Lanchester Wines has bolstered its sales team in a bid to re-establish itself as a quality supplier and target numerous trade channels with “boutique bulk” wine.

Tony Cleary set the business up in 1980 to import beer, wines and spirits from around the world and supply them to the UK trade.

Over the years the County Durham-based group has expanded and has divisions for wine, gifting, energy and properties. 

It also has Greencroft Bottling, one of Europe’s largest bottling facilities, which can handle 90,000 bottles per hour, and has worked with the likes of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Concha y Toro.

It opened its first wine retail store, The Pip Stop, in 2015, and snapped up London agency Wine Fusion at the end of 2016. 

But it wants to re-establish itself as a wine supplier, and believes its pioneering work in the bulk wine sector can help it grow its UK footprint. Head of sales Mark Roberts told OLN: “We have tried to scale everything back. Because we have the world’s best bottling line, my remit was to bring it back to where it started – a quality wine merchant. We have done that through many levels. 

“We had about 4,000 SKUs at one point. We now have just  3,000. We had a lot of auxiliary agencies, but we have brought the range back into focus.”

Former Co-op buyer Barney Davis joined the business at the end of 2016 as head of commercial operations, and it is ramping up its salesforce to proactively target the trade.

“Over the past four years we have been understanding how the group of companies has grown,” said Roberts. “It’s fair to say that Lanchester Wines itself probably hadn’t come along with that. Since I’ve been heading up the sales we have put a relevant sales team in position.

“We are moving towards premium regional wholesale. We are a lot more focused on that. We are re-establishing ourselves as wine merchants in the UK. We kind of got lost in the group, so we are bringing it back to what Tony set up 37 years ago.”

Part of Lanchester’s strategy is to encourage the UK trade to rethink the role bulk can play when putting together ranges. It set up an agency called Vintrigue, which ships parcels of quirkier wine from family-owned estates around the world and bottles it in County Durham. 

It has brought over tanks of Shiraz/Mourvèdre, Chenin/Sauvignon and Shiraz/Viognier, and it believes these wines can seriously compete at the higher end of the wine category.

“Bulk has become less of a dirty word,” said Roberts. “Five years ago you mentioned bulk and people were sceptical. Now we are winning awards for our bulk wine.

“We have had to overdeliver on quality. We didn’t want to give people any room for manoeuvre.

“We are telling our South African producer, ‘come to us with crazy stuff’. We want different stuff. The UK market is receptive to it.

“With Vintrigue we can have a bit of fun. It doesn’t have to be Barossa Shiraz or Coonawarra Cabernet. We can speak to smaller producers and make Shiraz/Viognier or any blend. The size of the producer is an irrelevance to us. It’s more about the quality and the provenance.”