Today’s The Bunch annual press tasting stands out for two important reasons. Firstly, it is an opportunity to taste premium wines from all over the world from seven of the UK’s most leading importers. But, secondly, these are suppliers who are united by their commitment to ethically source and supply the independent sector with quality wines encapsulated in a fiercely proud code of practice that ensures best practice trading standards and customer service. Here’s what The Bunch means to some of those who run it: Corney & Barrow’s Rebecca Palmer (chair), Private Cellar’s Laura Taylor, Tanners’s Robert Boutflower and Yapp’s Tom Ashworth.
The Bunch is made up of Adnams, Corney & Barrow, Haynes Hanson & Clark, Lea & Sandeman, Private Cellar, Tanners and Yapp Brothers – all of whom come together today at The Groucho Club, 45 Dean Street, London, W1D 4QB between 10am and 4pm.
The Bunch as a group has been around since the 1990s but can you remind us why it was set up in the first place?
(Rebecca Palmer) It was set up partly to champion the independent wine trade and producers represented by it, but it was also set up with a mission, a to pledge to the consumer, to protect their interests – in the context of a series of high-profile fraudulent wine investment schemes that had created mistrust in the public domain. The Bunch code of practice enshrines the principles.
In terms of a code of practice – what does that entail?
(RP) It’s a commitment to best practice, essentially. We pledge to buy from trusted sources and we uphold what is called The Bunch Guarantee, with a ‘no quibble’ return policy, a pledge to uphold supply (for example within the en primeur system) and to ensure wines are properly insured. Again these were specific points drawn up to address issues incumbent in fraudulent operations but, of course, they are still relevant today. It’s also about trading fairly with suppliers. Moving forward, we will be bringing new focus to the area of sustainability also.
Do those principles and code of practice still stand today?
(RP) Yes. All members of the Bunch are signatories to the Bunch Code of Practice and it appears on all our websites. These are reviewed on an ongoing basis.
What do you see as the role of The Bunch today and what impact do you think it can have on the trade?
(RP) There are a number of ways. We share a passion for wine and for the trade of it, we want these to flourish in the UK; this is the baseline.
One of the roles The Bunch plays is rooted in our love for and experience of wine and combining those to add value to consumers. We want to see the trade continue to thrive, we want to continue to share fantastic wines with consumers, from extraordinary producers all over the world, and to help those producers thrive in the UK market. The combined experience of The Bunch members, in buying and selling wine and communicating about it is considerable, and – we believe – valuable, particularly given that wine is such a complex subject.
Collectively we can also be a force for good and for change within the industry. Through the Brexit transition period and during Covid we came together regularly (this was on zoom) to share intelligence – from export/import issues, incoterms and paperwork (eg the whole VI-1 saga) to the implications of importer labelling, which were at one point highly unclear. And we engaged with the WSTA and government to lobby.
Duty is another area with enormous implications for the trade and for consumer choice. Of course we don’t have the muscle of the multiples, we are playing in a different arena. But collectively, Bunch members sell to so many interested wine consumers around the UK, plus we are close to the trade and to the grass-roots.
Then there is the whole impact of the organic levies on EU wines that have will have to be paid by importers now we’re a ‘third country’. So we’ll be paying a percentage of the turnover of those bottles to whichever certifying body we work with (eg The Soil Association) just for having an organic stamp on a back-label. It can run into tens of thousands of pounds. We need to raise profile for this issue as I’m not sure even the trade is as attuned to it as they should be, let alone the public. It’s a massive hypocrisy that we’re trying to get producers and consumers to buy into sustainability and yet everyone will end up penalised for it. There should be incentives for taking sustainable approaches, not the opposite. It’s something we need to lobby about, it’s outrageous. The financial implications are massive.
Laura Taylor of Private Cellar adds: “I’d like to echo the thoughts about The Bunch working independently but together, our buying and sales teams connecting talented wine producers with wine drinkers at all price points. We have the flexibility to pick up small, individual parcels of fine wines whilst maintaining long standing relationships with independent growers to provide larger volumes for our core lists. In a world of homogenisation and convenience, each member of The Bunch brings refreshingly different wines to the UK market and the fact that we can share our views and work collaboratively when it comes to the challenges of duty reviews, Brexit, DRS schemes, etc. means that we will continue to do this.
She adds: “The Bunch is a positive force in an industry that is so tangled up in red tape and paperwork. By working together we can continue to support independent growers and winemakers too. This follows through to our learnings during Covid and Brexit – nothing replaces being among the vines and tasting in situ, but we were able to pivot and work remotely, talk to each other and find a collaborative way through new legislation, keep in touch with our growers via Zoom, source new ranges, and even carry out an incredibly busy Bordeaux en primeur campaign under the Bunch Code of Practice.
Robert Boutflower of Tanners adds: “I think the key relevance of The Bunch today is that we are an unparalleled alliance of experienced larger Independent merchants who work principally (but not exclusively) with fine wine and can share our knowledge of the whole wine market to the benefit of our (like minded) customers.
“We have the knowledge, built up over many more years than most, and we can use it to lobby and inform from a position of authority. And that’s crucial.
“We may work along different, independent lines but at our core we want our customers to have access to the best quality and best value in wines from anywhere in the world. Our joint tasting provides a window on this endeavour, as between us we cover off wines we think are at the cutting edge of current drinking.
He continues: “Equally, we meet to discuss the problems faced by the general trade in wine in the UK, as already outlined by Rebecca’s replies, and we think our joint voice on these subjects is very valuable. In essence, The Bunch brings the weight of seven highly experienced merchants to the table, speaking together, and we hope the wider wine community can appreciate that.”
Do you still have the same members and are you looking for any more?
(RP) The membership has evolved over the years, and remains a mix of independent wine merchants of different shapes and sizes and specialisms, based I different places around the country. While we are not actively seeking growth, we will always consider new applications from independent wine merchants sharing the philosophy and wishing to adhere to the principles. Private Cellar is our newest member.
Why is your company involved – what are your key reasons for being in the Bunch?
Tom Ashworth from Yapp Brothers, one of the original suppliers to sign up, sums up the members feelings: “The principle reasons for our involvement back then – consumer protection and championing ‘wines less ordinary’ – remain equally important today. In addition, we have enjoyed nearly 30 years of fun and fellowship with like-minded people within our membership, sharing some great bottles along the way.’
What do you see as being the key issues in the trade that The Bunch is best placed to address?
(RP) We are concerned to add our voice to the trade discussion and raise public awareness of any issues that will affect the trade and ultimately the consumer. For those of us operating nationally (ie in the devolved nations as well as England) the proposed Deposit Return Schemes will have huge consequences with debatable benefits and seem more politically driven than about sensible sustainability.
How will today’s tasting work?
Yapp’s Tom Ashworth says: “The Bunch’s press tasting is an annual event. All members show 10 wines each on the day, which hopefully illustrate to those attending, the breadth and scope of the portfolios on offer. Between all seven companies we are fortunate enough to be agents to some of the most iconic wines in the world, but there really will be something for everyone – RRPs this year range from £8 to £80.
Who do you hope will attend and the tasting is aimed at?
(RP) We very much appreciate the support and engagement from the press in The Bunch and our mission, and hope that the wines we are showing between us, will reaffirm the value we can add as independent merchants to UK wine consumers.
Ashworth adds: “We aim the tasting at anyone who is trying to communicate the joy of ‘wines less ordinary’ (The Bunch strapline) to consumers.
What other initiatives/ events does the Bunch have planned for the months coming up?
(RP) There are a number of key trade issues on the table at the moment, which we will be discussing with a view to raising awareness, not least in the public domain. We also plan a trade debate for the independent wine sector, focusing on important topics that affect our business and ultimately consumer choice. Watch this space.
- You can find our more about The Bunch at is website here.
- The Bunch’s Press Tasting takes place on September 15 between 10am and 4pm at The Groucho Club, 45 Dean Street, London, W1D 4QB.