Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Welsh (and English...) Wine Week

So hands up if you knew this week was English and Welsh Wine Week ?

I can hardly say me neither as I am writing this - but it is a bit of a well kept secret isn't it ? I don't remember our Assembly telling us about it much or promoting it ? Or am I wrong ?

Mind you, they have been run off their feet over at the Senedd mind what will all these sessions since the start of the election period.. perhaps they were just too busy !

Notably however the Deputy Minister, Alun Davies, did notice and issued a press release where he said

“Compared to some traditional wine growing regions Wales may be a relative new-comer, but in terms of quality and potential, Welsh wine is certainly making a name for itself at home and abroad.”

So to celebrate Welsh Wine week a number of Welsh vineyards are opening to the public and hosting special events up to the 6th June.

So where are these vineyards and what are they doing ? Let's start in Monmouth with Parva Farm Vineyard

This vineyard, near Tintern, will be open every day during Welsh Wine Week with self-guided vineyard tours - also a treasure hunt for the children – and wine tastings. Also, for wine lovers who want to learn more there will be special guided tours with tutored wine tastings on Thursday (June 2nd) at 5.30pm costing £5.

Parva Farm is also an award winner as it tasted success last week at the 2011 International Wine Challenge, where its Tintern Parva Bacchus 2009 won a silver award, and it will this week be releasing Afon Gwy 2010 - a medium dry white - the first of its 2010 wines to be on sale.

Judith Dudley, who runs the vineyard with her husband Colin said they were “delighted with our win,” and are “very much looking forward to welcoming people to our vineyard and telling them about Welsh wine.”

Staying in Monmouth, Ancre Hill Estates, which picked up two trophies at the 2010-11 Wales the True Taste Food and Drink Awards, will be releasing its first sparkling wine during the week.

The Monmouth vineyard’s owners, Richard and Joy Morris will be opening the vineyard every day to visitors between 10.30am and 4.30pm and offering twice daily vineyard tours with Welsh cheese platters available for lunch.

It's going to be a particularly special week for Pant Du Vineyard at Penygroes, Gwynedd. The Hughes family has planted a variety of vines on eight acres of the Nantlle Valley’s south facing slopes, and hope to officially launch their first wine during the week.

Named after the 400 year-old farmhouse from which the vineyard also takes its name, Pant Du is a red wine produced from four year-old Rondo vines. Early tastings have proved very positive indeed – the first bottle having raised £45 at a charity auction - and around 260 bottles will be produced in this first year with a potential 12,000 bottles in the future.

2011 will be a special year too for White Castle Vineyard, at Llanvetherine near Abergavenny, where owners Robb and Nicola Merchant expect to pick the vineyard’s first crop of grapes this autumn. Their vines were planted in 2009 and they aim to eventually produce around 10,000 bottles a year.

The vineyard will be open for visits between 3pm and 6pm Monday to Friday (May 30th – June 3rd). For more information call 01873 821443.

And for something completely different, visit Wernddu Wine, with Alpaca walking, a bouncy castle, as well as teas and cakes will be on the list of things to do.

The Monmouth vineyard will be releasing its 2010 organic dry white wine, which visitors will be able to taste. Owners Frank and Leigh Strawford will be opening the vineyard to the public on Wednesday to Friday (1st - 3rd June).

So that's a flavour of what's happening this week - other vineyards in Wales include (with the best links I can find ..)

Bryn Ceiliog Vineyard in Penarth
Penarth Vineyard in Penarth
Glyndwr Vineyard  in Cowbridge
Llanerch Vineyard in Hensol
Jabajak Vineyard in Llanboidy
Sugar Loaf Vineyard in Abergavenny
Celtic Wines in Beulah
Cwm Deri Vineyard in Narberth

And if any of you guys are doing something special for Welsh Wine Week get in touch and I'll let people know !!


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Open Government

A big thank you to the Deputy Minister, Alun Davies AM, who has already read the blog and responded by arranging a meeting with Drinks from Wales next week !!

This is really positive and I need you input if you want me to raise issues on your behalf - please do let me know.

So far we have already met with Edwina Hart and this will mean we are getting the ears of those in charge at the earliest opportunity - so let me know you priorities.

An early job for the Ministers ?

Michael Noonan TD - Irish Finance Minister who announced the proposed change for Ireland
Given the news in the last week that Ireland is proposing to cut the VAT rate for tourism businesses to 9% isn't this something that the new Ministerial team should be looking at getting introduced here in Wales ?

Will Alun and Edwina now open discussions with their UK counterparts to see how this can be achieved to help the tourism and drinks industry here in Wales ?

What do you think about this issue ? It's something I think that we need to look at as part of a range of measures to help the industry.... tell me your thoughts in the comments..... please.....

The Ministerial team

So it seems that the new Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science - Edwina Hart will also have Cabinet level responsibility for agriculture and tourism.

Ms Hart will be an extremely busy lady it seems - these briefs are some of the most important ones in the Cabinet, and whilst Alun Davies AM the Deputy Minister will take day-to-day responsibility for Rural matters it seems as if the seasoned politician Ms Hart has built herself quite a powerful empire.

So who is Ms Hart and who also is Alun Davies - the two people who will have the industry in their in-box over the coming years ?

Edwina Hart AM
Perhaps the article about Ms Hart by Willy Nilly over on Waleshome is a good place to start when he says that "Edwina Hart is a complex and intriguing politician who inspires strong sentiments in others – as strong as the sentiments she feels herself, perhaps. Maybe more than any other Assembly Member she has a public persona which does not leave people neutral and, in tandem, she is not a person given to neutrality either. Hers is a politics of instinct and truths – truths she is prepared to voice, often bluntly, when others prefer to deal in subtler shades of opinion. This creates rather a “marmite” political persona. Those who aren’t warm to her forget though her fundamental decency and personal kindness which she often extends to others in difficult circumstances. For Hart has a big heart, and this has shaped her relations with many of the patient groups she has worked with over the past four years."

Edwina Hart is one of the National Assembly's most assured and competent performers, praised from all sides of the Chamber.  She sought the leadership post in Autumn 2009 and came second to Carwyn Jones in a contest without acrimony. In the appointment of the subsequent Assembly Government she retained the Health and Social Services portfolio, and remains one of the Cabinet's most senior members
Alun Davies AM
So on to Alun Davies - over to Willy Nilly at Waleshome again where he describes Mr Davies thus "Alun Davies is in many ways a model politician. Combative, committed, canny and even sometimes charming, he combines the zest for battle with the asides and anecdotes of a bon viveur. His background in a diverse range of industries and political roles gives him a depth and perspective that contributes to his world view.

One of the Assembly’s most natural orators, he speaks neither in code nor in muted tones. His interventions are often brutal and memorable. When Ieuan Wyn Jones was deemed by Davies to have been “economical with the actualite” around the Heads of the Valleys programme, the many panes of the Assembly building shook at their mutual rage."

Alun Davies entered the Assembly through the Regional List at the 2007 Election.  The "Every Second Counts" campaign, urging Labour voters to use their second vote for the Party, was launched for this purpose - a rare attempt to use an entire political strategy to elect a single Member to a legislature. Perhaps this demonstrated how important the election of Alun Davies was to Welsh Labour. In the end, both Alun Davies and Joyce Watson reached the Assembly through the collapse of Labour in first past the post constituencies in Mid and West Wales.

Prior to his election Alun Davies was Director of his own public affairs company, Bute Communications, and he has a strong appreciation of the business climate in Wales. In the Assembly he has also developed a reputation as a hard defender of his party, never afraid to ask questions of others or take the fight from Labour to other parties. This has resulted in a high media and political profile for a new backbencher. His evident skills have led to extensive Committee responsibility including Chair of the Rural Affairs sub Committee (2007-09) and also, for a time, Chair of the Broadcasting Committee. 

Alun Davies is viewed as one of the rising stars of Welsh Labour - not least because he began his political career in Plaid Cymru. As a student activist and then Communications Director in Plaid Cymru, Alun Davies was one of their most high profile activists from South East Wales, standing for them in Blaenau Gwent, and his defection to Labour in the mid 1990s was viewed as an act of betrayal by the party. Such is the enmity that it is arguable Plaid Cymru spent too long fighting his candidacy in Ceredigion in 2005 and not enough defending themselves from the Liberal Democrats, who took the seat from them.  

His political interests include regeneration, education, public spending and constitutional matters, including the expansion of the legislative powers of the Assembly.

So this is the man to whom a meeting request has already been sent and to whom I shall present the views of the industry as and when I can - luckily - I often share a small quality drink from Wales with Mr Davies so I know he is already on the case - he is a committed member of the Assembly's All Party Group on Beer and the Pub !
Watch this space.....

Saturday, 14 May 2011

New Minister

This site was down most of yesterday so didn't get a chance to tell you that the new Minister for the Industry is Alun Davies AM.

Off to sample the delights of Penderyn Whisky now so will post a full update later today.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

So what are the priorities ?

We should expect the identity of the new Minister to be revealed in a matter of hours but whilst we wait please let me know what are the main issues that you think we should begin lobbying the new Minister on ?

From beer ties, to minimum pricing to rate relief and business rates to beer duty all are key issues but what is your top priority ?

Please let me know....

Not long to wait

So it has today been confirmed that the Labour Party in Wales will govern alone and we should therefore start to have some idea about Cabinet positions within the next 24hrs.

I will let you know about whoever gains the brief that will include the food and drink industry in Wales and whoever it is I hoope they will take a more positive stance than that adopted by Elin Jones.

Further updates will follow in due course....

Saturday, 7 May 2011

In the in-box

So the dust has settled on the Assembly election and in the coming week we will learn who will form the new Government and what their priorities will be for the coming Assembly term - we will also learn who will become the new Ministers and what portfolios have been chosen as Ministerial briefs.

In all likelihood we will see a Labour Government formed and that means that we will have a Labour Minister in charge of the Rural Affairs portfolio - or whatever it may be called by the new Cabinet.

One of the biggest disappointments of the last Assembly Government was the decision by Elin Jones AM, the then Minister for Rural Affairs, to in effect almost totally dismiss the report of the Rural Development Sub-Committee which had launched an Inquiry into the 'Wine, Beer & Cider Industry in Wales'.

The Chair of the Committee at the time, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said at the report launch: "The key message that this inquiry has highlighted is that what is potentially an extremely lucrative industry for Wales is hugely under-developed and in need of direction."

Mr Glyn Thomas said people only needed to look at the examples of whisky in Scotland and Guinness and Baileys in Ireland to see the economic impact a well-marketed drinks industry with a strong national identity could have.

"The committee felt that the development of a dedicated strategy for the industry by the Welsh Government's Food and Market Development Division would go a long way towards achieving this," he said.

The report recommended that government encourage maximum uptake by farmers through the Glastir scheme of funding to support the planting of orchards so Welsh cider makers can source apples from Wales.

It also called on the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure it is "fully involved" in any discussions at UK level regarding minimum pricing for alcohol.

The report also went on to recommend the need for a dedicated strategy to exploit the economic potential of the wine beer and cider industry in Wales, further stating that while there is support available from the Welsh Government for people involved in the sector, it is hampered by a lack of Government expertise in the area and the absence of a co-ordinated strategy for developing and promoting it.

It called for clearer direction and guidance for people wanting to get involved in the industry - including farmers wishing to diversify into growing crops for the brewing industry or apples for cider makers. 

The report cites New Zealand's thriving wine industry as a positive example of what can be achieved in a region with a climate not unlike Wales.

It also highlighted the need for the reform of beer ties, which have created a virtual monopoly over beer sales in some establishments by preventing locally-brewed beers from being stocked. 

All of these were pretty sensible ideas and pretty achievable at pretty minimal cost - or so you would have thought. However, in her response to the report, Ms Jones pretty much dismissed all of the recommendations out of hand - citing a lack of resources and the fact that much work was already being undertaken by departments of the Welsh Assembly Government.

Her response stated 'In considering its priorities the Welsh Assembly Government has to make decisions based on pragmatism and value for money.' and that ' I would recommend that the sector continue to work with my officials to develop their businesses and products and make use of the Wales the True Taste brand if they are successful in winning their category. I am confident that the sector can embrace the values of the True Taste brand and work with us to convey a message to the consumer that we are indeed a small country producing high quality food and drink'.

Ms Jones had clearly missed the point and meanwhile our industry gets more diverse with even more producers bringing even more quality products to the market but receiving little or no support from WAG. That must change in the new Assembly and in the new Cabinet and we must have a clear and overarching strategy for the drinks sector in Wales that isn't tied in to the True Taste Awards scheme.

We deserve better and we deserve it now. As the new Minister takes office next week I will be sending a copy of the report and Elin Jones' response to them and will be asking them to look again at the whole issue. The economic impact of the industry in Wales cannot be underestimated and the Assembly needs to recognise quickly the positive impact it can have on many aspects of it's activities - tourism, economic development, agricultural development, sustainability - all of these will benefit positively if we truly look to promote our industry here in Wales as they do in Ireland or New Zealand. 

So let's see what next week brings and lets get on with the job of making this industry even more successful with the right Government support.