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Scotland and Binge Drinking

Although I consider myself to be “Scottish”, I am really part of a substantial diaspora of Scots who feel quite passionately linked to the country whilst not having lived there much during our lives.

In my case, it was a visit to my family at least once a year for about 12 years, plus 4 years at University. I cannot therefore really comment on the day to day issues of alcohol abuse in the country, but I am quite aware that Scotland has major health issues associated with alcohol and drugs. Despite this, I think it is still important to speak up against decisions being taken that simply will not have any effect except to frustrate and inconvenience the vast law-abiding majority of drinkers.

You may already have heard that today the Scottish Parliament will be discussing the possibility of raising the age at which you can buy alcohol in the shops to 21 from the current age of 18. This will not apply in pubs and restaurants, only off licences.

To read more, click here for the Radio 4 Coverage (probably only available for 7 days from 16/06/2008) or here for the article.

I have already read a reasoned response from The Tasting Note which I encourage you to read as it prompted the following thoughts.

I agree with almost everything Peter says*. Why is it that politicians cannot think straight about alcohol? I posted something along these lines some time ago and it obviously needs updated. I have also mentioned my thoughts on binge drinking and taxation.

Education is key to this, such as the potentially useful developments at the Responsible Drinkers Alliance, but so is something else.

I find myself, maybe as I grow older (!), wishing that our country (Scotland or UK, whatever you identify with) had a shared purpose.

It occurred to me recently, listening to Bill Bailey on Desert Island Disks (see, told you I was getting old & fuddy-duddy) that in his past, as with many of the more creative personalities I happen to like that have appeared on this show, he was very much into punk music – it was liberating. It was an ACTIVE rebellion.

Now, the watchword is … Whatever!

We have never been so ****** PASSIVE. And instead what do we do? We go out and get blind drunk, then vent frustrations, anger, anxiety and energy on each other.

Our politicians, of any political persuasion, need to find ways to engage all of us in something positive, not to fiddle around the edges with confusing ‘initiatives’ attacking the symptoms rather than the causes of this behaviour.

Education can start the discussion and even foster the conversation, but what alternatives are we offering people, whether they are children, young adults, or even disillusioned adults?

I realise this may not be the forum for this sort of topic as we are straying deep into the territory of political blogs, but I think it is part of the discussion.

If I was to suggest a possible path to follow, it would be to take the green agenda and REALLY go for it. We could make Scotland, or the UK, a real leader in this area and get everyone involved in recycling, living in a sustainable way and thinking of the implications of our actions.

There is no direct link with reducing binge drinking, but if we were engaging people, especially young people, and giving them opportunities to get involved in something they believed was meaningful, then I am certain it would be addressed.

The combined benefits to the planet and our society would be great, and we would have a tough, but useful, goal to share – and this could translate to all walks of life, including wine.

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Parliament will see that raising the legal age for buying alcohol is not the answer any more than simply increasing the price of alcohol through taxation or demonising the product itself.

For goodness sake, can we not have an adult conversation about this?

See also: CARDAS – Campaign Against Raising the Drinking Age in Scotland

* It is just a side issue, but one thing I am not sure about is the idea of limiting what individuals can buy. You’d easily get around it by buying from two shops and all it does (again) is annoy respectable drinkers wanting to buy alcohol. I do, however, think it would be a good idea to encourage ALL of those who buy alcohol to prove their age. Think 21, or 25 or whatever is fine, but it just makes everyone less uncomfortable and does make it easier to go after irresponsible retailers if necessary.

Its Vintage, Darling!

How do you know when the Wine Conversation has started in earnest and joined the mainstream? Some tests of mine would be (in no particular order):

  • Wine is the main object in a reality TV show (check! Oz & James took care of that)
  • Wine is the key plot driver in a big movie (check! Sideways & A Good Year, plus Mondovino etc.)
  • Wine becomes the subject of a daytime TV Quiz Show
  • Wine gets mentioned on The Archers (I happened to hear them mention facebook some months back – I knew then it had “arrived”)
  • Two ‘blokes’ in a pub ‘come to blows’ over a wine
  • You can discuss the wine you drank last night with your barber, and he gives you new suggestions
  • Wine becomes the focus of a pulp fiction novel (check!)

I was in the checkout queue in the supermarket the other day and as I waited I was entertained by the image of an attractive woman carrying a champagne bottle. Nothing particularly unusual about that except that it was the cover of one of those mass market novels, and it was called “Vintage”.

I decided to explore further and read the back cover.

Three women who dare to make it in a man’s world. One sparkling prize.I was intrigued.

Competing to produce the world’s best sparkling wine, the three women are swept into a world of feuds, back-stabbing, sabotage and seduction. Have they got what it takes to survive?

Ooh! They joined the wine trade. How exciting! (only joking … no seduction around here that I know about).

Quite apart from the correct use of the term sparkling wine, I was quite taken aback that wine should be quite such a central theme of such a book. I guess I should really have bought the book to learn more, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it in the basket. However, if you are intrigued, you can check out the site here and even buy it on Amazon for £1.99.

How much more “popular” can you get?

Beyond the call of duty

I just have to point you to the kind of post you never expect to see, but exemplifies the future of retailing, one built on relationships and service and not on the “fast-buck” concept.

Price check: 2005 Caronne-Ste-Gemme Haut Medoc

Can you recall seeing anything like this before? I have had such conversations, but only face to face in the old fashioned local stores that know I’ll be back again and again. These are a dying breed in the ‘real’ world.

The difference here is that this post is up for ALL to see, not just for ‘best’ customers. It shows how committed Jill at domaine547 really is to her customers, current and potential.

Thank you Jill, and I hope you get the success you deserve.

Can you point me to anyone else who has done this?

Multiple Personality Issues

I’ll announce the details about the actual project in due course, but I am starting a new blog elsewhere so that I can cover some of the topics that I expressly forbade myself from covering on this blog.

My intention here was always just to “talk wine”, not drink it, sell it or even make money from it. There were few places to get some of these thoughts and I believed that I could have some fun putting my own point of view out there to see what happened.

I never expected it to get all that far, and really it was as much an experiment that would allow me to join the “blogging conversation” as much as it was my contribution to the “wine conversation”.

Now, I feel well and truly captivate by blogging. It makes a major difference to my life, where I make plans according to the time available for blog reading and posting. It opens doors to conversations with wine professionals in the UK and around the world. It even gives me excuses to plan exciting events.

I have always had more than one blog, having started a local interest blog right at the beginning of the adventure (now largely untouched), and also contributing to several others.

However, I will now have two personal wine blogs, both of which are important to me. The question is whether I will have to develop a full blown multiple personality trait to allow me to separate one from the other, or whether one will eventually win out over the other?

I will have to wait and see. I hope both turn out to have a role to play, however small. I trust you will forgive me if I split my attention between the two, and also stick with me while I find my feet blogging “over there” about things I have tried hard not to cover here in the time (almost 2 years) that this blog has been going.

More details soon.

Refreshing the idea gene pool

Any group can become insular and cliquey without outside ideas and influences.

I have seen it in all sorts of parts of my life, particularly in small businesses growing rapidly. At first the “entrepreneurs” just get on with the many tasks in hand, ploughing their own furrow. Eventually there is a social bond between the founders that keeps the business really successful, … but it also difficult for newcomers to join the inner circle.

It isn’t planned that way, but those who have been involved from the start have a shared history, language and experience (and in-jokes) that newcomers don’t ‘get’, and so feel/are excluded.

With all the ‘cooperation’ activity going on, is it possible that wine blogging is heading the same way at the moment?

I really don’t think so, but it is easy to fall into the trap of talking too much to each other and not to the average wine consumer/reader out there. It is certainly a charge levelled at us by some in the traditional Press, so we must address this in some way.

One problem is that it is in the nature of wine bloggers in particular to be cooperative, after all we are not competing for business, we are actually, really and willingly working together to “float all boats“. Our readers can easily subscribe to a number of blogs as they only need to read one article per visit and then move away to the others, following links or some other RSS feeds.

We must remember that bloggers are as much consumers of information as producers. Most importantly, we don’t need to keep readers trapped and clicking all around the place like certain sites.

Wine/Web 2.0 is supposed to be about interaction, two-way communication and conversations between publishers and readers, but, to coin a phrase, not all readers are created equal.

Bloggers read and link to each other a lot. It means we are very familiar with the personalities on these other blogs and also with the software, the etiquette and the writer’s need for interaction, so it is actually bloggers that are the most frequent commenters on other blogs.

Once you add in social networking on facebook, Open Wine Consortium, Twitter, etc. we end up spending a great deal of time talking to each other. We even have shared activities such as Wine Blog Awards, Wine Blogging Wednesday and, dare I say it, Wine Conferences (and even wine blogging lampoons)

In themselves these are not bad things as there are lots of benefits to us cooperating and sharing best practice, technical and moral support and also growing the awareness of blogging. But wine bloggers need to ensure that the key audience, the blog reading consumer looking for information on what wines to buy, why and where, does not feel excluded.

Ryan at Catavino (see, I did it again!) recently pointed out that even well educated, well informed readers are uneasy and uncomfortable joining the conversation. We need to ask ourselves why?!

This blog is a major offender, but then my subject is to blog about things like blogging in wine after all rather than provide information on specific wines. I’d guess that the vast majority of my regular readers are bloggers themselves. I’d be glad to be proven wrong – if so, leave me a comment and let me know what brings you here.

So I have a suggestion and a request:

Bloggers, we must do more to incorporate comments into our posts. Many blog templates (including this one) relegate comments to secondary pages making a conversation very hard. Can anyone suggest a better way to do this?*

Readers; leave a comment! Anything will do. Any extra information you can provide is likely to be very gratefully received, but even a simple “thanks” or “that’s not right” will do. Not only that, but suggestions and questions are the germs of ideas for future posts and discussions. If these are on things that matter to you the site will be even more interesting and valuable, and the gene pool of ideas will be that much more varied and healthy.

* I will be making changes to this blog very soon to try and put some of this into practice myself.

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