Drinking To The Limit

So that was January, a month of mixed feelings for wine lovers. Do you carry on as normal, observe ‘dry January’ to put right any festive indulgences, or maybe even just use it as a yearly detox?

Official Doctor evidence is still wonderfully confusing, with conflicting studies offering either extreme views or fence-sitting conclusions. Will sudden abstinence do more long-term damage than the short-term benefits? It seems, no one knows.

‘Dry’ campaigners will argue that if you need to take a monthly break from alcohol you’re probably drinking too much anyway. Sobering stuff! Whether you chose to ignore it or observe it, I hope you made it through OK.

Speed Limit

Most calendar months now have appropriations such as ‘Stoptober’ or ‘Movember’. There’s even ‘Veganuary’! February doesn’t seem to pair with any such affiliations: you’re simply back to getting on with your life. It’s perhaps a nice time then to reflect on an alternative viewpoint to the annual October to January ‘should-we-shouldn’t-we’.

My driving instructor once told me that road signs displayed the speed limits, not the targets. Recent research suggests that, when it comes to drinking, people not only need to observe the healthy drinking targets, they also need to exceed them! All for the sake of the Government and the good of the country.

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that anyone should drink to excess, but there is a clear confliction of interests. The Chief Medical Officer (representing the Government) might suggest one upper limit intake figure will keep us healthy and living to a ripe old age, but the Government at large are particularly reliant on keeping the taxes pouring in.

Pennies

The study showed that if drinkers stuck to the current weekly alcohol consumption guidelines (14 units for both men and women), overall alcohol sales would fall by £13 billion per year, a revenue decline of 38%*. That’s a massive shortfall in the expected tax generation and their wider overall financial calculations. To clarify, the Government balance sheet currently factors in people vastly surpassing their own suggested health guidelines.

Furthermore, the late 2018 October budget saw duty frozen for beers and spirits, but not for wine, which saw a 7p per bottle increase (9p for sparkling). This signals that, whilst appeasing the concerns of beer enthusiasts who make up the core drinkers of our sadly diminishing pubs (go CAMRA!), it isn’t a tax holiday on general alcohol drinking, it’s a tax grab on the increasing number of home/wine-drinking austerity minded folk.

Figures for the financial year 13/14 (the latest available) show that 81%* of off-trade revenue (i.e. sales outside of pubs/clubs/restaurants) can be attributed to people drinking outside of the recommended limits. Can we expect producers and suppliers to swallow the additional tax hikes? Unlikely. We’ll simply end up paying more per bottle.

Do the Government actually want us to cut down our consumption levels to improve our health, or continue drinking to generate the taxes? It’s a ponderous question.

* Blenheimcdp

This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
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How The Other Half Live: The UK Government Wine Cellar

Gov Fund SignPhoto Credit: Jon Manel

A well-appointed off licence is a godsend to most of us and there’s no reason to assume that the Government feel any differently.

Just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, across Hyde Park, is Lancaster House; the home of the British Government’s wine store.  Established in 1908 with the express intent of enabling our ministers to lubricate their diplomatic machinations, over the years this 60 square foot private cellar evolved in to a store of very fine wine.  Naturally people began to wonder what indulgent vintages the elite were getting to imbibe, fully cementing a ‘them vs. us’ mentality.

A 2010 edict by the Secretary of State demanded that a full overhaul of the process be taken ensuring that these tax-payer funded purchases became fully self-funded.  In these times of austerity where “we’re all in it together” it was a welcome move.

The current Government now offers complete transparency as to how their wine cellar runs (Google ‘government hospitality’ to see the full report) and each year they produce a document giving a full run down of the operation.  Firmly ousting the notion of a fine wine gravy-train for the elected, it makes an interesting read.

Well and truly clearing their closet out, a mass sell-off of ‘significant’ bottles was held in 2012 raising the £44k that nearly fully covered the £49k cost of the stocks required for the following year.  These annual sales continue, the most recent of which ensured that officials would no longer be tucking in to such gems as Mouton Rothschild or Margaux 1990.

Gov UK CellarPhoto Credit: Jon Manel

The cellar and ongoing purchases are now guided by a team of Masters of Wine (MWs) to ensure that quality is maintained whilst adhering to the funds available.  The average purchase price of a bottle last year was £14.

Consumption year on year is down which also helps to stretch the budget.  In the fiscal year 2015/16 some 3,730 bottles were drunk vs. just 3,261 last year.  When you weigh up that these bottles will grace the table of more than 200 diplomatic events each year, this divvies up at around 16 bottles per engagement.  Some of us may have got through as many in the recent Bank Holiday weekend.

Bottles are graded either A, B or C dependent on what their intended use will be.  The top category, those listed as A1, are fit only for banquets attended by Kings and Queens.  The majority will be drinking grade C wines: Chilean Merlots and house clarets from merchant Berry Bros & Rudd for the reds and the Bacchus grape from English producer Chapel Down for the white.  Patriotically English wine now accounts for 49% of new wine purchases.

There’s still a handful of exciting bottles tucked away for special occasions and the total stock is estimated to be worth something like £804k, comprising some 33k bottles.  Whilst we can applaud the everyday activity we can only dream about the extremes.  How about the 1970 Petrus Bordeaux (£2k a bottle), 1962 Chateau Margaux (£450) or their last magnum of the 1964 Krug Champagne (£1,900) for lunch?

That’s still quite some collection.

This article was originally published in the June 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.