Brexit and wine


Tumult (anarchy?) is the current state of the main political parties in Britain after the Brexit referendum. Will the vote to exit the EU leave the British wine trade in any better shape than the political parties?

By way of background, the UK was, pre-Brexit vote, one of the bright stars in the wine world. While consumption has been slowing in the main producing countries of France, Italy and Spain for some time now, the UK was heading in the opposite direction: the wine market is vibrant, diverse, growing and by some measures, the second still wine market to the US. Somewhat astonishingly, a recent survey by the wine trade group WSTA showed wine as “the most popular alcoholic drink in the country.”

Post-referendum, the pound Sterling has fallen to 35 year lows against the dollar and tumbled nine percent against the euro (and even more as jitters about Brexit gripped the currency market earlier in the year). Historically, wine was one of the things par excellence that the British traded for: Adam Smith observed this in his example of “wine for wool” highlighting the comparative advantage of nations. (More recently, England has seen a domestic wine industry emerge but it is still not enough quantity at low enough prices to slake the thirst of British.) So the quick take is that Riojas, Burgundies, Baroli, and all other euro-denominated wines just got nine percent more expensive. (The currency-related price increases may take several months to filter through until existing inventories need to be refreshed at the new currency levels but preliminary reports indicate it is already being felt in France.) With 80% of wine in the UK sold at retail and much of that at thin margins, the consumer will feel the brunt of the currency impacts.

Over half of the price of the average bottle of wine in the UK is tax, so the government could conceivably cut the wine tax to offset the currency effect. But since HM Treasury is as desperate for revenue as most treasuries, that is highly unlikely especially since wine brings in £8.6 billion to the public purse.

There is, of course, the human element too and many non-British EU citizens live in Britain and work in the wine trade. London is a hotbed for restaurants and there are many non-British EU citizens who work as sommeliers. Their futures are all up in the air now.

The uncertainty following the referendum has sent the pound plummeting and many economic forecasters now see a recession looming for Britain. In the end, since the referendum was only advisory, and there’s been a wave of resignations among the political class, there’s a fair chance that no politician will actually trigger Article 50, which starts the clock and makes inevitable Britain’s departure from the EU. And if, in the delay, the economy suffers, British unity itself is under risk, new leadership emerges that can better articulate the cause for “remain,” there could be calls to rethink and “Bremain.”

With all the uncertainty, the Brits could certainly use a glass or two of wine. But whether they will continue to reach for it with such enthusiasm remains to be seen.

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Gov Cuomo deals wine shipping a setback

Gov Cuomo deals wine shipping a setback
Late on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have made wine shipping easier for New York wine retailers. The bill protects wine retailers from being penalized by the NY State Liquor Authority for potentially violating the laws of other states. That’s right: other states.

In vetoing the bill, Cuomo said that he did not want to make New York a “haven for entities intent on breaking other states’ laws, avoiding other states’ legitimately imposed taxes and regulations and selling to minors with impunity.” (see full text of the statement)

Why would the Governor veto a bill that both houses passed by 90% last summer? Your guess is as good as mine. But that language about selling to minors is usually the hallmark of wholesalers’ argument against liberalizing wine shipping–technology exists to collect taxes and provide age verification. Now it remains to be seen if the legislature will override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

The Governor also called on the SLA to hold “a series of roundtables” on how to modernize the industry starting next March. We shall see if these roundtables include any consumer representatives but since a recent SLA ad hoc committee did not, I will not hold my breath.

The bill stems from a long-running case of Empire Wine, a retailer in the Albany area that is active in internet sales. The SLA had sanctioned Empire for violating other states’ laws and the legislature saw that as overreach, thus passing the bill.

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Policy shift jeopardizes New York wine lists

Policy shift jeopardizes New York wine lists

New York City is arguably the best place on the planet to be a wine consumer. A crucial contributing factor to this status is the abundance of wines available. While breadth of that bounty, from Assyrtiko to Xinomavro, and talented people making wise selections can be found in many places throughout the US, what really places New York at the apogee of the wine world is the depth of older vintage and rare wines available. These quicken the vinous pulse of the city and if you have not tried some, consider a splurge (while back-vintage Burgundies are pricey, it doesn’t always cost an arm and a leg to uncork a time capsule from the Loire, Germany or Northern Italy). Whether these flow through shops as well as onto restaurant wine lists their source remains the same: private collections.

A new proposal threatens to restrict that flow. A proposal currently before the regulatory body for wine in New York aims to effectively shut down this trove of exciting wines. Private collectors would be barred from selling wines from five (for whites or rosés) to ten years (reds) from the vintage they were made. Moreover, they could not sell any wine within two years of purchasing it. Oh, and if you don’t have the original purchase receipt then you can’t resell it.

Recent changes in the way super high-end wines are allocated by NY wine distributors mean that shops and restaurants receive and ever-smaller amount of top wines. Thus buying some younger wines as well as older can help round out a wine list or a shop’s offerings, making them the objects of a wine geek’s eye.

Levi Dalton has a good piece on Eater about the effect of this on restaurants. Check it out.

Most other states prevent shops and restaurants from buying directly from consumers. So New York will still have wine even if this goes through. But it is a big step in the wrong direction; no wine consumer anywhere in America wants to see fewer choices in the marketplace.

What’s particularly galling to consumers in New York is that there is no consumer representative on the working group that put together the proposal. (Full list follows below–note there are no retailers present either). And the new Chairman of the State Liquor Authority, Vincent Bradley, applauded Governor Cuomo for his selections. So make your voice heard by writing the SLA about private collections at: Secretarys.Office@sla.ny.gov January 14 is the next date for discussion.

Members of the industry workgroup include:
· Rose Mary Bailly, Executive Director, New York State Law Revision Commission
· Robert Bookman, Counsel, New York City Hospitality Alliance
· Jean Marie Cho, General Counsel at William Grant & Sons
· Keven Danow, Partner, Danow, McMullan & Panoff
· Lester Eber, Vice President, Southern Wine and Spirits
· Tom Edwards, President, New York State Liquor Store Association
· Ralph Erenzo, Founder and Master Distiller, Tuthilltown Spirits
· Steve Harris, President, New York State BeerWholesalersAssociation
· Noreen Healey, Counsel, Phillips Nizer
· Steve Hindy, Co-founder, Brooklyn Brewery
· Mark Koslowe, Managing Partner, Buchman Law Firm
· Nick Matt, Chairman & CEO, F.X. Matt Brewing Company
· Michael Rosen, President & CEO, Food Industry Alliance of New York State
· Ebenezer Smith, District Manager, Community Board 12, Manhattan
· Jim Trezise, President, New York Wine & Grape Foundation
· Scott Wexler, Executive Director, Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association

Written comments about the SLA proposal to further regulate the sale of private collections must be forwarded on or before January 14, 2016 to: Secretary’s Office, State Liquor Authority, 80 South Swan Street, Suite 900, Albany, NY 12210, or via electronic mail to Secretarys.Office@sla.ny.gov

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New York Times wine club on ice

new_york_times_wine_clubMembers of the New York Times wine club residing in New York are not receiving wine–and shipments might not resume until July.

The Albany Times Union has a detailed account of the wrangling that has led to the suspension (indeed, on the NYT wine club site, New York is not even an option for sign-ups–the wine club continues in other states). The NYT wine club is run by a group called Global Wine Company and does not, as the Club’s web site states, make selections with the NYT wine critic or members of the newsroom. The Club offers six-bottle shipments for $90 or $180 on various monthly schedules. Global Wine Co also fulfills the club shipments for the Williams-Sonoma, the Washington Post and Food & Wine.

The Times Wine Club told its New York subscribers last week that it would have to suspend shipments until July because of uncertainty over New York’s rules and regs about shipping. However, the State Liquor Authority spokesperson told the Times Union that the Club’s local retailer had stopped doing business with them since Global Wine Co, based in California, had received cease-and-desist letters.

I’m not a huge fan of wine clubs in general–I’d opt for spending a monthly budget at a local store where the wine discussion is free and you have more choices to get exactly what you want. But there’s no reason that New York consumers should not be allowed to subscribe.

While this particular incident revolves around the Gray Lady, what consumers and businesses need is to get out of a gray area: hopefully the new head of the NY SLA will clear the air and issue understandable guidelines for businesses to ship into and out of the state.

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