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COVID - What will change next?

Since writing this back in June Survey on virtual events
I have been thinking more about what we might face next as members of TWS and perhaps what we may need to prepare for in the future. One such challenge for me is the the development of direct supply from vineyard to consumer.
I first came across this (except from direct purchase on holidays) at a tasting with an enthusiastic, young Italian vineyard owner about 6 years ago and, more recently have been following the development of the Chateau Bauduc business model. Today, I profess inspired by @inbar and @robertd mouthwatering descriptions of travels in the Loire and Alsace, I explored the theme further and came up with this https://www.lesgrappes.com/en and https://www.lesgrappes.com/en/le-concept
No doubt there are others out there and budding entrepreneurs and vineyard owners who, frustrated by their inability to show their wines due to COVID or fed up with not having the marketing budget to compete, have had time over the last few months to look at this more seriously. This platform allows a consumer to purchase just 3 bottles ( just 6 if you want it shipped for free!) and, of course, removes many of the costs associated with the currently accepted business model of many Wine companies and Cooperatives in the UK.
My ears are already ringing with the arguments of ‘service, professional expertise, guarantees of quality, free replacement of poor wines, access to cheap, secure storage, etc. All are extremely valid and help to differentiate TWS from our competitors. However, will that be enough? I turned to my trusted panel of a different generation (the children - 24, 27 and 29) to get their opinion. First, all 3 know how much I love TWS (probably due to the many labelled boxes that seem to be in every corner of the house - I joined in the mid 1980’s) but they described a different view of the future. They really like the idea of a personal connection with the person making the wine (not vía an article or interview but personal and direct) they are excited by, and perhaps demand, endless variety; they are very comfortable with consumer reviews driving reputation of a wine; they are excited by the opportunity to make their own discoveries; they were not concerned with storage (possibly still got University heads on!); and, importantly, they think they pay less if buying direct.
There are probably many other pluses and negatives that could be list. Clearly, COVID has already driven some responses to these challenges by TWS - not least the chance to meet the producers online - but will that be enough?

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Totally agree, I’m fascinated to see how businesses adapt following this pandemic. It provides many exciting opportunities and challenges for a huge range of businesses. I can’t even imagine the impact on smaller wine producers who will need to adapt to overcome the loss of opportunities to showcase their wines that they may previously of had.

Equally as a consumer I feel I have less opportunity to explore and discover new wines in person, I get so much joy from my holidays across Europe and America where I have discovered some amazing wines, how do I do that again with the fear of COVID? I’m turning to more social media platforms and researching on producer websites more than ever but that doesn’t replace the opportunity to sample a wide variety of wines before buying. In equal measure what with Brexit do for my experiences? Who knows at this stage and I don’t want to get political here either!

There have been many posts over the last couple of weeks about offering wines in cases of 6 or 12; perhaps the outcome of COVID will drive the need to offer more choice or more flexibility for consumers to buy individual bottles from a wider variety of producers either to support them or because they have less opportunity to ‘try before they buy’.

The Virtual events by TWS have been brilliant and I’m hopeful they will continue for many years to come. I’m also intrigued by the current campaign from TWS, supporting many producers that have struggled this year, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of the offers next week.

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I could not agree more. One thing I have been exploring in my own mind is a mixed model. One that creates channels for direct purchase where that makes logistical and financial sense - France, Spain, Italy, Germany for example - and one where it would make sense to import in larger quantities - Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Argentina, etc. You might also choose to deliver a more bespoke EP service for Bordeaux, Barolo, Germany, etc - single bottle offerings for example. The time/administrative cost of that might be offset by reduced administration and stocking costs for those geographic zones that you choose a direct delivery model for.
Inevitably there might still be a need for quality control but, to some extent, for the direct channel element of supply that might be helped by consumer reviews. However, you would probably need less ‘bricks and mortar, but more e-platform and integration management.

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Sites like Cellar Tracker and Vivino can play a very important role moving forward. I found this story interesting Wine Critics vs Amateurs there is a lot to be said for the value of scores from wine enthusiasts.

In my opinion there won’t be much change or the opportunity for change until people can get tithe there physically and find solutions to these issues. Video conferencing has made the world of difference during this pandemic but it’s much harder to run sessions looking at out of the box thinking/idea generating when you are sitting at a desk staring at a screen.

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I can’t imagine this will work on a large scale until the UK removes alcohol duty as it works now. Which is pretty much equivalent to “when hell freezes over” .

An alternative might be that companies might set themselves up to do the shipping and duty-paying. I know they exist now, but I mean customer-facing operations, perhaps with an element of bottle-mixing. So they would be like no-frills wine merchants. They do the essential bits, but cut out the marketing, and do not hold stock.

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Not just duty, but the new regulations post-Brexit. It seems unlikely that individual shipping will become easier. More likely the reverse.

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Agreed. I think Brexit will have more of an impact than Covid. I note the recent HMG boast that we are ‘growing the customs sector’.

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Hi, the back end to the platforms already in existence usually integrate or auto message with the logistics companies already who, in turn, integrate with the customs and exercise platform, often having established themselves as ‘customs agents’.


The whole piece is mostly automated already, which is why the likes of Les Grappes have been able to develop a ‘front end’ that enables as little as 3 bottles to be delivered direct from vineyard to customer. The costs, duty, etc should all be part of the price.
Of course, the significant challenge is often for the vineyard, bodega, etc themselves as you can suddenly find yourselves with multiple small orders instead of single, planned large shipments, which subsequently pushes cost up. This is one reason I think this type of system might work better in a membership rather than open market type model where the font end owner might be able to smooth demand and provide tools to assist.
On BREXIT, yes the uncertainty is very challenging but the logistics systems are largely in place to cope with the regulatory changes - if only we knew what those might be!
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As far as I can tell Les Grappes does not deliver to the UK, and I pressume the main reason is the issue of paying UK duty. But it looks like a good idea. There was a similar operation that worked in south France at a very small scale, which sent van-loads of wine over to the UK, but it folded some years ago.

I am aware of the existence of custom agents - it’s what I meant when “I know they exist now” - but they are expensive, and I suspect they are designed for larger quantities than a single case or two.

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An interesting idea but as @SteveSlatcher suggests they don’t deliver to private customers in the UK:

Unfortunately, if you are an individual buyer we won’t be able to deliver in United Kingdom for now.

As Steve says this is probably due to duty issues.

I wonder if shipping direct to private customers will actually duck under those new regulations?

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I hope so, otherwise we can all wave goodbye to our Decantalo orders .

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At current volumes they duck under existing duty laws, so I would imagine that would continue regardless. But I think if the idea of direct importing really took off, HMRC would take a keener interest. Hopefully though, that might also lead them to put in easier mechanisms to comply with regulations.

For me the main issue currently is not so much the cost of UK alcohol duty, but all the red tape involved for the non-UK-based merchants if they want to comply with the UK duty regulations. (They have to open an account with the UK authorities, and pay UK duty directly BEFORE sending the wine.)

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Hi Leah. Are you already buying direct from https://www.decantalo.com/en/faqs/about-us.html ?
If so, why and how do they ship it to you?

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Hi Robin, yes I have been for a number of years now, I shop there because its less expensive, the choice is fantastic, you can get wines that are just extremely difficult to get here… for example : Taganan Blanco from the Canaries, difficult to get here and will cost upwards of £27, I can buy it from Decantalo for around £16 plus shipping which is pence if you have an order over £400, probably around about 50cent a bottle.
They ship with UPS and normally the order takes about 5 days. They pack extremely well and have exceptional customer support. Would highly recommend them.
I uses Vinnisimus on occasion too but their range isn’t as extensive but ive managed to get some Gravonia from them this year which seems to be near on impossible to get hold of.

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Leah, thank you for that. It is a real example of how small (electronically) this world is getting. I have bought cycling kit from Germany direct in the past but have always been slightly nervous re wine for all of the reasons Steve rightly raises above. More food for thought on whether TWS need to scan the future for disruptive competitors - I think more are already operating in the market than those of my generation realise.

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I’d also recommend Decantalo as well as Gourmet Hunters, also Spanish.

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Another one.

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I don’t think anything I said should make you nervous.

I don’t know any instances of customs impounding a case or two of wine destined for a consumer. I have used online EU merchants a couple of times, but only for wines that were difficult to source in the UK. For my purchases I may have saved a little money but hardly enough to make much difference. And without wanting to sound sanctimonious, I think UK merchants are worth supporting.

Beyond vague assurances, do Decanterlo offer any evidence of UK duty being paid? I strongly suspect “my” merchants did not. I think they comply with the general rules for exporting within the EU, but are unaware of UK requirements for psyment of duty.

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There is no UK duty to pay on goods between EU countries. So it’s not a problem at the moment.

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I’m sorry but that is entirely wrong. Try googling it. I think you are confusing duty with VAT.