At a recent shindig for elite restaurateurs and niche wine merchants at the Australian Museum there were two rooms: one showcasing domestic labels, the other, imported stuff.

The imports room was buzzing. The event hosts Vinous Solutions, Enoteca and Vintage & Vine, like other wine merchants, are enjoying a surge in demand for European product. Spanish wines are all the rage and the French always have a good pitch, while Italian, German and even Austrian offerings are experiencing a resurgence.

Among savvy consumers in the eateries of Sydney and Melbourne, the days of the ”Australian wines are the best” mentality are gone. How far the trend will develop is now the question.

Given the rise in the dollar and the incursion of online vendors this is the last thing the domestic industry needs, already battered by years of glut and more recently the oppressive effect on their export income of a high currency.

Foster’s, which only last month won some brownie points from the market for demerging its brewing from its wine business, is under pressure from flat demand for beer and the challenge from micro-breweries, while its spin-off, Treasury Wine Estates, not only loses on the currency but is up against online imports to boot. Worse, the booming demand for a foreign drop is mostly contained to European wines, not American (where its wine assets are).

Recent data from the Bureau of Statistics are chilling: in the March quarter domestic wine sales fell at the fastest annual rate since 1990 while sales of imported wines rose by 2.2 per cent to 12.7 million litres.

Drinkers spent $85.1 million on imported wine during the quarter, up 1.4 per cent. In just one decade, imported wine has risen from 3 to 15 per cent of domestic wine sales.

Now that’s a trend. And the problem with trends is that, should they start with the elite market – in this case, sommeliers and high-end retail consumers – there is every reason to fear that they might gain pace with mass market penetration.

There are three kinds of wine consumers. From the smallest category to the largest: wine buffs, wine bluffs and the cheap plonk market. This latter segment, more focused on quantity than quality, is unlikely to switch to European wines. The wine market is fickle, though, and should those who buy more for appearance than quantity really go for European wines the local industry would suffer.

However, it’s not entirely a one-way street. That is, the boon for consumers at the expense of domestic manufacturers. While the internet vendors have the advantage of low costs and a high dollar they pay more taxes than your average retailer. After customs duty and Wine Equalisation Tax, we are talking 50 per cent.

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IT IS Snowball by name, and snowball by nature.

Shadforths’ boss Tony Fenning has been under pressure to do a deal for some time. Perpetual had come sniffing around the financial planning shop but Fenning opted to partner with small listed player Snowball in a scrip deal which delivers his shareholders some liquidity, a stockmarket exit that is.

And so it is that Shadforths faithful emerge with 71 per cent of Snowball shares. The biggest holder is Melbourne planner Kevin Bailey.

That 71 per cent change of control was also, incidentally, smack bang on what the Snowball crew required under their change of control provisions to exercise a swag of performance rights they granted themselves last year, a deal which was upgraded at the annual meeting in November.

The spin is ”transformational merger”: a transaction which sees two financial planning groups combine to throw up a business with $14.3 billion under management. The deal makes sense: a projected $5 million in synergies by slapping the two together and eliminating head office costs, in 2013 that is.

It’s not so alluring in the meantime as Snowball shareholders get diluted by 68 per cent in 2012.

The deal is more positively ”transformational” however when it comes to the personal wealth of the Snowball junta. Snowball boss Tony MacDonald and his crew are up

$3.5 million on their fresh swag of performance rights, which vest

on a change of control. Nice work.

The other telling aspect of this deal is that of providing incentive to financial planners now that trailing fees are under threat from financial advice reform proposals.

The government has been disingenuous on this one, trumpeting a ”broad-based ban on volume based payments”. The words ”broad-based” have now been relegated to the realms of shifty political rhetoric. A ”broad-based” ban must mean ”a sort of” ban as product trails get eliminated at the planner level but not at the platform level.

That means the major banks, which control the platforms, have once again won the government over with their lobbying.