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Despite being fiercely Melbournean, I love Sydney.  The food and wine scene there has been going from strength to strength for a number of years and can legitimately lay claim to some of the most innovative, exciting and forward thinking restaurants and wine bars in the country right now.

This is being celebrated, cheered and revered loud and proud not only nationally, but internationally so you’d expect such accolades and reverence would be applauded by the NSW state government. Instead what we’re seeing is a cruel and misguided crackdown.

As with all in the hospitality industry, I’ve been shocked and appalled at the draconian lock out laws and insane regulation currently affecting Sydney venues. This article by Mike Barrie, that went viral, is a detailed summary of the current state of play and I recommend taking the time to read it. It questions the integrity of the reasoning behind the rules, and highlights how a small few benefit at the expense of the many.

Further to this, a few weeks ago Sydney’s beloved wine institution, 10 William Street, was questioned by NSW police and accused of promoting ‘unsavoury behaviour’ on their blackboard wine list.

10 William Street has one of the best wine lists in the country. And it is about as far from a high-risk venue promoting unsavoury behaviour as it is possible to get.

Wine, it seems, is now in NSW Liquor and Gaming’s sights and this is something we should all be concerned about.

The press release by NSW Police stated the venue was under a restaurant licence, not a bar, had no reference to food on the blackboard nor menus on the table. However the strangest line is ‘a bar area with a large amount of wine and spirits was observed’.

Just think about that last sentence for a minute and see if it makes any type of sense.

The bureaucracy surrounding state liquor licensing laws is confusing, contradictory and often out of touch with the vibrant food and beverage culture we have in this country.  This is never more so than in NSW.

Rules constantly change and when clarification is sought, it is far too often contradictory or, at worse, misleading.  Liquor licensing is managed at a state government level rather and as a result every state in Australia has different licensing regulations with different procedures and requirements. Some are indeed better than others but each have their own set of challenges.

We deal with 7 different licensing bodies, 7 different sets of rules and regulations, and many different councils.

COMPLIANCE

The cost of compliance, and subsequent frustrations with licensing, is something we at Bottle Shop Concepts know far too well.  As an example, to run 4 wine tasting events in Melbourne last year, approximately $13,000 of fees were paid to VCLGR for Temporary Limited Liquor licences (a cost of around $4.50 per attendee). Adding the time it takes to fill out the licences (over 1400 pages in total), chase up, compile and present these licences, the figure virtually triples. Time is indeed money.

Why so much money? Because each and every wine producer at any event in Victoria must have a temporary liquor licence, to show their wine, on top of their producer licence unless they are a Victorian producers holding an Event Promotion Authority.  Out of 60 producers for Pinot Palooza last year, 3 wineries had this authority.

These temporary licences are either $105.30 (for Victorian producers) or $56.80 for interstate and or international wine producers.

Only Victoria makes it mandatory for every wine producer to have their own licence, rather than a licence which covers the whole event.

Confused yet?

RESPONSIBLE SERVICE OF ALCOHOL CERTIFICATES

To further add to this, every person person who pours wine at any event must have an accredited RSA certificate for that state in which they present.

Currently, there is no RSA certificate to cover you for all states in Australia. Need I remind you it is 2016.

For example, to get a NSW RSA you must do it in person or online (only available since late 2015) however once done, you then need to get a ‘competency card’ by applying, in person, at a ‘Service NSW Centre’.  This all takes valuable time.

You can imagine the cost and frustration for Australian wine producers who promote their wares nationally but think for a minute about implications for international producers, including New Zealand, when visiting Australia. These are issues that affect all in the wine industry and any event which provides alcohol.

Technically speaking, if ‘my very dear friend’ Aubert de Villane (of Domaine de la Romanee Conti) visited Australia, poured his wine at an event where there was a ‘possibility of sale’, he would have to have a valid RSA certificate for the state in which he is in.

In 2015, we collected over 484 RSAs from the 225 wineries. So when you add up the fees of not only the course itself (on average around $125 per person for a national RSA), the time it takes to complete, compile and document, the costs of such compliance quickly rises into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All this for a wine tasting.

WINE IS NOT THE PROBLEM, ITS THE SOLUTION

The last time I checked, that person kicked out of the MCG wasn’t because they’d had too much Pinot Noir. 

That fight you heard about in Kings Cross probably wasn’t because they’d had too much Chablis.

Wine by default is social; you share it, you celebrate it. So when you hear one of Australia’s best wine bars being accused of ‘unsavoury behaviour’ you can’t help but ask what the hell is going on.

That is not to say there are not issues surrounding the drinking culture of Australians. There are. But good operators promote good food AND responsible service of alcohol. Businesses WANT to the do the right thing but licensing and government bodies need to work ‘with’ the industry, not against it.

Accurate, fair and clear guidelines are a desperately needed start.

Never before has the food and wine culture been so vibrant and diverse in Australia. We have incredible wine & food producers, world class chefs, mind blowingly talented Sommeliers and a public desperate and motivated to know more about what they imbibe both so socially and responsibly.

Liquor licensing laws need to reflect the cultural vibrancy of our food and wine culture. 

How can Sydney (or Australia for that matter) claim to be an international destination without them?

TOOLS

To help you navigate the madness of RSAs in Australia, we’ve put together this step by step guide (with links) on how to gain a nationally accredited RSA.

We will update these as the rules continue change.

NOTE: There has been a number senate enquiry recommendations presented recently stating that there needs to be work done with states and territories to ‘establish mutual recognition arrangements for RSA qualifications’.

To Australia’s wine and drinks journalists, I challenge you to investigate and communicate this further.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Tess says:

    Spot on, Sims. God forbid we turn a bourbon drinker onto Burgundy.

  • Tyson JOUGHIN says:

    Let’s have a very serious look at the RTD market – if you go into a major retailer close to me here you will find maybe 100 types of what we can classify as wine or a wine derivative i.e. brandy YET you will find well over 100 RTD products that are specifically aimed at a certain market and do remember that when GST came in they went DOWN in price. Let’s act on that industry and INCREASE that tax !

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