Oldest wine firm collapses

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By Rory Reynolds

SCOTLAND’S oldest wine firm has collapsed after two centuries of trading to some of the nation’s most famous figures.

Cockburn’s of Leith, which famously sold Sir Walter Scott 4,200 bottles of wine and 430 bottles of spirits in one visit alone, has gone into administration.

The Edinburgh wine merchants, who also supplied Charles Dickens and a banquet for King George IV, were the first commercial importers in Scotland, setting up shop in 1796.

But severe budget cuts to their banking sector clients and competition from large supermarkets led Cockburn’s directors to call in the administrators on Friday.

“Declining”

The firm is now appealing for a new investor to take on the business and keep the name alive.

Ernst & Young administrator Colin Dempster said: “The group has been impacted by the recent economic downturn, which has unfortunately led to a declining order book and the directors concluded that the business can no longer continue to trade.

“We are actively marketing the business for sale and are keen to hear from any interested parties.”

Kenneth Vannan of Villeneuve Wines said the failure of Cockburns would “send a shiver around Edinburgh wine merchants”.

He said: “It’s very sad. The market has been very tough over the past two years. There’s still the possibility that another one or two [merchants] will fall.

“Technically, we’re meant to be out of a recession, but the reality is we’re at the bottom of it, many people are losing their jobs and many people are being very careful.

“It could be a few years before we climb out of it.”

“Cynically marketed”

Kenneth added that many merchants have lost business to the supermarkets, who control more than two-third of the off-trade.

He also said that it was likely that someone would pick up Cockburn’s name and begin trading with it again.

He said: “Everyone defaults to what they think is good value, but it’s just cheap branded products that are quite cynically marketed.

“At times you think there’s a policy of using wine as a loss leader to get people into their shops, but it’s also been used to put their competitors out of business and it worked with First Quench – so it’s a business model that is effective.”

David Henderson, who owns Henderson Wines said: “It’s quite sad to see another good, old, established Edinburgh name disappear.

“I do know they had a lot of corporate clients in the banking sector and that they would be hurting quite a bit in the present climate.”

The firm set up the city’s first wine warehouse in 1987 and merged with JE Hogg in 1997, but the business had to be bought-out by the directors after it fell into administration in 2004.

They kept a desk and chair that Sir Walker Scott used at their premises, and allowed customers to use it to write on.

No-one was available for comment at Cockburn’s, but an answer phone message said they are still taking orders.

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