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Sail-sale power the way forward for transporting wine or a nice gesture?

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The Michel Patrick heading up the Thames close to Tower Bridge and the entrance to St Katharine’s Dock

Late Thursday afternoon saw the arrival of the Michel Patrick at St Katherine’s Dock in the centre of London. Amongst its cargo were bottles for the RAW wine fair (19th and 20th May) plus a few producers Olivier Cousin being the most prominent.

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Olivier Cousin (light blue fleece) and Isabelle Legeron MW (red coat), organiser of the RAW wine fair, on the Michel Patrick

The voyage was organized by Guillaume Le Grand, one of the owners of www.TOWT.eu (TransOceanic Wine Transport), which arranges shipments and wine and other cargos by sailing boat. For the moment the company does not own any boats but instead hires them when required. To transport the wine over for RAW they hired the Mil’Pat or to give the boat its full name – Michel Patrick – a 22-metre traditional Breton sailing vessel.

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The Michel Patrick entering St Katharine’s Doc

However, Le Grand told me that they plan to commission the building of a much larger boat to give them economy of scale. “This time we shipped over the equivalent of 4000 bottles of wine plus 200 kilos of olive oil and some tea from the Azores. Last year we shipped 8000 bottles to Copenhagen and will be sending 15,000 this year.”

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Guillaume Le Grand

The Michel Patrick sailed over from Fécamp in Northern France leaving on Sunday 12th May. They enjoyed a good crossing to Ramsgate and then onto Tilbury, where most of the cargo was unloaded. They left Tilbury around midday on Thursday for the final stretch to Tower Bridge and St Katharine’s Dock. It looks a fairly leisurely itinerary. The Michel Patrick is skippered by Astérix, an archetypal French character.

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Skipper Astérix supervising while the boat enters St Katharine’s Dock.

The RAW website (www.rawfair.com ) talks of their commitment to sustainability and how transporting wine by sailing boat fits naturally into their ethos. It would be interesting, however, to know whether this voyage was actually much more sustainable or had a lower carbon footprint than bringing over the wine by lorry as the wine had to be driven up to Fécamp to be loaded onto the Michel Patrick and then taken by van from St Katharine’s Dock to the RAW venue in Brick Lane, albeit a short journey. “We saved 400 kilos of CO2,” Le Grand told me.

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Unloading some of the wine for RAW

Certainly the economics don’t add up as the cost of shipping a bottle over from Fécamp to London is 60 cents a bottle compared to 20 cents on a lorry. You may, however, be albe to recoup some of this cost by the Sail Power Point of Sale sticker by charging a little extra for sustainability and traceability.

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Shipping wine by sail with the point of sale sticker in the middle

Whatever the result of the calculation the arrival of the Michel Patrick has raised the issue of whether it is practical to use sail to transport wines within Europe at least. Somehow I doubt if wine clippers from Australia to the States, Asia-Pacific or Europe will catch on.

There is one apparent certainty the sea voyage worked up a thirst for those on board the Michel Patrick resulting in a significant consumption of wine during the crossing.

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Salt air and the wind provokes thirst in ‘modération’…

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Once the Michel Patrick is safely docked Astérix relaxes with a glass of red.

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