Drink: A suitable case for treatment: The recent collapse of several wine companies has hit customers hard, says Anthony Rose

Nine days ago, Joseph Mankowitz and Raymond Burraway, directors of a centuries-old City wine company, were convicted of stealing pounds 2m-worth - 6,800 cases - of customers' wines. The issue of who owns the 5,000 remaining cases is so far unresolved.

Two other instances of wine-merchant insolvency, now the subject of legal action, will further undermine confidence in the trade's ability to protect wines paid for by customers.

Last August, the Hungerford Wine Co collapsed, leaving 14,000 customers in the lurch. Hungerford specialised in selling claret en primeur. This is the as yet unbottled wine of the latest vintage, paid for at a discount rate for delivery when bottled. The business had thrived on the fat vintages in the Eighties. But with three lean vintages compounded by recession, Hungerford went into liquidation.

Despite guarantees that its wines were safe in director Nicholas Davies's hands, customers are having to contest ownership, because most of the pounds 1m of wines were not labelled with customers' names. To complicate matters, Hungerford failed to pay for the 1990 and 1991 wines it acquired for customers en primeur.

In early 1993, Mr Davies started the Claret Club, a subscription scheme based on the mailing list of the Hungerford Wine Co and operating from its premises. Eleven days before Hungerford went out of business, Mr Davies wrote to me: 'I was most upset that the Claret Club was not mentioned as a stockist for red bordeaux. Is this little town of Hungerford disappearing from the map just because we are trying to provide customers with a better service overall?'

Better service was not extended to a host of disaffected customers by Nigel Baring, the man behind the London Wine Co (not connected with London Wine Ltd of Chelsea Wharf), which crashed in 1975 leaving customers 12,000 cases adrift. Mr Baring popped up again in the Eighties as an en primeur specialist. In the past couple of years, he bought three ailing wine merchants: Chaplin & Co of Worthing; Ellis, Son & Vidler of Lewes; and Stapylton Fletcher of Maidstone. All are now insolvent or inactive.

Mr Baring removed more than 2,000 cases from Ellis, Son & Vidler's warehouse to his own cellars. He insists he did so in the interests of customers. None the less, the receiver, Nigel Vooght of Coopers & Lybrand, acting for NatWest, needed a court order to get Mr Baring to deliver up those wines to his control. Coutts, in particular, was less than amused to see its port being impounded.

Meanwhile, John Rubinstein, the solicitor acting for a group of 70 Ellis, Son & Vidler customers, is optimistic that his clients will recover their wines - a claim which is to be heard in court in the near future.

At the end of last year, Mr Baring's own company, Nigel Baring & Co, was wound up, leaving more than 600 customers without wines for which they had paid from pounds 100 to pounds 50,000. Nicholas Porritt, a Lloyds underwriter and customer for wine worth pounds 2,270, has formed a lobby group of 90 customers, but is not optimistic about the chances of recovering their wines.

This month, the resilient Mr Baring has written to a wine merchant, saying he plans to launch a venture 'along the lines of Nick Davies's original Claret Club', adding: 'I plan to involve Nick Davies for his knowledge of marketing, wine and computer systems'. Mr Porritt declares himself 'absolutely incensed' by this news.

Simon Loftus, a director of Adnams, the Southwold wine merchant, is also appalled: 'While customers sit around without the wines they've paid for, it seems at least flagrantly callous to start another business. The wider implications of the latest spate of insolvencies suggest that we need to put in place security systems so that customers can survive a possible liquidation.'

Having researched the legal questions involved in wine storage, Octavian, a specialist wine services company, has concluded that the solution lies in the identification of goods and their physical separation in storage. These are the main features of its service, plus insurance to replacement value and the opportunity for customers to inspect their goods.

Meanwhile, Adnams last year joined with Lay & Wheeler, John Armit Wines, Laytons, Tanners and Yapp Bros to form a group called the Bunch, with the object of 'setting standards which are the best achievable, not the minimum we can get away with'. As part of a code of practice designed to protect customers' reserves, each merchant guarantees that customers' wines are stored separately, properly identified and insured (but only to the value of the original purchase price).

Clearly, such features should now be adopted by the wine trade as a whole as the minimum basis for wine storage. The thorny problem remains, however, of wines bought en primeur from a merchant who subsequently goes out of business.

Members of the Bunch are looking at bank guarantees and discussing an insurance-bond scheme with a number of chateaux and negociants in Bordeaux. If 1994 should turn out to be a vintage worth buying en primeur, it will be imperative for the trade to have tighter safeguards in place to prevent any further own goals.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape