Trade veteran toasts new role

Major move for well-kent face with a quarter century of experience

Birse-Stewart with Berkmann’s on-trade sales director, Fraser McGuire

IT was a short retirement for wine veteran Billy Birse-Stewart, who stepped down from his role as managing director of Wine Importers in February after 25 years with the company.

Late last month it was announced that he had been appointed consultant director of family-owned wine business Berkmann Wine Cellars, as it looks to expand its presence in Scotland.

The appointment also sees Berkmann end a decade-long distribution agreement with Wine Importers, which Birse-Stewart had been instrumental in organising.

Speaking to SLTN, Birse-Stewart said when Berkmann learned he had retired, the company decided it was time to take its Scottish business in-house.

“They’ve built themselves up over the last ten years to being one of the top – and certainly the top London – wine distributor,” he said.

“They’re very big and they’ve got branches now all over the place. So they’ve asked me to effectively oversee things in Scotland in order that there’s a seamless transition from the distribution that was to a direct distribution by them as UK agents for producers like Antinori, Mezzacorona, and just a huge number of top names.”

Berkmann currently employs a small sales team in Scotland, but Birse-Stewart said the firm is likely to expand this in the coming years. Overall, the company has a workforce of more than 200 people and turns over more than £77 million a year, with ambitions of increasing this to over £100m.

It has a portfolio of around 1500 wines. Birse-Stewart said this means the company “can do both ends of things”.

“They can do the volume end but also they have the portfolio to deal with the very best restaurants,” he said.