MPs note nuances, tones of wine tasting Bill

Wooing Tree is a family-owned vineyard in Cromwell. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Wooing Tree is a family-owned vineyard in Cromwell. PHOTO: PAM JONES
As the adage goes, most prefer the sun to be over the yardarm before they consider imbibing, but Parliament’s justice select committee was hard at it from 8.15am on Thursday.

Not drinking you understand, rather talking about drinking.

Specifically, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill, a very small piece of legislation which could be a very big thing indeed for our region.

The proposed law change is a member’s Bill brought forward by Kaikoura National MP Stuart Smith, and it is a subject he knows more than a bit about — his wife’s family formerly owned a Marlborough vineyard and before politics he was chairman of the New Zealand Winegrowers Association for six years.

As the law stands right now, vineyards offering tasting at their cellar doors cannot charge visitors for the wine samples they consume.

Now those few sips might not sound like much, but consider the maths.

A standard wine bottle holds 750ml of wine; research suggests the average pour in a sample glass is 30ml, although the Bill as drafted sets an upper limit for samples at 40ml.

Divide 750 by 30 and that’s 25 samples in a bottle. Divide it by 40 and that’s just under 19 samples.

Now imagine it’s a long weekend in the middle of a hot summer and people have flocked to, say, Central Otago, for the weekend.

Not everyone is going to go wine tasting, but plenty of people are. And not every one of those visitors are going to want to taste wine, but plenty will — and they might taste three, four or five varieties.

For discussion’s sake, 100 people visit the vineyard on each of the three days of the long weekend, and taste three wines apiece.

That’s a dozen bottles of wine which the vineyard has not sold at 30ml a pop, and 16 bottles if you pour at the proposed upper limit.

There is a lovely photo of Wooing Tree’s Cromwell vineyard accompanying this article.

Its standard pinot noir costs $50 a bottle and almost everyone will want to try it.

So, at a very rough guess, let’s say Wooing Tree "gives away" half a dozen of those bottles over our hypothetical holiday weekend as samples, that’s $300 ... and if you assume that Wooing Tree gives away about that many bottles of that pinot each and every week, let alone the other wines in its range, it adds up to some serious money very quickly.

Yes, it can be argued cellar door tasting is a loss-leader and it is done in the expectation a customer will prise open their wallet at the end of it.

But, as many of the wine tourists in Central are, the person sampling the wine has flown in from the North Island or from overseas, they may well not be taking cases of wine back with them.

And if it is a family-owned vineyard with limited production, as many of the Central Otago operations are, it is also a lot of wine to not be selling to cover your costs ... which are not just the wine.

There’s also the glasses, the staff, utilities and meeting Sale of Liquor Act requirements.

Hence, Mr Smith and his Bill, which soared through its first reading last year, 109-9.

He was up first, and stressed this was a limited law change for a limited situation.

The cellar door was "not a place for drunken debauchery", rather it was a shop window for a premium product and wineries wanted to do so in such a way as to cover their costs.

Mr Smith was followed by someone he knows very well, Winegrowers long-serving chief executive Philip Gregan, who was very much ordering off the same wine list, arguing a tasting charge not only encouraged tasting to be considered a "premium experience", but also by raising the bar it would encourage cellar doors to be more rigorous in their host responsibility obligations.

Alcohol Healthwatch, unsurprisingly, also wanted to weigh in on the Bill, and it did so in a pragmatic and reasonable way.

Its remit is to advocate for harm minimisation from alcohol consumption, and executive director Andrew Galloway seemingly accepted that seeing as the Bill is almost certain to become law, it would be best to make sure as many safety nets as possible were included underneath it, such as mandated limits on the number of samples per person, and reducing sample sizes to 30ml.

Up soon after, representing those 100 or so wine producers in Central and the Lakes region, was Central Otago Winegrowers Association general manager Carolyn Murray, keenly watched by Act New Zealand’s Southland list MP Todd Stephenson, a member of the select committee.

She explained this Bill was right in her member’s wheelhouse: Central had the second-largest number of members of any regional growers association, and very many of them were small or family businesses.

An estimated 57 offered cellar door sales, but some could not, being based in some fairly remote and sometimes inaccessible valleys.

With that in mind, Ms Taylor asked the committee to endorse the proposed redefinition of "cellar door" so it could include producers unable to sell their wines at the place where they were made.

"Despite the location, the purpose and intent of a detached cellar door is still to provide a direct link with a local producer, where visitors can learn about the product and the industry, sample and purchase", she said.

"The definition of a ‘cellar door’ must be inclusive of these places, which currently represent 10% of Central Otago cellar doors."

Whether intentionally or serendipitously, the committee’s hearings have been scheduled before this year’s grape harvest.

There will be many producers hoping any law change is in place before the next one.

Welcome back

It was nice to see former Otago MP David Parker back in the House this week, albeit with his crutches leaning against the back wall of the debating chamber. Mr Parker suffered a serious fall at his Karitane home in November, but hopefully is on the road to recovery.

That’s entertainment

It is maiden speech season and most new MPs try to crack a joke or two in their first speech to the House — sometimes not successfully.

However, the new National MP for Waitaki, Miles Anderson, got plenty of genuine laughs for his ad lib after various members reacted with astonishment that his great-great-grandparents had a family of 27 children.

"No telly in those days", he quipped.

Emboldened, when discussing his parents and their brood of 11 children, Mr Anderson added "only one channel, and black and white, I suppose".

Mr Anderson also paid tribute to his three children but, perhaps thankfully, did not delve into his or wife Kim’s television watching habits.

The secret is out

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds, always keen to extol the virtues of her region, was in full flight in Wednesday when ostensibly answering Green MP Lan Pham’s question about water quality.

"This government is committed to improving freshwater quality for the benefit of all, and to do this we need sensible and pragmatic environmental rules", Ms Simmonds said.

"I’m also very pleased to tell you that the beach in Riverton, Southland — the Riviera of the South — was outstanding all summer."