Dunkin' into next year's wish list

12 December, 2008

Twixt the optimist and the pessimist," wrote the American poet, McLandburgh Wilson, "the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole." As we drain the dregs of 2008, looking back on a year when the wine trade has been pummelled by an unprecedented quintuple whammy of duty increases, currency fluctuations, rising costs, cash-deprived customers and a grocery war that has put wine on the front line, not many people are talking about doughnuts. Now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

I'm someone who tends to see doughnuts most of the time, but even I'm struggling to be upbeat about the next

12 months. But let's try for a minute.

As Leonard Cohen once put it: "There's

a hole in everything; that's where the

light gets in." What are the chinks of light?

Here's my wish list for 2009:

We'll see an end to deep discounting on wine, especially when it's being sold as a loss leader by major retailers. The likes of Tesco and Asda have to accept that they have a responsibility to help the wine trade avoid punitive legislation. According to the recent government-commissioned report from Sheffield University, more than 50% of alcohol is sold at a discount in supermarkets. If the retailers don't put an end to ­ludicrous three-for-£10 deals voluntarily, the government will force their hand. Deal junkies damage our industry in the long run.

The Chancellor will rethink the proposed duty increase in next year's Budget. The consumer (or rather the trade) has been clobbered twice this year, to the tune of 27p a bottle. The VAT saving offsets this above £6 - and may even make some wines cheaper - but the overwhelming majority of the bottles sold in the UK retail for less than that. Another hike in March or April could push a lot of businesses over the precipice, especially if the supermarkets ask suppliers to "absorb" it. If there is to be a tax increase, then it should be passed on to the consumer in full. People have to be made aware of the true cost of a bottle of wine.

We'll say "au revoir" to BOGOFs, which are nearly always a rip-off. We all know the model: a wine that wasn't worth £7.99 in the first place is "offered" at £4. By all means entice consumers to try something by cutting the price, but give them value for money, not a false economy based on a flagrant lie.

Oddbins will re-establish itself as a force in the high street, joined by a revamped Wine Rack. We need a strong off-licence sector and that hasn't been the case for the past five years. Oddbins seems to be making the right moves. Let's hope managing director Simon Baile can get the staff excited again, while over at Wine Rack Jonathan Butt is listing some exciting new wines.

Australia will rediscover the dynamism, cohesiveness and winemaking brilliance that made it such a force in the 1990s. At the moment, the big companies have stopped leading the category. Does Foster's even want to be involved in the wine industry? When Australia flounders the wine industry flounders too. The appointment of a new pan-European head honcho at Wine Australia could be the start of the fight back.

The ludicrous, heavy-as-a-3kg-dumbbell bottles we are still seeing from (principally, but not exclusively) Argentina, Spain, Chile and Italy will be discontinued. Come on guys - the wine trade needs to reduce its carbon footprint, even if it's at the cost of your egos. The wine trade has been very slow to adopt lighter packaging materials. This could be a good year to earn a few brownie (greenie) points.

Wine is given a proper, prime-time slot on television to promote the joys, flavours and (there is no other word for it) culture of this most diverse of beverages. Wine needs a consumer champion, or even a number of them, to defend its corner against critical elements in the medical profession, the anti-alcohol lobby and the government. Let's face it, no one seems to be listening to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, or at least the bit of it that represents the wine trade.

The UK will regain its position as the world's most innovative and exciting

market. In the past few years, it has slipped out of the top three. The news that Tesco and Sainsbury's are both "reviewing" (ie cutting) their ranges does not encourage optimism, but that still leaves Majestic, Oddbins, Wine Rack, Marks & Spencer, Booths, Waitrose and even Aldi, among others. Could 2009 be the year when retail buyers start buying again, rather than just dealing with a small number of beleaguered suppliers? For the time being, most of them are no more than number crunchers.

Europe will have a great vintage in 2009. After generally disappointing years in 2006, 2007 and 2008 (excluding the Rhône and Germany in 2007), the wine trade needs another harvest like 2005. Think how much money a good en primeur campaign can generate. It may be too late for some by the spring of 2010, but a great vintage in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne would be a boon.

Well, those are my chinks of light. Let's hope some of them come true.

See you in 2009.

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