L’Assemblage is an award-winning specialist fine wine merchant and a French winemaking term that best defines the finest grape and wine selections. Founded in 1996, we sell classic wines that truly express the character of their regions. Apart from trading online from our offices in West Sussex, we offer consultancy services on cellar management, investment and international delivery.
The changing times
It was a whole different trade back in 1996 when we moved our shop online. The release of Windows and the internet made trading easier, slashing shop running costs. As with thousands of new startups, NatWest helped our business to flourish with a useful credit line and understanding corp-orate managers, who became loyal customers. Gradually we switched from fax to email and text, Streamline to Worldpay and Sagepay. Initially we started out as brokers then ploughed our profits back to become significant stockholders. The interest on our savings was far more attractive invested in wine, where the returns averaged 24% per annum on desirable bonded cases.
We sell limited quantities of fine and rare wines that one can’t usually find in the supermarket or chains. That doesn’t mean that great wines are expensive. More satisfaction can be attained from finding that rising star beneath the radar. So much so we’ve also become investors in growers we trust.
The MD and founder, Guy Willings, studied wine marketing in Australia but soon realised his interest lay in the classic wines of France, and especially Burgundy.
Back to Burgundy
Having recently returned from our first buying trip to France in over two hard years, we’ve noticed the region has boomed. The world’s greatest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines have never been as popular, with increasing demand and small harvests fuelling a surge in prices. Burgundy consolidated its position as the top wine region in value for 2021, making up 41% of our total sales (compared to 32% for Bordeaux). Volumes were down by 7%.
Clearly 2020 was another very successful vintage for the region. The whites were invigorating with fresh citrus and stone fruit depth, acidity and minerality. Pierre Vincent of Domaine Leflaive has made some of his finest yet. The reds were composed, aromatic with ripe red berry fruits. Many are rich and concentrated with tannins to help them age. Highlights include the pinots we enjoyed at Domaines AF Gros, Tawse and Comte de Vogue.
A drawback is the tiny 2021 harvest that follows, pushing up prices on previous vintages. Lack of supply is a burgeoning problem, whether caused by global warming or worldwide demand.
The market audience
The market has become more congested with thirsty trade and privates buying for collections, gifts and investment. This last decade we have seen rising demand from Southeast Asia and the home market. The UK accounts for 61% of our annual sales. Exports to the US are steady with the remainder spread primarily across Europe.
Steering through Brexit and lockdowns
Our online secure payment systems, efficient shipping and bonded cellarage, has helped us manage. Having a small dynamic team and fewer overheads than many of our rivals, has enabled us to adapt fast. Importantly we listen to our customers and observe their behaviours. Brexit has been disruptive. More shipping documentation and delays in transit are to blame, coupled with rising costs of fuel and wine production. After an interesting 2021 amidst lockdowns and curfews, our clients have thankfully increased their purchasing by 27%.
We’ve also increased sales by buying smarter from reputable chateaux and reliable UK agents. We rarely buy from auction but compete against them for private cellars of provenance.
A lucrative investment
Our online shop listings are updated continuously with wine tasting notes, critic scores and pictures, reassuring our customers that our wines are available. We also sell ‘en primeur’ to investors who are prepared to wait two years for their wine to mature in the barrel. With falling production and inflation over 5%, investors are looking to safeguard their wealth. Research published by Connection Capital indicate that high net worth investors are diversifying, with more than 10% of their wealth being invested in alternative assets. Fine wine has a good hedging record against inflation according to our experience and the Livex 1000 index, a leading global fine-wine trade and research platform.
Traditionally, Bordeaux has been the most invested region because of sizeable production and consistent demand of their grand cru chateaux. Nowadays, there’s growing demand from Burgundy, Tuscany, Napa and beyond. Champagne sales are up 40%. Livex’s Champagne 50 index was by far the strongest performer in 2021.
Unlike other alternative investments, such as gold or art, fine wine is a diminishing chattel. Its limited availability and frequent consumption drives prices up, especially amongst the most collectible vintages.
Embracing the future
Vintage shortfalls exacerbate the supply and demand. We’ve noticed leading producers are adopting greener credentials whether organically or biodynamically. So long as their style does not alter for the worse, our customers are embracing these healthy changes.
There are many merchants that have since moved into our field, although most come and go. We have stuck to our guns as a niche specialist, targeting our market and clientele. This has grown through the internet and word of mouth.
More information on services, wines and offers can be found on our site. Our knowledgeable team will be glad to assist.