In 2009 shipper and supplier Hayman Barwell Jones went into administration and was rescued by John Coe.
The Coe Vintners owner rebranded and relaunched it as a wine agency in 2012 with a dozen wineries on its roster and an emphasis on Spain, Portugal and South America.
Barwell & Jones now has a turnover of nearly £3 million and, after putting a new team in place, has ramped up its growth plans by almost doubling the number of wineries on its books.
Managing director Steve Gerrard – who took over in 2012 following stints at Waverley TBS and PLB – has overseen the rebuilding process and the implementation of a new 25-strong team. He told OLN: “The past 12 months have been a bit of a rollercoaster, but in a difficult trading period we have seen a 30% growth in the business.
“We have strengthened South America with Pueblo del Sol in Uruguay and taken on two Brazilian wineries – Pizzato and Perini. We recognised that New Zealand could be grown so we have taken on Elephant Hill. We also have Penny’s Hill and its sister winery Thomas Goss from Australia. From France we have taken on Clarendelle in Bordeaux and we have also added a new Champagne, Henri Giraud, and a new port, Burmester.
“We already had two from Spain and we have strengthened that with Bodegas Fontana.
“They all fit within the family and give us a point of difference. We are not quite finished yet in terms of the final portfolio. We are always looking for gaps and opportunities.
“Now we are being approached by numerous wineries but we will only take on those that give a point of difference.
“The provenance and unique selling point of our wineries is key to us. We have an MW, Junior Vianna, who helps us determine a strong quality to price ratio.”
The agency works with multiples but 70% of its business comes from independent retailers and Gerrard has confidence in the channel. “A lot of them are born out of a passion for wine and entrepreneurship,” he said.
“Those that are still here have survived and learned lessons and have looked at consumers and know what they want – people such as Phil Amps [of Amps Fine Wines in Northamptonshire] who is doing pop-up tastings with food and Skype tastings, giving consumers added value.
“We get a lot of our winemakers over and go out to independents and do store tastings all over the UK. We took David Baverstock from Herdade do Esporão in Portugal to do a tasting for 80 people at an independent in Belfast.
“It’s a massive investment but we want to help our retail partners to be profitable.
“We are independent and privately-owned. That gives us a lot of flexibility and makes us quite dynamic as a business.
“We could go into certain sectors and get some very quick wins by going in on price. That’s not sustainable. We have to carefully select retailers to work with in partnership.”