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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Miriam Spiers, Alliance Wine

Published:  31 July, 2023

Midway through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. We continue our series with, Miriam Spiers, sales director, Alliance Wine, to find out how the year has gone so far and what the remainder may bring.


How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

Last year was an incredibly strong year for Alliance. With a growth of 45%, we thought ‘we are going to carry on and ride this wave’, except the wave is not quite as high and strong anymore. We are still delighted to have growth on last year, even though it’s not in the same double digits.

I am sure that everybody in the industry would agree that in the first few months of the year, the strongest winds were those resulting from the increased costs in dry goods, transport and additional post-Brexit administration. There was an overall lack of stability as prices climbed almost on a daily basis. As a result, we looked to find any possible savings that we could, including reviewing all our transport partners and looking for new solutions. One of these was setting up our new hub in Honfleur, which allows us and our customers to ship most of our key French producers’ wine from one point. It is our third consolidation hub in Europe, after Spain and Italy.

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

Nobody will have been able to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis, with ballooning inflation and dramatic increases impacting dry goods, transport and basically every aspect of our operation. However, we have found some ways to support our customers through this crisis.

Being very aware of staffing issues, many operators have limited time to train and support new staff. In order to help, we have run Wine List Workshops for our on-trade customers, creating a free platform to learn about the structure of a good wine list, including its ability to deliver not just interesting styles and flavours, but most importantly, profitability. It is many operators’ strongest tool.

We are also doing this with our wholesale customers, running similar workshops, where we share our 40-year experience as a wholesaler and can offer advice on profitability and efficiencies. Fundamentally, it is about working as a wine partner with our customers, not just as a wine supplier. We have the tools and the knowledge to help them sell more wine and maximise the wine revenue stream, even in the teeth of tough conditions. We are always here to help.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

Most importantly on the business front, we are very happy to retain our post-Covid growth in the face of many increasing challenges, but there have been other great moments this year.

We have been focusing on working in more sustainable ways for a few years now and have some big targets to achieve. But it is about the little things too and being holistic. We are very proud to have run our first portfolio tastings with an anti-waste policy in place this spring. We partnered with the Sustainable Restaurant Association to create a policy to mitigate waste at trade tastings – the first of its kind in relation to wine events, we believe. We are happy to share this with the trade as everyone is on their own sustainability journey and we can do so much more together.

We have also partnered with The Drinks Trust as our chosen charity and we are delighted that seven members of the Alliance team successfully completed the Edinburgh marathon and managed to raise over £6,000, so far. In an economic climate like this, we feel it is very important to be supporting everyone in hospitality as much as we can in as many ways as we can. To this end, we still have a couple of marathons planned for later in the year.

Last, but by no means least, is our recent IWC win – Spanish & Portuguese Specialist 2023. We haven’t entered for a while and it is great to have this peer recognition for all the hard work that all parts of the business have put in to build such a strong Iberian category. It was a lovely accolade to receive and we are very proud.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

We always try to stay optimistic and remember that crises eventually always pass. The ways we work might change, but hospitality will carry on. Many exciting new places will open and wine will be enjoyed. But if we were to list the main concerns at the moment, they would be:

  1. Many businesses are not reflecting the increased costs in the way they operate. They are not changing and adjusting their model, and we have seen a number of them closing down.
  2. Looking at our own industry, the cheap, mass-produced wine, stripping alcohol just to maintain a price point, does not set a good standard for the industry or a good impression for the wine drinker.
  3. The level of bureaucracy, new duty structure and lack of government understanding of our industry in general is another big concern.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

The market is pretty polarised. We see people buying better quality (as the cheapest ones became expensive, anyway). All the classic regions are still very strong in every market – Champagne, Burgundy, Chablis, Albarino, Rioja, Italian whites with Gavi, Fiano, Vermentino, Puglian rosé are in growth. Specifically, from our producers, the stars in these categories have been our Chanzy, Pazo de Señorans, Luis Cañas, Olim Bauda and Produttori di Manduria.

The other trend emerging is lower alcohol. As we don’t believe that stripping wine of a natural level of alcohol is the way forward, we introduced a range of natural ciders made via the ‘keeving’ method. Being only around 5% alcohol and tasting very much like natural wine, this is a more interesting way to fill the lower alcohol demands of the consumer.

We are already fully geared up for autumn with our strong Shop Rioja campaign, some exciting new French wineries from classic regions to launch, from Champagne and the Rhône, but also from the Roussillon and Madiran. So watch this space! For those loving the natural side of wine, we have exciting new Sans Soufre additions from Defaix in Chablis and Rully.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

We try not to refer to pre-Covid times too much. The world has changed and we need to manoeuvre in this new one to find the best way forward. Agility and adaptability have always been Alliance’s strong points. Finding more efficient ways of working has been our way forward. We have a very strong team, committed and creative to get us through.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

Realistic: A challenging European harvest as hot weather restricts yields in crucial parts of the season. This will no doubt push prices higher and restrict availability.

Hopeful: The softening inflation may provide a little respite in inflationary pressures. Customers getting creative as to how they sell wine, working with suppliers to can help them do this. England to win the ashes 3-2 on the last ball of the series.


Quick fire questions…

Old World or New?

It is the old one for me.

Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit? 

Both. Margherita or whisky are top of the list at the moment.

Vermentino or Vermouth?


Low or No?

Absolutely not. Why would you?

Three star or bistro?

Bistro, good pub or street food as long as it has character and flavour!

Desert island tipple?

Has to be whisky, as the bottle will last longer. If I had regular case drops, it would be white Burgundy.