This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Expensive Wines'.


 
GOVERNMENT HOSPITALITY 
 
LANCASTER HOUSE, ST JAMES’S, LONDON SW1A 1BB 
TELEPHONE : 020-7008 8517 
FACSIMILE : 020-7008 8526 
 
5th March 2010 
 
Our ref: FOI 0030-10 
  
 
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Dear Mr Cross 
 
Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act, which I received on the 
12th January 2010. In my letter to you of 12 February I explained that we were considering a 
number of public interest issues in relation to your request.  In your letter you requested: 
a)  the names and cost per bottle of the five most expensive types of wine currently in 
stock in the Government Hospitality cellar at Lancaster House; 
b)  the names and cost per bottle of the five most expensive types of wine purchased 
during 2009 for the cellar; and 
c)  the total cost of the 20 most expensive bottles of wine purchased during 2009 for the 
cellar. 
I can confirm that Government Hospitality does hold the information you are requesting. 
Your request has been forwarded to me as Head of Government Hospitality, the department 
within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for the administration of the GH 
wine cellar.   
 
The five most expensive wines currently in stock in the Government Hospitality cellar are: 
Château Lafite 1998 
Château Cheval Blanc 1996 
Château Haut-Brion 1996 
Château Trotanoy 1998 
and Vieux Château Certan 2005. 
 
I can confirm that the wines listed ranged in cost from £78.00 per bottle to £132.00 per bottle. 
Details of the individual prices of these wines are withheld under Section 43(2) of the 
Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 which covers Commercial Interests.  Section 43(2) 
states: 
 
"2. Information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be 
likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority 
holding it). The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, compliance 
with section 1(1)(a) would, or would be likely to, prejudice the interests mentioned in 
subsection (2). " 

 
 
 
The five most expensive wines purchased for the cellar during 2009 were: 
 
Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2006 
Château Lynch-Bages 2005 
Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2005 
Château Léoville-Barton 2005 
and Vieux Château Certan 2005 
 
I can confirm that the wines listed ranged in cost from £57.00 per bottle to £132.00 per bottle. 
Details of the individual prices of these wines are withheld under Section 43(2) of the 
Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 which covers Commercial Interests (see above). 
 
The total cost of the 20 most expensive bottles of wine purchased during 2009 therefore 
comes to £2640.00. 
 
 
Use of the exemption under Section 43(2) of the FOI Act 2000 requires the application of a 
public interest test.  One of the main factors in favour of release of the information is the 
public interest in transparency in the expenditure of public funds.  Against this is the potential 
for the commercial interests of the relevant public authority to be damaged, and the interests 
of its suppliers. 
 
We believe that the public interest is best served by withholding details of the prices of 
individual wines held in the cellar because disclosure is likely to adversely affect 
Government Hospitality’s relationship with its suppliers, which enables GH to obtain 
significant price discounting on a confidential basis.  Releasing pricing details of sales to GH 
in the London wine market is very likely to be picked up by other wine purchasers, and could 
result in pressures on the suppliers, which might lead them to end their discounting 
arrangements with us. All of the wines listed above are actively traded in the London wine 
market today.  You have requested details of the 5 most expensive wines in the cellar overall 
and those purchased in 2009.  We have released what information we can that we believe will 
not either distort the wine market or prejudice our future ability to achieve value for money.  
 
You will appreciate that release of the details of individual wines and vintages that have been 
purchased by GH may cause undue influence in the wine market.  It is quite likely that 
release of information about wines that have been purchased for the Government cellar could 
significantly affect sales of those products.  It is clearly not appropriate that purchases made 
by GH for the government wine cellar should be viewed as public endorsement of individual 
wines or producers, and release of further details could result in a distortion of the volatile 
wine market. As a public authority, GH also has a duty to achieve the best possible value for 
money, and we believe that the value for money arrangements we have would be 
compromised by the disclosure of the prices as you have requested.   
 
In the light of several FOI enquiries relating to the cellar stock I have had an opportunity to 
consult with a selection of our suppliers recently, as well as with the Government Hospitality 
Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine. They have endorsed the view that release of 
sensitive pricing information would be damaging to both Government Hospitality and the 
interests of its suppliers. This issue has also been considered in some detail by the 
Government Hospitality Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine, which has also 
expressed its view that releasing the information you requested would damage the ability of 
GH to achieve value for money in the future. 

 
I note your comments that disclosure of information about hospitality might “assure the 
public of the personal probity of public officials.. [and] elected representatives”. I would like 
to take this opportunity to confirm that Government Hospitality is subjected to effective 
scrutiny, both internally within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and by the National 
Audit Office.  Ministers and senior officials within the FCO have full oversight of both the 
management of the GH cellar and of Government Hospitality itself.  GH is also the subject of 
regular questioning by Members of Parliament. The Government Hospitality Advisory 
Committee for the Purchase of Wine publishes an annual report on its activity, and its 
minutes are published under the FCO FOI Publication Scheme. 
  
 
The information that has been supplied to you continues to be protected by the Copyright, 
Designs and Patents Act 1988. You are free to use it for your own purposes, including any 
non-commercial research you are doing and for the purposes of news reporting. Any other re-
use, for example commercial publication, would require the permission of the copyright 
holder. Most documents supplied by the FCO will have been produced by government 
officials and will be Crown Copyright. You can find details on the arrangements for re-using 
Crown copyright on the Office of Public Sector Information website at: 
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/click-use/index.htm 
 
Information you receive which is not subject to Crown Copyright continues to be protected 
by the copyright of the person, or organisation, from which the information originated. You 
must ensure that you gain their permission before reproducing any third party (non-Crown 
Copyright) information. 
 
If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to 
make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me. 
 
If you are not content with the outcome your complaint, you may apply directly to the 
Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless 
you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth 
Office. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at The Information Commissioner’s 
Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF. 
 
Yours sincerely, 
 
 
Robert Alexander 
 
 
Robert M O’D Alexander OBE 
Head of Government Hospitality 
Protocol Directorate 
 
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