The Buyer
What makes North South Wines one of UK’s top wine suppliers

What makes North South Wines one of UK’s top wine suppliers

“Seen by many as a veritable human dynamo, exuding boundless energy and drive, Kim Wilson is the founder and power behind North South Wines, having created the company 10 years ago, nurtured it, and weaved her magic to bring it to its current position – namely a top 10 wine agency and distributor, with a turnover of just under £30million.” As it celebrates its 10 year anniversary Angela Mount analyses the impact that North South Wines has had on all channels of the UK wine market and talks to its founder, Kim Wilson, about the highs and lows along the way and where she hopes the business can go in the next 10 years.

Angela Mount
4th March 2024by Angela Mount
posted in People,People: Supplier,

North South Wines has made its mark on the UK and international wine industry and helped show the way forward for a producer-owned business model that is now being followed by a number of UK wine businesses.

I first met Kim Wilson in 2015, just two years into her embryonic journey with North South Wines – 33, passionate and driven already, but understandably nervous about the future, and whether the world would believe in her fledgling business. Ten years on, she is an established and highly respected leader in the industry, and I’ve witnessed her and North South Wines blossom and grow at a remarkable pace.

This is the classic story of the little girl, who had a big dream. But unlike so many dreams, this one came true. Every boy and girl in the world, every man and woman, will have had moments like this, at some early stage of life.

Kim Wilson says it has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears but is also rightly proud of what North South Wines has been able to achieve

Kim Wilson, the dynamic, exuberant, and super-charged woman at the helm of one of the fastest growing wine businesses in the UK. Seen by many as a veritable human dynamo, exuding boundless energy and drive, is the founder and power behind North South Wines, having created the company ten years ago, nurtured it, and weaved her magic to bring it to its current position – namely a top ten wine agency and distributor, with a turnover of just under £30million.

Along the way, she has built a team of 27 around her, and snapped up some of the biggest and most prestigious wine agencies across the world, including early supporters and shareholders The Wine People, De Bortoli Wines, along with Reh Kendermann.

North South Wines also happen to have one of the UK’s leading proseccos, La Gioiosa, on its books, together with Dona Paula, KWV, Villa Sandi, Andre Lurton, and most recently, the addition of New Zealand gem Giesen.

Great quality and value

The company describes itself as supplying high quality, great value wines to the industry, on a multi-channel distribution base, with a strong ethic of supporting supplier brands.

Almost 50% of the business is accounted for by their distribution in multiple and specialist retail, together with convenience. A further 20% lies with independent wholesale.

North South Wines has built up a strong, loyal team over it 10 years working in all areas of the wine industry

Wilson and her team initially built the business on the off-trade, accounting for over 75% of sales in total. However, as the company matured, on-trade and wholesale have become an increasingly important part of its business , with a promise not to compete with its own customers. North South Wines now supplies both branded wines (85%), and own brand(15%).

In 2023, it became the first wine agency in the UK to achieve B Corp certification, a fact of which Wilson is inordinately proud – and rightly so.

So how did this all start? Wilson explains: “From a young age, I always knew I wanted to do my own thing, although I didn’t know what,’ she says. “I had drive and ambition, but I never expected to make a successful career in the wine industry.”

She didn’t go to university, choosing instead to learn from the great school of life; worked in pubs, and in telesales for a pub company. There she met sales reps and account managers, and decided that sales was the route she wanted to pursue. So in typical Kim Wilson style, she took herself off and got a job at Carlsberg. “I didn’t know what the off-trade was,” she says. “In fact I didn’t really even drink wine in those days, but I knew I was a born salesperson.”

It was there that she learnt her craft, and about the industry. She remembers watching her bosses at Carlsberg and wanting to emulate them.

She moved to Ehrmanns as an account manager at the age of 24, looking after cash & carry accounts. After five years, she received the recognition she had so longed for, becoming sales director of the company.

“Finally, I had autonomy, and full accountability,” is how she describes that promotion.

The big step

Kim Wilson and her North South Wines co-founder Jo Edmondson

In 2014, Kim Wilson, when she felt she has completed her journey at Ehrmanns, and boosted by the confidence given to her by both suppliers and her mentors at the time, took the bold step into the unknown, accepting the risk, and set up North South Wines, together with co-founder Joy Edmondson, also previously with Ehrmanns, who has now subsequently left the business.

Stefano Girelli, then of Girelli Wines, now The Wine People was an early supporter; he wanted change in the market, and believed Wilson and the NSW team were the people todeliver it. But they needed cash and investment into their fledgling business. Wilson is nothing if not a gifted communicator, negotiator, and persuader, and her ambition, enthusiasm and passion soon translated into action.

Six months later, she had sold 48% of a non-existent business, idea and business plan to The Wine People, De Bortoli, and, at the time, Waimea wineries, none of whom were happy with their existing UK business model. In 2020, Reh Kendermann joined the group, as a fellow investor, bringing with them the powerful, and widely-distributed Black Tower brand.She proudly told me that all the money lent to them to establish the business was paid back within three years.

They agreed a clear route to market model – direct trading via multi-channels, focussing on major off-trade.

“We needed to create a simple model, a direct route to market, focus on our key customers and not overcomplicate, especially at a time (2014) when consolidation between companies was rife,” she explains.

The first four years were extremely tough, as she recalls, especially for two young women in their early thirties, branching out on their own. Wilson admits now that with six agencies on the books at the start, they had taken on too much, too quickly. But their ambition was huge.

She recalls that it was four years of “blood, sweat and tears”, pulling in favours, grafting, doing the “on the ground work” and getting through with sheer tenacity and determination.

She admits readily to being a control freak. Cash was tough, customer and retailer doors difficult and time-consuming to open. “But we were super passionate about our vision, we were approachable, friendly and enthusiastic,” she adds. “I have always had self-belief.”

Characteristics which still hold true for Wilson today, as a highly respected and established leader in the drinks industry. By 2016, North South Wines had scooped up further well-established brands and worldwide ranging producers, including one of the UK’s now leading Prosecco brands, La Gioiosa, along with South African giant KWV.

Fighting through

Kim Wilson says the business has had to adapt and move with the times – particularly during Covid – and now has a clear and separate focus on building up its on-trade and wholesale parts of the business as well as its strong off-trade arm

Six years in, in 2020, with the fledgling business starting to settle and mature, Edmondson, then with a young family, decided to leave the business. This coincided with the global crisis, Covid, which would change the landscape of all industries, not merely the drinks industry, forever.

“February 2020 was a do or die situation, but I was determined not to fail,” says Wilson. The unerring company focus on the off-trade came into play at this point, and salvaged the business, at a time, when the hospitality industry was on its knees.

“Loyalty was so important at that time and still is to this day. We helped our on-trade wholesalers and independent customers where we could, supporting them and their needs, and in return, they demonstrated loyalty to us.”

Wilson is extremely pragmatic about that period of her life. “We were all locked up, it gave me time to think; to decide what I really wanted from not just this business, but life. It taught me to really focus on the bread and butter, and also to rethink the structure of the company.”

She rethought her management team, and the financial aspects of the business. By 2021, the world was in chaos and Wilson is refreshingly honest in her assessment of her mindset at that time.

“I need time to refocus, re-assess not only the business, but myself; I talked to many people, and took advice and guidance. I also needed to get my work and life balance sorted out.”

Today the company is in extremely good shape, in a sound trading and financial situation, and is still expanding. Whilst the off-trade continues to play the dominant role in the business, North South has grown its on-trade share to 25% of the business, with a stated focus on this sector. They work with regional distributors and wholesale accounts, together with some of the big pub groups and national wholesalers.

“We don’t cross boundaries, we respect the competition and our customers’ customers.”

Advice and leadership

North South Wines has set a benchmark for other wine agencies to follow with its producer partners that have been crucial in helping set the strategy for the business

Wilson also places a great deal of gratitude and recognition to the learnings she has taken from mentors over the years, especially in the early days. When she took the bold step to move away from Ehrmanns, she listened to her mentors, to give her the confidence to embark on the journey towards her dream.

In the early days, it was John Radcliffe, the then chairman of North South; today the chairman’s role is fulfilled by sine industry stalwart, Jerry Lockspeiser, who knows a thing or two about setting up and running successful businesses.

“Jerry has always been generous with his time and his wisdom,” says Wilson. “He has a different outlook on life and is helping me build my brand.”

Now she mentors herself, passing on her learnings, experience and positive enthusiasm to younger members of the industry. She recommends that anyone doubting themselves, or wondering how to progress, finds one. “They can help even when you’re at your lowest.”

She also stresses the importance of the team, that she has built around her, and recognises their crucial role in arriving at the company’s current position.

“I couldn’t have done the last five years without them, they are amazing,” she says.

Her trusted senior members include Claire Greenwood as head of off-trade, and Tim Carlisle, head of on-trade and independents. She also nurtures young, and emerging talent and has just heard that her head of technical, Emily Brighton has succeeded in her Master of Wine exams, and becomes the youngest female MW, and the first Latvian MW.

With so many respected wineries under the company umbrella already, what are Wilson and her team looking for now, where do they see the trends?

“It is always so important to understand what the customer wants, not what we want to sell,” she stresses. “We’re seeing a move to more refreshing whites; Asian food is extremely popular, so we need to have lighter, aromatic whites to suit those styles, such as Riesling. But a big part of that is an educational job.”

She also sees a trend towards slightly bigger style reds, not necessarily in alcohol levels, but in style, such as indigenous grape varieties from southern Italy.

She recognises the increasing importance of the no/lo category. “But the no or low alcohol style wines need to be credible, and there is still a huge amount to do in this space.”

Step up Giesen wines, North South’s most recent portfolio addition, who are also leaders in the no/lo space, with their range of five award-winning varietals.

Next 10 years

North South Wines is celebrating its 10 years this week with a special portfolio tasting and party

It’s been a roller-coaster 10 years for Kim Wilson, and her expanding team and business, going from a non-existent company with a dream, hope and passion in 2014, to being an established and respected part of the wine industry in 2024. So where does she want the business to be in 10 years time?

She was quietly reflective, and refreshingly candid in her response: “We now have a really good foundation, with a huge amount contributed by my amazing team. To realise that we are so well-established in the industry is something I never thought I’d say. As long as we are adding value, and continuing to deliver, North South Wines has a key role to play in the UK world of wine. I’m sure there will be more bumps along the way but I’d love to grow the turnover much further, and continue to build the team.”

She feels very strongly about the need to give back to people and organisations who have helped her along her journey. North South Wines now support local mental health charity ‘Restore’, supporting with mentoring and 20 hours of volunteering a year for each employee.

I admire Kim Wilson for her ambition, her guts, and her sheer hard graft and determination to achieve her current success.She also happens to be one of the people in our industry, about whom I have never heard a bad word .’

“One of the good people,” is how she is often described. Another, unattributed comment stated: “One of the most delightfully driven MDs in the wine industry.”

One leading retailer went further and is tantamount to her achievement and the respect she has obtained. “A good wine agency is defined by knowledge, efficiency and proactiveness. A great wine agency adds passion, enthusiasm, transparency, and genuine graft. Kim is remarkable, inspirational, fun, fast-talking, humble, incredibly hard-working, and one of life’s genuinely decent human-beings. It has been as absolute pleasure to work with her for the last 10 years – and she deserves all the success and pride that comes with what she has created in North South Wines.”

Stefano Girelli, chief executive of The Wine People, and one of her original investors and partners, adds: “I remember the first few months being really hard, but Kim never gave up, and has worked with great passion and total commitment every single day. It’s hard to find somebody with more energy than her; the proof of that is where North South Wines stands today.”

Her message to budding entrepreneurs is simple: “If you have a dream, believe in it 100% and go for it; stick at it. You’ll need grit and endless tenacity, but never give up.”

  • North South Wines will be celebrating its ‘Ten Years young’ anniversary by hosting a trade tasting at Crypt on the green, Clerkenwell, London EC1 0EA, on March 7 from 12pm to 6pm. Register by emailing: