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Northern Ireland's licensing laws holding wine trade back

Published:  29 January, 2014

Leading figures in Northern Ireland's wine trade have taken exception to a report which claims the region is 15 years behind London in wine terms.

A report produced by Peter McAtamney of Wine Business Solutions in Australia, which showed how popular different grape varieties are by region in the UK, put Northern Ireland 15 years behind London in terms of its wine drinking habits.

Jim Nicholson, owner of James Nicholson Wines (JN Wine) based in County Down, said: "The consumer here is very clued in. The level of education and interest is much higher than the trade is probably fulfilling."

But he said the prohibitive cost of purchasing a licence - up to £100,000 -  was discouraging operators from entering the trade. "There should be opportunities to open up without the machinery of the state bearing down on you," he added.

Nicholson said it was "disappointing" that more independents were not innovating, rather people coming into market were listing a few essential brands and allowing for margin but "that's not building a business, it's not a strategic plan - it's a slippery slope", he argued.

JN Wine responded to a tweet from Harpers saying the on-trade in Northern Ireland can be more reluctant to list unusual or lesser known varieties, but said this is "often the case outside London".

Jonny Callen of Maghera-based distributor Cabroso Wines tweeted: " I'd say five years behind. Wines by the glass generally don't offer enough varietal choice here and no 'sampling machines' in independents".

Neal McAlindon of Direct Wine Shipments in Belfast, told that as a specialist outlet it "wasn't typical of the rest of the market". He said the mainstream off-licence end of the market was "dominated by brands, and had a lack of niche growers like you would find elsewhere". But he said groups like Northern Ireland's Independent Wine Merchant Association, which encompassed 20 stores were " a lot more experimental".