Entries to the 2020 Decanter Retailer Awards close in just one month, then the judging begins. Ahead of this, get to know the newest member of the 2020 judging panel, Kate Hawkings, as she addresses the UK wine retail industry, current trends and more.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get into the drinks industry?
I come from a restaurant background, beginning as a waitress when I was a student (MANY years ago) where I fell in love with the world of eating and drinking, and that’s where I began to learn about wine. I went on to buy wine and compose wine lists for restaurants, as well as writing on food and travel for various publications. I began writing on wine and other drinks several years ago and, despite the very precarious nature of freelance work, I haven’t really looked back.
As a new judge for the 2020 awards competition, what’s your impression of the Decanter Retailer Awards?
Recognising and rewarding excellence is always a good thing, not only as a support to retailers who go that extra mile, but also by informing the public who they are and where to find them.
What do you think is unique about the UK wine retail industry?
I travel a lot for work (or used to, before Covid) and always make a point of visiting local wine shops when I’m abroad. The Brits are way more eclectic and adventurous in their wine tastes than anywhere else I’ve been, and there are loads of retailers who cater to their needs, both specialist online retailers or high street shops stocked with really interesting ranges.
What’s a wine trend that you’re currently seeing in the retail industry?
Well, apart from the obvious Covid-related impetus for retailers being really nimble to get their goods to market, I’m seeing impressive stats on the growth of BIBs and other alt-format wine packaging. The environmental impact of making and transporting glass bottles is rightly being addressed by the wine industry, more and more sustainably minded makers are putting good juice into bags, and consumers seem to like their quality and convenience as well as their eco-credentials.
What do you think makes a wine retailer stand out?
Engagement with customers – finding out what they like, what they’re eating and what they want to spend, then steering them towards new discoveries as well as reliable favourites, and making them feel empowered rather than intimidated. Covid has changed the goalposts massively; the best retailers, who were used to dealing with customers face-to-face, are offering similar levels of engagement as they switch to online sales.
What do you look for when buying wine for yourself?
Tough question! I tend to steer clear of famous names from famous places and look for wines from unusual grapes made in less well-known places as I think they so often offer great value for money, and I love discovering new things.
Given the current situation, how are you shopping for wine/drinks at the moment, and what are you drinking at home right now?
I’m very lucky in that I get sent a lot of wine samples so don’t buy very much for myself. Having said that, I’ve been doing a fortnightly Zoom tasting with some friends when we taste the same wines together. We’ve been buying some lovely things from Vine Trail in Bristol, where we live – like many importers, they used to sell mainly to the on-trade but have opened their lists to private customers. Tonight we’re tasting (drinking, let’s be honest) Galician wines – a white blend from Augalevada, aged in barrel and tinajas, and Bodegas Albamar’s O Esteiro, a foot-trodden red blend from very old vines.
Learn more about the Decanter Retailer Awards 2020 judging panel here.