Top 100 Most Influential People in Wine: the top 10

30 May, 2014
Who decides which wines are sold, bought and drunk in the UK off-trade? Who determines where they come from, how they are made and how much they cost?

Our list pinpoints 100 individuals who have a key influence on those decisions – who are shaping the way our wine shops and aisles look, and what consumers ask for when they come into them.

10 Alex Salmond

First minister of Scotland 

Past CV: Royal Bank of Scotland

Though the legality of minimum unit pricing for alcohol is yet to be fully sorted out, there’s no doubt the impact of a policy which began in Holyrood is increasingly being felt across the UK wine trade. Five years after premature reports that minimum pricing was dead in the water, it refuses to go away. Attacks on the availability of cheap alcohol have become a stock-in-trade for anyone looking to score points in the health debate, from campaign groups to leading medics, and from pub trade leaders to parliamentarians. A win in September’s Scottish independence referendum would only increase Salmond’s clout on such matters.

9 Andy Phelps

BWS manager, Sainsbury’s

Arguably the biggest impact Sainsbury’s has had on the wine world recently was to open up a new battleground in own-label. The launch of House in 2010 brought double-digit growth to its own-label wine sales, prompting rivals to respond with revamps of their own exclusive portfolios. Coming into the job a year later, Phelps oversaw the introduction of Winemakers’ Selection to plug the price gap between House and Taste The Difference and up the own-label ante even further.

8 Tracy Ford

BWS director, Asda

Though Ford scrapped Asda’s three-for-£10 deals on wine in January, there’s little doubt many in the trade will associate the promotional stance with the supermarket for months, or even years, to come. The mechanism was aped by most of the big retailers at some point until the quality-price equation became unsustainable and has just been revived by Morrisons. So don’t expect Ford and Asda to stop setting the tone for wine pricing and promotions. Its £10 Pierre Darcys Champagne became a top-five brand last Christmas, while Extra Special bottles for a fiver appeared in a wine-centred TV ad that aired during prime-time shows such as the X Factor.

7 Steve Lewis

CEO, Majestic

March’s profit warning has seen Majestic’s kudos take a bit of a knock but it remains the leading multiple specialist wine retailer of its age in ethos, operation and results. If Majestic provides a blueprint for other wine stores, then Lewis does the same for ambitious junior colleagues. He joined the company in 1985 as a graduate trainee, rising through the ranks to retail director within six years, joining the board in 1998 and taking the top post a decade later. Under his stewardship Majestic has improved results and store numbers.

6 Mike James

Buying director, Aldi 

Past CV: Uncharted Africa Safari Co, Gresham’s School 

The fallout from the 2008 economic meltdown helped discounter Aldi to reach whole new chunks of the population and saw sales soar. Its exclusives – including wine – started to win awards and get decent press write-ups from usually hard-to-please wine writers. Talk was less about poor quality and lack of choice and more about good value for money and a sense of focus in the buying.

James has been Aldi’s sole wine buyer since 2010. He has been with the chain for a decade now, having joined as an area manager. Before that he was a lab assistant at the £9,000-a-term Gresham’s public school and wrote a PhD on the world’s smallest butterfly. Compared to many in our list, his CV is light on wine trade pedigree, but he’s no amateur in the tasting room. He won a WSET Diploma Codorníu scholarship in 2012 and has proved himself in the field, seeking out decent quality wines for a couple of quid less per bottle than the mainstream supermarkets. Some observers say the fact that he’s a sole buyer – compared to teams at rivals – means he can take quicker and more effective decisions. But that fails to note that he is buying a smaller range for fewer shops. With Aldi opening 50 new stores last year to pass the 500 mark, James’s stock – and workload – is rising, especially with the chain targeting more affluent locations.

5 Pierpaolo Petrassi MW

Head of BWS, Waitrose 

Past CV: Waverley TBS, Tesco

When wine trade historians look back on 2014, it might be with a shrug of the shoulders at a foolhardy Waitrose experiment, or in recognition of a game-changer in the way supermarkets sell wine. The company’s trial of an on-trade-style deli board and by-the-glass wine concept takes inspiration from the specialist independent sector, but it’s the first time a supermarket chain of any size has attempted such a bid to increase dwell-time in the wine aisle. It’s an interesting move by Petrassi, but perhaps last autumn’s recruitment of two new MWs, to take the number in the wine team up to five, says more about the fundamental philosophy of the Waitrose BWS boss than the novelty of the deli trial does.

When Petrassi joined the company from Tesco four years ago, there were sceptics who thought the identity of his previous employer heralded the dumbing down of Waitrose’s wine offering. That Petrassi had already had the initials MW after his name for three years – the first Italian to achieve the status – was largely overlooked. The retailer has also overhauled its website in a bid to become a major player online. Moves in sub-£5 own-label have shown Petrassi hasn’t ignored the needs of cash-strapped consumers in a recession. But the overarching buying focus has reaffirmed Waitrose’s raison d’être to provide quality above all, whatever the price point.

4 Paul Schaafsma

GM UK, Ireland & global partners, Accolade Wines 

Past CV: Australian Vintage

Schaafsma has overseen another excellent year at the UK’s largest supplier, with sales of flagship brand Hardys growing 10% in volume. Accolade has added to its New World offering by snapping up Kiwi brands Mud House and Waipara. New Californian brand Geyser Peak is going strong. Echo Falls and Fish Hoek have been given a makeover, while premium tiers of Hardys are gaining traction at retailers such as Majestic. Schaafsma’s influence goes beyond his role as head of the top supplier. He is not afraid to offer frank commentary on the big issues affecting the industry. He is also keen to set trends, such as steering jaded consumers away from Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc back to Chardonnay.

His arguments are backed up by large-scale research. Accolade surveyed consumers before it decided Chardonnay would enjoy a second coming. Its Wine Nation report amounts to a serious investment in the overall category and has helped Schaafsma anticipate and capitalise on the latest trends. Accolade’s Winning With Wine website also offers retailers a wealth of information to help grow their businesses. Schaafsma has plenty of scope to play with an impressive roster of brands, and his influence on the trade looks set to grow still further.

3 Miles Beale

CEO, Wine & Spirit Trade Association 

Past CV: DEFRA, Cabinet Office

A winning combination of tenacity, diplomacy and charisma has seen Beale enjoy a stellar year at the helm of the WSTA. The experienced lobbyist was already riding high after claiming victory in his Why Should Responsible Drinkers Pay More? campaign, which saw the government scrap plans for a minimum unit price on alcohol. But he set himself up for a spectacular fall when he pledged to get the duty escalator on wine scrapped in this year’s Budget. The beer lobby had already succeeded and if Beale failed serious questions would have been asked about his ability to represent the wine trade. But he passed with flying colours after launching another strong campaign – Be Fair, George.

The following week at Prowein OLN talked to leading UK suppliers, all of whom showered Beale with praise. He is the leading voice in all BWS when it comes to the politics affecting the trade, and can be relied upon to provide the national media with convincing, hard-hitting sound bites. As the health lobby licks its wounds and prepares for the next battle, Beale is already planning his response. He will continue to be a crucial asset to the trade.

2 George Osborne

Chancellor of the exchequer

The chancellor’s annual Budget speech is a key event in the wine industry calendar as the trade comes to a standstill to await its fate with bated breath. Osborne has the power to make or break suppliers and retailers with a mere 20 words delivered halfway through a two-hour speech on the general economy. This year he decided to give the trade the break it had long been praying for. Nigh on half the people on this list were quoted as saying they would be raising a glass to the chancellor after he announced he would scrap the duty escalator on wine, a year after axing it on beer. 

The news may have been delivered nonchalantly in between verdicts on bingo and ISAs, but he will have given the decision a lot of thought. much credit must go to lobbyists such as Miles Beale and vocal industry insiders for putting forward a loud and convincing argument that a strong wine trade is as good for business as a healthy beer one, but the final decision rests with the chancellor. After axing the escalator on beer he was pictured in countless pubs across the UK, raising a pint to the camera while fawning publicans and brewers stared adoringly.

Expect him to cash in on the latest round of goodwill as his hardworking publicists set up photo opportunities at wine merchants and vineyards across the land. It may sound cynical –

buying good publicity and votes for pennies off a bottle of wine – but it will give the wine trade his ear and the opportunity to convince him to give it another much-needed shot in the arm. Although the duty escalator was scrapped on wine, it was still the most harshly treated BwS category. Duty was cut on beer and frozen on cider and spirits, but it will rise in line with inflation on wine. There is another Budget before the next general election and the power still lies with Osborne, who can scrap the inflationary rises or impose harsh taxes on wine. The trade will have to unite, argue its case vociferously and keep its fingers tightly crossed.

1 Dan Jago

UK & group wine director, Tesco

It seems almost superfluous to mention a time when Jago wasn’t the man in the vinous hot seat at the nation’s retailing powerhouse, because it’s hard to imagine anyone more suitable to occupy it.

It’s been eight years since Jago traded life as head of Bibendum for the top wine job and his passion and energy for theindustry remain as strong and determined as ever.

Over that time, he has demonstrated that he is not just a world-class retailing brain, but a fully paid-up member of the wine industry, no doubt having eschewed many opportunities to transfer his skills to other sectors and potentially even return to the supply base.

Clarity of thought, rigour in his decision-making and an unswerving belief that the customer is always right mark Jago out as a genuine leader in a sector that needs innovative thinking more than ever.

Jago’s role was expanded in 2012 to give him a global remit, which has seen his impact on the world wine stage grow even more as he has sought to exploit production capabilities across the supply chain to match his vision of what wines should be available across Tesco’s empire.

Though his responsibilities mean he has to spend more time overseas, he has maintained a firm grip on the UK tiller.

He has nurtured a highly capable team, which, to his credit, has remained largely unchanged for many years, and under his stewardship has developed genuinely groundbreaking innovations.

From the huge step-change in quality and breadth of its Finest range, to the sophisticated online platform it now boasts and the multi-channel approach it is steering, it’s no wonder suppliers and retailers across the world take their cue from Tesco.

Game-changing, engaging and also armed with razor-sharp intellect and wit, Jago has won the industry’s respect not because of his position, but because he has truly earned it.

Jago: In the words of the industry

“As a supplier to Sainsbury’s while still at Bibendum, he was a joy to work with – that blend of salesman, good manager, team builder and mate, and with an understanding of the supermarket wine business. I was a tad surprised when he made that giant leap from supplier to buyer – and to the big Tesco, too. Although it was a competitor, I never saw Dan like that, but as a good bloke bringing good things to the buying side and a wealth of understanding of the issues in the industry that some supermarkets did not – or did not want to – understand.”

Allan Cheesman, consultant and former head of wine at Sainsbury’s

“Dan has always put the industry first with everything he does. He is a spokesman for everyone in the trade and combines empathy and passion. He is incredibly knowledgeable and, when you consider the work he has done with Tesco Finest, for instance, he has brought in so many new wines and styles, and shown he is prepared to take chances.

“There aren’t many people with that combination of personality and knowledge. Who else would the wine trade have who could represent it and champion it so strongly if we didn’t have him?”

Paul Schaafsma, Accolade Wines general manager for the UK, Ireland & global partners

“I first met Dan in 1996. I’d just joined Tesco as a graduate buyer and was sitting at my desk when he took a seat next to me to introduce himself. He proceeded to talk about Chile and Argentina for the next half an hour and I was left slightly reeling from his sheer enthusiasm and obvious love of wine. It made me want to get on the next plane there and buy some wine. Over the next 10 years I spent a lot of time with him in various parts of the world, discussing ideas for ranges or arguing over prices (I always blinked first, apparently). There was never a dull moment.”

Helen McGinn, McGinn Associates




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