Holter on the loose

Down Under's downturn could be its saviour

Frost, drought, bush fires and phylloxera. These are not phenomena you'd wish on winemakers anywhere, though the Australians will probably get less sympathy than most. That's what happens when you reach the top of the tree: critics will always be ready for you to get your come-uppance.

Vintage 2007 promises to be a big turning point for Australia. It has the opportunity to abandon the forgettable wines that plague its bulk production; the wines that sit around for 24 months before finding their way into some dreary blend; the "virtual winery" rubbish created by chancers with access to cheap juice.

Australia's surplus has all but evaporated and the signs are that it won't be returning any time soon. The Australians are certainly looking on the bright side: here is an opportunity to emphasise the quality of their product, rather than its abundant quantity, and to achieve decent prices.

The question for the UK is whether retailers are thinking the same thing. So many ranges are propped up by the sort of unremarkable Aussie wine that is going to be in shorter supply from here on in. Will buyers start importing more bulk shipments of wine for bottling in the UK to achieve cost savings? Will they devote more time and effort to seeking out whatever discount deals are still available - with all the quality risks this tactic entails? Or will they increasingly abandon Australia for £3.99 and seek out alternative supplies from South Africa, Chile, Argentina and California?

There is still a surplus in Europe. Maybe even France has the opportunity to claw back some UK sales if buyers can identify wines they can market as successfully as the Aussie cheapies.

Australia will probably forfeit some market share. But, for the sake of its future, maybe it needs to.

Proving a point

The national media widely reported that punters would be paying 5p more for their wine after the Budget and it would be fascinating to talk to any of them who actually have. Instead, retailers are refusing to budge and will only do so to prove to suppliers what a disaster an 04 price point would be. Of course they wouldn't be if everyone had them, but that's another story. The trade is campaigning for advance notice of duty increases - but I doubt this will encourage retailers to swallow them.

Teenage kicks

Brace yourselves for the latest test purchasing crackdown: 227 police basic command units targeting up to 20 "problem" premises apiece and conducting up to five visits per store. I'll save you the bother of the maths: that's a potential 22,700 test purchases over the course of 10 weeks.

Where do they find teenagers with this sort of time on their hands? Shouldn't they be studying for exams? Perhaps being a Trading Standards stooge is now an element of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme.

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