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DWWA Market Guide: A helping hand in the competitive UK wine market

Eclectic consumer tastes and innovative businesses make the UK a vibrant and attractive wine market, but intense competition and rising costs mean producers breaking into the country need an ever-more targeted approach.

Despite significant challenges on many fronts, the UK is still one of the largest wine-consuming nations. Total market value was estimated at £14.5bn in 2023, according to research group Mintel. A wide diversity of styles contribute to this, from orange wines to homegrown cuvées and mature claret.

Reports of declining total volume sales, however, only further emphasise the importance of producers choosing the right path for them.

This year, a new initiative from Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) seeks to help producers maximise their chances of success.

The DWWA Market Guide, exclusively open to DWWA 2024 medal winners, will better connect producers with key buyers, importers and distributors in the UK. It aims to facilitate meaningful business conversations to ensure more quality wines and producers secure listings that work for all parties.

Steering in choppy waters

UK wine businesses are no strangers to tight margins, although recent years have intensified cost pressures.

‘The main challenges are the rising cost of doing business that is forcing wine prices to rise and is reducing volume across the industry,’ said Steve Finlan, CEO of The Wine Society, the membership-based retailer marking its 150th anniversary in 2024.

‘The obvious challenge is the duty tax rise and the spectre of a ludicrous new duty regime [see below]. A less commonly flagged challenge is the current and future legislation creating a barrage of red tape’.

Finlan added, ‘Brexit has made things more difficult and impacted work and speed. This has been manageable, and I would not overstate Brexit as a constraint on businesses importing wine’.

New alcohol duty regime: a wine headache?

August 2023 saw the single biggest increase in alcohol duty tax for nearly 50 years, according to the UK’s Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). A new duty regime was introduced based on alcoholic strength, although some measures affecting wine were postponed to 1 February 2025.

Duty on a 12% sparkling wine fell £0.19 and ministers highlighted benefits for lower strength drinks, but fortified wines faced higher tax and trade leaders have criticised the cost and complexity of the new system.

The WSTA said, ‘From February [2025], a single amount of duty paid on wines between 11.5 and 14.5% abv – currently £2.67 – will be replaced by up to 30 different payable amounts from £2.45-£3.10 per bottle’.

Beth Willard, DWWA Co-Chair and an independent consultant, said, ‘The new alcohol duty regime is certainly a big concern for buyers, who are actively seeking lower alcohol wines to mitigate price increases’.

This poses challenges for producers of wines that are naturally higher in alcohol, said Willard. At the same time, she added there could be ‘an opportunity for new producers to the market who can establish their products at higher prices by focusing on other credentials – for example, sustainability, more environmentally friendly packaging, [and] innovative bottle or label designs’.

Snapshot of UK market trends

Sustainability in general is a big part of the equation. Retailer Majestic Wine said recently that it aimed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, for instance. Alternative packaging has been gaining exposure in mainstream retailers, from cans to Aldi introducing South African wines in ‘paper bottles’.

Other major trends include widely reported consumer interest in no- and low-alcohol drinks, as well as alcohol moderation in general. Research group IWSR recently questioned whether the UK was experiencing ‘Prosecco fatigue’, but it reiterated that sparkling wine sales have bucked overall wine market volume declines.

Champagne is a mainstay of the market, yet retailer Waitrose said in March that sales of Crémant sparkling wines were up 29% year-on-year. It said more shoppers were seeking affordable alternatives amid higher living costs.

Room for classics and discovery

Joseph Arthur, senior wine buyer at Marks & Spencer and DWWA 2024 judge, said, ‘The UK remains one of the most mature and competitive wine markets in the world, but there is some exciting evolution to it also’.

He cited strong buyer interest in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, plus French and Italian wines, but added, ‘The long overdue emergence [and] success of Portugal is evidence that customers are also willing to step outside of their comfort zones’ Portuguese red and white wines won several top medals at DWWA 2023.

The Wine Society’s Finlan said ‘Our members love to explore and we are seeing extremely good growth in areas such as Greece and Portugal’.

Willard said wines produced from indigenous grape varieties have become more mainstream, after being championed for years by independent retailers and specialist operators. ‘Less well-known regions shouldn’t be shy in coming forward with their wines, which will certainly have rich histories and stories to tell’ she said.

Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at fine wine merchant Justerini & Brooks, said, ‘There is a stronger interest than ever before in artisan wines that speak of a place, that are easy to drink and that aren’t the result of overly manipulated winemaking’.

Breaking into the UK

‘Our buying team is always on the lookout for new producers’ said Burke-Gaffney. ‘If we come across a fine drop that fits our customers’ tastes, a wine that has something unique to say for itself, then we are interested’.

Paul Richards, head buyer at wine-focused members’ club 67 Pall Mall, echoed this sentiment from an on-trade perspective. ‘We are constantly adding new wines and producers to the list’ said Richards, noting the club’s electronic list has 5,000 ‘bins’, and offers 800 different wines by the glass. ‘We have a great sommelier team who [give] feedback on trends and discoveries that they are keen to share with our membership’.

He said producers targeting the on-trade should ‘get the sommeliers involved, listening to the winemaker and tasting their wines. The authenticity of their stories and the quality in the glass will always help lead the final consumer to raising a glass’.

At Marks & Spencer, Arthur said agents can add value for producers looking to work with major retailers, ‘particularly if you are from a slightly niche region [or] country, or are not one of the biggest producers in a given category’.

Willard said producers should do their homework on potential partners, adding regional importers can sometimes be a better fit than national-level firms. ‘Target the right buyers from importers most relevant to your own style of wine…If you are a small, natural wine producer, you probably don’t want to target large importers who focus on entry-level, big volume wines for supermarkets’.

Willard added, ‘Use every tool (like the DWWA Market Guide) to make connections within the UK trade and get your wines in front of the right people’.

The new DWWA Market Guide

Decanter’s new DWWA Market Guide has been created to better connect DWWA medal winners with the right buyers, importers and distributors in the UK.

Listings in the DWWA Market Guide will be exclusively available to DWWA 2024 medal winners, increasing their chances of success in the competitive UK wine market.

For the UK trade, the initiative will offer a Decanter-recommended buying guide of award-winning wines. Buyers can sign up to receive the guide here.

How it works

Decanter will distribute the DWWA Market Guide to its network of leading UK-based buyers, importers and distributors. They will receive key details, such as ex-cellar pricing to production volumes, as well as contact information for producers.

This will help to swiftly and efficiently facilitate meaningful business conversations when a wine is of interest or considered a good fit for a particular portfolio.

Key dates in 2024:

Registrations open: 19 June
Registrations close: 18 September
DWWA Market Guide distributed to UK buyers: From 1 October

There is a registration fee of £55 per listing in the DWWA Market Guide. Each listing comes with one free roll of DWWA medal stickers, valued at £55 per roll.

See the DWWA Market Guide webpage for more information, including terms and conditions.

Learn more about DWWA Market Guide

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