Reasons to be cheerful
I would like to think my outlook on things is generally optimistic. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence of working with something designed to give pleasure. But recently it has become increasingly difficult to ignore a creeping sense of negativity pervading the British wine trade.
All of us must decide how to respond to such a feeling – and our reactions can have significant consequences for our industry’s prosperity.
That’s because it isn’t just the ostensible facts that make the difference, but the prevailing confidence of the trade and whether we emit positivity and reassurance or uncertainty and scepticism.
First, let’s consider the facts. It’s undeniable that there are serious issues to be pessimistic about. Still wine sales in our market are in modest but steady decline, showing a 6% volume decrease since 2011.
Duty has grown rapidly since the turn of the century, reaching £2.60 (including VAT) per bottle today compared to £1.36 in 2002.
With average bottle prices up from £4.37 to £5.56 over the same period, that means duty and VAT equates to 47% of the average bottle price today, up from 37%. In other words, there is less profit to go around.
This has been confounded by falling exchange rates triggered by Brexit and the associated political uncertainty. All of which makes the UK look like a shrinking, unprofitable and unpredictable market to the rest of the wine world.
So far so glum. But there are certainly reasons to be cheerful too.
There has been huge growth in the number of independent wine merchants over the past decade, who bring variety, personality and passion to the high street, championing wine in their local markets.
Across the UK, our wine industry has a combined level of expertise and heritage which is unrivalled in the world. Institutions such as the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Insitute of Masters of Wine ensure that the UK is seen as a global centre of authority and experience in wine.
As such, we both attract and develop people who go on to have important influence in the wider world of wine. That’s us, folks: it may not be very British to blow our own trumpet, but few other countries can boast
the pool of talent that exists in the British wine trade.
We also have an enviable range of wines from all around the world on our shelves, with strong historical links to pretty much every wine-producing region on the planet. Plus, there is the growing English and Welsh sparkling sector – which may still be small by global standards, but which is attracting more and more attention among discerning wine drinkers, lending the UK an extra degree of credibility and interest.
Depending on how you look at the facts, our wine industry’s glass could be half full or half empty. But by choosing to think and act optimistically, despite the problems we are facing, we can generate a positive feeling which will help ensure our future prosperity.