Merchants: Modern Britain

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

The British wine merchant is, almost necessarily, an importer, or a customer of one. Wine merchants were important in medieval England and Gascony, when they were known as vintners in English. Even today, a wine merchant in Britain enjoys a social standing perceptibly higher than that of, for example, a grocer. This is somewhat ironic since the majority of the wine sold in Britain has been sold by grocers, as opposed to specialists, since at least 1987. This was largely due to the efforts of the licensed supermarkets to improve the range and quality of wines they sell, although it is also simply a function of the fact that so many Britons pass through a supermarket at some point every week. The independent specialist wine merchant has to struggle to compete with the low margins funded by the sheer quantity of wine a chain of supermarkets can sell. They do so by offering personal service, advice, sale or return facilities, credit, mail order, glass loan, and so on, with the supermarkets and such specialist chains as have survived the onslaught of competition from supermarkets hot on their heels.