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Southern Discomfort

Published:  25 July, 2008

Aussie winemakers who once had a few choice words to say about Tesco's head of wine may come to regard a certain Scotsman as a more pressing enemy lately, given the proposals on alcoholic drinks sales emerging from the Government in Holyrood.

Scottish Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill's suggestion of a minimum pricing regime, which puts a 35p- a-unit starting-price on drink, certainly has implications for southern hemisphere winemakers used to delivering the rich reds we've grown accustomed to. Scottish Ministers can even increase this minimum price if the first price "does not work".

Think about it for a moment. Southern hemisphere wines have more of a punch than their northern counterparts, which means the political climate north of the border might start looking rather chilly for wine producers from the sun-drenched New World. If MacAskill's suggestions go through, it will be challenging for a 14.5% wine to compete on price with an 11% wine, potentially discriminating against hotter climate producers.

Little wonder then that one of the McGuigan brothers is talking of a floral phase with a planting programme designed to deliver lower alcohol wines for Western Europe. Neil McGuigan forecasts that with site selection and vineyard management they might achieve levels of 12.5% for some reds.

But across the pond in the European Parliament, many worry about the techniques being used by the industry to reduce the alcohol content of wine.

For some time now we've been working with the Government to encourage reforms to current EU rules that ban wines made using two specific alcohol-reducing oenological practices.

We're now cautiously optimistic that over the course of the next year the European Commission will agree to allowing wines made in EU states for experimental purposes, using these technologies, to be allowed throughout the Community.

The minimum price regime proposed for Scotland suggests we could do with some movement on this sooner rather than later.

Jeremy Beadles is chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association