Our survey of 200 of the independents on our database found that France is the main speciality for 48.4 per cent of retailers, down slightly from 53.6 per cent last year.
Australia, in second place, saw a big decline in the number of retailers describing it as their main focus - from 22 per cent in last year's survey to 11.7 per cent this time.
When retailers were asked to name all of their areas of specialism, there were some notable falls for New World countries, with Spain and Italy gaining in popularity.
"There is a lot of nervousness among the independents about doing too much business with the New World countries - they don't want to be in the same arena as the multiples," said OLN consulting editor Graham Holter, who presented the results at the Specialist Importers Trade Tastings last week.
Matt Harris, of London's Planet of the Grapes, encouraged independents to abandon the mainstream price points and focus on premium and niche wines not sold in supermarkets. "If you can't beat them, don't join them - do something completely different," he said. "If you can't beat them on price you have to beat them on service."
He also encouraged independents to pool resources by purchasing collectively.
Michael Cox, UK director of Wines of Chile, which partners OLN in its independent wine merchant research, said the sector remained over-reliant on France and should seek to "excite and inspire" consumers with quality wines from the New World as well as Europe.
"France does not have the monopoly on diversity and terroir, and the more we can do to open people's eyes to that fact the better. Independents and restaurateurs have this opportunity to introduce people to a wider range of wines," he said.
Sales optimism remains
Six in 10 independent wine merchants are predicting higher sales in 2008 than 2007, despite gloomy predictions of rising costs and continuing economic uncertainty.
The figure is only marginally less optimistic than a year ago, when 63.5 per cent predicted a sales increase compared with 61 per cent this time.
How will your sales perform in the next 12 months?
Much higher 13%
A little higher 48%
About the same 32%
A little lower 6%
Much lower 0%
Source: OLN/Wines of Chile survey of 200 independents, January 2008