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.
So, George The Bear is back. It’s hard for some of us oldies to fathom, but there are those under, say, 40 who can’t actually remember Hofmeister and, therefore, do not feel the cultural jolt supplied by the return of both the bear and the beer whose marketing campaigns it used to front.
It’s all true. Wine writers loaf around in a state of partial inebriation and partial undress, bitching about having to taste free wine all day and using recondite words like malolactic, terroir and recondite.
Procrastination required far more effort before the internet. Locating endless pages of time-wasting distraction necessitated a printed catalogue, and king of them all was Innovations. Subtitled Tomorrow’s Products ... Today! it was the mail-order equivalent of a fairground novelty stall, selling such junk as zip-up ties and big toe straighteners.
The UK is the world’s largest market for Champagne and after years of decline sales have finally started to pick up once more. Volume sales have grown 0.7% and values are up 1% (IRI, year to March 2016) and it is now worth more than £250 million in the UK off-trade alone. It therefore beggars belief to learn that the Comité Champagne has decided to scrap its annual London tasting.
Other than sandcastles, it’s generally inadvisable to build things on sand. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of a solid foundation. Building on sand is like drinking seawater when you’re dehydrated or reading tabloids when you want balanced reporting: a self-defeating exercise.
Last month’s OLN Wine Report highlighted some of the most prominent issues currently facing the off-trade. Taken in isolation, the report’s findings make gloomy reading – shrinking product ranges, supermarket turmoil, lack of innovation and a decline in overall wine sales across the country.
It’s little surprise to see that Carlsberg’s Euro 2016 special, er, brew is a 4.1% abv golden ale. It’s a product spec that’s become the default setting for any beer launch that wants to tick boxes around modern beer trends without risk of causing offence.
Do anything too regularly and it soon becomes a chore. Stop sniggering at the back. It’s as true for wine tasting as it is for data entry. I know, poor us. Try telling anyone with a normal job how unlucky we are and I doubt you’ll get much sympathy, but the fact remains that there are thousands of different wines and most of them taste pretty average.
Whatever your outlook, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Retailers are too often introspective, focused on what’s happening within their own four walls. Sales reps can get lost in monthly targets and fail to appreciate the longer-term needs of their customers. Wine writers spend far more time tweeting other wine writers about wine writing than considering what readers actually want.
Some things make better comebacks than others. The Phantom Menace was trite, The Force Awakens was triumphant. Cadbury ironically relaunched the Wispa and it’s still thriving nine years later, whereas its Aztec bar bombed after optimistically returning as the Aztec 2000. Heart-throb boy-band Take That’s comeback album enjoyed huge success, but poodle rock hellraisers Guns ’n’ Roses? Axl Rose is 54 now. Welcome To The Jumble Sale.
Brewdog founder James Watt was forced to admit his appearance on BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary Who’s The Boss? was “a bit of a disaster” this week after his behaviour sparked a vicious backlash. He was dubbed embarrassing, rude and a “professional arsehole” in his ill-fated bid to hire an area manager in front of the watching public, while wholesaler Best of British Beer even said it was delisting Brewdog beers and giving away any remaining stock as a result.
In the fifth century, Ireland suffered from a reptile dysfunction. It happens to the best of us. Pesky pagan snakes all over the place, slippery anti-Christian evangelists making a nuisance of themselves, shedding their skin, swallowing hamsters whole, hypnotising Mowgli, sticking their tongue out at everyone. That kind of thing.
The most willfully provocative tenet of the Brewdog employee charter is: “We blow shit up.” We know because we were told dozens of times on last night’s BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary Who’s The Boss?. It remains to be seen if the statement's pubic airing causes problems for brewery co-founder James Watt next time he goes through airport security.
We’ve all done it. A customer asks a straight question, you give a crooked answer. On good days that might be through a genuine mistake. On bad days it might be through stress. But on most days it’s simply refusing to admit not knowing the answer. Having dealt them all during my time behind the counter, I now hear them all back as a customer.
If you knew the secret to packaging a discerning mixed drink from a great cocktail bar you’d bottle it, right? And by bottle it we don’t mean cower in the corner from the challenge, we mean actually stick the cocktail in a bottle.
One of the wine industry’s self-imposed missions is to simplify a highly complicated product. The reasoning seems straightforward enough – by making wine more easily comprehensible it becomes less threatening, thereby increasing consumer engagement and boosting sales.
January. The most mediocre of months. Beginning with a horrific hangover and ending with a tax return, it’s a desperate time that requires desperate measures.
My 12-times table is ninja fast. Not just up to 10, either – that’s kid’s stuff. I’m talking dozens of dozens, hundreds even. I’ve even got favourites: 38 times 12 is 456 – pleasingly sequential; 50 times 12 is 600 – an easy one, but with satisfying roundness. Then there’s the evergreen classic 74 times 12, giving not just two but three fat ladies, 888.
K Cider: that was my first booze of choice. In its limited-edition coloured bottles, it was the height of sophistication – in the public parks of Bedford. I was no snob though, oh no. I would also sometimes drink Mirage and Taboo.
A few years ago I remember rushing into a supermarket with a few like-minded colleagues, like kids in a sweet shop, filling trolleys with clearance wines, which were perfectly good but the retailer had decided to cull the range and these were the victims, the shelf-warmers – genuine half-price bargains for once.
There’s something irresistible about stories unveiling the dirty secrets of a profession: politicians blow billions on garden gnomes; athletes busted mainlining Red Bull; hacks distort facts for salacious headlines.
In July, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Food Programme entitled New Wine generation.
Picture your favourite Champagne. Perhaps you’ve got more than one. Either way, I expect it occurred to you almost instantaneously, and that you conjured up an image of the bottle in your mind. Now ask yourself: why is it your favourite?
On the surface, life seems generally predictable and familiar. Alarms wake us at the same time every day, insurance premiums go up every year, pubs sell Pinot Grigio by the glass.
During the short time when cat food came under my remit at Marks & Spencer, I learned two interesting facts.
I’m not sure how to listen to music any more. I don’t mean that I’m sticking earphones into the wrong holes (you don’t make that mistake twice), I'm talking about the way music is accessed.
Is your decanter half full or half empty? Some people look at the UK wine trade and see declining sales, punitive tax and low average prices. I prefer to see recovering sales, decelerating duty and everyday affordability.
Wine marketing only gets criticised for two things: being outdated, conservative and repetitious; or being modern, radical and original.
I recently had to explain the phrase “to have your cake and eat it” to my young son, and it got me thinking about the wine trade.
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