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by Peter Richards

FOR THOSE who love wine as well as freedom, the future offers cause for concern. The reason lies in the insidious and creeping demonisation of alcoholic drinks currently taking place in this country.

Consider the recent study by senior Home Office advisers that aims to update Britain's drugs categorisation by re-assessing substances for their addictive qualities, social harm and physical damage. Alcohol was classed as the fifth most dangerous drug, rated less pernicious than heroine and cocaine but more dangerous than the likes of LSD (14th), Anabolic Steroids (16th) and Ecstasy (18th). Tobacco, which is slowly being shunned by governments and consumers in the western world, was ranked ninth.

This news came shortly after the EU announced proposals to slash wine production across Europe and remove around 400,000 hectares of vineyards. Meanwhile, the government and police-backed campaign to counter binge drinking continues to put the spotlight on the unseemly underbelly of alcohol abuse.

No one in their right mind would deny that alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the UK, and sorely needs addressing. It places a massive strain on the health system and the police, not to mention the devastating damage it can inflict on personal relationships.

However, it does seem as if a subtle shift in public perception is being orchestrated whereby all alcoholic drinks are crudely lumped into one catch-all category and labeled “unsavoury”. Bad for your kids, bad for society, bad for you: all alcohol is evil, and so too are its users. This zero-tolerance movement, popular among the powerful American prohibitionist lobby, could herald a new era of social pressure and legislation designed to marginalise alcohol and its enjoyment in our society.

This is very worrying. Because, of course, it all stems from a grossly simplistic viewpoint, based more on prejudice and wild generalization than it is on balanced reasoning.

Take wine. When enjoyed in moderation (as most fine wine is), this is a health-giving substance that helps fight heart disease, aids digestion, and seems to have many other positive properties we are yet to identify or comprehend. It is unrivalled among drinks in its potential for diversity, complexity and ability to complement food.

Wine is a profoundly civilizing force and lies at the very origins of human society and culture. It continues to sustain a noble way of life among its growers, makers, sellers and consumers, not to mention contributing significantly to national tax revenues the world over.

Of course, wine can be abused just as any other alcohol, or indeed virtually any other substance or device (glue, cars, trees, food, water). But to demonize it along with the entire alcohol category is a nonsense. Surely it makes more sense, given how widespread and socially acceptable alcohol is, to make people aware of the many positive effects that drinks like wine can have, whilst encouraging awareness of potential pitfalls? Perhaps this is an issue on which the All-Party Parliamentary Wine Group might like to take the lead...

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