Blog: Olly WehringAround the world without leaving London

Olly Wehring | 13 October 2006

Well, I’ve had a hell of a week this week - it’s been non-stop and it’s only now, late on Friday night, that I’ve found the time to bore you with my adventures.

Monday evening found me down at Vintners’ Hall in London, for the annual lecture held by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Guest speaker this year was Christopher Carson, the former CEO of Constellation Europe and current chair of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Carson always makes for good comment, and this time was no exception as he warned the alcohol drinks industry of the dangers of not working together to deal with social responsibility. The alternative to dealing with the situation ourselves, Carson warned, was pretty unpalatable. Heavy-handed government legislation, akin to the type meted out to the tobacco industry, could make things very unpleasant, he said. “We are in their sights,” he warned. “As an industry, we have to get on the front foot and take the message to the people.”

No let-up on Tuesday, with a quick visit to the South African wine tasting at Lord’s cricket ground. A most civilised chat followed, sitting in front of the Nursery Ground with Gary Greenfield, MD of Distell Europe. While Greenfield conceded that the part played by Constellation’s Kumala wine brand may be overshadowing the South African wine sector in the UK market, he remains determined to bring what he called “a little bit of heritage” to the South African offering abroad.

A hop, skip and a jump to south London for a cider tasting in the evening held by the Chevallier Guild brothers, the driving force behind Aspall apple juice and cider makers. Not knocking the cider, but I found the apple juice to be somewhat addictive - it actually tasted of apple. A charming evening with pleasant company ensued. Barry Chevalier Guild would not badmouth Magners for their stranglehold on the UK cider market of late, choosing instead to praise them highly for reintroducing cider to the masses - what he referred to as “the Magners effect”. The fight starts now, however, he warned. “They’ve given us a great opportunity,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to shout about what we actually do.” Cider’s days as the drink of tramps, wurzels and students were over, he laughed, and Magners played a huge part in that.

Wednesday was a relative day of rest, before Thursday exploded in my lap. To the Russian embassy in the morning to collect my visa-minted passport: I’m off to Moscow and then Kiev on Sunday with InBev. Having been to Russia before, I’m prepared for the queuing although the embassy was a dull reminder.

Then to Fleet Street for Diageo’s Asia and China seminar. On paper, the six-hour marathon looked like it would be a struggle, but the opportunity to meet and quiz the likes of Stuart Fletcher (president of Diageo International), John Pollaers (MD for Asia) and Ken Macpherson (MD for Greater China) was too good an opportunity to miss. Macpherson’s view of China bursting with possibility is one close to my heart. On leaving Beijing in 2003 after working there for four months, my then boss said: “If you ever get the chance to come back, then do, ‘cos this place is set to explode.” By the sound of Macpherson’s presentation, that explosion has started.

Wonder if the paymasters would let me work from Beijing…


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