Berkshire-based Milton Sandford Wines has bought the Secret Cellar chain of wine shops in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Milton Sandford, which is headed up by John Winchester, has been supplying the on-trade for 26 years.

Secret Cellar, which has been operating for 10 years, has stores in Tunbridge Wells, Wadhurst and Oxted.

They are off-trade focused but the flagship Tunbridge Wells store also has a small bar area, and the company boasts a busy calendar of wine tasting events and dinners.

Winchester told OLN: “There are great opportunities for premium wine merchants and I think the independent sector in the UK has had a bit of a revival.

“On top of that, I have always wanted to have a premium wine shop and Milton Sandford Wines has a tremendous reputation

for being an on-trade specialist so it wasn’t the right company to do that with. I have looked at various options over the past few years and Secret Cellar is the first that really felt like the right place. It has a great portfolio of wines and the Tunbridge Wells store is a great setting.

“What they lack is processes and systems and back office, so I knew that if we could build upon the customer experience that Secret Cellar has already – and the 10-year foundation it has built – then behind the scenes we could introduce a more effective back office.

“One of the issues for an independent wine shop is having duty-paid stock on the shelf. With Milton Sandford I have a bonded warehouse so we can move all of our current suppliers through that and it can be there until the shops need it. It will bring some cashflow efficiencies and give us a competitive edge.”

Winchester plans to continue with the tastings and dinners that Secret Cellar has become known for. “We do a lot of wine dinners through Milton Sandford so we can expand upon this for Secret Cellar. I would like to introduce them to all the stores.”

For the longer-term he would also like to expand the chain by adding four or five more stores in similar affluent towns around the same areas.

“I am in no mad hurry but I will keep my eyes open,” he said.