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Christmas wine sales: UK retailers say results are ‘mixed’ – or say nothing

UK retailers have said pre-Christmas wine sales have been 'mixed' – while many have declined to comment altogether.

Major fine wine merchants such as Armit and Berry Bros & Rudd have noticed a sharp drop in sales by value over last year – though the latter has seen an increase in sales by volume.

Simon Staples, fine wine director at Berry Bros, estimated that business was down 25-30% in value, despite the merchant’s most successful web promotion ever: a recent three-day offer of £50 (US$73.50) off transactions of at least £250, which attracted 550 orders within its first hour.

‘I thought it would engender a little bit of interest, but we were totally inundated,’ Staples told decanter.com.

Despite the rise in orders, however, Staples said average spend was down by more than 50%.

‘My feeling is that people are spending £50 on a bottle of Christmas Day wine, rather than £100,’ he said.

Armit held its winter sale early, though spokesperson Mary Rochester Gearing said this was a strategic decision rather than a response to economic uncertainty.

She said business was ‘definitely slower’ than last year, but was nonetheless holding up fairly well.

‘It’s been ok and we’re fairly confident that we’re about where we need to be. It’s Christmas – people will still drink and buy wine.’

Philip Addis, managing director of Bath-based Great Western Wine, said the picture was ‘mixed’ – with trade at about the same level as in 2007, boosted by the relaunch of the company’s website in November.

‘Our web sales are contributing more than they did last year,’ he said.

He also said fine wine sales were ‘not as buoyant’, and that the company’s corporate gift business had been ‘very, very disappointing’.

Of the major supermarkets, only Waitrose would comment.

A spokesperson noted ‘a retreat to bankable quality’, with customers eschewing the ‘weird and potentially wonderful’ in favour of Champagne, Chablis, Rioja and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, as well as ‘well-known, reliable brands’.

The company said year-to-date Champagne sales were up 10.5%, while in 2008, the average spend per bottle had risen from £5.85 (US$8.60) before March to around £6.00 in the autumn, and was rising again as is usual during the holiday period.

Written by Maggie Rosen and Richard Woodard

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