Tag Archive - legislation

Go with the cash flow

LONDON - JANUARY 5:  Chancellor Alastair Darli...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

… or “How I will do my bit for the economy of this country via the wine aisle

For the last few years, pretty much since I started blogging, I’ve had something to say about the underhand way that the government uses Duty on wine to line their coffers, usually at the expense of the consumer, but by implication also affecting everyone else in the chain, from retailer to producer.

I have tried to argue that our Duty system, with high taxes on EVERY bottle of wine, no matter how good (or poor), have little impact on whether consumers drink to excess, which is supposed to be one of the reasons to raise the price.

I have tried to argue that lowering taxes would enable producers to invest more in the quality of the product and their communication/marketing, educating consumers to drink better, and drink more responsibly.

To no avail, of course.

Earlier this year, the Treasury admitted in a letter (during a campaign by Le Beast wines, Harpers, Drinks Business and Off Licence News) that:

“…alcohol duty is an important revenue stream for the government”

and

“The alcohol duty increases announced at Budget were not designed to tackle problem drinking but they will play their part in ensuring we can continue to fund the Government’s spending priorities.”

It seems that the anti-alcohol lobby and politicians are allowed to use these as justifications for putting Duty up, but when they get the money, they can then spend it on whatever they wish.

So, I’m changing tack.

Let’s be realistic: If the government needs money to shore up our economy and get people back to work (or keep them in work), then they will be forced to raise taxes. They could*:

  • tax me harder on my income, thus making me have to work longer/harder
  • tax me more on stuff I buy (VAT), thus discouraging me from buying that ‘stuff’ and thus not making money OR,
  • raise money from me while I am enjoying one of life’s real pleasures; drinking wine

To be honest, thinking about it like this (as I did when I went to sleep last night), I would rather be paying them extra dosh while I have fun, not while I work (of course, in my case I’m doing both).

So, Mr Chancellor (or simply Darling as we will now call him), I’m not excusing you. You could still do A LOT more to support wine businesses, producers, retailers, consumers and the health of this country, but as you do not seem to be prepared to do this, I guess I will just have to do my bit for the economy of this country via the wine aisle.

I hope you appreciate it!

And, Darling, when we start to emerge from this fiscal black hole you have helped to get us into, I trust you will do the decent thing and engage in a proper dialogue about what is actually good for the many responsible drinkers in this country.

Now, I’m off to pay some taxes, … by the glass.

* Of course, I suspect they’ll do all 3 of course! Watch out for 20% VAT, higher income tax and increases on Duty as a triple-whammy

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Would you like a dash of natamycin with that?

Chemicals
Image by stepbar via Flickr

“There could be a hint of natamycin in your wine.” Should you jump for joy, or jump away from the glass?

What if I told you there may be a trace of resveratrol? Drink up or Throw up?

What about knowing that isinglass, bentonite and copper sulphate had possibly been used in the making of your wine? Would that make you think: “Ooh! The wine maker cares that I get a fresh, clean and clear bottle every time, I’ll buy it!” or “Cripes! This wine is adulterated and manipulated. I couldn’t possibly drink this“?

There is a bit of a story brewing concerning the first item – Natamycin. This is a “fungicide and anti-microbial agent” that is allowed in some food stuffs in the EU, so at low doses is deemed to be fine for your health. Except, it is not listed as an allowable ingredient of wine, and therefore by (EU) definition is “banned”. It now appears that new testing methods, developed in Germany, are able to detect it, and they’ve identified it in several wines from Argentina, so the law says they cannot be sold.

[Poor Argentineans! Every time we think we might see more of their wines on sale, something happens to dash their hopes (I for one will continue to buy and drink Argentinean wines).]

So where does it come from and what does it mean? Who knows!?! (the source of this may be the real story)

I (personally) am going to operate on the assumption the ban is a mainly bureaucratic issue, that the substance is safe (at low levels) and that the issue will be more about wine making processes (and who might be cutting corners) rather than any real health scare.

But what about the bigger picture?

The bigger issue relates to those other items I mentioned. Which of these are good, and which are bad? Is the average consumer going to know? Or care?

There is a movement in the wine business that says that all wines should carry ingredient labelling (see what Bonny Doon are doing) just as most other food & drink products do. The question will be, will any consumer understand those ingredients, what they mean, and what the effects are? Are we defending the consumer, or simply confusing them “for their/our own good”?

Wine is a strange beast. In principle it is simple.

You take some grapes. You crush them. You let the yeast turn the sugar into alcohol. You filter the resulting alcoholic liquid and put it into bottles. You drink it.

Except the modern consumer demands certain reliable, high quality, clean wines, clear and without funny ‘floaty bits’, harmless or otherwise. Unfortunately, to achieve that, most wines go through a few processes that may leave mere ‘traces’, for which we need to invent new tests just to know they are there, of certain substances. Does the wine drinker need to know that? I’m not sure. As long as it is safe and fair (all wineries do more or less the same), is it necessary to know as long as it isn’t actually hidden?

I’m all for educating and informing consumers that want to know more, and 110% behind the idea of analysis to ensure what they drink is safe, but after that … ?

When the EU law changed and wines had to say “contains sulphites” I personally received several calls and emails from concerned consumers that their favourite tipple was now adulterated and “gave them headaches” when in fact nothing had changed, just the label.

In the near future, wine bottles will be “encouraged” (though I don’t think forced) to carry the pregnant-women-should-not-drink-alcohol symbol, a “responsible drinking” reminder, the usual legal source and content information, and the reminder that “this wine contains sulphites/sulfites”. I wonder how much further this will go, and whether, in a few years’ time, there will be any space left for the name of the wine maker and the name of the winery?

I hope that the reaction to this particular ‘event’ is not too bad for the Argentinean wine industry, and I also hope that common sense prevails. The rules in force are strong, the tests are in place and consumers are protected – let’s also hope that bureaucracy, even if well-intentioned, does not damage the wine industry for no particular gain.

What do you think? Would you like to see ALL ingredients listed on a wine label, or are you happy as things are? Do you trust the tests to keep you safe? What would you do with the information if it was provided? I look forward to hearing what you think of this issue

<end rant>

For the record:

  • resveratrol is, in theory, good – it is associated with positive effects on the heart … but there is the rest of the body to consider!
  • isinglass is used (by some) to get “bits” out of your wine, and all of it falls out of the wine (actually called ‘fining’) or is filtered out
  • bentonite is a clay that is a good filter for wine, nothing stays in the wine
  • copper sulphate is a bad substance on its own, but in tiny quantities can remove “off odours” (stinky, bad egg) from wines and is itself them removed too
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Enough is Enough: a pricing rant

I was working on how to write this properly, then realised I have yet to try to use video more effectively (and it was faster!), so I recorded some thoughts (woefully unprepared) on Seesmic instead.

Here is the video. I think you need to register to leave a video comment (please do, I’d love to get some) but you can also leave me your written thoughts on this post.

If you want to join the OLN “Enough is Enough” campaign, text ‘Enough’ to 82055 (in the UK)

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Social Drunking

My last post despaired against law-makers for their approach to problem drinking.

I called upon them to think bigger thoughts and help shape a new common goal that might divert attention from day to day angst leading to binge drinking (oh, and help to save the planet in the process).

A couple of things have occurred to me since that post.

1. It will never happen. Such a movement will have to come from ‘me’/'us’, not ‘them’. [thanks to my lovely wife for reminding me of my previous thoughts about this topic. In my 'red mist' I got rather carried away with utopian dreams]

2. I’ve fallen, once again, into the trap of thinking others are “like me” – “I thinking” in Mark Earls’ excellent Herd Thinking work

I assume that others could/should think like me about alcohol (or anything) simply because I hold it to be true. But they don’t. However much I try and explain the error of their ways.

Are we the same? After all, I drink alcohol. Binge drinking kids and young adults drink alcohol.

No, the actual similarity is that we drink to socialise.

I drink to learn and explore, in the main. I like to share that knowledge gained with others who like wine in particular (I posted on this some months ago)

Those that are the target for this sort of legislation drink to socialise too, but alcohol, drinking to the point of drunkenness, is the objective of socialising, not as a subject to be explored. I have now seen this called “Social Drunking” – a great term for a sad state of affairs.

I found this presentation, courtesy of my friend Andrew (who knows a fair amount about this subject and helps to bring solid research to this debate, not just my ramblings), to be very enlightening. It is worth reading through it just to see how these 18-25 year-olds think about alcohol.

It would probably be unfair of me to point out that wine plays no part in their drinking (except for the one woman who mentions it in relation to ‘sensible’ drinking at home). All of those involved in alcohol have a shared responsibility to do something about this problem, but it could be that there is something about wine, or how it is perceived, that differentiates it and that could help us improve drinking habits.

I would point out, however, that price of alcohol, or availability from off licences did not figure at all.

I still think that learning about CONSEQUENCES, whether for our planet, through our wasteful consumption, or short-termist commercial thinking impacting on the sustainability of jobs and culture, would also have an effect on people’s attitudes to alcohol.

Certainly, one consequence of my own drinking is that I feel a responsibility to do something, however small, to try and encourage a sensible approach to alcohol – by young drinkers and legislators alike.

You never know!

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.

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