The UK market in crisis

An interview with Michael Saunders by Robert Joseph.

Michael Saunders/Cath Lowe
Michael Saunders/Cath Lowe

Michael Saunders is one of the leading members of the UK wine trade. In 1982, after having a budding career playing polo in Argentina cut short by that country’s brief war with the UK, he spent a few months working for Sam Aaron of Sherry Lehmann – “the father of the quality wine scene in New York”. He then joined the two founders of a new wine business in London called Bibendum and rose to become its CEO, while helping it to become one of the UK’s biggest importers and distributors. The company was sold in 2016 and, two years later, Saunders rescued it from the brink of bankruptcy, with the help of C&C, a giant beer, cider and soft drinks manufacturer. Today, he is back in his old role at Bibendum, while also serving as Chairman of the Wine & Spirits Trade Association (WSTA). 

MEININGER’S: How do you remember the UK wine scene of the 1980s? 
SAUNDERS: It was polarised. At one end, supermarkets started to come into the business, which sort of democratized wine. At the other, the fine wine business really opened up in London. The brilliant Farr Vintners [fine wine wholesaler] started to really anchor London as one of the world’s major trading hubs. It was a very pioneering time. Restaurants were opening that wanted to start moving into more artisan or unique wines that supported their vision for their cooking, rather than generic Burgundy or Bordeaux or Chateauneuf. 

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