How much is too much?

A man slumped on the floor, head in hands with glazed eyes and vacant expression. Minutes later he stumbles towards the toilet, hand firmly placed over mouth whilst people swiftly move out of his way. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when he makes it to the toilet and the door shuts behind him.

You might think this was the result of a few too many beers at a down-at-heel bar late on a Friday night. In fact, this was the scene at a consumer wine tasting in Manchester early on a Saturday evening just a few weeks ago. Of course, this man was not representative of the attendees at the tasting as a whole, but the vast majority of those present were certainly tipsy and many were on their way to drunkenness. For the first couple of hours at the event everyone had been interested in tasting and learning about the wines on show, but the final hour or so was more about getting their money’s worth and drinking as much as possible.

Contrast this scene with that of another consumer tasting I worked at not that long ago, this time in Stockholm. Here the attendees were truly there to learn about wine, many were spitting as they went around – and once they had tried what they wanted, they were happy to leave, feeling that they had had a good evening. There wasn’t a drunk person in sight.

So what is it about people in the UK that causes us to act like children in a sweet shop when it comes to alcohol? Why don’t we know how much is too much – and why do we feel the need to drink as much as we can just to perceive that we’ve got our money’s worth?

Sadly there isn’t an easy answer to any of these questions. What is clear though is that it is no good for us in the wine trade to act as though these issues don’t really affect us – that they’re more to do with the perceived ‘lesser’ alcoholic drinks of spirits, cider and beer than wine. It may be easy to argue that wine is a more exalted alcoholic drink due to history, culture, its ability to match with food or even perceived health benefits – but at the end of the day wine is alcohol and, frankly, that is one of the (many) reasons we drink it.

The issues of alcohol and its negative impact on health and society are regularly debated in the media and by the government. Minimum pricing was just the latest in a line of ideas to improve the problem but that now seems to have been shelved (something, personally, I am pleased about – see my previous blog arguing against minimum pricing here). However, in my opinion, ideas to limit the sale of alcohol via pricing or tax or by limiting advertising are not really addressing the problem – which seems to be more of a cultural mindset than a price-sensitive issue.

It will only be when we really understand why we as a population think that the only way to have a good night out is to get drunk or why when people go to a wine tasting that they think that they have to drink as much as possible to get their money’s worth that we can begin to solve the wider problem.

In the meantime my fellow monkeys and I will continue to drink wine not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. For our mindset is that there is nothing more enjoyable than having a glass or two of good wine with good friends. Lets spread the word.


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