Brexit poses threat to London's elite status

The Brexit vote has sparked a talent drain that threatens London’s elite status in the global wine trade, according to Liberty Wines managing director David Gleave MW.

“Brexit is a bloody nightmare,” he told DRN. “Personally I am furious. It’s defi nitely the wrong thing for the country. “What worries me is that, anecdotally, there’s a lot of sommeliers who say: ‘I don’t feel welcome here. I am going to go to a diff erent country to work or go back to my country.’ There’s going to be a real shortage of good-quality people in the trade and we are reliant on those people to sell good-quality wine.

“We are having to pour a huge amount of money into training to make up a shortfall.”

Gleave said the Brexit referendum result and the ensuing damage to foreign exchange rates has already affected his firm’s margins. “It has already hit us because of the devaluation of the pound,” he said.

“We had to put prices up, like many others, but we couldn’t recoup anything like the total loss of margin it has cost us. “Our customers have had food infl ation, wine retailers have had wine infl ation, and they have had to re-engineer their ranges, so we couldn’t pass on all our increases.”

Despite the various headwinds, Gleave said Liberty has just enjoyed its strongestever year of trading. “We just keep things simple and give customers very good service,” he said. “We work very hard on consistently bringing in new and interesting wines. We have recently taken on wines from China, India and Israel, and they are good wines. Customers have had costs rising every which way, so we need to be efficient and as seamless as possible.”

He is encouraged by increasing levels of wine education among British consumers, as he feels this can drive growth in premium tiers. “Consumption is declining, and that’s no bad thing,” said Gleave.

“There’s a move towards people drinking better and there are increases in average selling prices in the premium sector, where engaged consumers need interesting wines.

“There’s no use buying any cheap thing, marking it up and taking a high margin. People know more about wine now.”

But he still feels that Brexit is the biggest long-term threat to the wine trade.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on the wine trade for many years,” he said.

“The economy is already smaller today than it would have been. That’s a general consensus.

“Spread that over the next 10-15 years and we will become slightly poorer, making us less attractive to wine producers, and it becomes a downward spiral.That would be a huge pity.

“I have been working in the London trade for 37 years and it has changed hugely for the better, becoming a lot more international. If we lose those people coming over, we will become more insular.

“People say there’s project fear and we haven’t fallen off the edge of a cliff , but that’s because Brexit hasn’t taken place yet. There could be much worse to come if it happens."

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