Recently appointed as WineGB Chief Executive, Simon Thorpe MW has a wealth of wine trade knowledge and is eager to take on his next challenge leading WineGB for the UK wine production industry. He sees many opportunities and an exciting future for UK wine producers. Although he only started in October, he already has a busy agenda and has hit the ground running.
Simon has over 30 years’ experience working in the retail and wholesale sectors including Waitrose, Constellation, Negociants and John E Fells. He has also run his own consultancy operation providing business, brand and management advice to companies throughout the supply chain.
“I have spent a large amount of my wine industry career working with wines from around the world in the UK market. Now I have the opportunity to champion our own brilliant English and Welsh producers and help them to build a great and exciting future – that is a fantastic and hugely motivating challenge,” commented Simon. “Wouldn’t it be good, for every restaurant in the country to have an English or Welsh wine on their list? I also think tourism and direct to consumer sales are huge areas for development,” he added.
Simon describes himself as a “wine industry lifer!” He started in 1988 as a sales assistant in the wine department at Fortnum and Mason, wearing a morning suit and hunting pink at Christmas! “On my first day we had a tasting of Premier and Grand Cru Chablis, and I remember thinking that this might be a decent way to spend my working life,” exclaims Simon. However, he does admit that not every day has been like that since!
Simon is also no stranger to the practical hard work of wine production. Simon, and his wife Louise, spent 18 months working their way around new world wine regions, including wineries in California and Australia. “We did all sorts of vintage jobs, and for me shovelling four tons of skins out of open top fermenters in Australia was certainly a highlight! It was a brilliant time and I learnt so much about the inner workings of large and small wineries,” he recalls. Simon went on to further his knowledge of wine and he gained his Master of Wine qualification in 1997. “I found the tasting element difficult as it’s a real test of nerve. There’s no time to change your mind,” Simon admits.
With a wealth of experience Simon is now excited to have the chance to support our own industry. “It feels fantastic to be involved in an industry which is still relatively young, which is populated by passionate and talented people, which is growing fast and is making world class wines. For my whole career I have focused on the commercialisation of wines from around the world and selling them in this market,” commented Simon. “I think being able to understand the interaction between producer and consumer will be very helpful in creating a great platform for our members, across all the available channels,” he added.
Simon is now raring to go in his new role and has a long ‘to do’ list and set of priorities for WineGB. “There are some areas of our interaction with Westminster which are very pressing, including an excise duty review and the cellar door relief scheme. We have our WineGB Classic Method campaign and a focussed Christmas campaign. We also need to build our capability in tourism, export and focus our marketing efforts on building awareness amongst an ever more engaged consumer base,” Simon commented.
Simon is also very aware of the challenges facing producers, besides those created by mother nature and the pandemic he commented that “building appropriate business plans with the customer and consumer firmly at the centre of the strategy is key to success.” He also added that, “planning in such a volatile trading environment is not easy of course.
“The WineGB Classic Method campaign aims to provides a ‘halo’ effect to help promote the whole English and Welsh wine industry, so it is very logical to focus on this,” explained Simon. However, he welcomes the wide range of wine styles and added, “we would not want the industry to be seen as a one trick pony and it is fantastic for there to be such an increasingly innovative producer community. As long as there is a consumer demand for all these different styles of wine and packaging then why not pursue this! This provides a richness and excitement to our category; it creates buzz and engages with a diverse set of consumers.”
Simon has arrived at WineGB at a testing time for the industry and this last quarter is likely to be very challenging for many producers as they try to achieve sales during the second lockdown in the lead up to Christmas. “It’s imperative to use whichever channels are open to producers to satisfy consumer demand. There is going to be a hugely disrupted on-trade, but cellar doors and off-licences are able to remain open,” Simon added. His advice to producers is to take advantage of this using online orders, gifting, and by making sure they are pushing their businesses as much as possible in the local community.
Simon Robinson, Chairman of WineGB, commented: “On behalf of WineGB, its Board and members, we are delighted to welcome Simon Thorpe. The expertise and knowledge that he brings from so many areas of the wine trade and the world of wine at large will help take this industry to the next level as we look to a very exciting future.”