Aussie specialist backs regional emphasis

25 January, 2008

Chris Beckett and wife Lin have run Kent merchant The Bottleneck since 1988, transforming the shop in Broadstairs from an uninspiring offie into a renowned merchant specialising in Australian and New Zealand wine. The couple's enthusiasm for Antipodean tipples stemmed from working for Peter Dominic in the 1980s, when they were impressed by the accessibility and easy-drinking nature of the wine starting to trickle through into the UK market. Specialising in Australian wine saved the business from the worst effects of the early 90s recession, which saw locals cut down on their wine drinking, or hop across the Channel from nearby Dover to buy cheap European gluggers. Twenty years later, and Australian wine makes up around 40 per cent of The Bottleneck's range, with the average bottle price around £6. Cape Mentelle, McGuigan's, Moss Wood and Rockfords are among the shop's top sellers.

Chris Beckett blames supermarkets for damaging the image of Australian wine, as they demanded super-cheap supplies in the first place. "They are the ones who built the brands up and now they are trying to knock them," he says.

Pushing regionality is a "good idea", Beckett says. "People are becoming more aware of it, and it's something Australia could push, it could help it get away from being dominated by big brands."

The biggest challenge facing independent retailers, he thinks, is the threat of big drinks companies buying up smaller brands formerly only supplied to independents. He's worried that McGuigan's Black Label, a top seller in the shop, will be stocked in the multiple grocers by new owners WaverleyTBS, and The Bottleneck will lose its point of difference.

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