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Friday, 3 August 2012

Slew of Back-Posts (4 of 5): Some thoughts on “Authentic Wine” by J.Goode and S.Hassop

I’ve just started reading ‘Authentic Wine’ – only the Preface and Introduction so far, plus some sneaky peeks at the later chapters – and I’ve decided that I’m going to write down my thoughts and impressions on the book as I go.

I’m not really sure exactly why I want to do this, but it seems like an interesting thing to do, if only so I can come back later and read these thoughts at some point in the future. Thoughts and impressions are so fleeting and ephemeral and they disappear almost as soon as you’ve had them, and sometimes you forget you even had them in the first place; and then your opinions evolve without you even realizing it, so it’s nice to be able to go back and find them again. Well, I like to do it anyway! I’ve already noticed this sort of thing happening to me from re-reading some of my old posts from only a year or two ago.

Anyway, let me start (boringly) by saying that I like and agree with almost everything I’ve read in the Preface and Introduction. I like the idea if inserting ‘naturalness’ into a higher scheme of things, along with Terroir, Sustainable Vineyard Management, Correct Harvesting, Faults and Environmental Considerations, to create the concept of ‘Authentic Wine’. The diagram on Page 7 expresses this rather well, though of course you could tweak and rearrange, add/remove, give more/less emphasis to the items according to your own taste. I also agree that natural wines are more interesting, taste better and are more respectful of the environment. No debate there, surely? And I also agree with the vision that the wine world is becoming ever more dominated by homogenous, boring, commodity-type wines.

That’s the boring part over with! Why is it always boring if you agree with someone? Well, here’s the part I disagree with (even if only slightly):

The authors suggest that we’re at a crossroads or fork, and that there is a real choice possible of which road to take, ie on the one hand there’s the road to even more domination by homogenized, industrial, boring branded wines, and on the other hand, there’s the road to a return to an abundance of accessible interesting terroir-driven wines. Well, I agree with the ever-increasing domination of brands part of the vision, but I don’t see a crossroads or a fork; I see a six-lane super-highway with a tiny dirt-track exit ramp that the machines forgot to close off!

Call me cynical, but I don’t see why the ‘suits’ should change tack just so that there can be more interesting terroir-driven wines available. Why do I believe this?

1. Because wine industry corporations (like all other corporations) are first and foremost profit-driven. The present system works very well for them in that they make lots of profits and distribute lots of dividends to their shareholders; and this is the ‘número uno’ criterion for decision taking for corporations. Even bigger, more serious issues (like workers’ rights, environmental degradation, social upheaval caused by supermarkets, etc) don’t bother them in the least in their drive for profits, so I don’t see why a nicety, like having more terroir-driven wines, should deviate them from their present course. In fact, I don’t see why the wine industry should not keep going in the direction it’s going in, in the footsteps of the beer industry. A grim scenario, I know. But like they say in Spanish “Piensa mal y acertarás” = “Think bad thoughts, and you’ll be right” !!!

2. Because the present model works for the consumers too, for a variety of reasons: convenience shopping at the supermarket, pricing, influence of marketing/branding/labels, just not caring that much about wine, etc. It doesn’t look like that’s showing any signs of changing.

Lastly, I believe that the ‘greening’ of consumers (ie increasing awareness and concern about environmental and health issues) is a real phenomenon and a long-term zeitgeist thing that’s been happening for decades and that this is a real pressure on the wine industry, just like it is on any other industry; but I think that it’s a pressure that’s easily dealt with – wine corporations have the budget to ‘greenwash’ themselves and also to actually really reduce their environmental impact. But, IMO, that’s not going to result in more interesting terroir-driven wines being produced – just more of the same boring homogenized ones but with a smaller carbon footprint.

I hope I’m wrong about this. And I hope there’s a place for authentic, natural, terroir-driven, environmentally sustainable wines. Maybe all will be revealed in the following chapters?

Jamie Goode's blog is here

and Sam Harrop's is here

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