Sainsbury’s has started the year on the hunt for a new wine chief after two high-profile team members announced their departures. 

Senior wine buyer Julian Dyer is leaving the supermarket after 16 years to join Australian Vintage as senior business manager, while its winemaker, Clem Yates MW, is also departing to become sourcing and supply director at Off-Piste Wines. Both will take up their new roles in March. 

Sainsbury’s BWS manager Andy Phelps said he was “disappointed” by the resignations, but insisted the team remained “really strong”. However, he told OLN he planned to restructure the buying team and was currently recruiting, although the specific job title and duties would be determined by candidates’ skills. 

“I am restructuring the team and Julian and Clem’s roles will be replicated, but not quite the same. Who the buyers are, and what they buy, will probably change. The business has signed off putting more heads into the team, so we will have more people to build a world-class team. 

“Our talented team of buyers and our second winemaker, Lucy Clements, will continue to focus on building both the breadth and quality of our own-label wines and I am confident that we will continue to build on our success to date.”

Dyer will be tasked with helping to grow the McGuigan brand and product development as well as account management. 

Paul Schaafsma, Australian Vintage general manager for UK and Europe, said: “Julian will be my right-hand man in London. He is one of the top people in the wine industry and he will bring another level of experience and a new dynamic – the whole team will benefit from having him on board. 

“Australian Vintage is committed to the UK market and we need professionals of his calibre to help us continue to develop our brands.”

Paul Letheren, managing director at Off-Piste Wines, said: “The work Clem has done with Taste the Difference and House is a good CV and fits where we want to go. We are an ambitious business and we need to be more strategic. 

“With Clem’s experience we can maximise what our producers have to offer retailers and get the right wines for consumers. There is no one out there better to do what we want to achieve.”

Yates added: “I spent three years designing the Sainsbury’s range with consumers in mind. We are partnering the team’s experience in selling with my understanding of what retailers want.”

One supplier told OLN he felt “a bit uncomfortable” discussing pricing strategies for the coming year with Dyer when he would be leaving to join a competitor. “It’s an interesting dilemma for a buyer,” he said. “It is always a fine line to know whether that relationship of the buyer and supplier assists or makes it more difficult.”

But Dyer refuted the claim, insisting he “had not been buying at category level for some time”.

Phelps added: “Julian is not involved in day-to-day discussions and is not in a situation where there would be a conflict of interest.”