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Tax me baby, one more time

Tomorrow the EU Courts finally give their verdict on the hotly anticipated issue of intra-EU Duty payments on alcohol and tobacco.

I see so many ways this could, and then might not, affect how wine is bought and sold, but I will hold fire until the judgement is released and try and make sense of it.

I suspect that after all the fretting (see how Majestic is getting concerned here), little will change in practice, but it has lots of people talking about wine … but it is about price, once again.

Give & Take

Good and bad news recently.

On the positive side, I hear that Oz Clarke will be hosting a new wine (well, wine and food) show on ITV. As he says himself, there has been “a bit of a gap” since Food & Drink last aired and we lost his dulcet tones. Thankfully it does not involve Ms Goolden (but we do have to cope with Antony Worrall Thompson).

It may only be a Christmas special, but lets hope it heralds a greater interest in wine, and therefore restarts a wine conversation in this country.

On the negative side, the Independent on Sunday has decided to pull its regular drinks column written by Richard Ehrlich. I have criticised wine columns in the past, but mainly because they are given such tight word counts, and such limited scope, that the editors are boiling them down to mere shopping lists for supermarket brands.

The answer is not to cancel them. I agree that most, although not necessarily this one, are not very interestng, but rather than stopping publishing it, why don’t they give their readers something to actually read about! If they dedicated one third of the space used for food or fashion or motoring, someone of Richard’s skill would most certainly make this section really worth reading. THAT would attract readers, and that would then attract advertising. I must say I find that news very depressing, particularly coming from the Independent stable that I had some respect for.

Show Wines

Another extended absence, but it was worth it.

This summer was a great opportunity to spend more time in Rioja and get get to know the culture there properly. It is really worth getting immersed in other cultures as you see so much more than you get to see by visiting it for a few days. Obvious, of course, but it is not about studying, so much as of absorbtion. There is only so much you can be exposed to in a short trip, but just being there for 3 weeks means you pick up on all those little things that just happen while you are there.

A particular point of interest was the variety of sizes people ‘serve’. We are so used to standard, legally-enforced measures that our wine experience is naturally limited to what we can manage to drink. If you are drinking 175ml or 250ml glasses each time, there are only so many you can try. But when you go from tapas bar to tapas bar in Logroño you get served everything from thimblefull glasses for €0.50 a glass (35p!!) to larger glass for a few Euros.

On the other hand, most punters are not interested in which wine it is that they are drinking in this context, and I don’t really know why. One for the future.

Back to the main topic. Yesterday I attended the 2nd Wine Show in London. Whatever you might say about the range of wines on show, the fact that consumers can wander around, taste and learn about wine MUST be a good thing – as long as it is not an off putting experience of course. I will follow up on a few of my tastings in the next few days, but I would recommend you consider it next year (keep an eye on http://www.wineshow.co.uk) and you might even see me on a stand there next year.

Catch up

Keeping up a blog is more stressful than I imagined. It isn’t the work involved, its the pressure to “get it right”, but so far that has resulted in a rather extended period without actually posting anything. So, right or not, I think I had better get on with it.

A number of things have happened recently. I am writing an article on the topic of Wine Culture for a trade magazine, I have read that someone is producing a film (with Russell Crowe no less) that will be based to some extent in a vineyard, and I have re-started my own wine learning in earnest.

Wine Culture, now that I have started thinking about it, it a very useful way of improving the business prospects for wine in this country. The trade often moans about how the average price paid per bottle is so low (below £3.99) and yet our only efforts seem to be to encourage consumers to try more expensive wines by discounting them in the vain hope they will then pay full price. Unfortunately this leads to consumers getting hooked on “special offers” and switching from one to the other, never stopping to buy the full price wine they enjoyed when it was £2 off or even half price.

The result is poor returns for producers who stop paying for this promotion, so potentially opening the door for “fake” promotions where wine prices are artificially increased to allow for the eventual discount, but where the wine was never worth the full price. Why should that consumer ever decide to pay that price?

If, instead of funding these discounts, producers, importers and retailers worked together to “grow the category” (marketing speak for selling more of everyone’s wine), then discounts may not be needed to encourage consumers to spend a little more.

How could we do that? Well, firstly by increasing our understanding of how wine gets into the bottle. Even if the film “A Good Year”, due out in November, is a romantic drama, the fact that it was set in the vineyard and hopefully focuses on the year-round work required to make wine, then we will have educated consumers. If we could then follow this up with other programmes (wine tours, tastings, competitions, travel, etc.) or publications (books, magazines) we might just encourage people to think about wine in a different way. The wine trade does not make loads of money, but if we worked together to fund these, we could probably achieve it.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that my own knowledge of wine was quite narrow, so if I was to be able to talk knowledgably about wine with others who are interested, then I really ought to explore the subject further myself. So rather than drink things I know I like, it is time to explore more areas and take more risks, and hopefuly have some fun.

So, here we go again. More thoughts in the near future.

More places to revel in the culture

Following yesterday’s thoughts, I think I had better collect links to those places that do offer something dedicated to wine in a modern and attractive way, so here goes. If the list gets long, then I’ll find a way to list it separately. In the interim, take a look at these;

London:
http://www.vinoteca.co.uk/

Oxford:
http://www.summertownwinecafe.co.uk

Dundee:
http://www.thetastingrooms.com/

Rob

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