Waitrose said it enjoyed strong wine sales in January by treating it with the same care and attention as any other month.

Wine buying manager James Bone said the retailer really felt the effects of Dry January in 2016, but since then it has defied the negative sales trend seen elsewhere.

He told DRN: “We have had a good start to the year. Sales have been really positive. We have had a good run from January through to Easter.

“We really felt the Dry January effect three years ago, but not any more. It could be self-fulfilling. If you don’t do your promotions, sales can go down. We wanted to make January as successful as any other month and it has worked. We have seen growth.

“People in the lead up to Christmas stock up and they often have carry-over into January, but they still want to go out and find interesting wines and offers in January. Our relentless focus on quality helps us there.”

The drinks retailing trade enjoyed magnificent sales growth amid an unprecedented heatwave last summer and it faces a stern challenge as it bids to match that performance in 2019.

“It’s going to be challenging to match last year, with that extraordinary spell of great weather,” said Bone. “We had the perfect range of rosé to see a really sustained growth rate. We have always had real strength in Provence and pale style rosé, and now it is absolutely resonating with consumers as well.

“We are hoping that it will be as warm and sunny this year. Waitrose does really well in the sunshine, because we have great food and people love to entertain, and wine plays really well into that.”

Waitrose is encouraging shoppers to experiment with intriguing new varieties by launching a nine-strong W range full of lesser-known gems from around the world.

It includes a Marcelan and Petit Manseng from the south of France, a Pais from Chile, Cannonau from Sardinia, Mencia from Spain, a Zweigelt rosé from Austria, an Elbling from Germany and an Arinto from Portugal, plus a sparkling Pecorino from Italy.

Bone told DRN: “We have the Blueprint range [selling at £5.99 to £9.99] and that covers the classic styles and varieties. This range is designed to introduce new varieties that perhaps people haven’t heard of.

“It retails at £6.99 to £9.99, so there’s a really nice overlap with the Blueprint range. It’s accessible and we hope it will encourage people to experiment with new things.

“It was a big team effort. We all had to determine the grape varieties we would choose and to be sure that these were the best expressions.

“We worked with our stores development team to find an additional merchandising unit. People need to see these wines as a group. They would be lost as nine products on a fixture of hundreds of wines. In lots of branches they will be on display towers, with lots of POS.

“It has been a fun process. We have really enjoyed it. We have had to devise technical standards in some regions and we have done due diligence.

“We have had to make some judgement calls [on volume]. Some of them will exceed our expectations, and some will be under. We will become more expert at this as we go. We have chosen these because we think they have the potential to be more popular varieties in the future. If they don’t prove to be successful, we will cycle in new things, like the ones that didn’t make the initial cut. If they sell really well we will transition them into the Blueprint range. This is a vehicle to make them popular.”

The team trawled through the John Lewis archives to find inspiration for the label design. “The W on the label is interesting,” said Bone. “It comes from our archives, as this W was on Waitrose bills and receipts in the 1930s and 1940s. The label gives good prominence to the grape varieties and we are really pleased with it.”