Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wine Fair Thursday, Nov 14th

Tis the season for the wine fairs and we have our 15th(!) one coming up....how time flies!

I have just done the list and we have some great wines lined up, from our new Greek range from Kiryianni to fine white Burgundies from Pierre Yves Colin-Morey and from a simple Sauvignon Blanc to some world beaters like Felton Road, this is a tasting not to be missed.

Over 80 wines, some great deals and a brilliant night out. Call Carol on 01 2353054 to book a place or turn up on the night and we will sort you out.

 Details as follows:

On the Grapevine Annual Wine Fair

Thursday, November 14th from 6pm - 9pm

Fitzpatrick's Killiney Castle Hotel, Killiney, Co. Dublin.

All welcome!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another open letter to Michael Noonan

Last year, after the shock of the budget, I penned a letter to Michael Noonan, you can read it here. I have to say I only wrote it to vent my frustration at the time and wasn't expecting to get any response from the Minister or from the Department of Finance.

I was right. Tumbleweed ensued....

However, as we look forward with bated breath to our 6th austerity budget, and with the restaurant sector doing a great job with their Keep Vat % campaign, I have grown increasingly annoyed at the lack of voice for the wine trade. Where are NOFFLA? There was a press release from the Irish Wine Association in the middle of August when all politicians are on holidays and the rest of the country weren't paying attention, but nothing else. So here goes again.

Dear Minister Noonan,

I'm sure you are busy right now putting the finishing touches to the budget, but I would like to write a short letter in defence of our humble wine trade.

As you know, you put the excise duty up on wine in last years budget by 81c + VAT, bringing the current level of excise on a bottle of wine up to €2.78 per bottle. This is way higher than the excise (per degree of alcohol) on beer in this country, the highest duty on wine in the EU and six times higher than the EU average. In the country we are supposed to try and emulate in every way, Germany, there is no duty on wine at all! What I'm saying is that, no matter which way you look at it, duty on wine in this country is way too high and certainly shouldn't go any higher.

In our trade - and I personally am only a tiny, tiny cog in the wheel - we are in the almost unique position of handing over more than 50% of our monthly turnover to the revenue commissioners in the form of duty and vat. So, our revenue bill each month is by far our biggest outlay every month and this has gone up by 40% as a result of last year's budget.  Most of us are hanging on by our finger nails and any further increase will surely destroy the independent trade and hand even further power to multinationals.

Jobs. Businesses going bust will lay people off. I don't need to explain that one.

Smuggling. I already have had numerous cases of restaurants telling me about people approaching them offering wine at €4 per bottle for COD and out of the back of a van. This wine is obviously not coming out of a bonded warehouse. Any further increase will see this activity take off like a rocket.

Below cost selling - will is still on offer for €4, €5. Do I need to do the maths? OK out of €5, there is €3.80 in tax so either they are getting the wine for free and magic pixies are packing it and transporting it or this wine is below cost and is being sold as a loss leader. Not only does this fly in the face of any semblance of responsible retailing of a dangerous substance, but the exchequer loses out with every bottle. It makes all sorts of sense to stop it. At the moment, you can buy a bottle of Heineken for 0.90c or a bottle of Volvic for 0.99c.

I really hope you can see sense to leave what is left of our trade alone and, if you need to tap the alcohol industry for money, try to be imaginative and find it from the only sector who can afford it - the supermarkets.

All the best and good luck next week.

Yours sincerely,

Gabriel Cooney
On the Grapevine

Friday, August 2, 2013

August Offers and New Wines

August Offers and New Wines         

August Offer - 2 for €20

Two of our best sellers not at an even better price!

The Merlot is surprisingly full-bodied with rich plummy fruit and ripe tannins. Give it food and it will shine...

The Chardonnay is unoaked with the emphasis on lovely fresh appley fruit. A brilliant all-rounder.
COS Cerasuolo is back!

One of the first wines we ever imported and still one of our favourites is back in stock after a protracted absence. This delicious wine is made by COS - a trailblazer in Sicily known for the very high quality of their wines as much as their "natural" winemaking methods. They were biodynamic back when most people thought it had something to do with Steve Austin and their care and attention really shows in the wines which are always amazing, always interesting and always easy to drink. This bottle was pictured on my kitchen counter, empty, as Pam and myself had an argument about who drank it all.

No, it's not cheap.
Lots of new wines in with interesting grape varieties - Marselan, Fiano, Aglianico and more - don't say we don't keep you on your toes! Also a new range from Languedoc - tasty, elegant and good value.

Call in to the shop and Carol will point you in the right direction as always.

See you soon, Gabriel, Pam & Carol

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On the Guttervine Wine & Book Shop

Back in the mists of time when I was trying to figure out what to do when I grew up, I always fancied having a book shop. Wine shop was up there as well, but books have always had a fascination for me - from when I was a lad devouring every book I could get my hands on, through the embarrassing pseudo-intellectual phase that lasted longer than it really should have and through to my current love of reading, albeit in snatches here and there when not working/sleeping/eating/driving kids here, there and everywhere.

However, wine won the day and 14 years later, here we are. However, the Dalkey Book Festival is on this weekend June 14-16th and Dalkey finds itself without a bookshop. One of my favourite bookshops is The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar so I thought why not live the dream, just for a weekend and get these guys to open a pop - up bookshop in our shop for the weekend.

And that's what we're doing - this Friday through to Sunday, we will have wine and books - what a combination! - all weekend. We will have lots of bottles open for tasting, the Gutter will have lots of books by all the writers featured in the festival - we are all geared up for it; make sure you call in!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drinkable isn't good enough

Why “drinkable” isn’t good enough

It won’t come as a big surprise to hear that I love wine. It is a drink to be celebrated and to celebrate with. It makes our food taste better and tastes better with food. It is a conduit for conviviality, sharing and enjoying time with our family and friends.

It is endlessly varied, every bottle a surprise. Grape varieties, producers and styles are constantly throwing up something new and interesting.  It can be a source of great joy and enriches our lives in many ways. Of course, there are good ones and bad ones, and all alcohol needs to be treated with respect, but on balance wine is a civilised drink designed to be drunk with food and not to excess.

This is why it annoys me to see wine reviews and recommendations where the wine is listed as “drinkable”. Is this not a basic requirement? Should we not set the bar just a little higher than this? I mean, a food writer doesn’t recommend a restaurant on the basis of the food being “edible”. Restaurants are rightly celebrated when they are showcasing excellence, innovation and value. So why do we set the bar so low for wine?

I realise that there are editorial pressures to keep it real and to offer wines that are widely available and not too expensive, but I think this can be achieved without resorting to recommending the €4 German “Pinot Grigio” in your local Lidl or Tesco on the basis that it is possible to consume it without falling ill. There are thousands of wines available in this market, a huge range of excellent wines, that surely deserve to be promoted and celebrated by our opinion leaders.

So, if you see the word “drinkable” in a wine review, use your noggin, read between the lines and understand that the writer is really saying “I didn’t really like this and wouldn’t drink it myself in a month of Sundays, but I was under pressure to put in a cheap wine and they sent me this sample. I’m pretty sure you won’t require hospitalisation after it”.

Aim higher folks, don’t settle for drinkable. Ask for one that is quirky, tasty, interesting, good value, stunning, amazing……….

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why you pay for below-cost selling

I'm not sure why I am on an email list for a certain symbol group drinks promotions, but I am and I got one yesterday that set me thinking....

We all know that selling alcohol is below cost is perfectly legal. We all know that it goes on all the time - supermarkets use alcohol as a loss leader to get you in to the store where you will then do the rest of your shopping and they can fleece you for bread or eggs or bananas or whatever you are into. I understand that many see this as a good thing, healthy competition etc etc. But what if you were told that the supermarket are not doing this as some sort of charity strategy, but that it was being partly funded by you?

How does this work? Ok, looking at the pricing sheet I was emailed yesterday and, taking a random example of Faustino VII Rioja, an unexciting but drinkable (this phrase is forming the basis of a future post) rioja from a massive factory in Spain somewhere. According to this, the normal wholesale price for this wine is €87.75 + vat  with the promo price at €83+ vat per case or a wholesale price at €102.09 including vat or €8.51 per bottle. Now this same wine is often on promotion in at least one of our leading supermarkets at €8 per bottle of 51c LESS than the wholesale price. Maybe they get a better price than this, maybe they are bringing it in from the UK, but lets take it as an example of how below cost selling costs you money. If it's not on this wine, the maths work the same on other wines, beers and spirits.

Let's say they buy the wine at the promo price of €83 per case or €6.92 + plus vat at 23% of €1.59 - a total of €8.51.
They sell it at €8.00 including a vat amount of €1.50. In their vat return, they pay €1.50 to the revenue and claim back the €1.59, so the revenue have to pay them back €0.09 per bottle. Now, 9 cent won't go far in funding Bertie Ahern's pension, but multiply it out and it adds up pretty quickly. Lets say 100 stores each sell 20 cases ( conservative) each of this wine - how much does that make? That adds up to €2160. Still not enough to make Bertie open a bank account. But say they do this on 20 wines and say they do it six times a year and all of a sudden you are up to a cool quarter of a million in reclaimed VAT. That's just one supermarket and its just one wine. Its probably worse on beer and spirits.

This is costing the country literally millions every year, is contributing hugely to the problem of binge drinking and is driving the independent sector, not to mention the pub trade to the floor, and every business that closes costs the revenue more. All financed you and I, the compliant taxpayers and to the benefit of whom?

So, after that little rant, just two questions:

1. Why don't the government ban below-cost selling? (Afraid of supermarkets - jobs)
2. Why don't any of the newspapers pick up on it? (Afraid of supermarkets -advertising revenue)

Cheers, and keep fighting the good fight!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to get more money out of the Alcohol industry

The post budget price increases are really kicking in now with new price lists from the main importers coming in and looking scary. Even the supermarkets have all put up their prices and look set to become even more dependent on price promotions to sell their wine.

From our own point of view, we have something of a philosophical quandary that we haven't yet quite got our heads around. One of our principles has always been that we won't sell anything that we wouldn't be prepared to drink ourselves. This principle is mainly driven by fear that we bring in a shipment of wine that we can't sell and we end up having to drink it ourselves. Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often. Operating on this principle, we were able to get wine out under a tenner and still be happy that we were selling decent stuff. However, under the new duty regime, all the wines we like are over a tenner.

Now, it's not like the customer has any more money in their pockets; in fact they have even less year by year. So, naturally, they still want to drink wine, but they want to pay less, not more. At the other side of the equation, we have producers who obviously want to put up prices, not reduce them. So the hike in duty could scarcely have come at a worse time. But come it did. We expected that alcohol would be hit, I mean every other sector gets hit, so why not alcohol? Well, there is really no reason why not.

"So, we need to get more money from the alcohol sector. Let's sit down and think about how best to do this" the mandarins in the Department of Finance didn't say when considering this issue. Instead, the logic seemed to be "Let's stick it to the wine drinkers - they won't dare complain". You have to remember that the big players in alcohol in this country are Diageo, the publicans and the supermarkets. Wine importers are a fragmented group of people afflicted with varying degrees of eccentricity - certainly not a group who have the wherewithal to sit at a table with the Department of Finance and make them tremble in their Clarks. Faced with a choice between upsetting this random selection of oddballs and sitting down to argue the case with English multinationals like Tesco and Diageo, there is really no choice if you are a middle ranking official in the Dept of Finance who dislikes confrontation. Easy money, like taking candy from a baby.

Or is it? Let's take a step up and look at this in context. We are trying to attract tourists with a concept called the Gathering this year. Restaurants have worked really hard in the last few years to get prices down to the point where we have a really interesting range of places offering great food at great prices - a key piece in the puzzle of getting the tourist offering right. This increase in duty, if everybody passed it on at full margin, would result in a €4 increase in a bottle of wine at restaurant level. So, not great for tourism.

What about unemployment - surely increasing excise will create jobs? Err, no.

What about health - we are trying to combat anti-social drinking - putting up the price is good? Well, as I have pointed out before, nobody goes out on the street and starts a fight after a couple of glasses of wine with their dinner. It's slabs of beer, it's cheap vodka, it's Red fucking Bull. This merits a separate post, so I won't rant on here.

Ok, so it won't tackle anti-social drinking, it will destroy jobs, it's bad for tourism, but the government needs the money, so stop your whining and suck it up, Mr Fancypants Wine Drinker. Ok, but let's take into consideration the reduction in the number of bottles through people shopping abroad, reduced consumption and smuggling and we will be lucky if the revenue taken from wine stays at the same level - I fully expect it to reduce.

So how do you get money out of the alcohol lobby that doesn't damage tourism, destroy jobs, that is fair to all sectors of the market and which could tackle anti-social drinking?

3 simple measures:

  1. Ban below-cost selling on booze - I would love to know how much this costs the revenue every year. Lets say I buy a bottle of wine for €10 + vat. Total cost to me is €12.30 - of which I claim back €2.30 from the revenue. I then, as part of a promotion, sell this below cost at €8. The VAT part of this is €1.50 which I pay to the revenue. So, the revenue is down €0.80 on this bottle.  The revenue commissioners are actually part-funding the below cost selling of alcohol by supermarkets (or by anyone who wants to do it).
  2. Charge for off-licences as a % of Turnover - we pay €500 for a licence for a small wine shop on a side street in Dalkey. A massive supermarket pays the same even though their turnover on alcohol is huge by comparison. Make €500 the floor and then charge by turnover. Simple.
  3. Increase duty by a small amount across, wine, beer and spirits so that everybody take a hit.
I know, I know these measures seem too simple and fair, they would never work. Tesco and Diageo would never go for it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Booze Cruise - does it add up?

It's been a long time since I've gone on a booze cruise and I have to say, it was good craic when we last visited a "foire aux vins", one of those sales in September that French supermarkets. This was back before we started importing our own wine and we just wanted to have a look to see what the story was.

Some food and a feed of pints on the overnight sailing, then a quick dash around the supermarket grabbing bottles without much idea as to what they might be like - then a race back to the boat and a repeat of the night before and then back to Rosslare.

With the new duty really making itself known now that everybody has to finally pass on the increase, the search is on for that holiest of Holy Grails - great, cheap wine. When you spend €10 on a bottle in Ireland now, €4.65 is going straight to the government - €1.87 in VAT and €2.78 in Duty. The poor guy who makes the stuff is getting considerably less than that, not to mention the even poorer guy/gal selling it!

I'm not a very emotional kinda guy, I like dealing in facts and figures so let's have a look and see if it all adds up. Apparently, Martin Moran was writing about booze cruises in the Sunday Times last weekend, but I didn't read it so can't comment. Thankfully, Tomas Clancy, also writing last weekend about it already has done some research so lets do the sums as I am too lazy to do my own:

Champagne - this is on Normandie Wine's website at €36 - Tomas reckons you can save €13 per bottle but if you were coming in to me looking to buy 3 doz champagne, I would give you a deal on that, but lets leave it at €13 per btl cos the Normandie crowd might cut you a deal as well...

Red Wine - Tomas quotes €7.50 for Paralelle 45 Cotes du Rhone from Normandie Wine - why you would take 2 days out of your life to buy Paralelle 45 is beyond me, but let's run with it. You can probably pick this  up for €12.50 - certainly on a deal so you are saving a fiver per bottle.

White Wine - Tomas mentions the Bouchard Macon Lugny - once again tap water is a perfectly good alternative - but let's run with it for the sake of argument. You should also be able to get this for €12.50 if only for the fact that the wine shop owner should be keen to get shot of it, so again you are saving a fiver.

Champagne 36 x €13 = €468
Wine           100x €5 = €500

Total saving about €1000

Now, what does it cost? €300 for boat, €50 on petrol €100 on food & drink - let's call it €500.

So, the real saving is about €500 on an average sized wedding buying average wines at average prices. That's not accounting for your time - 2 days and nights spent holed up on a boat - that sounds bad until you factor in the fact that it's a little bit windy in this part of the world. How good are the old sea legs? Like the smell of vomit? Sometimes there is entertainment on the boat - putting up with that can have untold consequences, post-traumatic stress, sleepless nights....
Also, what kind of car do you have? Is it able to carry that much wine (this amount would weigh about 300kg)?

Now, if you are looking for a weekend away, this is certainly an option, but if that is what you are looking for, the newspapers have perfectly good travel writers who can recommend options for you. The wine writers are not best positioned to advise you on your travel plans.

Spending two nights on a boat to buy at best average (at worst piss poor wines they can't sell anywhere else) wines doesn't cut it for me.

The other and in my, opinion, only option for a booze cruise is to carefully research great producers in your chosen region, take a week and arrange visits to taste the wines and, please by all means, buy from them and bring them home avoiding the ridiculous taxes in this country. Take a week, take two weeks and take your time, get to know the region, the wines and the people who make them. Come home with great wines and a love for them and spread the good news to all your friends and family. Because the more people love great wine, the better it is for the increasingly small number of people who sell good wine in this country.

As always, be careful out there, think about what you drink, go for quality not quantity. Keep away from the horses.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A great night in the Yacht Club

Sometimes it just comes together. We had the opportunity to have 5 winemakers over together thanks to the good work of my colleague, Liam, who was trying to put a Winemakers' Weekend together, with a day in Dublin and a day in Westport. It takes quite a lot of coordination to get 5 people, who are all busy doing their own thing, to be able and willing to come to Ireland on the same weekend and with the same agenda.

So, we were lucky enough to have 5 great winemakers together - Fritz Becker (Pinot Noir, Germany), Phillipp Wittmann (Riesling, Germany), Stephane Vedeau (Cotes du Rhone and lots besides), Also Degani (Valpolicella) and Miro Mundi from Slovenia.

We contacted the National Yacht Club who put together a great menu - all we had to do was get some wine together and get some people to turn up!

It was a great line up of wines and food in a great location and on a Friday night, so we were delighted when we finally had 83 people for the tasting and dinner - a great turnout and we think everyone enjoyed themselves. Some pics below, courtesy of snap-happy Anne McManus who has some better looking pics here.

Aldo Degani, Valpol maestro

Fritz Becker, Pinot Prince of Pfalz

Miro Mundi, ya bauld thing

Phillipp Wittmann, looking guilty

Some of the gang enjoying themselves

Stephane Vedeau got up at 3AM to be with us - respect!

More happy people

Even the table number is smiling.
So we would like to thank the winemakers for coming over, the Yacht Club for doing such a great job on the food and service and of course the customers who came along and made it such a great night. Till the next time!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winemakers Dinner Feb 1st 2013

We have 5 winemakers over next weekend in Dublin on Friday 1st and then they get shipped down to Westport on the Saturday.

On Friday night, we have a wine tasting and dinner organised in the National Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire. There will be a walkaround wine tasting followed by a 5 course dinner with matching wines. It will be a great night - below is the line up of food and wines. Tickets are only €50 all inclusive - call us on 01 2353054 to book a place.
On the Grapevine Wine Tasting and Supper


Marinated Salmon with Beetroot Blush and Dill Crème Fresh

Wine: - Wittmann Riesling 2011


French Onion Soup with a Fresh Crouton Glazed with Gruyere Cheese

Wine:- Miro Sipon 2009


Escalope of Veal Oscar

Breaded Pan Fried and Garnished with Asparagus Spears Flamed with Cognac Finished with Mustard Parmesan and Prawn Sauce

Wine:- Becker Spatburgunder 2010


Seared and Rested Cushion of Lamb on Honey Thyme Jus Finished with parsley Buttered Potatoes

Wine:-  Clos Bellane Cotes du Rhone 2010


A Chocolate pot de Crème with Fresh Raspberry and Sable Biscuits

Wine:- Degani Recioto della Valpolicella 2009