In 2023 we are delighted to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Hallgarten Wines.
The past 90 years has been a remarkable period for the UK and for the world. There have been extraordinary advances in technology, standards of living and life expectancy, set against the backdrop of conflict, social change, and many periods of economic adversity.
1933 itself witnessed many significant events, some of which were to reshape the world and set the course of events of the following 12 years.
Despite the ravages of the Great War, Britain was an Empire at its territorial peak. Donald Campbell was setting his land-speed record in Bluebird; Don Bradman was targeted by Douglas Jardine’s bowlers in the infamous ‘bodyline’ test series; construction was starting on both the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges; the US saw its first female Secretary of State appointed, New Zealand its first female MP; Spain granted the vote to women; earthquakes devasted areas of Japan (3,000 died at Sanfiku), China (9,000 died in Sichuan) and Southern California; Leo Szilard came up with the idea of a nuclear chain reaction (whilst waiting at a traffic light in London’s Southampton Row); Alcatraz prison opened; King Kong premiered; Einstein fled to the US; Prohibition ended; FM radio was invented; the first Bank Holidays were declared – literally to stop a run on the banks; there was the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster; a legal minimum wage was introduced in the US (33c per hour); France, Germany, Italy and Britain signed the Four-Power pact to ensure better international security; 500,000 people marched through London to protest against anti-Semitism; Battersea Power Station generated electricity for the first time; the first televised boxing match was aired by the BBC; London Transport was established; Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days; the first Drive-In cinema opened in New Jersey; Nina Simone, James Brown, Michael Caine, Gene Wilder, Roman Polanski and Yasser Arafat were all born.
Economically, there are significant parallels between 2023 and 1933. The Great Depression was ravaging the US and, with it, global economies. Politically, this economic backdrop, combined with the adverse effects of the Versailles Treaty on the German people, drove the circumstances that propelled Hitler to power in 1933.
Our founder, Fritz Hallgarten, was one of millions directly affected by the rise of Fascism in Germany. Having taken a different career path to his father, Arthur, a wine broker and merchant, Fritz qualified as a lawyer and found himself at the forefront of the fight against Nazism in the early thirties. Fritz was ultimately prohibited from continuing his profession and, just as Hitler came to power in 1933, took the decision to leave Germany, move to London, change career, and follow in the footsteps of his father.
The world of wine into which Fritz threw himself hadn’t changed much in the previous hundred years, and, despite the anti-German effects of the First World War, wine consumption in the UK was still dominated by German Hock and Moselle alongside the wines of Bordeaux, Champagne and the Rhône. Wine was a luxury, limited largely to the upper classes and top restaurants and hotels. London and Bristol lay at the heart of the global wine trade, which commercially still relied largely upon the trading network of the British empire and relationship with the U.S.
Over the past 90 years, Hallgarten has been an integral part of the British wine trade and has helped evolve, shape and develop it into the global wine industry it is now part of. German wines fell out of favour back in the early 80’s and the position of France, Italy and Spain was also challenged by the meteoric rise in commercially-crafted wines from the New World. Wine quality has been transformed. But while wine selection may be less of a lottery in terms of consistency, it is probably more confusing than ever – the Hallgarten portfolio alone currently spans some 24 countries. The need for expert help and guidance is of paramount importance. But of equal importance – in our eyes – is passion. We fervently believe that it is our passion for wine and the industry we serve that must be our guiding light. Without passion, determination and resilience, we will most certainly not be here in another 90 years.
This concise look back over the past 90 years is something of an indulgence, particularly as we sail once again into troubled waters. The challenges of surviving COVID-19, for both us and our customers, may pale into insignificance compared to the immediate challenge of coping with recession, a lack of labour and unparalleled price increases across every aspect of our businesses. If the past 90 years demonstrates anything, however, it is that we and the industry we work in will survive, no matter what is thrown at it. How one small company survived and grew despite a dramatically changing world, global conflicts, recessions and now a pandemic is perhaps justification in itself for taking a few minutes to look back.
With 90 years of experience, Hallgarten & Novum Wines is still pushing for change and innovating, still exploring and introducing new wine regions, and still developing its offer and service to its customers – who, since Fritz Hallgarten starting his business in 1933, have always been at the very core of our business.
1933 to incorporation in 1947
Fritz brought to London a passion for wine and his father’s wine portfolio. He shipped the wines, and others from the country, becoming a German wine specialist trading as SF Hallgarten. The company changed to SF&O Hallgarten when his brother Otto joined the firm after escaping Germany. Fritz successfully introduced the cheekily-named ‘Nôtre Dame Liebfraumilch d’Alsace’ which caused a storm of protest from the German Chamber of Commerce. In accordance with the ethos of the times, Fritz only sold wines to the wholesale trade, gradually expanding his business across the UK. His focus was building relationships, both with his suppliers and with his customers – still a core ethos of Hallgarten today. Many of those relationships endure. Indeed, 15 suppliers have worked with Hallgarten for more than 25 years.
At the beginning of the war, Fritz was interned on the Isle of Man for a short while. Returning to London he was called upon by the Royal Navy to salvage and make drinkable 13,000 puncheons (500 litre barrels) of Algerian wine that had been captured. Not long after, he was called back to rescue a large quantity of sherry in cask aboard a cargo vessel which sank near Scarborough after being bombed.
Having survived the war, Fritz finally incorporated ‘Hallgarten Wines Limited’ in London on April 2nd 1947, which enabled the expansion of the business.
1948 – 1972
The business developed well and Fritz quickly expanded his wine selection to include more regions of Europe, with wines from the Rhône, from Alsace, Burgundy and Bordeaux. He also introduced some lesser-known wine regions including Luxembourg and Algeria. Hallgarten was a particular pioneer of wines from the Rhône valley, and the company still has strength and depth in this region. Domaine André Brunel, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has partnered with Hallgarten for 68 years, since 1955.
In 1954 Hallgarten started working with producers from Spain, Portugal and Cyprus, but wines from Germany and France still dominated the list.
In 1958 Hallgarten was credited with setting up the first fully-automated sterile wine bottling line in Great Britain. Installed in Stainer Street in London SE1, it comprised a bottle steriliser and rinser, a filler and corker, filling 1,800 bottles per hour, with wine fed into the machine from an overhead tank. It was also able to bottle small runs of special wines, and as a consequence Hallgarten were one of the first companies in the country to offer Own Label wines with bespoke labels.
In the same year Fritz’s son Peter joined the company, the third generation of the family to work in wine. Peter had not planned to join the business. As a research chemist he was about to embark on his second post doctorate appointment in America, when he was called home due to his father's ill health. Peter agreed to ‘help out until Christmas’, but quickly became fascinated by the trade, and stayed for 38 years. He had a great interest in liqueurs and introduced a new flavour – Royal Mint Chocolate Liqueur – in 1966 which brought international acclaim to the Hallgarten name. Peter, like Fritz, was also an accomplished writer. As well as a book on liqueurs, Peter wrote a guide to the wines and families of the Rhône.
In 1972 Hallgarten Wines was purchased by the family-owned, German-based WIV group (owned by the winemaking Pieroth family, at that time with turnover of £400m and operations in over 20 countries worldwide). Pieroth’s recent history also owes much to the Second World War. Having been winegrowers in the Nahe region since 1675, they found themselves at the end of the war with no market. The young Pieroth brothers, Elmar and Kuno, started to sell directly to the British Army on The Rhine in the late 40’s, and this was so successful they set up business in Bristol in the early 50’s and the company expanded from there.
The change of ownership made little difference to the Hallgarten business which remained, as it is today, firmly independent, embracing family-ownership and values, and with a business model that was, and remains, very different to the Pieroth parent company. Simply put, Hallgarten is founded on stable ownership and long-term family values. Fritz retired and Peter took over, moving the business from Crutched Friars, near Tower Hill in London to Kentish Town, where the premises also incorporated a bonded warehouse. Fritz passed away in April 1991 at the age of 88.
1973 – 1995
The House of Hallgarten portfolio continued to develop from its early lists of wines from Germany and France. In the late 70’s, Australia and Austria were introduced to the portfolio: the UK’s fascination with New World Wines continued unabated. Over the course of the next two decades, wines from Chile, USA and New Zealand were added to the portfolio. But always with quality at the forefront.
In 1983 the House of Hallgarten celebrated 50 years of trading. In an interview with wine writer Joanna Simon, Peter described his approach to the Hallgarten portfolio: “My job is to select fine wines and to put my name behind them.” In her article, in Wine & Spirit Magazine (August 1983), Joanna Simon summed up by saying “The House of Hallgarten is… a wine shipping company and a quality one.” Peter confirmed that. “We have always been the fussiest buyers,” he said, “and we have never been interested in buying labels or follow on vintages [from existing suppliers] if the vintage is not up to scratch.”
Hallgarten became the agency for the Golan Heights winery from Israel. In 1987 the company shipped the very first released vintage from the winery, and continued the agency for 15 years. Hallgarten was the driver for the creation of their dessert Muscat, based on its experience in the Rhône.
Berton Vineyards from South Australia joined the portfolio in 1990, and from the Curicó Valley in Chile, Viña Echeverria joined in 1993, thanks to the pivotal role of the Sales Director at the time, Gerard McCarten. The expansion and strengthening of the portfolio was aided by additions from Averys of Bristol, whom Hallgarten owned between 1992 and 2001; wines such as Far Niente from California and Barros Port.
Hallgarten did not properly turn its attention to Italian wines until the 1990s. In 1983 Italy made up just 2% of Hallgarten’s list. Today Hallgarten has one of the strongest Italian portfolios in the UK, making up 19% of the list, with internationally acclaimed producers such as Badia a Coltibuono, Michele Chiarlo, Feudi Di San Gregorio and San Marzano in the portfolio.
In 1995 Hallgarten moved to Luton, where the ‘International Wine Centre’ was established with a much larger bonded warehouse. By now the Hallgarten list had 255 wines from 11 different countries. Turnover was just £8.9m.
1996 – 2009
In 1996 Hallgarten acquired Michael Druitt Vintners to further expand its portfolio, team and a specialist service to hotels and restaurants in the London area. The Hallgarten trading name expanded to include Druitt, with the current ‘HD glass’ logo being adopted. Michael Druitt, a former director of Mentzendorff, had set up his own wine business in 1975. He was a key figure in the UK at a time when wine consumption was just beginning to take off in the UK and the dominance of Germany and France was being challenged. Michael was among the first importers to bring wines from California, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand into the country. Michael continued his association with the company until passing away peacefully in October 2019 aged 87. He had worked in the wine industry for 60 years.
Having joined the wine trade in 1978, Beverly Tabbron passed her Master of Wine exams in 1996 with the encouragement and guidance of Uwe Lenz, Hallgarten’s charismatic Managing Director at the time. In the same year, Peter Hallgarten retired and Bev took on the role of Wine Buyer at Hallgarten, a position she has held ever since. This year, 2023, will see Bev celebrate a remarkable 45 years at
Hallgarten, exactly 50% of the company’s existence. Bev has overseen and embraced countless changes in that time, and the company owes her a great deal.
Following the expansion of the business in 1996, Hallgarten grew from its small base to being a major player in the London market and, increasingly, nationwide. Turnover grew from £8.9m in 1995 to £11.7m in 1997. It attracted more international producers, including Saint Clair in New Zealand and by the advent of the millennium, Hallgarten Druitt listed 643 wines from 13 countries with wines from England and Argentina for the first time. Sales in 2000 amounted to £17.3m.
By 2003 turnover had risen to £27m and Howard Falk, the current Chief Financial Officer, joined the company from Laytons. John Cunynghame took over as Managing Director when the powerhouse that was Uve Lenz retired in 2007, by which time turnover had risen to £35m. Uve kept an active interest in both Hallgarten and Pieroth in his retirement, but sadly passed away just two years later in April 2009.
The recession of 2008 saw sales decline back down to £33.7m and £33.4m in 2009, but the company remained in good shape. In April 2009 Andrew Bewes joined the business, having previously been Commercial Director at Liberty Wines, and became Managing Director the following year. John Cunynghame became non-executive Chairman of the company until fully retiring in 2016.
2010 – 2019
In 2010, Hallgarten Druitt acquired Novum Wines, a small but highly respected and influential importer and wholesaler led by Steve Daniel, the former Buying and Marketing Director (and entrepreneurial spirit) of Oddbins. Having trained as a chef in his home county of Yorkshire, Steve joined Oddbins in 1987 as trainee buyer and was there for 16 years, becoming a buyer within six months, senior buyer after two years and eventually Buying and Marketing Director. During that time Steve helped Oddbins to win the coveted Wine Merchant of The Year Award 15 times. Steve left Oddbins in 2003 to set up Novum Wines, building a highly successful portfolio of unusual and esoteric wines from emerging and interesting regions. It was a perfect complement to Hallgarten’s portfolio. Steve was (and still is) a particular champion of Greek wines, and Novum’s portfolio included such producers as Gaia and Ktima Gerovassilliou, alongside Grace Wines from Japan, and Sula Vineyards from India which remain on the list today.
Turnover jumped from £33m to £37m in 2010, and then grew steadily to £53m in 2019. Within this period, Hallgarten took the decision to move its in-house warehousing and distribution operation into London City Bond. The sustained growth in the business meant that Hallgarten had outgrown its own duty paid and bonded warehousing, and the move gave flexibility and space to meet the ambitious development plans whilst expanding reach and ‘London levels’ of customer service nationwide.
In 2014 Hallgarten established its training team, headed up by Beverly Tabbron MW. Training, like its in-house Design team, is integral to Hallgarten’s customer service. As WSET Certified Educators, the Training team teaches WSET training, promotes its own bespoke ‘WineSure’ training programme, and provides knowledge and expertise to inspire customers, giving them the tools and confidence to promote and sell wines. Hallgarten was nominated the very next year for the WSET Educator of the Year 2015, and continues to be a bronze patron to the WSET.
Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines was a leading wine specialist distributor by now, representing 242 producers across 21 different countries. It continued to strengthen its position, and in 2016 took over the business of Hallowed Ground, a specialist importer of Australian wines. This added top Australian producers including Clos Clare, Fox Gordon, Lake Breeze, Ocean Eight and Paringa Estate to the portfolio and helped attract the remarkable Jim Barry Wines to join the family.
In 2018 the company shortened its name to Hallgarten & Novum Wines, with a subtle tweak to its ‘glass’ logo, and further gained the ‘Investors in People’ accreditation – the international standard for people management, defining what it takes to lead, support, and manage people effectively to achieve sustainable results. This accreditation demonstrates Hallgarten’s ongoing commitment to achieving success through realising the potential of its people. The accreditation was successfully renewed in 2021.
2018 was also the year that Hallgarten received the ISO14001 (Environmental Management) accreditation, underlining its commitment to environmental compliance and reducing waste. The business is now committed to achieving Carbon Neutral Accreditation and ISO9001 (Quality Management) by the end of 2024.
2019 saw the launch of Hallgarten & Novum Wines’ 18-month ‘HeadStart’ Apprenticeship programme, inspiring the development and growth of new talent within the wine industry, and providing a 360-degree calendar of activities for an individual to gain an understanding of the wine sector from vineyard to table. As well as time in all departments, including the sales teams, the apprentice spends a month with one of the company’s key European producers to help with the harvest and work in the winery. HeadStart apprentices have since ‘graduated’ and successfully taken on permanent roles in various departments of the Hallgarten business.
2020 – 2022
The world changed in 2020 and of course the COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic effect upon Hallgarten, the wine industry and the wider hospitality industry. With 75% of sales lying in the hospitality sector, the impact on the business was potentially devastating, and despite a 50% increase in Hallgarten’s sales to retailers, turnover in 2020 fell from £53m to £35m and, for the first time in living memory, a small loss made.
The lockdown periods heralded a huge change for consumers as they swapped to drinking at home rather than at hospitality venues. From a pure Off Trade perspective, many consumers increased the volume they were drinking at home, and Hallgarten sales to the retail sector indicated both trading up and a more adventurous choice of wine. Despite the short-term commercial attraction, Hallgarten reaffirmed its fundamental commitment not to supply the public directly and to continue to only sell to, and support, our trade customers.
The On Trade faced the most challenging of times and Hallgarten focused on providing all the support they could give. In the Autumn of 2020, during the difficult times when bars and restaurants were struggling to re-open after the first lockdown, Hallgarten launched its ‘100,000 Glasses for Hospitality’ initiative, timed to activate straight after the government’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ support finished. Customers were given free stock to be used as a complimentary glass of wine to welcome their guests back to their restaurants and bars. The result was a boost for the industry, and in 2021 Hallgarten added to its already impressive awards cabinet with both ‘On Trade Supporter of the Year’ from the International Wine Challenge, and ‘On Trade Supplier of the Year’ by the Drinks Business.
To help raise the visibility of the breadth, depth and quality of Hallgarten’s award-winning portfolio, its now acclaimed trade magazine – ‘Assemblage’ – was launched in 2020, with three issues a year. Described as “well thought through, convincing, cohesive and very customer focused” by the International Wine Challenge judges in 2022, Assemblage offers thought, insight, stories and information on a wide selection of wines and producers from across the portfolio. A selection of respected wine trade journalists, including Dr Jamie Goode, Chris Losh, Olly Smith and Guy Woodward have all contributed to the magazine, as well as articles from the Buying team and others in the Hallgarten business.
2021 saw the strong return of the hospitality sector from April-May onwards despite a virtual lockdown in the second half of December. Forecasting for this increase in demand was tough. Brexit and an international shipping crisis made moving wine around the world very challenging. There is no doubt that the strengthened sense of community and partnership that developed during the pandemic itself fostered remarkable understanding across the entire customer base for the challenges being faced. At the end of the year, Hallgarten had rebuilt turnover to £48m, and returned to a modest profit.
In 2021 Hallgarten moved its Head Office within Luton to new offices in the purpose-built business park, Capability Green, located close to Luton airport.
2022 saw a sluggish start with the virtual lockdown of December drifting into the start of the year. However February to June was nothing short of remarkable with record months every month. July numbers rang some early warning bells with signs of underlying decline and this increased in intensity from August to October. But despite the highs and lows of the year, Hallgarten finished the year with sales of over £60m.
Late in 2022 a major sustainability project was initiated to understand the sustainability practices of Hallgarten’s partner supplier’s. After extensive research into the topic, the ‘Hallgarten Eco Standard’ was developed to cover all aspects of sustainability – in the vineyard, in the winery and in the overall management of the company. The Standard measured against four major criteria – Environment, Water & Waste Management, Energy Management and Social Responsibility. With 41 exacting and weighted criteria, this Standard was created in answer to the increasing focus of sustainability from our customers and across the wider trade. It also complements with Hallgarten’s ISO14001 (Environmental Management) accreditation.
2023 and Beyond
Trying to second-guess how 2023 will turn out is very difficult, but thankfully we are an industry of optimists, working with customers whose sole task is to facilitate the public’s enjoyment, and suppliers who all live and work in places where the sun comes out for the majority of the year.
Despite the challenges we face, and those we have just traversed, the Hallgarten business will continue to grow and develop, long-standing relationships with suppliers will continue to be treasured and new relationships formed, and we will continue to invest in and build our spectacular team. Above all, we will seek to work ever more closely with our customers; if the past 90 years has taught us anything, it’s the real value of relationships, friendships and partnerships and what better way to embrace this than a glass of wine.