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LETTERS: 28 July

Published:  18 January, 2007

Location, location, location
I thought Tom Stevenson's comment about how interesting it is that people's views on London wine tasting venues differ so much (Challenged', Harpers 21 April) neatly summed up the difficulty venues have in convincing prospective clients that their place could be the ideal location for an event

I thought Tom Stevenson's comment about how interesting it is that people's views on London wine tasting venues differ so much ('Challenged', Harpers

21 April) neatly summed up the difficulty venues have in convincing prospective clients that their place could be the ideal location for an event

We at the Royal Horticultural Halls are naturally delighted that in the same article Matthew Jukes described our venue as the venue of his choice, with 'perfect light and perfect location'. Excellent, too, is the fact that other noted wine industry figures are quoted as 'giving the place the thumbs up'.

What is worrying, however, is that other people seem to be less enthusiastic about the RHH. This is an echo of your survey, published last December, in which the RHH is reported as 'being difficult to get to', 'lacking charisma' and 'lacking atmosphere'.

Obviously, everyone - in any walk of life - has their own set of criteria that they apply to measuring their enjoyment of what they do. However, I'm sure I speak for other venues when I utter my astonishment at how varied the comments, or results of a survey, can often be. How, for example, can one correspondent say that the RHH is difficult to get to, when another says our location is perfect? What sort of standards have been applied by the people who say the facilities are uncharismatic compared to those of the people who describe the place as their favourite venue?

This year we are welcoming Virgin Wines, Tesco, Wines From Spain, Portugal, Chile and California Wines, along with The Sunday Times Wine Fair, Sopexa and Whisky Live. This notable collection of wine organisations are all complimentary of our venue, with a couple of them even saying that they think the RHH is the best place in London to hold a wine tasting event.

As far as travel is concerned, the RHH is within a few minutes' walk of Victoria, Pimlico and St James' Park stations, is served by many bus routes and there are plentiful taxis available just a few yards away. If this is 'difficult to get to' then I am not sure what else we, or any other venue, is supposed to do, short of running the event on the concourse of Victoria or Waterloo or Euston stations.

Then again, if we were to do that, the necessary elements of a wine tasting event, such as natural light and lack of fumes, would not exactly be in evidence and the rush of passengers hurrying for trains may disturb the serious business

of the event.

The RHH has natural light, space and clean air, aspects of our venues that are greatly appreciated by all our customers, and with a 1.2 million refurbishment taking place over this summer, the service we offer is set to improve even more.

As I said, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I remain intrigued that those opinions can vary so markedly.

Perhaps the time is right for the wine industry to apply criteria of its own to the suitability, or otherwise, of a given venue. Is there any scope for some kind of grading system, such as AA stars, that could be agreed by a panel comprising the great and the good of the wine business? That way, prospective and existing clients, and most importantly their customers, would have a good idea of what to expect.

Maugie Lyons

Director, Royal Horticultural Halls and Conference Centre

When statistics lie

There are two dangers in taking the Champagne statistics at face value. First, the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) regularly refers to 'shipments' when it really means Champagne that has left the region.

On this side of the Channel, we would interpret 'shipments' as exports, but the CIVC means any sales, including the large volume made within France.

Second, it would be wonderful if the UK consumed the volume of Champagne ascribed to it. In fact, much Champagne sent to the UK is never consumed within these islands but re-exported. Many major airlines and ships, as well as overseas markets, prefer to take their wine supplies from bonded warehouses in the UK.

For an accurate position of the Champagne market, examine clearance statistics where excise duty has been paid.

Conal Gregory MW

A chorus of (dis)approval

You are not alone in your support of John Townend, who was censured by the Conservative party for his remarks praising Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech and his eloquent fear that our 'homogenous Anglo-Saxon society' is being overrun by 'coloured immigrants'.

The writer isn't explicit, but there is tacit approval in the paragraph reporting that he is 'unrepentant' and 'nonplussed'

by the reaction to his remarks.

Others approve. John Tyndall, founder of the British National Party and editor of Spearhead magazine, is also a fan. He has written of Townend's 'courage' in paying tribute to 'the prescience' of Powell.

Harpers, Spearhead, the BNP - what splendid company you keep nowadays!

Adam Lechmere

Editor at Large, Decanter

Editor's response: In no way were my descriptions of John Townend's manner meant to be interpreted as 'tacit approval'.

I was invited to Townend's centenary dinner and decided that a profile of the company, which is a major regional wholesaler, along with the man who, outside of our little niche industry, has attracted both widespread condemnation as well as some praise from certain quarters, might be of interest to Harpers subscribers and readers.

As a journalist, I abhor censorship. Therefore, just because I disagree with someone's opinions, or do not like them,

it should not mean that they are unable to express their opinions.

I have had to face the same issues with Harpers columnist Malcolm Gluck. There are plenty of people who do not like him or his views, but our research has shown that, 'love-him-or-loathe-him', many do read his column irrespective of whether they agree with him.

Being criticised from different quarters can only mean that we're doing our job properly - reporting and encouraging informed debate.