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Beer has been given many affectionate nicknames over the years – liquid courage, daddy’s medicine, proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy, and countless others. But “yeast excrement” was a new one on me. That is how Alex Barlow, training director at the Beer academy, described the tipple to 10 MPs at a masterclass he hosted at the red lion opposite the houses of Parliament this week.

Discounting is routinely cited as the scourge of wine retail in the UK. 

When I worked at Majestic, a rumour circulated that a plucky manager once led a strike by standing on the roof of the Shepherd’s Bush store and shouting slogans through a loudhailer. Apparently, that story is still going – and someone recently told me they’d heard the protagonist was me.

Did you make the sale?

30 May, 2014

My first sales director always asked me this critical question. Never was the question more appropriate than with trade shows.

Wine has managed to evolve thus far without the emergence of a global brand leader. it’s unusual in this respect, since widely distributed products tend to favour a dominant player. Coca- Cola, Levi’s, Ford, Apple: all of them are evolutionarily logical – inevitable, even.

There’s been a lot of soul searching about the purpose of Bordeaux en primeur recently. Twitter has been bedevilled with chin-stroking platitudes from merchants and bitchy one-upmanship between wine writers. Debate has raged and disagreement is rife – though miraculously, the world has somehow managed to keep turning.

Yet again consumer complaints have led to a beer brand being required to change its ads because the industry-funded Advertising Standards Authority has judged them to be misleading. The latest TV ads for Kronenbourg challenge the consumer to “find a better tasting French beer” – yet it is brewed in Manchester.

In 2007, a voluntary agreement was made between the government and the drinks industry to ensure that 80% of all alcohol packaging in the UK would carry a warning label by December 2013. Consisting of information about units, consumption guidelines and risks to health, it’s part of a wider effort to increase awareness about responsible drinking.

asked a winemaker recently why it was so important for him to sell his wines in the UK. He said it was like New York, New York: if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Portugal, our oldest trading partner, has everything a holiday-maker could want - beautiful countryside, massive empty golden beaches, Moorish castles and an astonishing seafaring legacy. Yet the country is in a mess. During a recent visit I started wondering what comparisons can be drawn between the UK and our former close ally.

Off Licence News has followed the steady rise of the so-called Reducing the Strength schemes since the idea was first mooted and Ipswich council gained the dubious crown of being the pioneer.

If wine retail is anything like it was when I did it 10 years ago, then the fastest moving drink in the shop is, in fact, tea. A nice cuppa accompanied everything: opening up, cashing up, mopping up smashed bottles of wine – and sitting down to read OLN, of course.

Indulge me for a moment. So, our private plane touched down at the luxurious estate of one of Argentina’s richest families. That night, while their team of chefs prepared a sumptuous supper, I was invited to take my pick from a cellar stacked full of first growths and deluxe Champagnes.

Why brand names are key

14 February, 2014

Marketing folk spend their lives trying to build brands. Brands that can establish reputations with consumers are of great value to their shareholders.

It seems a bit rich describing wine as democratised when in politics the concept of one person, one vote is something for which people are prepared to die.

Let’s face it, for all its organoleptic pleasures there is a potential dark side to the effects of alcohol which society has seen fit to mitigate by imposing certain restrictions on its sale.

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve managed to keep a new year’s resolution. They’re usually doomed to fail. Call Mum once a week. Call Mum once a month. Call Mum, like, once. But in 2013, I resolved not to buy any wine from supermarkets.

Even before its future plans were revealed to us exclusively this week, Oddbins’ story had become stranger than fiction.

The wine trade is frequently accused of offering the best career in the world. Because the grass is always greener on the other side, the best career in the world is usually anything that isn’t your own.

It is always interesting when industry competitors come together to fight a common enemy. The latest such venture is the recently launched Let There Be Beer campaign.

What’s the point of wine? If you’re Catholic wine is for communion but for some Muslims it’s for infidels. For collectors wine is self-fulfilment, but for alcoholics it’s self-destruction. For some, wine is for quiet contemplation, for others it’s for spraying over people in nightclubs to show you’re classy.

It is hard not to imagine yourself as a film star when you enter BAFTA’s plush headquarters in London’s Piccadilly and tread the same carpet such distinguished thespians as Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis and Helen Mirren have previously graced. A place that celebrates the finest achievements in acting is a fitting setting for the Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s annual conference.

Age concern in the vineyards

07 October, 2013

“A vineyard planted at the gates of hell”, doesn’t sound like the most promising source of fine wine. You’d expect it to make a pruney, full-bodied red or a fiery fortified at best. But the 1.4 hectares of field-blended Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris, Muscat and Palomino that grower Dirk Brand cultivates on his wheat and rooibos tea farm near Elands Bay on South Africa’s West Coast produces one of the Cape’s most refined and minerally whites instead.

A beautiful friendship begins

20 September, 2013

Welcome! Bienvenidos! Thobela! Using a modern day riff on Joel Grey’s famous song in Cabaret, The Beautiful South held its first, keenly-awaited tasting in London last week. If you’ve not heard of the initiative, it is a genuinely groundbreaking collaboration between three Southern Hemisphere countries: Argentina, Chile and South Africa, two of whom are historic enemies.

Vive la difference?

09 September, 2013

“What’s wrong with France?” asked the distinguished journalist Christine Ockrent in a recent think piece in Prospect. Her analysis, which is worth reading in full, begins at the top. Président François Hollande, whose popularity has trawled unprecedented lows in opinion polls, lacks the “grandeur, energy and panache” that the French expect from their leader. But his problems are part of a deeper malaise. France, argues Ockrent, has to face reality. Like its political class, it is frequently arrogant, averse to change and incurious about the outside world.

Time to raise a dram to the Scotch Whisky Association for its inventive approach to creating concise statistics that strike decisively to the heart of the issues currently at play.

It’s not so long ago that all the chatter about Bargain Booze was whether it was destined for a sell-off and who would be brave enough to take it on.

I’m not sure if Peter Lehmann and Tim Hamilton Russell ever met, but I like to think they would have got on, despite their very different personalities. One was a slightly gruff, chain-smoking winemaker who never went to university, the other an urbane, Oxford-educated advertising executive. What they had in common – and would, I hope, have established a bond between them – was a love of wine and an ability to take risks, flouting rules if necessary.

If proof of the effectiveness among brewing lobbyists were ever needed, it was on full view at the 20th annual dinner of the All Parliamentary Beer Group in Westminster last week. Senior MPs rubbed shoulders with brewers in a resplendent display of back-slapping over the successful abolishment of the beer duty escalator.

Living the dream

22 July, 2013

Ever felt like making your own wine? If you work in the business, whether as a retailer, sommelier, importer or impoverished hack, the chances are that you’ve entertained just such a dream.