Waitrose wine team pledges loyalty to Old World regions

Waitrose has no intention of turning its back on classic wine regions that have been ravaged by spring frosts, hail and other issues that have driven up prices.

Many retailers are shifting their ranges and scouring the globe for cheaper wine in the wake of small harvests across France, but Waitrose has no plans to follow suit. 

Head of BWS Pierpaolo Petrassi MW told DRN: “We are really lucky because we have a lot of good, long-standing relationships with a lot of producers. We have relationships that go across decades and generations and that smooths out the bumps and troughs. We unashamedly get preferential treatment if the harvest is affected. 

“We try to solve a problem. We don’t just walk away. It doesn’t help the customer at all to do that. When the price goes up we try to explain as best we can to our customers. All our BWS specialists come to our tastings and we talk them through it. We explain that it is the smallest French harvest since 1945 across the board. It’s an opportunity to impart knowledge to them [consumers].

“We want to continue to show strong outperformance versus the market on many of our key areas, including Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône, the Loire and Italy.”

Petrassi praised the role Waitrose’s in-store BWS specialists play in explaining to shoppers the manifold wonders of the category. 

“We have more specialists than shops,” he said. “They are the friendly faces for everyone, from the little old lady who buys sherry every two weeks to somebody buying for their daughter’s wedding. We are lucky to have the ability to hand-sell in the way an independent might. This business is all about telling stories: how amazing the winemaker is, or how difficult picking hops is. The stories are many and varied and there are many great ones. 

“We want to inform customers to the level at which they want to be informed. It’s only a certain part of people’s lives and they don’t want to be inundated. We never want them to come away saying: ‘I feel a bit dense.’ If we can set out our stall so they feel they can come and ask us questions, the sky is the limit. 

“At the moment we are really excited about rum. We get asked if there’s only one way to drink it. That’s gold dust. There are all these amazing serves. We get people excited about it so they are actually in love with it by the time they take it to the tills. We are selling experiences, not just alcohol.”

He added: “We are one of the only retailers that feels it can invest in areas that are interesting. Our mantra is ‘drink a bottle or two of something amazing’. Don’t sit there and
sink four cans of cider that taste of nothing. 

“It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the future of alcohol has to be about selling less but better, making people respectful of that aspect of their consumption. We can make more generational decisions because we don’t have to report to the city every quarter. We can be a bit more obstinate about getting behind something we truly believe in.”

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