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Carson's WSET lecture offered nothing new'

Published:  18 January, 2007

Reading in the latest Harpers, Christopher Carson's stern message' delivered at the 12th Wine & Spirit EducatioTrust's
annual lecture, I fail to understand why you claim him to have really socked it to us' or why his talk gave the audience plenty to think about'.

To me, the talk berated the industry in predictable fashion, repeating what many have said in the past to little effect. He offered no new directions; just more calls to act responsibly, such as to work with the Government, to stick together

in tackling the social and health consequences of excessive consumption, to market responsibly and to demonstrate best practice.

Such words conjure up an image of a headmaster lecturing his school about rules rather than demonstrating the pleasures and rewards of behaving correctly. What our industry needs is not more reminders of the punishments to be expected but challenges and inspiration that will change attitudes and, to that end, perhaps I could offer a couple of challenges born out of Mr Carson's message.

He mentions education but only in the context of rules and, by their very nature, rules encourage abuse by some and adherence by very few. Most who do abide by rules do so because they are aware of the rewards. So, better surely that we encourage more in the trade to educate customers into the pleasures and rewards, beyond strength, of drinking alcohol; better that we offer, with passion, an alternative voice to the media, informed and entertaining; better that our education extends to what's in the bottles, how and why each spirit differs, the stories behind their creation and

successful development, through generations if not centuries.

Without such education, whatever focus our industry places on rules, image will likely remain the only stimulant to choice and high levels of taxation combined with commentary in the media focused almost entirely on abuse, will continue to reinforce many's perception of drinking alcohol as some form of challenge and/or badge.

This is particularly true of drinking spirits, which is why I set up Taste and Flavour in 1998. The aim of our speakers is to complement the brand activities of spirits, by growing recognition for, what I call the product realities and experience to date only serves to prove, when you seed a passion for spirits, you turn a salesperson into an informed entertainer, and a brand champion into an opinion former.

Better still, in spirits, as in wines, these same people can now gain a recognised qualification, backed by the Government's QCA the WSET Professional Certificate in Spirits and when this is valued by those in spirits as highly as such qualifications are valued by those in wine, the wine and spirit trade in its entirety will be equipped and more able than any rules, to encourage friends and customers alike to look beyond the alcohol in their drinks to the rewards that flow from memorable drinking experiences.

Oh, and the second challenge. Mr Carson raises the question, Should the wine trade specifically seek to exclude itself from the debate?' to which I respond emphatically No'. Spirits are all too often perceived to be a major contributor to abuse because of their relatively high alcoholic strength, whereas wines are often enjoyed as the soft' option. Today, however, wine is promoted and purchased, very often, in 250ml measures. Such a glass of wine at 12% abv will contain 24ml of pure alcohol, whereas serving a 50ml double cocktail' measure of spirits at 40% abv will deliver less at 20ml of pure alcohol, and that is before dilution increases the size of the drink.

So, if there is to be more impactful recognition of the rules, how about moving action to today's point of least recognition - to the glass and wine list and inform the consumer of the alcoholic units contained in every 250ml serve of wine.

Mark Ridgwell