Liberty’s offering has grown from 1,300 wines to almost 1,400 after agreeing the distribution deal with Sogrape, and it has taken on some much-loved brands.
Sandeman port, Mateus rosé and Casa Ferreirinha now all sit in the Liberty stable, along with Finca Flichman from Argentina, Chateau Los Boldos from Chile, Framingham from New Zealand, Quinta de Azevedo from Portugal and Bodegas LAN from Spain.
Managing director David Gleave told OLN: “We have been talking to Sogrape since March last year and got to know them quite well. It’s a big move for both companies but getting to know them as we did, right away you can see there are lots of shared values and a similar ethos.
“There are similar philosophies: they take a long-term view. Port is a long-term business. The quality of the Sandeman wines is amazing. They are only getting better. The investments they make in their estates was a real eye-opener and it made us realise they are a great fit.”
Gleave expects consolidation to continue apace. “There are clouds on the horizon – rising inflation, household debt at its highest level since 2008, stagnant pay packets – so a little bit less disposable income will put the squeeze on a number of people and then customers respond by buying from fewer people and consolidate their supplier base,” he said. “We have always wanted to make ourselves as delist-proof as possible. Sogrape strengthens our hand, but we have to carry on.
“What is fabulous for the health of the industry is the newer, smaller importers opening up, and that’s where the competition comes from. They have the energy, the hunger and the new ideas. I hope they are the Libertys of tomorrow because that’s really important for the long-term health of our industry.”
Liberty’s turnover is £50 million, putting it alongside the likes of Berkmann and Hallgarten in terms of scale. Just over half of its sales are to the on-trade, 30% to indies and the rest to the multiple off-trade, where Mateus will be a good fit. “On-trade and independent off-trade are growing really well,” said Gleave. “We had a very strong year for independent off-trade. That was the biggest area of growth for our company. It’s a very dynamic sector. It’s really competitive.
“The best independent retailers are doing a really good job. If they able to offer range and service they are in a great position. Within our portfolio the vast majority of our wines are not available in any other channel apart from the premium on-trade, so there’s a perfect fit.”
When asked where he sees further growth coming from in 2017, he said: “We are hoping modern Portugal will be one of them! At Sogrape you have got all these native grape varieties. I think that’s going to be exciting. There are similarities with Italy. The wines need to be hand-sold and with our Italian background we know how to hand-sell wines. Independent off-trade and on-trade are ideally suited to hand-sell wines.
“Rejuvenated France in our sector is doing. We are taking on a lot of other producers. I am still excited about Spain. Australia is so exciting. The market is slightly down and the exchange rate is not in our favour, but the quality, diversity and excitement coming out of there is unparalleled in the wine world.”