Virgin Wines is one of the UK’s largest direct-to-consumer online wine retailers.  Vineyard talks to wine buyer Sophie Lord.

More than 90% of wines by volume at Virgin Wines are exclusive and during 2020 the company delivered over one million cases to its customers. The company also sells a growing range of beers and spirits as well as having an industry leading gift service and a thriving corporate sales department. 

“It is a multi-award-winning business with a reputation for curating and supplying high quality products, excellent levels of customer service and innovative ways of retailing. Virgin Wines was awarded Specialist Online Drinks Retailer of the Year 2022 at The Drinks Retailing Awards earlier this year. 

What is the profile of your customers?

“Our customers are pretty evenly split on both gender and age, with 10% more male than female customers and 60% of customers falling between age 25 and 54. 

Which country, style of wine, are best sellers?

“Top countries are Australia and France, followed by Italy. Top styles are full and fruity reds, clean and crisp reds, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and big reds,” said Sophie.

Do you stock/list English and/or Welsh Wines?

What are you looking for when considering new wines to list?

“First and foremost – does it taste delicious! And after that, it has to be a good reflection of its origin and style.

What do you expect a suppler/producer to supply to you in advance?

“We start off by asking for samples, then once we decide to list a product we have a form which we send out to ask for details about the wine. This includes the basic technical info such as abv %, grape variety/varieties etc, but also for things like a quote from the producer and a winemaker bio, so we can include this on our website for customers to see and engage with. 

Do you have a minimum drop for a listing?

“No. This will depend on the product and what we think the run rate will be, and also what activity it is bought in for.

“English/Welsh wines have come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade. Our traditional method sparkling wines now rival some of the world’s most famous examples, and our whites and roses are deliciously refreshing due to our cool climate high acidity. I think we are also capable of making some lighter style reds – but sparkling, whites and roses are our strongpoints.

Broadly, what do you think of English/Welsh wines?

“English/Welsh wines have come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade. Our traditional method sparkling wines now rival some of the world’s most famous examples, and our whites and roses are deliciously refreshing due to our cool climate high acidity. I think we are also capable of making some lighter style reds – but sparkling, whites and roses are our strongpoints.

What are English and Welsh producers doing well?

“More wineries are investing in wine tourism and opening up their cellar doors, which is allowing the British public access to the English and Welsh wine scene. It’s a great way for people to get more involved with supporting our UK wineries. 

There is also a host of local talent coming up through places like Plumpton College, and as winemaking is a growing industry in the UK it will allow future generations to have a career in this sector.  

Conversely, what should they be considering/thinking/doing?

“Due to economies of scale, it is tough for Welsh and English wineries to compete on pricing with larger and more established wine regions. Therefore it can be more difficult to convince consumers to switch from their usual tipples. 

What trends do you discern in wine sales and is there anything that English and Welsh viticulturists and vinifers should be addressing, going forward?

“With rosé growing in popularity, I think English rosé has the ability to take a share of this market (especially if you look at the trend for very dry, pale blush premium wines).  

Is there anything you would like to say to English and Welsh winemakers and producers?

“Keep up the good work!

Your background

“I started working at Virgin Wines back in 2007, where they embraced my passion for wine and paid for me to undertake the WSET Level 2, 3 and 4. Over the years my wine knowledge increased, and in 2019 there was an opportunity to join the Buying Team – and the rest is history! I feel extremely lucky to have a job that I adore and the opportunity to work with winemakers around the world who are equally passionate about wine.

What style, type, country’s wine, do you personally enjoy?

“There is a time and a place for everything, but I always come back to big, bold, fruit driven reds like Chilean Cabernet; crisp and minerally whites such as a Menetou Salon or Picpoul; and of course I couldn’t live without a nice glass of sparkling.