Rough seas for port and sherry?

12 December, 2008

Q Can we safely assume that the

fortified wine market is doomed?

A That may be going too far, but there's no doubt

the sector is experiencing some serious problems .

The fortified wine market was down 5% by volume and 1% by value in the off-trade in the year to Oct 10, according to Nielsen. In the on-trade volumes were down a depressing 9% and value by 6%.

Sherry remains the top seller in the take-home sector, with sales of £94 million, but the figure is falling by 3%. Port managed a 1% sales uplift against a flat volume performance, while fortified British wine was down 4% to £49 million.

It's frustrating news for producers and retailers, who have tried for

to attract a younger, less

old-fashioned audience for their products. It doesn't help that the current consumer trend is for lower-alcohol wines which are fresher tasting.

Q Is it true that councils can now set an upper limit on the number of off-licences in their area?

A No. The Licensing Act does not allow local authorities to put an upper limit on the number of licensed premises in a given area, although there are many

(including existing traders) who think it would be a good idea.

Licensing authorities are required to publish a licensing policy which meets the four licensing objectives contained in the Act. These are : the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm.

It is, however, permissible to introduce a cumulative impact, or "saturation", policy to keep a lid on the amount of drinking establishments in a congested area. These typically mean pubs find it harder to get permission to extend their premises and new applicants need to make a particularly convincing legal argument if they are allowed to open.

Blackpool has taken what is thought to be an unprecedented step by suggesting a saturation policy for off-licences in four wards in the borough. If successful it could pave the way for similar policies in other busy town and city centres.

Q One of my staff has decided she no longer wants to work on Sundays

for "religious reasons" and wants me to find her extra work on weekdays to compensate . What are her rights - and how much am I obliged to help her?

A For the vast majority of shop workers, anyone can choose to opt out of Sunday working, and they are not obliged to give any reason for their decision. They are, however, obliged to give you three months' notice and during that time you can insist they continue to do their Sunday hours.

During the notice period you cannot decide to terminate the worker's employment - unless of course there is a very good, and unrelated, reason for doing so. Nor can you restrict things like overtime, promotion or training opportunities.

As her employer, you are not obliged to offer new hours to compensate for

the loss of Sunday hours. And although the worker may decide at any time that she wants to opt back in to Sunday working, you are under no obligation

to agree to this request if you don't

want to.

Any South Africa wine trips out there?

Q Are there any travel agents that specialis e in wine tourism? I'm

keen on a visit to South Africa.

A Try Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours (01730 263111, The company specialises in bespoke and scheduled wine tours, and is offering a seven-day trip to the Cape

in February.

There are a number of others you'll find online, including the Wine & Food Academy ( which offers weekend tasting breaks in France among other itineraries.

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