As we head into the festive break our minds will soon to be turning to what is around the corner in 2020, but before we do there is still time to look back and reflect on the highs and lows of 2019 through the eyes of some of the sector’s top wine buyers. In the first of a series of buying reports where we ask major buyers from leading importers and distributors to assess the key trends and what impact the global wine market has had on the wines they have been able to buy and bring into the UK over the last 12 months we turn to Paul Braydon, buying controller for Australia, New Zealand and the US at Kingsland Drinks.
Where have you been buying most of your wine in 2019 and what were the factors behind those buying decisions? Paul Braydon of Kingsland Drinks shares his Buying Year for 2019.
How has 2019 for you been in terms of buying/sourcing/availability?
2019 has been a good year overall, with excellent quality from our suppliers in the US, Australia and New Zealand, but it’s not been without its challenges.
Early in the year volumes from New Zealand were getting tight and pricing was increasing. We’re fortunate to work with long term stable suppliers, so we weren’t too badly impacted, but for any ‘spot’ deals we were asked to source for, it was certainly harder than previous years to find suitable quality and volume.
For Australia the pressures on water and increasing input costs, coupled with strong demand – especially for reds – from China, kept pricing firm.
Which areas have been the most successful in terms of value and availability?
Australia still presents excellent value for money and wine styles that UK consumers love. The US had some exceptional value wines and we’ve had significant success with wines from Washington State, with a couple of strong vintages back to back. Pricing has also been more accessible, with good volumes available.
Wines performing well from this region are Song Sparrow Merlot in Majestic, 8 Thousand Lakes Sauvignon Blanc in Majestic or Between the Vines Merlot in Waitrose, boosted by positive reviews in the media by respected wine writers.
Do you see that continuing into 2020?
Yes for the US. I have just returned from my annual buying trip to California and Washington State and saw some fantastic wines and price stability in most areas, with some softening. There is excellent quality and prices for Malbec and Pinot Grigio out of California and we’re really excited about making wines from Washington State more accessible for UK consumers. By bulk shipping and bottling in the UK we should be able to make wines accessible at the £7 – £9 range, which is really positive.
If not which areas do you see as doing well in 2020 and what are you doing to respond?
The US, California and Washington State have had great 2019 harvests and volumes and quality are looking very good. However, we do expect issues with long term stability due to fruit being left on the vine or vineyard floor and grubbing up of vineyards overall to have a long-term destabilising effect on the market. Finding long-term partners that will ensure consistent availability will be key.
Pricing and availability for the 2020 vintage in Australia and New Zealand will be very important due to the size of our business in these countries. It’s too early to know where we’ll end up, but water availability and spiralling temporary water right costs in Australia will certainly have an impact on input costs for producers.
Which areas did not do well in 2019 and why was that?
Barossa was a very tough vintage for 2019 with pressure on pricing for vintage 2019 and 2018 wines. We have a couple of Barossa programmes, so certainly felt the pinch on these. It’s touch and go as to if these programmes remain viable long term if pricing continues to increase.
How do you decide to take on a new producer – what criteria do you use?
To take on a new producer, there would need to be a point of difference for Kingsland Drinks, our customers and consumers. Be that in wine quality, styles, brands and beyond. Ideally we like to work long term with partners exclusively in the UK market who are able to supply bulk wines for Kingsland Drinks and retailer own label programmes and for us to distribute a producer’s brands as we do with Andrew Peace, Limestone Coast Winery and Ferngrove from Australia and McManis Family Vineyards from California.
How do producers around the world look at the UK now as a potential market and place to do business?
Brexit is still the biggest issue and a real talking point with all producers, mainly around the uncertainty it presents. The recent election result seems to give a little more certainty about the path forwards, but until we have an agreed trading deal with the EU it will still be the top topic of discussion.
Is the UK’s profile and position in the world getting better or worse?
We are always going to be a hugely important market for global wine sales – our open market for wines from all over the globe and relatively high consumer consumption will maintain the UK’s position as a key global market. That said, I think emerging and growth markets are becoming even more attractive as the UK is being overtaken by US, China and Canada as markets for export.
What trends are you seeing in terms of what styles of wine are working the best in the market with customers?
Lower and no alcohol is still a big push as consumers look to moderate their alcohol intake. The difficulty has always been that consumers are not willing to sacrifice on taste, and until now not many of the products launched to market have been able to deliver in wine what has been achieved in beers and spirits.
Low and no alcohol products are very much on our radar and we are focused on finding the best quality products from zero alcohol all the way up to 9% so watch this space in 2020.
Does this vary between the on and off-trade channels?
We often find that the on-trade will lead with varietals or regions, such as the recent interest in Albarino and Picpoul having started in the on-trade. However, the latest developments in wine styles for no, low and lighter styles have been driven by consumers, and retailers are leading on this.
What bulk wine trends are you seeing in terms of availability and value?
Generally, we’re seeing a continued increase in the quality of wines shipped and the price points for bulk wines. We are shipping more premium, regional wine than ever before and bulk wines are regularly retailing at above £10 per bottle. We’re also seeing excellent results in international wine competitions for wines shipped in bulk.
Are you buying wine more to fit into different formats, like for on tap, keg, can?
There is an increased interest in canned wines, smaller format bottles, and bag in box wines and these are the areas that will drive our NPD in 2020.
What are the sweet spot price points wise that you focus most of your buying on – is that changing?
Our economies of scale for bulk shipping will always make us especially competitive at the entry and mid-level. The £7 to £9 price point is where I think UK packing allows us to really offer something really exciting, explore more premium wines and regional or sub regional appellations, but still hit a sweet spot for what’s affordable for consumers.
For example, The Limestone Coast in Australia or sub regions like Mount Benson are amazing for Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc, Coonawarra for Cabernet and Wrattonbully for Shiraz, Lodi Zinfandel from California, Clarksburg Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes Riesling and Wahluke Slope Syrah from Washington State.
It’s at this price point that you can also start to explore the sub regions of Marlborough and showcase the different styles from the Awatere, Waihopai or Wairau for Sauvignon Blanc.
What do you see as being the biggest opportunities going into 2020?
Our goal is to make Washington State more mainstream; the wines are amazing and the styles are really attractive to UK consumers as they are much more cool climate and elegant in style than most consumers will expect from the US
And the biggest challenges and why?
Sustainability. With significant issues from global warming and water shortages, sustainable grape growing for wine is going to be the key for 2020 and beyond.
What are you doing to meet those opportunities and challenges?
Working with wineries focused on sustainability, for example, wineries working to Lodi Rules, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CWSA) and Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) standards.
What were your personal highlights of the year?
My business highlight was launching four new wines from Washington State into UK retail. The first wines we have bulk shipped and UK packed from the region. On a personal note, my highlight was the birth of my first child.
Biggest challenges you have faced this year and how did you get over them?
Being able to secure the volume and quality of red wines we need from Australia at affordable and sustainable prices. Our supply partners from Australia, namely Andrew Peace and Limestone Coast Winery, helped us take a long term view and are working with us collaboratively which is key to a sustainable future pipeline.
Best drinking and eating experience you had in 2020?
My best eating experience was at a local street food popup in Heaton Moor near my house. The pastrami sandwich from @pastraminow was amazing. Pure food heaven. My favourite drinking experience was discovering the Bacchus 2018 from Hoffmann & Rathbone – an amazing English wine.
What are you doing for Christmas?
Christmas at home with my wife, son and Frank the dog! Then all off to my mum’s on Boxing Day for a family get together.
What will you be drinking?
It might be a very Marisco Christmas this year with Kings Wrath Pinot Noir and Sticky End, but I’ll probably start the day very patriotic with a glass of Hambledon Classic Cuvée.
What will you be watching?
My wife will insist on watching all the Harry Potter films, I’m off to see the new Star Wars film too.
What is your favourite Christmas song?
When I hear Michael Buble, ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’, I know Christmas has arrived, but my guilty pleasure will always be Christmas ‘Wrapping by The Waitresses’!