Even if you have not met Daniel Lambert personally, chances are you will feel like you have. Particularly if you are a regular follower of social media where you will find Lambert constantly sharing his views on the performance of the government and sticking up for the wine industry with the powers that be. Which has continued over the festive break and the fall out from government plans to introduce pint sized bottles of wine. So who better to look back on the highs, lows and challenges of 2023 and help set the scene for what we might expect in 2024. Take it away Daniel…
“I agree with many that the UK was the best place in the world to buy wine but it is rapidly becoming the worst.” Just one of the many sound bites to be picked out of Daniel Lambert, founder of Daniel Lambert Wines, must read account of 2023.
How do you look back on 2023? What were the big highlights for you and your business?
2023 has been an interesting year and for us the highlight is to be finishing 20% up after a very slow start in quarter one.
How do you hope to build on that in 2024?
We have lot of exciting plans in 2024. A number of new incentives for both our customers and their customers. We want to have a real connection with the end user and this will be achieved in a number of ways which we will be announcing shortly. One of our big schemes will be tasting for free every weekend all year so that it both drives sales and volumes for all concerned.
Any good surprises that came your way in terms of business and new contracts?
This year we have taken on a number of new agencies in France and are working on two major agencies elsewhere. Our range is already strong but I won’t rest and newness is essential for all our customers. We also have a number of new national listings going live over the first quarter of 2024.
I am thrilled to be working closely with LWC Drinks to develop our on-trade presence with the UK largest on-trade wholesaler.
You took the big step to move your business to France – how has that gone and looking back with hindsight was the right move for you to take – and why?
Moving to France was a very important move for me personally and has open many new doors. Whilst I am still putting together the ground work to ensure success I don’t expect to be operational for another six to nine months. I have learnt rushing in is not the best policy. But company wise everything is set up and ready to go.
Any particular big challenges moving to France – has it changed how you work and who do you business with?
Working remotely from my UK team has been both challenging and rewarding. My team are really good and are just as committed to delivering the best service possible as I am. We have very regular video links, which in effect means I am both in France and the UK at the same time. Zoom, FaceTime has shown that physical location has never been less relevant. It’s really about how you manage your time and team.
With so much of your business still in the UK how have you found trading and all the administration post Brexit?
Trading because of Brexit is much harder as we import 100% of our products. My views on the Brexit shit show are widely known to my Twitter followers, but the sheer stupidity of Brexit and the mindless idiots that continue to support it are frankly costing us all a fortune.
I thank my lucky stars I got Brexit ready by having control of our stock in the supply chain and getting a full customs and excise bonded warehouse. I still don’t have the EU side under our control but this is one of my goals for 2024/5.
My serious point is I do wonder how on earth new start ups are meant to navigate the mine field of Brexit bollocks with limited resources that most start ups have. This is going to become and increasingly important question as time moves along.
The big news in the drinks industry in 2023 were the duty changes in August – looking in from France what impact have they had on your business?
Once again we prepared months in advance for this disgusting hike in excise duty. We offered customers quite a few deals before the increase so that they were able to stock up. But since the increase we can see that wine movements have changed. Overall we are still selling well but it is what we are selling that’s changing rapidly.
It’s clear consumers in the main are still buying wine at the same retail price as they were before, so it’s for companies like mine to find better value and work harder for the consumer. This is why we have introduced a number of new products that offer the same quality we are known for but at really competitive prices. So we have introduced several new ranges to help maintain our overall range from sub £10 retail and up.
I will always put quality before price, so being on the ground in the EU is a major benefit.
How have your producer partners responded to the changes?
All my suppliers look on in disbelief at how the UK is slowly making it more and more difficult to buy nice affordable wine. I agree with many that the UK was the best place in the world to buy wine but it is rapidly becoming the worst. This is want happens when a tee-total toss pot is the PM and has zero understanding of the drinks industry.
What would you like to see happen to the next step in the duty changes – what would be the best scenario based on the current situation?
For me the best scenario is that the Prime Minister is removed from office and we go back to the bands that were in place previously. You only have to look at the collapse of fortified wines since the Rishi bullshit scheme of floored duty reform was introduced in this sector. If that’s applied to wine then we all have a big problem. I often wonder if the government is deliberately trying to destroy the wine industry.
On a more positive note – what trends have you seen in terms of what is in demand and what are your customers are looking for more of?
We are seeing really strong growth on our Spanish selections and Austria continues to be very strong for us. Then being a French specialist importer we have see very good growth in the Languedoc, Rhône, the South West and Champagne. The Loire is steady.
Bordeaux is frankly in a mess. However, the parcels we picked up with silly prices have performed well. Burgundy prices continue to be jaw dropping and an area that’s rapidly becoming out of reach for most. So overall we have a good grasp on France.
What impact are you seeing on pricing and what are the sweet spots you are looking to hit vs previous years?
Everyone is looking for deals, and we have monthly deals to feed this appetite. It seems anything on offer coming out around £10-14 moves well. This is another area we are doing well on.
How do you see that developing in 2024 in terms of what will be in demand where you will be sourcing more of your wine from?
2024 will all be about engaging with your customers and making sure we are giving them the tools to drive sales. Businesses that sit on their hands will fail. Many consumers are restricted in what they can spend thanks to government generally making a total mess of their economic policy. So businesses need to be proactive in attracting consumers. 2024 will be about communication and constant marketing.
Are you positive or negative about going into 2024 and what it might bring?
I am actually positive about 2024 as I believe we have a good plan in place, with great support from suppliers that we will share with our loyal customers.
How did you spend Christmas? What did you eat and drink?
I was in Montpellier and had a small family visit to Barcelona. We had Welsh lamb on Christmas Day and wine wise it was a double magnum of 2010 St Emillon. Other wines included Lamoreaux Landings Riesling Ice Wine, Westcott’ single plot Cabernet Franc, Domaine Guilliman 2023 Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc blend and a lovely Chateau Filhot.
Any Lambert family festive traditions?
Board games. We like our board games.
Any final thoughts?
The UK wine trade has taken a real battering over the past few years. The government doesn’t want to help – quite the opposite. But despite this I continue to grow my business organically. My goal remains the same which is to offer the best wines from small family producers.
Over the past 31 years these basic principles have served me well. I am very proud to be totally independent of all buying groups and nothing will ever convince me to join any either. I have always found it interesting along the way that some customers absolutely love what we provide and the whole package we offer, but a very limited group of others simply can’t deal with our way of working and my very direct approach to issues that arise.
- If you would like to know more about Daniel Lambert Wines go to its website here.
- You can follow Daniel Lambert on X at @DanielLambert29