I think it is fair to say that the developing Irish wine market has hit something of a snag. Thanks to the unbalanced and quite frankly, bizarre new tax on wine, all of our small retailers will have to increase the cost of wine in their shops at various stages between now and the New Year as their duty-paid stock runs out. This means that their customers will see various price increases per bottle, as many of the big supermarkets may very well hold their price, either by losing margin or by negotiating better deals with the big wholesalers. That some wine shops will close is certain, as the difference between what they can offer their customers and the below-cost selling of the supermarkets widens even further.
It is this below cost selling by the multiples that has been blamed as the cause of many of the social problems associated with alcohol. They unfairly use alcohol as a loss leader to build market share in the grocery sector. Yet the loophole still exists that when alcohol is sold below cost price, the retailer is entitled to a refund of the VAT differential, meaning in effect, that the Government and taxpayers (that’s you and me folks!) are subsidising any large retailers who can afford to sell alcohol below cost price. This is not by any means a fair or level playing field. In the absence of any coherent, balanced national retail strategy, it is up to us as local people to buy from local businesses who wish to make an honest living by selling quality products to us.
The traditional arguments leveled against these independent traders is that they are too expensive. This is simply not true. To attract people into their shops independents have to stock wine at the lower end of the price range as well as the more expensive wines, and these lower priced wines are nearly always of a much higher quality than the equivalent you will find in many of the supermarkets. They’re also probably made by a human rather than a factory and by buying one of these bottles you are keeping them and their family in business.
Neither are these mass-produced wines, but wines with character that represent a place and where you can taste the connection between grape and soil. Independent wine retailers hunt out the best of these producers, build relationships with growers and pay a fair price for the wines. Then when they sell it to us, they do it with more than a touch of customer service and you always learn something new. The staff in good independents love to help out customers. They know their vino and love recommending just the right wine for the occasion whether its a wedding, party or a bottle to drink with a good steak. Often you get to try before you buy and if you get good advice once, you will almost certainly go back for more.
I know it’s easy just to pick up a bottle or two when you are in the supermarket, but now is the time to be making more of an effort to buy from independents, it is no different to supporting your local butcher or bakery. Businesses like Cases Wine Warehouse, Thomas Woodberrys, Sheridans and McCambridges are always reaching out to consumers by running tastings and events. We should all respond by making more of our purchases from them. They also often supply to our restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels across The West, helping them to achieve that higher standard and diversity that has been recognized more and more in Galway in recent years. These will either in turn have to reflect the tax increase or find cheaper suppliers that will almost certainly come with a drop in standards.
However you buy your wine, and assuming you are lucky enough to be able to still afford it, why not pop into your local independent wine merchant and say Hello! Because, thanks to Mr. Noonan, without you they won’t survive.
Writen for and published in The Galway Advertiser, December 13 2012.