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NUS Alcohol Impact Project

By mthomas

A new initiative from the NUS (supported by the Home Office) is seeking to address problem drinking in UK Universities. The aim is to develop a new accreditation mark for a whole-institution approach to responsible alcohol consumption. It is interesting to note that it is ‘underpinned by social change theory‘ and focuses on promoting a culture of responsible drinking. To do this institutions need to meet criteria such as publishing a high-level statement on responsible alcohol consumption, restricting on/around-campus advertising and running awareness events.

One interesting ‘nudgy’ strategy is the need to evidence the promotion of  a ‘cafe-culture’. Presumably this will emphasise herb teas and intellectual debate rather than binging on sugar saturated caramel frappuccinos and caffeine drenched fizz. It is good to see  oppressive alcohol fuelled initiation rites being challenged in an informed and non-punitive manner. At the moment seven Unis are subscribed to the pilot but I expect many more to follow suit in future.

Link to the project website  here for more info.



Plumpton Wine Centre

By mthomas

I recently visited Plumpton Agriculture College for a tour of the excellent Wine Centre. It was also a bit of a nostalgic trip because my mum worked there in the 70s and, as a small child, I used to go to all the open days. It has come on a lot since then and is now recognised as an outstanding wine education centre with an expanding curriculum on offer. What they teach goes beyond a focus on production and increasingly includes the business end of the wine trade.

Of particular  note is the Wine Consumer Behaviour module which  is part of the Wine business BA. It has the following learning outcomes for students;

1. Apply theoretical consumer behaviour models to practical wine applications
2. Demonstrate an ability to understand the psychological structures and processes involved in wine consumer choice
3. Provide a critical analysis of the literature on determinants of wine consumer choice.

This innovative course is run by Paul Harley (far right) who kindly showed Dr Paul Curran, who writes about wine and health, (pictured right) and me around the impressive facilities. These include state of the art labs and an excellent bespoke tasting room. Paul (H) is passionate about psychology and I hope to contribute to the course in future.

It would have been a shame not to pick up some of the wines produced at Plumpton and Paul (C) and I both ‘plumped’ for  one of the sparkling wines they produce there; The Dean (Brut NV) £22. An IWC silver medal winner in 2012 and likely to win more plaudits in future. It is crisp and refreshing with enough complexity to make you want to go back to it after the first glass. This and a visit to Ridgeview later in the day confirmed my view that Sussex will  deservedly increase its cut of Champagne’s market over the next decade.

The website is here if you want to look at the courses on offer, visit or buy wine.



The Wine Gang Live

By mthomas

‘The Wine Gang’ (pictured) contacted me to announce an offer for winepsych readers on tickets to their forthcoming wine events. These are being held in November in Bath (2nd), London (9th) and Edinburgh (30th). There are lots of exhibitors, masterclasses and a pop-up shop to buy some of the 600 wines available for tasting. The Gang are an engaging and knowledgeable bunch who will be on hand to advise during the fairs. If you want to attend at a discounted price  (£12 instead of £20 entry as well as 10% off masterclass tickets) then simply pay a visit to and use the code BLOG40 when booking.



The UK Wine Research Centre at Plumpton

By mthomas

I have just added Plumpton College to the wine courses and education page.
Wine courses there were established in 1998. It has the only undergraduate courses on Wine Production and Wine Business in English in Europe.  Facilities include eight hectares of commercial vineyards, a purpose-built wine centre with teaching rooms, labs, commercial winery and sensory evaluation room, and as of November 2013, the UK Wine Research Centre, incorporating the Rathfinny Research Winery.


Video tour <>

I will post a blog following my visit in October.



Personality and wine

By mthomas

I have just had an article on ‘personality and wine’ published by Fine Wine Magazine (here). It is a topic I get asked about a lot but tend to avoid in case I am misquoted. Any comment on personality and motivation can be a bit of a minefield but I hope Obama is not too put out by my speculations about his wine related White House decisions. Nixon, I am not too worried about…

On a similar note (what shapes our tastes and choices), yesterday I was contacted by Tim Hanni an MW based in Napa. He delivers training on food taste preferences and has some accessible content on his website (here) including videos on the topic. His ‘Vinotype’ taste profiler (here) is fun and very quick to complete. Despite a few methodological reservations I think it has something really helpful to say and Tim’s approach aims to empower individuals to explore their own profile and preferences. Always an admirable pursuit.



Wine Courses and Education Page Updates

By mthomas

I have added a few wine courses to the page (here) and a few more reviews and references on the research page (here). There are also some tastings coming up which I hope to find time to write up (including one at an intriguing  pop up bar and another in the Tower of London armoury). Often the venues are really interesting and wine has introduced me to some lovely, and sometimes strange, buildings. Recent forays to the Japanese Embassy were great in terms of the hospitality but the best thing was being able to see some of the paintings that live there. Lots of Sakura and Fuji in traditional and modern styles. The ‘Wish for recovery ‘ pictures from children expressing sympathy and solidarity following the earthquake that are displayed in the foyer are also well worth a look.

A recent private tasting with a bunch of collectors was interesting because the high values of some of bottles generally didn’t show when tasted. I am never sure how many private collectors are willing to pay the extra for good provenance or for storing their wines optimally. Some of the wines from the 80′s showed signs of poor storage and would not stand up to more recent (cheaper) vintages. I suspected at least one of being counterfeit but did not want to embarass the collector who enthused about it. It could be that a high percentage of investment wines are duds in terms of drinkability but as investment vehicles retain their momentum in terms of value. It’s a strange economic world as many in New York have been drawing attention to during demonstrations on Wall Street (pictured).

The local papers here are full of more counterfeit wine and spirits seizures. Scams exist at every level of the food, and wine, chain and it is always telling at which level the state chooses to focus its crime fighting resources. Crooked bankers and multinational fraudsters often seem to escape the scrutiny and sanctions that others find themselves under.



A New Wine Academy

By mthomas

Fully refreshed from a lovely week with the family in Crete I am determined to catch up with marking, writing, emails etc. At some point I will try and review the various wines I tasted although I was not overly impressed with most from Crete itself. For me it is lagging behind Santorini and other regions in terms of quality consistency. The local olive oil can’t be faulted though.

Lots has been going on in the wine world since I last blogged including the ‘retirement’ of Gary Vaynerchuk (pictured above left) and the eruption of Etna. Gary will be greatly missed, despite his use of rating scales whilst simultaneously denouncing them, because of his energy and unstuffy approach to wine. If you haven’t ever watched any of his videos check them out asap.

Below is a press release from the Antique Wine Company announcing a new ‘Academy’ offering wine courses. One aim of is to provide information on courses (see education and wine courses page here) so it seemed sensible to post this. A brief disclaimer is that I am not in any way connected to them, although I would happily deliver sessions on psychology if asked (and declare it…), and I haven’t seen the full timetable or  curriculum. Anyway here it is…

The Antique Wine Company, well known for the buying and selling of fine and rare wines, announced today, the launch of its AWC Wine Academy. The company who set a new Guinness World Record last week for the sale of the most expensive bottle of white wine in the world (an 1811 Château d’Yquem), is creating the wine school in response to first hand evidence of their clients desire to extend their wine knowledge and a general growing trend to know more about the subject.

While many people might feel intimidated in attempting to learn about wine, the AWC Wine Academy seeks to break down those barriers by offering courses that are structured and informative, yet relaxed and entertaining in their delivery.

Conveniently situated in the plush, central London district of Marylebone, the AWC Wine Academy aims to establish itself as a centre of excellence in the métier of wine, both within its locality and further afield, across London and both nationally and internationally.

Having appointed the respected, award-winning wine journalist John Stimpfig as Director of the AWC Wine Academy, the school is already setting a precedent in the quality of its teaching. It has secured a range of highly regarded wine specialists, such as Tim Atkin MW, one of the world’s most celebrated wine authorities, as well as other respected MWs and experienced wine professionals, as guest tutors.

Stephen Williams, Managing Director of The Antique Wine Company, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer such high quality courses that will be run by high calibre tutors, who are current leading experts in the wine field. The aim of the AWC Wine Academy is to become a central resource for the wine industry, not only teaching those with little or no prior knowledge of wine, but those also working in the industry, who wish to progress and extend their knowledge of the subject. We would like to offer professional training for example, for the hospitality industry, where there is an inherent need, here and abroad.”

As an adjunct to the Antique Wine Company, the AWC Wine Academy has unrivalled access to some of the best chateaux and winemakers in the world. This only strengthens their offering and participants in the courses are able to benefit from this, by visits to esteemed vineyards and winemakers, as well as through unique tastings on-site.

The first series of courses led by Tim Atkin MW begin on September 21, 2011. Titled: Essential Wine Tasting Techniques for Beginners, the course offers a jump start in wine knowledge from a wine expert who is not only knowledgeable on the subject of wine, but who can communicate it in an informative, yet genial way.

Highlights include: classic tasting techniques, blind tastings, top tips and trade secrets, describing wine and assessing quality, understanding different wine styles, grape varieties, countries, regions and price points, food and wine matching and serving tips and techniques.

Running over four weeks the evening sessions will begin at 7 pm and run until 8.30 pm, culminating in the re-tasting of wines sampled during the session and food matching, which will end at 9 pm. The course cost is £360 per person for four weekly sessions.

For more information and to book a course, contact Deborah Ives, Director of AWC Wine Academy Operations: Tel: +44 (0)20 3219 5588 or Email:

To view all available courses go to:

Hopefully Etna will settle down over coming days but I couldn’t help marvelling at some of the images. They reminded me of John Martin’s work which is soon to be displayed at Tate Britain in a show aptly entitled ‘Apocalypse’ (21st September 2011 to 15th January 2012).




European Conference on Underage Drinking

By mthomas

“It is my firm belief that in order to make any real change in the fight against alcohol related harm, the efforts must be high not only on the public health agenda, but also on the agenda of all stakeholders, including schools, employers, NGOs, alcoholic drinks producers, distributors, the advertising and media industries, local/national authorities, Member States and the European Union.”

- European Commissioner for Health, June 2007

With the above in mind there is a conference scheduled in Brussels on the 13th April. Abstract below;

“Although recent statistics indicate that total alcohol consumption in Europe is falling, European citizens are still the highest consumers of alcohol in the world. Furthermore, worrying trends are emerging in relation to under-age drinking, binge-drinking and drink-driving, with the EU’s own statistics on the economic and social cost of alcohol related harm making sobering reading:

Alcohol responsible for 7.5% of all ill-health and early death in EU

• 60 acute or chronic diseases caused by excessive alcohol consumption

• More than 10,000 deaths a year are due to alcohol-related road accidents

• Tangible economic cost in Europe of over €125 billion

Whilst overall adult consumption is decreasing, with alcohol becoming more affordable in nearly all member states in the last decade, there has been a steady rise in harmful drinking patterns, particularly amongst younger people. Unless policymakers across Europe act quickly, this alarming trend in under-age drinking and binge drinking will have adverse long term effects on young people’s lives and future development. Campaigns to raise awareness, an understanding of the underlying social consequences and better access to education are all steps towards reversing this trend. Developing a methodology that involves all relevant authorities in young people’s lives such as schools, public health organizations, local government and NGO’s is crucial. Coordination at national and EU level could result in a stronger regulatory framework preventing the access of alcohol to minors as well as better awareness campaigns.

This International Symposium will gather comparative experience and best practices in early intervention strategies based around young people and their families, and tackle other key consequences of under-age drinking such as anti-social behaviour and drink-driving. It will also discuss the potential role of national governments and regional authorities in supporting campaigns to combat the issue and the dissemination of lessons learned from different European countries.

The Centre for Parliamentary Studies welcomes the participation of all key partners, responsible authorities and stakeholders. The Symposium will support the exchange of ideas and encourage delegates to engage in thought-provoking topical debate.” Speakers include Dr. Adrian Bonner (Reader in the Addictions Behaviour Group).

Unfortunately I am not able to attend but I hope the conference attracts delegates and look forward to useful outcomes. The Drinkaware website has some good resources to support young people in making healthy decisions here.



High Society at the Wellcome Trust

By mthomas

Why is one of the most powerful psychoactive drugs we have so socially acceptable in so many countries? … is a question you don’t hear many in the wine trade asking very often. In fact wine is seen as sophisticated in a way most alcohol isn’t so it is especially privileged in the world of ‘drugs’.  I do not think that there is a conspiracy and many wine writers do engage with health issues but ‘we invite you to a vertical tasting of…’ sounds very different from ‘come and indulge in a drugfest with likeminded heads….’. Wine is the most sublimated of drugs in the way that the social ritual of imbibing has become sign of sophistication rather than inadequacy or dependency. This could be seen as rooted in the ancient ideas of wine having metaphysical connections and being an aid to contemplation. Linked to this was the idea that it was noble to ‘hold your drink’ and not become base or drunken.

I know people say that they would drink wine and be fascinated by its taste even if it was non-alcoholic (and am sure this is true for a small minority) but the vast majority of people associate this juice with a pleasant intoxication (or unpleasant when a hangover results). They buy it for a buzz as well having something nice to go with food and to display their sophistication.

‘Big Pharma’ has to do a few good deeds to distract people from the massive profits it amasses (although Glaxo have just lost a fortune on one new product that had some unfortunate outcomes in trials) and the Wellcome Trust excels at this. The latest exhibition ‘High Society’ at the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road is aposite because it focuses on drugs. The exhibition guide opens by stating “Every society on earth is a high society” and continues by suggesting that consciousness alteration is a “universal human impulse”‘. Whether use of specific substances is categorised as a crime, vice, disease, recreation, ritual or everyday practice is very much arbitrary and rooted in socio-historical dimensions not in the nature or effects of the substance itself.

In the spirit of scientific categorisation an excerpt from the ‘Exhibit Captions’ follows;

21 Amyl Nitrite, 22 Digital cannabis vaporiser, 23 Wine, 24 Lophophora williamsii (Peyote catus), 25 Opium pipe

It was also sobering to see some of the prohibition posters presenting wine as a gateway drug (image above)! The website (here) also has some superb images and they are free for educational purposes. This great exhibition runs until 27th February and the standing collection, library, bookshop and cafe are well worth the time too.




By mthomas

I finally managed a tour of Avery’s cellars during a trip to Bristol. It is something I had been meaning to do for years but I had always been too rushed on trips to the area. This time I was an external examiner for a Doctorate on autism at Bristol Uni and the thesis was defended so effectively that I had a bit more spare time than usual so snatched the opportunity to explore this Bristol institution.

The City Museum & Art Gallery is handily situated in an OTT Edwardian building close to the University and on the way to Avery’s.  I try to pop in when I visit the city as the ceramics collection is good and they usually have something of interest going on. At the moment there is an engaging exhibition on the Bristol Aeroplane Company Centenary. I loved the section of a jet wing which looks like a piece of modern sculpture. The Banksy in the hall (angel with a bucket of pink paint on his/her head pictured) also made me laugh and the stunning Chinese lion above it is one of a pair donated when the Chinese embassy had a clear out.

Avery’s is a Bristol institution that goes back over 200 years. The cellars make it one of the more atmospheric places to buy wine. You can browse for single bottles, buy in bulk or En Primeur. Not many places seduce me into buying decent Burgundy (because I often have doubts over how it might have been handled) but Avery’s gives a sense of old school integrity and  security. So when I came across some dusty and reduced in price bin-ends, including Remoissenet’s Meursault 1er Cru Goutte D’Or 2005, I couldn’t resist. These  ’Golden drops’ (my limited French) were produced in the year Remoissenet was taken over and substantial investment ensued. I have a soft spot for the company as one of my most memorable wines was a Remoissenet 88 Le Montrachet (bottle number 000112). I will try to remember to review it when I open it and to put a link here.

The cellars at Avery’s are full of wonderful period detail from large double doors (with a patina that reads like a book) to bottling equipment and ornate barrel tops (pictured). I even entered ‘the room of death’ which is essentially a very very very musty cellar. Thanks to Frank who showed me around. Try to visit them sometime.

Avery’s, 9 Culver Street, Bristol BS1 5LD

el. 0117 921 4146  Website is here

For locals, Bristol Wine School also run a variety of courses including a 6 week introduction to wine (details here);