31 October, 2008

Finally, help's just a call away

As an off-licence owner who has occasionally run into trouble with local authorities, environmental health officers and the police, I take my hat off to licensing law firm Poppleston Allen for launching a 24-hour advice line for retailers (OLN, Oct 17).

It's not that I'm an irresponsible or bad retailer. But in the past I have clashed with the authorities on a range of issues, including local residents complaining that my shop was serving under-18s, and once a customer had even claimed I had a dead rat on my beer shelves (something that I can honestly say was wholly untrue!).

On these occasions I have struggled to understand just what my legal position is and how I can represent myself. To know I can ring a solicitor and get free advice is welcome news.

I also think the advice line is recognition that sometimes the law is wrongly interpreted by the authorities, who can use unfairly heavy-handed tactics.

I immediately stuck the number to my shop phone, and would urge all other retailers to do the same. Thanks, Poppleston Allen.

Brian, Newcastle

All hail the Wine Show, but how about holding the cooked cow?

Last week I abandoned my Superman alter ego (wine merchant super-hero, single-handedly saving Oxford from cheap supermarket plonk) and adopted my Clark Kent guise (ordinary man who loves a tipple and has a penchant for expensive red Burgundy) to attend the Wine Show.

I mingled with all the other consumers there, gleefully swirling (and certainly not spitting) a vast array of impressive wines and stocking up my private wine cellar. It's a great show - informative, interesting and just the right level of wine geekiness.

My only criticism was the burger bar at the entrance to the show - a whiff of cooked cow is fairly off-putting when you're trying to taste the spectacular Aloxe-Corton 2005.

Jimmy Holland, by email

A case of information overload

Am I the only person who feels completely bewildered by the constant flow of contradictory information we retailers get?

I'm not even talking about all the regulatory red tape that gives me headache after headache these days, it's more the stuff about what sells and what doesn't, and why. First everyone was talking about trading up, and getting people out of the entry-level bracket, and how most of a £3.99 bottle of wine is glass and taxes.

Now they're all talking about customers trading down and getting £2.99 bottles on shelves - so how much of that actually goes into the liquid in the bottle?

And then there's the whole green debate. I want to save the planet for my kids - doesn't everyone? But what with organic, and biodynamic, and bulk shipping, and lightweight bottles, and Tetra Paks, and whether it's better to get wine from France or from South America, it's all getting too much. Can anyone make sense of it for me?

Confused, Birmingham

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

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