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Hallgarten Annual Tasting: Singing from the same hymn sheet

Published:  21 February, 2024

In its first annual tasting since the Coterie Holdings takeover, Hallgarten & Novum Wines welcomed well over 1,000 visitors to Lindley Hall, London, to sample the breadth and depth of its portfolio.

Hallgarten had over 750 wines on show across the two-day tasting including 160 from 26 new producers. The business, which is in its 91st year, also let go between 40-50 wines over the past 12 months.

Notable new additions to the portfolio for 2024 included; Vietti, the iconic Barolo producer; three Australians in the shape of Xanadu, Mount Langi Ghiran and Yering Station; East Sussex-based Hoffman & Rathbone; and the Burgundian producers Ropiteau Freres and Sylvain Debord, to name a few.

As you will have read, in December 2023, Hallgarten joined fine wine merchants Lay & Wheeler, bonded storage facility Coterie Vaults, and wine lending business Jera, under the umbrella of Coterie Holdings, a recently formed business led by former Bibendum CEO Michael Saunders.

Harpers sat down with Michael Saunders, CEO of Coterie Holdings and Andrew Bewes, MD of Hallgarten during the annual tasting.

“We are very happy with where our range is, and we are actively looking for other opportunities and other things – availability of exciting wine is not the issue, it’s more about how we orchestrate it, how we use that,” Bewes told Harpers.

“Andrew [Bewes] and his team had the 2024 annual tasting locked and loaded well before Coterie came on board,” Saunders added.

“For Coterie, this tasting is just a very good signpost as to why we wanted the business in our world – it’s brilliantly done, well-executed, well-attended and the wine range is great. There’s no Coterie influence here at all today other than me pouring Andrew with ideas as we stand around today,” Saunders continued.

Despite this, there is undoubtedly greater interest in the annual tasting due to the recent takeover, as the lofty visitor figures will attest. 

As part of the Coterie project, Hallgarten will be able to grant its customers access to a selection of fine wines from the Lay & Wheeler portfolio, although the business is still formulating how this will work in practice. 

“The Lay & Wheeler guys are here [at the tasting] having a wander around, seeing what we do, and we’re doing the same with them, it’s early days from that perspective,” said Bewes.

“Loosely, we are already seeing some portfolio crossover between Hallgarten and Lay & Wheeler – they [L&W] have been a customer for many years. I think the real upside from a Hallgarten perspective and a Hallgarten customer perspective is easy access to aged fine wines we hadn’t had before, that we would previously buy from the open market. And, from a Lay & Wheeler side, there are some immediate benefits in getting closer to our range. But I think strategically down the track we can have broader conversations with would-be suppliers because we have so many routes to market, so that’s where it gets really exciting,” Bewes added.

With so many industry stalwarts under one roof, the trade is keen to see how the likes of Hallgarten, Coterie and Lay & Wheeler will work together in the years ahead.

“The point is to share best practice when we can but to let the businesses thrive independently,” said Saunders.

“Our job is to make both businesses flourish, Andrew’s job is to make Hallgarten excel, and my job is to give Andrew the tools to help Hallgarten excel and make the business even greater than it already is,” added Saunders.

One such tool could be the use of AI and other technologies, an area Saunders believes Coterie has an edge over its competitors.

“One of the areas Coterie really thinks it can win at is in technology. We’ve got a lot of technology resources within the group – we see that there’s a potential competitive advantage for us,” said Saunders.

“For example, before I joined Coterie, I was discussing where we could potentially take Lay & Wheeler, with a former colleague. He now happens to run a very well-known private bank, and so I asked him, ‘how do you look after all your private customers because they are all quite high net worth and he said, ‘we use AI for most of it’. He said, ‘it gives us real power for understanding, individually, what each of our customers want, when they want it, how they want it,’” Saunders said.

“It’s also about freeing up time and allowing our people to add real value to the businesses,” continued Bewes, quelling fears that the dawn of AI might result in job cuts.

“Brand management, for instance, you can spend all your time trying to gather the data and trying to understand it, rather than implementing it for the greater good of the businesses,” Bewes added.

In 2021, Hallgarten launched an online ordering app for customers, an initiative that continues to flourish today. At the time, the customer service team could be forgiven for thinking the new technology would result in job cuts. However, Hallgarten increased its customer service personnel after migrating 20% of its orders online.

One potential area of concern, particularly for Hallgarten as a supplier to the premium on-trade, is the swathe of high-end restaurant closures in the UK, although both Saunders and Bewes remain buoyant about the future of the sector.

“I’ve been doing this a while, as has Andrew, and you do see cycles when some places close others do open, and there are lots of new independents, I’ve seen today four or five different people with significant plans in and around London,” said Saunders.

“There’s always the next wave, I don’t want that to sound heartless because I know what it’s like to build a business, there is ample opportunity, and our job is to increase market share even in a declining market,” added Saunders.

“Every restaurant needs to fight its corner – it is a survival of the fittest scenario, and actually the really good operators who have been around a long time, they are agile, they are continually changing, continually evolving,” concluded Bewes.

For Hallgarten at least, positive evolution is very much in the air.