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January will end eventually, nothing can stop the passing of time.
Look, nobody thought that Bolney Estate wanted to sell out to the biggest sparkling wine business on the planet, but it happened.
Funding, Growth, Exit Plan.
So, this week Bolney Estate in Sussex got sold to Henkell-Freixenet*. A relatively large producer of good quality, albeit mainstream English fizz, gets bought by the ‘International Market Leader” in Cava & Prosecco.
Are we expecting Bolney to become the UK’s biggest player in premium quality fizz?
Are we expecting Bolney to become a convenient brand extension in the U.K with minimal profit requirements beyond an underpinning of U.K marketing strategy.
Bolney is now useful for H-F to parade about in their marketing literature as a key investment in the U.K or whatever, while slowly lowering the quality, and increasing the scale. It will happen however much you’d prefer that not to be the case.
They’ll be sponsoring the Boat Races next.
Bolney Estate’s Sam Linter, whose parents started the business, also gathered investment a few years ago with the view to more than double their volume output from 120k bottles to 300k+ bottles. It was already on the cards, but maybe Bolney needed the additional helping hand**.
Perhaps Bolney will have a Stand a ProWein this year instead of the London Wine Fair?
Craft Brewery Equivalence?
I think the U.K wine scene has far more parallels with the U.K beer scene than you’d think. A vast chunk of the industry is relatively small production businesses, passionate about their craft and with a keen eye on their small segment.
How many of them follow the tech startup strategy of funding rounds from a solid pitch deck, followed by years of profit-free customer acquisition in readiness for a corporate buyout? It’s never the intention.
I very much doubt Bolney did, and I doubt the countless craft buyouts did either, although their outputs are similarly ‘Craft’. Business strives for consistent growth that outstrips previous years steady organic increases. The inherent need for market dominance, a fear of missing out on a fair share of the mega-pie belies a retention for that craft.
Being happy with your lot is no use when everyone else’s lot seems a lot bigger.
The Future is Rosé
What precisely does the future have in store?
For Craft Beer, more buyouts obviously, and that’s a bad thing for the industry of beloved, craft pioneers, the small scale, the innovative, the modern traditionalists.
For ostensibly Craft Wine***, more buyouts of course, but the industry at large sees this as a good thing. “Investing in British!”, World Beating etc, etc. Maybe an English rival to Rosé Prosecco.
Wine is a commercial business and wineries need investment to grow. The exact same excuse given by Craft Beer brands when they get that all important listing in Tesco, at the expense of the local bottle shop that supported them from Day1.
How many U.K winery buyouts can be applauded before the public cotton on? Their niche support for English wine, buying a bottle of Bolney in Booths, might not actually be propping up the people they thought they were?
It’s an inevitably curious contradiction to me.
* I can’t be bothered to type ‘Henkell Freixenet’ every time, so I’ll shorthand to ‘H-F’
** I’m certainly not privy to any insider business info!
*** I like the phrase ‘Craft Wine’ FYI it’s considered, it’s a sensible definition.
Do I Do A Podcast?
If you’ve got this far, thanks, just a tad more. I floated the idea of Podcast, the world is by no means saturated with them yet.
If I find the time, I might do it. The broad idea is a Devil’s Advocate Vs stakeholders debate show. Guests come on and convince me that certain things are a good idea.
Topics might include English Winery Buyouts, Tech & Wine, Napa Cabernet, or alternative formats. That sort of thing. Not your average chat, just a light-hearted two-sided take on wine world through different lens. Finding guests to antagonise might be a struggle.
If you think you’d listen, let me know. Hit reply or find me on the internet.
Some background stats on Henkell Freixenet from May 2020.
Henkell Freixenet group breaks €1bn in turnover
For a bit of background, by John Mobbs at Great British Wine from 2018.
A pertinent interview with Sam Linter