating and it predominantly works well. Over the years, indie coalitions have formed, and they buy as a collective group which is a super way to operate, but it has upset the larger supply routes.
This week, some major suppliers have actively canvassed for private customer sales and often without warning. They have disregarded their indie wine merchant customers to cover their daily losses. I rarely buy from UK suppliers as I cannot bear their ethics, their bullshit and their bravado which is often inappropriate as few make enough money to pay HMRC corporation tax (Note to those FDs & MDs – Save for employment, you give little back to the government coffers but you expect to be saved). I wonder at what point did the FDs & MDs think it logically sound and a sensible long-term commercial decision to offer private customers the same wine their indies are offering, and at the same buying price? What chance does a small indie (and some who have been incredibly loyal to their suppliers) have when private customers, who are their bread and butter, can purchase direct for less?
Today (Thursday) I saw the following press release from one of them which read as follows, “we are hearing numerous reports of consumers struggling to obtain the wines they want because of the pressure on retailers. We have great wine, and we have the infrastructure to deliver it”. For completeness, I will add that this importer is allegedly donating 12.5% to the hospitality sector but at what cost? The notion that private customers cannot purchase wines from a retailer is utter nonsense – It is utterly shameful, and I hope that every indie which works with this company has the cojones to walk away and to never return.
Medicine aside, Covid-19 has shown that parts of our industry is incredibly weak and when you push the polite conversation aside, it’s full of selfish hypocrites who should not be running a beachside kiosk let alone a major UK wine supplier. The ‘top ten’ in terms of revenue generate close to £1 billion in sales, and net profit between them amounts to diddlysquat. One of the largest reported turnover of £321.808 million (’17 & ’18 figures) but an operating loss of £7.419 million.
Parts of the wine, restaurant and hospitality industry are in utter shambles and have been for years. Credit facilities are the curse and the industry will never move forward without seriously addressing the issue. Credit is convenient and provides access to wines when you may not have the funds to pay for it. Save for the end buyer, the entire chain takes advantage of it, which I believe is one of the central problems. Wine producers may have to wait three months to get paid by the agent. Many agents / suppliers prefer the off-trade however, stock needs to be physical – deep sea shipments from new world producers are lengthy and may take anywhere from eight to ten weeks.
Few, if any off-trade customers are willing to pay for their wine upon arrival and seek credit terms from the supplier. The quality of the restaurant or the size of an account often commands the terms as competition to supply them is fierce. Suppliers are fearful to lose a ‘key’ account and will often extend terms to ninety days. It is also widely discussed that some major suppliers will offer cash or other grubby incentives to gain an important listing, knocking out smaller suppliers. This cyclic problem of robbing Peter to pay Paul is fundamentally flawed as are enticements.
I struggle to understand the rationale with furloughing sales teams – These are the engine of a company and without sales, you are left with nothing. Surely, and even from a distance you would ask your sales team to take the lead and contact every independent wine merchant in their respective geographical region – they’re busy for Pete’s sake. Instead, I would furlough the sales, and financial directors as they are currently pointless.
We published the below ‘How The Vinorium stacks-up against some of the UK’s leading importers’ in our annual Directors Report which can be viewed in full here… The facts seem more pertinent than ever as many of the UK’s major suppliers are profitless, or struggle to make an acceptable level of post-tax profit compared to their annual turnover.
The Vinorium is in a privileged position and not by luck. We have zero debt, exposure to debt, offer no credit facility and not one of our winemakers is waiting for payment. All our customers are perfectly happy (trade too) to pay for their orders in full before taking receipt of the same. Our business is scalable, and our proven financial model will not change. That said, we are far from cumbersome and have quickly adapted to the current market conditions which has been fruitful. Despite the uncertainties, the opportunities for The Vinorium are exciting as are the investment opportunities which we will be offering in the coming weeks – Our Profit Share II.
The world is facing many challenges which are more important than wine and those who work within the industry. I am worried about food security, the lack of fresh, clean water, global health issues, the loss of our forests and poverty to name a few. To quote the American author, Norman Vincent Peale “Don't duck the most difficult problems. That just ensures that the hardest part will be left when you are most tired. Get the big one done - it's downhill from then on”.
Finally, feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it – My team and I are most grateful for your continued orders, support and words of encouragement.
Please keep safe & well.
My very best wishes,
Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2017
Jeb Dunnuck "The 2017 Chardonnay Estate has a Burgundian reductive quality as well as first-rate notes of caramelized orchard fruits, crushed rock, and subtle toasty, nutty notes. Rich, medium to full-bodied, with bright acidity, it has beautiful mid-palate depth, and well as the class and structure to keep for 15+ years. This is beautifully done.”
Antonio Galloni (Vinous.com) "The 2017 Chardonnay Estate is soft, silky and exceptionally polished. White flowers, mint, orchard fruit, lemon confit and white pepper give the 2017 striking aromatic top notes that add nuance to the delicate, beautifully layered fruit. This understated Chardonnay is all class."
£56.50 per bottle
Ridge Lytton Estate Petite Sirah 2016
Antonio Galloni (Vinous.com) “The 2016 Petite Syrah Lytton Springs is another fabulous wine in this range. Dense and powerful, the 2016 is endowed with striking depth and tons of character. The Petite tannins are nicely tamed in a wine that offers superb quality and pedigree. Creme de cassis, graphite, lavender and mint are front and center. The 2016 remains quite primary though, so readers need to be patient.”
James Suckling "This exuberant variety is tamed into a very composed and polished style with an array of ripe red plums, mulberries and boysenberries. Super chalky and crunchy tannins here. This is a superb wine. Pure petite sirah. Drink or hold."
£42.95 per bottle
Stella Bella Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2016
Winemaker "This Cabernet Merlot packs a punch! Bright and charming, the perfume of Cabernet Sauvignon strikes you first, followed swiftly by its precise and structured palate. With its partner in crime Merlot providing the palate weight, with fruit generosity and richness. Juicy, medium bodied and full of flavour. Red currants, cherries and blueberries fill the palate complemented by the dusty fine-grained tannin and precise structure. The refreshing acidity balances the supple tannin and red fruits that leaves you wanting more."
£15.75 per bottle
**Available for delivery from Wednesday 8th April**
Stella Bella Wines
Otro Vino The Italian 2018
Winemaker: In homage to the classics of Tuscany, this vino evokes the essence of Italy. Wild fermented Sangiovese with a splash of Merlot, it is captivating and filled with charm. Vespa red in colour it oozes with scents of cherries, violets and red currants. Medium bodied and light on its feet with subtle tannin, the palate is driven by raspberry and cherry fruit. Defined by fresh acidity and savoury curves that give length, depth and lineage. Pure charisma and Italian style... Bella!
£17.25 per bottle
Majella The Musician
Cabernet Shiraz 2016
James Halliday "A 70/30% blend, fermented in stainless steel and oak, matured for 6 months with minimal oak contact before blending. Great colour; one of life's sweet mysteries is keeping the price identical to that of the first release in '04. It is a joyous wine, revelling in its blend of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum fruit. Made with minimal oak contact, retaining maximum fruit freshness."
£12.75 per bottle
Our Top 6 Chardonnays Mixed Case
Four Bottle Mixed Pack
Great Value Without Compromise Mixed Case
How are The Vinorium
It is difficult to communicate how the Coronavirus has affected the wine industry as the cost of human life is far more important. Our PM said “You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues” which is super-tough for many of our friends in the trade. But we all understand the need for social isolation no matter what the financial costs.
The hygiene standard of my HQ is always exemplary as I cannot bear mess of any kind – Those who have visited us will attest to the spotless environment in which we work. In terms of placing special measures with regards to washing one’s hands and as perfectly put by one of my team members, Natalie “has the world only just realised how to wash their hands post a trip to the loo or after handling anything which could be contaminated with germs.” The Vinorium is a female dominated workforce and they are always obsessed with cleanliness. As such, that could teach Public Health England a few things!
In an attempt to keep the outside world out, I have taken the decision to close our HQ shop. We are happy to prepare collections (from your reserves) but cups of tea and chats are sadly no longer possible. As much as humanly possible, The Vinorium can offer an uninterrupted service if my team and I do not contract the virus. If, one of my team falls victim, The Vinorium will close for a period of 7-14 days which I am keen to avoid.
Currently, our preferred UK couriers, DHL & LCB are fully operational which means you can order whatever you wish. However, we are currently unable to deliver to any overseas addresses as our preferred carriers cannot offer these services. We are happy to offer free storage of any orders to ship overseas and we will arrange the deliveries as soon as the services are resumed.
The Vinorium is primarily an ecommerce business which certainly has its benefits. As such, it is business as usual, but my team and I wish to remain respectful. Please contact us if you prefer not to receive news and offers during these incredibly worrying times.
These are unprecedented times for us all, and I thank you all for your continued and loyal support. Of course, I will be in touch with any updates as the situation unfolds.
My very best wishes to you all,
affect my delivery?
Our preferred UK delivery partner, DHL (UK Mail) have put into place procedures that allow our customers to receive parcels safely, without any need for contact. DHL have stated that their new service ’Accepted at Delivery Point’ is now available. They add “Our driver will knock the door and step away to a safe distance. If a consumer does not wish to sign, the driver will ask for their name and take a photo of the premises.” There are already options on our Vinorium site at checkout to note a ‘leave safe’ delivery instruction, we encourage all of you to use this option where possible.
To answer ‘can the virus be transmitted through parcels?’ WHO, Robert Koch Institute has done this succinctly; “There is currently no evidence that an infection with any type of Coronavirus is possible through contact with objects or packages, including those arriving from areas where cases have been reported.”
Deliveries outside of the UK
Previously, we updated you on European deliveries (via Parcelforce). This list is currently growing by the day. We therefore recommend you check your country delivery service update here https://www.parcelforce.com/service-updates. Of course, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions about delivery to your country with Parcelforce.