A high-profile partnership between Enotria & Coe and The Telegraph to run a wine subscription service for the paper’s readers has raised fresh questions about suppliers offering direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales.
Experiments with D2C sales in the early days of the internet, effectively putting the supplier in direct competition with retailers and cutting the latter out of the supply chain, foundered on opposition within the trade.
But such routes-to-market thrived during the pandemic as suppliers sought to replace business they’d lost from the closed-down on-trade.
Enotria says The Telegraph Wine Cellar service will focus on restaurant wines, meaning it is not in competition with the off-trade, but it has drawn criticism from independents.
“It shows a lack of regard for the sector,” says Kent Barker, owner of shop/restaurant hybrids Eight Stony Street in Frome, Somerset, and Wilding in Oxford. “They have put some of the crown jewels on there like Ken Forrester and Thelema, both of which we list.
“The pricing is very aggressive. I only make a normal standard retail margin on the prices they charge me and I can’t compete with what it’s putting them on the Telegraph site for.”
Henry Butler, owner of Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton, adds: “People are coming out of their lane and trying to do a bit of everything. It becomes a bit more muddy.
“I appreciate companies have been hit in different ways [by the pandemic] and you need to get money in wherever you can. But it does complicate things, because you don’t really know who’s doing what.
“You sort of assume you’re pricing competitively, but you don’t really know any more because there are missing links in the chain.”
Telegraph Wine Cellar will offer 100 wines from Enotria’s range initially, on a website with content provided by The Telegraph wine writers Victoria Moore, Hamish Anderson and Susy Atkins.
The club offers “exclusive member pricing” with no minimum order and free delivery.
Membership will be automatic to The Telegraph’s print subscribers and those who pay to access digital content behind its paywall. Subscriptions are also available separately for £3.99 a month.
Enotria managing director Sam Thackeray says The Telegraph link isn’t trying to tread on indies’ toes.
“Independent retailers have historically been a key channel for Enotria & Coe and will continue to be valued customers,” he says.
“The product selection and functionality of the Telegraph Wine Cellar is optimised to drive interest in different producers and wines than those historically favoured by independent retailers we work with.
“Enotria & Coe will continue to work on clearly defined channel strategies for all our key wines. This enables us to reduce overlap between wines listed with independent retailers and those available through Telegraph Wine Cellar.”
Interestingly, prices on the Telegraph site undercut Enotria’s own Bath-based retail outlet Great Wine Co (formerly Great Western Wine).
Chile’s Vina Leyda Reserve Chardonnay is £12.30 a bottle and £11.07 a bottle when buying a case on the Telegraph, and £12.95 and £11.65 respectively with Great Wine Co.
Ken Forrester’s South African Petit Chenin Blanc is £11.55 for one or £10.40 when buying a case on the Telegraph and £12.20/£10.98 at Great Wine Co.
Enotria is by no means alone among prominent wine suppliers to become involved in D2C.
Barker says: “If you look at Les Caves de Pyrene, one of the darlings of the independent sector, it did huge amounts during lockdown, so we can’t be too harsh on Enotria.
“They’ve just done it in a brash, flashy way, which I think is probably not ideal. What Les Caves does isn’t really affecting us because it’s not really out there in everybody’s faces, whereas the Telegraph has put some oomph behind it and got the likes of Susy Atkins and Hamish Anderson on board.”
The looming recession may mean more suppliers look for security in multi-channel sales.
“We’re all looking at new avenues to increase turnover and profitability,” says Barker. “We’ve done takeaways, deliveries, workshops and a lot more in-house tastings.
“Enotria is just doing the same. It’s another revenue stream that might help keep them afloat.”