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Hey everyone, ’tis the season to be jolly! And when I say jolly, I mean ... drunk. right? Let’s not be squeamish: for most of the UK population, this is pretty much routine logic. Festivity means celebration, celebration means having a drink, and that inevitably equals inebriation, to a greater or lesser extent.

Being wrong about a subject as massive as wine is as inevitable as  selling more claret at Christmas. Even the trade’s most well-worn clichés celebrate wrongness. You know the ones: I haven’t confused Bordeaux for Burgundy since lunch; I hate Chardonnay but I love Chablis. Oh how we laughed.

In the early 1990s red kites were reintroduced to the Chiltern Hills, having being hunted to extinction in the late 19th century. Now they’re established, conservationists advise residents not to feed them – they want the numbers of birds to be in equilibrium with their natural food source.

Hand-picked, whole bunch, punched down, 50% old French for 12 months. For most people, that sentence is utterly impenetrable. Is it about flowers? Bananas? Abused Parisian pensioners?

Dacia, the Renault-owned Romanian car manufacturer, recently launched a hatchback at under £6,000, yet people are still buying VW Golfs at twice the price. Why?

Few countries take beer more seriously than Belgium.

One of the biggest challenges in wine retail is the right mix between wines of passion and wines of practicality.

Product, price, place and promotion: the four Ps of marketing. It may be corporate jargon, but it works. Sadly, promotion and price are all too often considered one and the same thing within wine retail.

Every September, as millions of children return to school, so the wine trade sharpens its pencils and girds its liver in readiness for the new term. Here are five ways to make the most of it.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t believe everything you read, don’t follow the crowd.

Everyone’s got a story about working with the boss from hell. The manager who barks insults at the team whenever anything goes wrong – not the most helpful or constructive method of problem solving – or the maverick injecting his personality into the business, who turns out to be more sociopath than innovative thinker.

Where does the line between the personal responsibility of adults and the role of government lie? This question has exercised the minds of our industry leaders for many years.

few months ago I was tasting with an excellent cava producer – and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

What can go wrong?’ asked the headline in The Sun just before the first England match – as the newspaper sent free copies of its appallingly jingoistic This Is Our England special edition to 22 million homes. What could go wrong? Well, we could lose our first two matches, that’s what.

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.