Selling wine with straws in containers like milk cartons a third the size of a wine bottle is such an obvious idea that it's what the Americans might refer to as a no-brainer. Speaking of which, there was a notable absence in the brain department at Berry Bros & Rudd, whose spokesman condemned the news that Cordier, the Bordeaux merchant, is trialling the idea in Belgium. Anyone would think someone had suggested drinking champagne with ice cubes. (Actually, Piper Heidsieck has, but that's another story.)
Instead of greeting the carton news with the positive welcome it deserves, Berry's spokesman harrumphed, "I don't think it is a hugely good idea. Part of the pleasure of wine is the aroma, the bouquet when you pour it in to a glass. If you drink it through a straw you lose that. It also brings wine to the level of fruit juices and I don't think you want to bring young people in to wine in that way."
There is a point in there somewhere, but if this innovation is a good introduction to wine, newcomers are more likely to be prepared to try a bottle with friends and with meals. Berry's is one of many wine merchants that needs to bridge the gap between the high street and the wine trade by showing that the high quality wines they sell (and they are high quality) aren't just for toffs. With so many older customers falling off the perch and fewer new ones in prospect, they would do themselves a favour if they could encourage more younger people into enjoying wine. What better start than a product in a non-scary package that's easily consumable with food, even if it's just a snack, a sandwich or a takeaway, instead of being forced to sit down to an expensive meal?
It's not as if Château Lafite is about to announce its conversion to bag-in-box or the new plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) wine bottle introduced by Sainsbury's for an Australian shiraz rosé and New Zealand sauvignon. These too are unpretentious, everyday wines. The simple new packaging and other efforts show that winesellers are taking some responsibility for the carbon-footprint problem. The wine industry is under scrutiny for the wine miles involved in transportation, as well as the size and weight of wine bottles, many of which are absurdly heavy.
Despite the progress made in demystifying wine, it's still nowhere near as everyday a drink in the UK as it is in wine-producing countries like France, Italy or Australia. The residual snob element attached to wine is off-putting. Availability shouldn't be confused with anti-social behaviour, as the anti-alcohol lobby seems to be doing. The Mary Whitehouse-like "Not In Front Of The Children" slogan is too ready to stigmatise alcohol itself rather than the anti-social drink culture that misuses it. It's similar to the mentality that suggests that raising taxes on alcohol will deter binge-drinking, when the result will be to reduce choice and drive young people to drink cheap and nasty.
Instead, the work to be done is in educating and applying peer pressure. Guidance for parents and campaigns to encourage "sensible" drinking are suggested in the government's revised alcohol-harm reduction strategy, "Safe. Sensible. Social", published in June, which shows, incidentally, that alcohol consumption is falling. As the then Public Health Minister, Caroline Flint, pointed out, "alcohol consumption can have positive effects. Drinking at a responsible level can be a source of enjoyment for the vast majority of those who participate" and "the evening economy has supported a revival of city centres". Start out with a product that's accessibly packaged and, as long as the quality's there, it might just encourage new consumers to enjoy higher quality wines – aroma, bouquet and all.Reuse content