Secret history

Writing about wine is a fairly sedate affair. Booze hacks best canada goose jacket style get lots of nice perks – travel, free vino and an all-year-round suntan – but we rarely enjoy the thrill of scoops or exclusives. I sometimes wonder what it must be like to report from a war zone or to be Woodward and Bernstein, meeting Deep Throat in a badly lit underground car park. I’ll probably never know, but my pulse still quickened when I received an anonymous letter in a plain-brown envelope recently.

The letter was from an Oddbins buy canada goose jacket online canada insider and had a lot of rude things to say about the UK’s favourite wine chain. As a bit of background, I should tell you that Oddbins was bought by the French wine company Castel in February 2002. To start with, people (including your correspondent) felt this was a positive move. Oddbins was in the hands of people who were wine specialists, rather than bankers or venture capitalists. But two and a half years on, the chain is struggling.

This might come as a surprise to readers who visit Oddbins’ shops – still staffed by some of the brightest and most over-educated sales assistants burlington coat factory canada goose coat in the world and still boasting a range of more than 1,000 lines. It can you dry clean a canada goose coat might also come as a surprise to the judges of the 2004 Wine Challenge Awards, who made Oddbins their High Street Retailer of the Year recently. For all its problems, Oddbins remains one of the best places in the UK to buy wine. Just compare and contrast with Threshers or Unwins.

So what did my anonymous correspondent have to complain about? Lack of direction was part of it, as was the departure of two of the chain’s berlin film festival ends canada goose jacket sponsorship amid four wine buyers, most of its marketing department, its bond manager and its PR manager. It cannot be a coincidence, he or she argued, that so many good people have left at once.

The main thrust of the criticism, however, was that Castel is using Oddbins as a place to sell its own wines. In this respect, it’s arguably doing much the same thing as Oddbins’ previous owner, Seagram, who sold its own wines and Champagnes through Oddbins, some of which were underwhelming. But my source feels that Castel is dumping a fair bit of ‘crap’ on Oddbins and thereby undermining its reputation.

A glance at the shelves and an impromptu tasting of a few of the 50-odd Castel lines is a depressing experience: a few so-so clarets and vins de pays undermine the quality of Oddbins’ French range. If Deep Throat is right, canada goose coat – hybridge lite then there will be ‘another 40 Castel wines sneaking in before Christmas’ and, in 2005, ’25 per cent of the entire ongoing range from canada goose coat 1000 bulbs lamps Castel best place buy canada goose jacket toronto and friends’.

I should point out that Oddbins’ head of buying, Lynne Coyle, says that this is untrue, but she would say that, wouldn’t best replica canada goose jacket she?

I feel very protective about Oddbins. Its list isn’t as good as it was five years ago cheap canada goose, but neither is it as unwieldy as when its buyers indulged their enthusiasms with little regard for the commercial consequences. I don’t begrudge Castel’s desire to make a profit, authentic canada goose outlet or streamline the business to a degree, but I’m worried about the way things are going. Prices have increased under Castel, and the chain’s profit margins are now the highest in the country. More to the point, some of those Castel wines really are crap.

My anonymous letter ends with a single word – HELP. I don’t share quite the same sense of panic, but I still hope Castel is listening.

tim.atkin@observer.co.uk