Decanter Retailer Awards 2018

‘May you be in heaven a half hour – before the devil knows you’re dead!’

So runs the famous Irish toast, which I quoted at a gathering of Britain’s finest retailing talent at the Decanter Retailer Awards on 20th September 2018.

My chairman’s speech was a similar mix of the gloomy and the upbeat. A few people have asked if I could reproduce it, so here it is (as below).

The headline results of the awards are available on Decanter’s website (and also at the end of this piece) as are some photos from the evening. Immediately below is also a link to the PDF of the full results as published in the magazine’s November 2018 issue.

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Peter’s speech at the Decanter Retailer Awards

These times we live in are many things. Busy is one of them. ‘May you live in interesting times,’ runs the famously ambiguous blessing – or curse.

In one regard, these are exciting times – a time of new beginnings. We’re witnessing the start of a new era at Decanter, for example.

I would like to take this chance to pay public tribute to Sarah Kemp for her decades-long, outstanding leadership at Decanter. Also to Christelle Guibert – not only for her superb stewardship of the Decanter World Wine Awards but also her brilliant work on these Decanter Retailer Awards. And of course, albeit to a much lesser extent, we lament the demise of the world’s largest spittoon at the Blue Fin building.

But equally I extend a mighty warm welcome to new MD Robin McMillan, who’s familiar with these awards given how many of them he’s won… And to Alex Layton. Exciting times indeed, with an influx of such talent. New owners, new leadership, new offices – and, indeed, a new-look Decanter Retailer Awards.

We’re all basking in the glory of the new logo, of course. Not to mention a new-look awards ceremony, with a new venue, new music (hello Wandering Hands).

And this year we welcomed new judge Peter Ranscombe, who made an outstanding contribution alongside fellow judges Andy Howard MW, Fiona Beckett and Matt Walls. (Can I just take this chance to briefly but sincerely thank all of them, as well as Lindsay Greatbatch – and particularly, Laura Bianco and Clare Malec for being superstars behind the scenes.)

We re-modelled our entry and judging procedures and introduced new categories – subscription wine club, en primeur, newcomer and innovator among them – all launched on the back of extensive analysis and consultation with the trade. This as part of the ongoing drive to best represent retailers – and make the awards as relevant and useful as possible to Decanter’s audience.

Partly as a result of this progress, entries were 25% up on last year, this itself on the back of further double-digit growth in recent years. Thank you all for being part of this competition, and this growth. There’ll be more changes to come, too, as we look to further refine and grow the competition. More on that another time.

But these are not just exciting times, of course. They are also times of uncertainty, concern for the future, division and disillusion. Globally, we have the spectre of trade wars, economic isolationism, political separatism and divisive populism – not to mention other trifles like climate change. More locally, we have to contend with Brexit, a devaluing currency, punitive tax regime & increasingly consolidated and cut-throat market at the volume end.

Now, as many of you will know, I’m an optimistic, enthusiastic and relatively cheerful person. But even I am not suggesting that our saviour from these potential global calamities will be – a new logo.

We’re all of us right to be concerned, to be cautious, to be commercially canny.

But I’d suggest we could also focus on another ‘c-word’: confidence. That quicksilver that breeds on success but, once lost, is a most vanishing thing. Confidence is the key to economic prosperity. And the lack of it lies at the heart of economic and political disaster – it’s no coincidence that our current political chaos followed the dramatic loss of confidence in so many aspects of personal, public and political life following the financial crisis in 2008.

Confidence comes from security – in ability, situation, outlook. It’s a faith that success can be achieved. As with any faith, there is a constant struggle to retain it in the face of naysayers, critics and the many challenges that we all face on a daily basis. But that faith, that confidence, is what we as a trade need to focus on.

We need to be the antidote to Brexit. The tonic for Trumpism. A unifying, mollifying force in a divided, angry world.

The UK remains the second largest importer of wine by both volume and value. Now, we may end up losing this status in numerical terms eventually – especially given the vast majority of our wine is imported, around half from the EU, according to the WSTA.

But it is our duty to fight to ensure the UK re remains one of the BEST places in the world to buy, enjoy and generally engage with wine, even as the world changes around us.

That should be our rallying cry.

Yes, there will be challenges. But judging at these awards gives me and my fellow judges confidence that British wine retailers have the resilience, imagination, desire, creativity and talent to retain our status as the spiritual heart of planet wine, this remarkable trade where hard work in the field results in joy, inspiration, nuanced pleasure, civilised community (perhaps the odd headache too…) All, ideally, via a sustainable commercial model allowing people, families and businesses to thrive. And one focusing on engagement and inspiration as much as value and price.

Wine brings people together. Globally – and locally – both in business and pleasure. That’s what we do best, and we need to have confidence in our ability to keep doing that.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: ‘Just get on with the awards’…

But these are things that need acknowledging, discussing, debating. The danger of awards ceremonies is that they can imply that everything’s rosy, and getting rosier. They can come across as introspective and self-congratulatory.

But times are never just exciting – or depressing. Reality (those ‘interesting times’) is always a mix of both. The key is to acknowledge the hardships but take every chance we can to properly celebrate the excitements, the hope and the triumphs – and allow it to breed confidence in the future.

And that’s why we’re here tonight.

On which note, one last, crucial point.

Tonight we use the language of competition – winners, runners-up, shortlists. But can I issue a plea? That we try to see, and celebrate success in broader terms.

Everyone who makes a positive effort to sell people decent wine is a winner – because constructive competition is the very essence of a vibrant market like the UK. Now this may not be your year at these awards. But, as I said, the UK remains one of the greatest places on earth to enjoy wine. And that’s not just about our winners tonight.

The logic extends upwards (or sideways). A short-listing is a commendation in itself, a runner-up is an even more prestigious citation. There may be a tendency to perceive either of these as in some way missing out… In fact, they represent hard-earned and well deserved approbation from exacting judges – and recognition that should be prized and promoted as a result.

In short, we’re here to toast all of you. Which reminds of me of the famous Irish toast: ‘May ye be in Heaven a half hour; afore the devil knows ye’re dead!’



Australia specialist

Winner: Z&B Vintners / The Vinorium

Bordeaux specialist

Shortlist: BBR, BI Wines & Spirits, Goedhuis & Co, Justerini & Brooks, Lea & Sandeman, Nickolls & Perks

Runner up: BI Wines & Spirits

Winner: Berry Bros & Rudd

Burgundy specialist

Shortlist: BBR, Goedhuis & Co, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler, Lea & Sandeman

Runner up: Justerini & Brooks

Winner: Goedhuis & Co

Champagne & Sparkling specialist

Shortlist: Nickolls & Perks, The Finest Bubble, The Good Wine Shop, Waitrose

Runner up: TheGood Wine Shop

Winner: The Finest Bubble

England & Wales specialist

Winner: Waitrose

Fortified & Sweet specialist

Winner: Waitrose

Germany specialist

Winner: The Wine Barn

Italy specialist

Shortlist: Jeroboams, Justerini & Brooks, Lea & Sandeman, Uncorked, Vini Italiani

Runner up: Vini Italiani

Winner: Justerini & Brooks

Loire specialist

Runner up: Yapp Bros

Winner: Lay & Wheeler

New Zealand specialist

Winner: New Zealand Wine Cellar

Organic/Biodynamic specialist

Winner: The Buon Vino / Natural Wine Co

Regional France specialist

Runner up: Yapp

Winner: The Wine Society

Rhône specialist

Runner up: Yapp Bros

Winner: Lay & Wheeler

South Africa specialist

Shortlist: BBR, Lay & Wheeler, Love Wine, Swig

Runner up: Love Wine

Winner: Swig

Spain specialist

Shortlist: BI Wines & Spirits, L’Oculto, The Wine Society

Runner up: The Wine Society

Winner: L’Oculto

USA Specialist

Runner up: BBR

Winner: Roberson Wine

En Primeur

Shortlist: BI Wines & Spirits, Corney & Barrow, Goedhuis & Co, Lay & Wheeler, Nickolls and Perks

Runner Up: Corney & Barrow

Winner: Goedhuis

Subscription Wine Club

Shortlist: Lay & Wheeler (for their Fine Wine Discovery Club), Tanners, The Daily Drinker, Wanderlust Wine

Runner up: Tanners

Winner: Lay & Wheeler (Fine Wine Discovery Club)


Shortlist: Connaught Wine Cellars, L’Oculto, MW Restaurants, Tivoli Wines, Wanderlust Wine

Runner up: L’Oculto

Winner: Tivoli

London Neighbourhood Wine Shop

Shortlist: Connaught Wine Cellars, Dynamic Vines, Humble Grape, MW Restaurants, Noble Green Wines

Runner up: Dynamic Vines

Winner: Noble Green Wines

London Wine Shop

Shortlist: BBR, Harrods, Lea & Sandeman, The Good Wine Shop, Uncorked

Runner up: The Good Wine Shop

Winner: Harrods

London Multi-Store

Shortlist: Borough Wines & Beers, Jeroboams, Lea & Sandeman, Vagabond Wines

Runner up: Vagabond

Winner: Lea & Sandeman

Regional Wine Shop

Shortlist: Averys, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, D Byrne & Co, Dunell’s, House of Townend, Nickolls & Perks, Reserve Wines, Salut Wines, Slurp Wine Company, Taurus Wines, The Pip Stop, Tivoli Wines, Z&B Vintners / The Vinorium

Runner up: House of Townend

Winner: D Byrne & Co

National Wine Shop

Runner up: Woodwinters

Winner: Tanners Wines

Online Retailer

Shortlist: Cru World Wine, Lay & Wheeler, Slurp Wine Company, Tanners Wines, The Natural Wine Co / Buon Vino, The Wine Society, Vin Cognito

Runner up: Vin Cognito

Winner: The Wine Society

Supermarket of the Year

Shortlist: Booths, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose

Runner up: Co-op

Winner: Waitrose

Innovator of the Year

Runner up: Wanderlust Wine

Winner: Vagabond

Outstanding Retailer of the Year

Winner: The Wine Society