Until recently, the UK would have been unlikely to trouble a list of the most prestigious winemakers. Customers would turn to the lush green wine-making regions of France, or the sun-dappled vineyards of Italy, before landing upon Britain for their tipple of choice.
But after several years of boom, with sales increasing and accolades stacking up, UK wine makers are the coming force in the industry, with amazing wineries of all sizes springing up throughout the country.
We spoke with Sergio and Lynsey Verillo, the husband-wife founders of Blackbook Winery in London, about their goal of starting an urban winery to stand alongside the greats around the globe, and how Xero is helping them achieve that goal.
Sergio’s wine story spans decades. The son of Italian and Hungarian immigrants, Sergio grew up in the US, where his family of wine lovers would vinify their own blends in the garden.
After moving to London he became a sommelier, before travelling the world as a winemaker. He learned at some of the world’s most prestigious wineries, taking him everywhere from France, to California and New Zealand.
Then, he returned to England to turn his dream of founding a London-based urban winery into a reality.
Lynsey, who spent her professional career working across consultancy, travel and payments sectors, fell in love with the blossoming plans for Blackbook Winery.
She says, “The urban wine model was established, but hadn’t really taken off in the UK. I quickly became immersed in these plans, and once we founded the winery in 2017 we spent a year setting up the business model. Our goal was to keep it independent, cost-effective, and to build at our own pace.”
Now, Blackbook is going from strength to strength. Sergio says, “We’re on our sixth vintage, and produced 30-40,000 bottles this year. It’s a very exciting time for us. We’re putting a lot of emphasis on growing organically and retaining our independence. We want to build a brand based around quality.”
Lynsey adds that Blackbook’s location, based in a railway arch in Battersea, is a big draw for customers: “It gives people a chance to visit us and experience wine making in a way that’s very accessible. All our grapes are sourced within a couple of hours of London so it’s a very local experience.”
A helping hand
With Blackbook Winery thriving, they needed an accounting solution to help continue this momentum. Having first encountered Xero when travelling in New Zealand, Sergio and Lynsey then spotted ads on the tube once they returned home to London. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It was really important to adopt a platform that would make it easy for us to keep track of customers, and automate as many processes as possible,” Lynsey says.
She adds that while they now use Xero with their accountant, they first adopted and got up to speed with the platform themselves. They built up services using Xero integrations – from iZettle, to scheduling tools in Stripe.
Lynsey explains, “It helps us minimise our costs as we’re capable of carrying out our own reconciliation. It’s very effective for us – we’re big advocates.”
Sergio continues, “Xero is extremely user-friendly. Lynsey set the foundations of it, so it’s super easy for me to come in and understand where things are and what we need to do.”
The team also discuss managing Blackbook’s VAT returns and, specifically, compliance with Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT. Lynsey says, “With Xero, the process of submitting our quarterly returns for MTD for VAT couldn’t be easier. It’s really helping us manage our cash flow.”
As for how Lynsey and Sergio work with their accountant at UHY Hacker Young, their value extends far beyond helping with annual reports.
Sergio says, “We see our accountant as a trusted advisor. We meet, take his council, and talk about aspirations for growth. We really trust him and look to him for advice.”
We asked Lynsey and Sergio about the trends currently impacting the UK wine industry. They explain that sustainability and the circular economy are now key considerations.
Sergio says, “There are new products being brought on the market all the time to meet these demands. From wine-based products like Spritzers in recyclable cans, to Piquette Wine.”
Once seen as a farmer’s thirst quencher, Piquette is a low-percentage wine made using a leftover waste of grape skins, seeds and stalks, named pomace.
Sergio continues, “We’re always looking at more unique products, reusing different aspects of the wine-making process. This is something you’ll see a lot of in the wine industry in the coming years, on a global scale.”
Lynsey points to the increased interest from consumers in supporting local businesses, and the growth of the export market as signs that the UK wine industry will continue to thrive. We’ll happily raise a glass to that.