British government tops up 39,500 bottle cellar

The Independent reports that the British government has spent more than £17,500 on wine since the May 6 election. This adds to existing cellar of 39,500 bottles bringing the total value of the wine cellar to £864,000. The Foreign Office minister who oversees the cellar, Henry Bellingham, insisted last week that buying the wines young saves the British taxpayer money. With the revelations came calls that they cellar’s contents should be sold.

Since taking office, Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet have pushed for budget cuts and austerity including cuts to public sector pay and pensions to right the deficit. The previous parliamentary session had been rocked by questionable MP expenses, such as country manor moat cleaning.

How much is too much for a government wine cellar? The White House wine cellar is pretty small, less than 500 bottles, which has led to an (abysmally executed) ad hoc approach to formal dinners. But almost 40,000 bottles? That seems a little high, especially in an age of austerity.

The government will not provide a detailed inventory of the cellars. Bellingham said, “The database is not released into the public domain because of the likely impact on GH’s commercial interests and those of its suppliers and future ability to obtain value for money.”

Given that there are pricey first-growth Bordeaux, there must be a lot of plonk in there too to arrive at the £21.87 average bottle price in the cellar. And given the stated preference for buying young wines, was the Foreign Office buying futures on Bordeaux 2009? If so, they probably burned up the £17,500 in a hurry. The full statement from the Foreign Office follows after the jump:

“Government Hospitality (GH) in Protocol Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has responsibility for the management of the stock in the Government wine cellar. Apart from beverage wines that are bought on an ad hoc basis, GH usually buys new stock on two or three occasions each year, as advised by the GH Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine.

“GH buys wines young, when first available in the retail market and relatively less expensive, and stores them until they are ready to use. It purchases throughout the year according to its requirements, market rates, availability and value for money. Since May 6, 2010 Government Hospitality has spent £17,698 on new stock for the cellar.

“None of these wines has yet been used. Careful management of the Government wine cellar enables GH to provide wine for high profile events at significantly below the current market rate, making substantial savings for the taxpayer.”

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9 Responses to “British government tops up 39,500 bottle cellar”

  1. Great story! I think that the inventory list of the government wine cellar should be made public. It makes perfect sense to have a lot of wine for State dinners, etc. But just what are they buying, anyway? Also, it opens up exciting marketing ideas if they have a lot of Bordeaux Second growths or only Haut Medoc? I can imagine the ads all over the London tube and tabloids, depending on your political leanings: “Drink XYZ wine just like th Prime Minister” or “Drink this wine that’s too good for the Prime Minister.” Brilliant!

  2. That’s an average of a bit over 20 pounds per bottle, which is hardly an extravagant average. The inventory does sound excessive.

  3. I don’t understand the Whitehouse’s problem. Why bother with the wine cellar? There have to be a few go-to wine shops in DC where they can get some good, great if they want to, wines for state dinners along with some food-pairing advice.

    As for the Brits, why not return the Lend-Lease favor extended during the Big One and ship a few bottles back this way?

  4. I love wine, but in times of fiscal constraint, the powers that be should have to do like the rest of us and make do with the many fine bottles that can be purchased for less than $25.

  5. It sure sounds a good way of investing but they better make sure they find the government the best wine cellars to ensure that the investments they put in buying these wines will not go to waste.

  6. An official inquiry should be launched immediately to determine why the number of bottles is not 40,000.

  7. At almost 40,000, I imagine a lot of those bottles end up going to waste because they don’t get consumed within their drinking window and go bad.

  8. Who knew there were official State wine cellars?! What a great idea! While I’d like to know what the PM and the POTUS have at their disposal, with todays politics revealing the list would serve only to create another argument over something relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme. I wonder if there are any bottles of Presidential Port at the White House?

  9. Sounds like some investigative reporting is called for. The British have never been shy about exposing perceived wrongs.


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