With so many different ways of selling wine nowadays, what one needs is a knowledgeable, insider’s guide to the various types of wine merchants and outlets trading today. In the absence of that, you will have to make do with Sediment’s.
Quaff & Floggit
Proudly tracing a heritage back to the eighteenth century, their staff not only sell ’61 Lafite, but remember what it tasted like en primeur. Their ampersand defines them as retailers who aspire to the status of solicitors. Staff are trained to dissuade paupers from entering their store, by voicing withering offers of help in a public school accent. However, given the number who enter simply to gawp at the prices, they are considering reclassifying their store as a Fine Wine Museum, and charging an admission fee.
Nude has a unique business model. Customers become “investors” (or, as the company terms them, “mugs”). They then pay for independent winemakers to buy themselves clothes. Once they feel responsible for clothing the otherwise “nude” winemakers, customers feel obliged to purchase their wines.
Volary’s was once one of the grandest wine merchants in England. However, they now specialise in wines made by the former employees, near neighbours and distant relatives of the great names in which they once traded. Their customers are bombarded with offers of wines whose descriptions attempt to connect them, through either geography or genealogy, to some you might actually have heard of.
A chain of discount supermarkets originating in Germany – or perhaps two indistinguishable chains of discount supermarkets originating in Germany. These outlets became known for their “discount” labels, which no-one had ever heard of. In a moment of retail genius, they realised that no-one had ever heard of 99% of wine labels either. Such strangely-named wine is now sold at rock-bottom prices, alongside inflatable dinghies, power tools and random cold meats, but to avoid customer confusion is shelved away from cleaning products.
Under its charismatic boss, Richard Pickle, Vestal has put its name to record stores, bridal wear, cosmetics, financial services, telecommunications and transport, and so why not wine? They have recently recovered from difficulties when customers responded to their slogan, “Because life’s too short for dull wine”, by deciding that life was also too short to wait in for deliveries. Vestal has become known for the way it responds to customers with its friendly “V sign”.
Once an innovator in bringing unusual and little-known wines to the UK – hence that wacky name!! Their stores now sell spirits, beers and even smokes and nibbles, in a nostalgic throwback to the old-fashioned “offie”. Compared to some of the weird stuff sold in supermarkets nowadays, few of their wines seem particularly strange.
“Oi, you! Baldy! That stuff you’re drinking is rubbish! Buy some of our bloody wine instead!” This “refreshingly direct” approach has propelled Abusive Wines to a distant corner of the wine trade. They are suffering online, where they cannot be anywhere near as Abusive as some comments.
Back in the Sixties, Terry Waite (no relation!) drove his battered van around France, bringing back to England the wines he discovered. When the van finally broke down, he decided it would be easier to build a multi-million pound company instead, using his colossal savings on petrol. He founded a business which now sells wine directly to customers under a multitude of names, although the most popular remains “wine”.
Pioneers in selling nice wine in nasty environments. In distant, harshly-lit giant sheds, containing towering piles of boxes and pallets, customers are persuaded that they must be getting a bargain, because so little has been spent on the store. In recent years, minimum purchase quantity has fallen from twelve bottles to six to one. It is rumoured that soon they will give you a bottle if you’re prepared to enter.
Thursday, 26 May 2016
Thursday, 19 May 2016
So it's fair to say that a certain part of me has always wanted to be Orson Welles. Not only was he one of the authentic greats of twentieth-century cinema (Citizen Kane, A Touch of Evil), he was also the man who brought us the world's most famous radio drama (The War of the Worlds), a highly-regarded actor in his own right (who does everyone remember from Britain's one truly canonical fim, The Third Man?), a talented magician, a collector of beautiful women (married to Rita Hayworth, Dolores del Rio and Paola Mori; lover of scores more) and an all-round bon viveur. Like Elvis Presley, he was charismatically good-looking, astonishingly talented, changed popular culture for ever. I mean, who wouldn't want to be Orson Welles?
Trouble is, the downside. Again like Elvis, he ended his life as a bloated, self-parodying slob, a landfill version of himself, reduced to imbecilic voice-overs (Bugs Bunny: Superstar springs to mind) and tv ads for 1970s whitebread America. Unlike Elvis, however, he also advertised one of the principal agents of his own decline: drink, in the form of the Paul Masson wine range. We sell no wine before its time was its strapline.
We know this, of course, because YouTube - that world repository of memory and shame - has got a few Paul Massons kicking around. Here's Orson tackling Masson's Emerald Dry; here he is again, with what at the time was known as an American Chablis; and here, with a Californian Burgundy; and again, with Masson's own-brand Champagne. It's pretty much the same turn each time. The settings are what middle America thinks of as high-tone, Beethoven actually playing in one ad. Four-fifths of Orson are invisible below the level of a table. The remaining fifth, big enough to make a medium-sized child out of, does its best to stamp some kind of exclusivity on an industrialised mass-market product, while at the same time not howl with rage and misery at the ruination of its genius. Oh, and not look too shitfaced.
We know how shitfaced Orson was thanks to the out-takes, just as scrupulously YouTubed as the final cuts but watched by about five times as many people. To be honest, it can sometimes be hard to tell the out-takes apart from the broadcast versions, such is the air of visceral collapse that infects all his performances; but in the case of the Champagne nightmare, he has to share the camera with a couple of youngish bit-part actors, whose dumb-faced terror is all the additional commentary you need at this stage of the great man's career. Muaaahhaaahhh! The French Champagne has always been celebrated for its excellence! he cries, as the couple looks on, willing the earth to be struck be a giant asteroid. Poor old, drunk, Orson.
One's instinct is to look for someone or something to blame. American culture would be a good starting-point, that corporate philistinism which routinely presides over the destruction of the nation's most singular and remarkable talents. Did Picasso have to scrounge a living in his later years by endorsing pastis? Was Herbert von Karajan ever reduced to promotional work for the Avis car hire company? No. It doesn't have to be this way. So why destroy Orson Welles? Another suspect: Orson himself. His success came so quickly and so immoderately, his talents were so prodigious, that he never worked out how to get on the right side of the industry he was transforming. Combine that with similarly extreme personal appetites (he had to be filled with diet pills and tied into a corset before appearing on-screen, even when relatively young) and it's hard to imagine him not throwing it all away.
Or then again, blame Paul Masson. What kind of business would take a permanently-inebriated, three-hundred-pound, washed-up genius and ask him to sell one of his own addictions? Or then again, blame the wine industry - an industry so monomaniacally in love with the idea of its own prestige that the only idea it can possibly entertain, is to hire one of the most prestigious names in the history of cinema in order to say something that would test the patience of William Shatner. But the worst of it? The fact that for millions of people, this, rather than Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons, is now his epitaph. As Orson himself put it: Muaaahhaaahhh.