Cheers! Here's to what's inside the bottle, not outside :)
Saturday, 13 February 2016
Back in October 2014, there was a flurry of comments on my FB page about what I had written on my back labels. I replied to all those comments here. Well, it's happened again, though this time it's not a flurry, just one person who's taken umbrage, but nevertheless, this has caused me to think about this matter again, and to write this post.
First, here's the back label in question:
Next, to get things in context, I find it helpful to remember the following:
1. It's only wine! In the great scheme of things which are important and essential to me and to many other people, wine and labels are pretty far down on the list! I'm thinking of things like the Syrian, Palestinian, Kurdish tragedies, the bankers/economists/politicians who are destroying our society and empoverishing millions, the dangers of nuclear power, deforestation, child slavery, the whales, the ozone layer, the Sea of Azov, etc, etc, etc...
2. Even in the trivial world of wine, labels are fairly low down on my list of important things: before labels comes the quality of the wine itself, the quality of the grapes, the environmental impact of growing my grapes and making my wines, etc.
So, having established that, I can now explain my position and thoughts on what I write on my back labels.
My first and main motive for scupulously listing the ingedients and processing (and also what I don't add to the wine, and the processing that I don't subject the wine to) is to inform the consumer, the potential buyer, of what's in my wine and how it was made, so they have as much information as possible available to them to decide if they want to buy it or not.
All the feedback I have recieved so far from consumers has been positive, and they have all been very pleased indeed to have had that information.
The spirit (though not always the letter) of all legislation covering foodstuffs is in fact the 'protection of the consumer'.
As you may or may not know, the wine industry is exempt from the normal labelling requirements, for some reason or other. And I would be very interested to know how this exemption came about, as I have been unable to find out for myself. On the other hand, the legal requirements on what is obligatory and what is forbidden to write on wine labels is extraordinarily detailed and complex. There is obviously something very fishy going on here, and consumers' interests are not being protected. It seems to me that it's the wine industry's interests that are being protected.
The labelling legislation is in fact the root of the problem, and that's my second reason for writing so much information on my back labels, ie to draw attention to the problem, with a view to generating some debate and hopefully a solution.
In keeping with my back label philosophy, I will also explain why I am NOT writing all that information!
I am NOT providing abandant information on my back labels as a publicity stunt or as clever marketing, in order to sell more wine. Thankfully, I am a very small producer (around 12,000 bottles per year) and (again thankfully) I don't have any problems selling my wines. So I don't need to drum up sales. You can believe that or not, as there's no way I can actually prove it. (Philosophically or logically it's actually impossible to prove ANY negative statement!)
I am NOT doing it to denigrate or show up other honest hard-working grape-growers and winemakers. I say this because several fellow grapegrowers, winemakers and other agents in the wine world have taken it personally, and view my back label information as an attack on them or on their agricultural and/or winery practices. Well, I'm sorry they see it that way, but like I said, that's not my intention at all.
Unfortunately, there's little I can do about people taking offense where none is intended, short of not writing all that information I want to convey.
The little I can do is to try to write clearly and unambiguously so as not to send out the wrong message or unintentionally offend anyone, especally when dealing with a hot topic such as this one. I even keep my sense of humour and irreverent cynicism under control, even though I like to be irreverently humourous!
I think it's ridiculous to suggest that I am out to show anyone up or point an accusing finger at them. I've received comments along the lines of "if you write that, you imply that...." Well, maybe yes, or maybe no, but how can anyone ever know, unless I, the writer, affirm or deny it. And even then, I could be lying!!! The same case can be made for any written material at all.
For example, here's a typical phrase often written on back labels "....with carefully selected grapes..." What? How dare they imply that I don't select my grapes carefully! See what I mean?
It's a no-brainer to read words on a label and then say that those words 'imply' something other than just what they say.
If I say that "I don't add oak chips", it means that I don't add oak chips. It doesn't imply that I'm accusing other winemakers of adding oak chips. There can be no fruitful or useful outcome to an argument based on what my words supposedly 'imply'.
Another criticism I've recieved (again from people in the trade, not consumers) is that I'm trying to occupy the moral high ground, being holier-than-thou, being a hipster-cool ultra-fashion eco-warrior, etc. Again nothing could be further from my mind.
I do what I do (ie, organic agriculture, no chemicals, no unnecessary substances or processing) because I believe that it's better to make wine that way. That way I don't pollute the environment and I don't put consumers health at risk. I have decided that that's the way I want to work, but I have nothing to say about how other people have decided to work. Especially not on my back labels. This is a totally personal decision which of course I believe is "right". It's my tiny contribution to making the world a better place.
In a private conversation, or at a public event where I've been invited to speak, I will certainly express my opinions about polluting the environment and adding chemicals and substances to wine and other foodstuffs, and people who know me or have heard or read me, know what I think about that.
Now, does that imply that other grapegrowers and winemakers do pollute the environment and put their consumers' health at risk? No it doesn't. (See above) Common sense would suggest that some of them do, though.
I like to think that I'm a pragmatic sort of person, and I much prefer to actually do something or take action, rather than waste my time blowing hot air and complaining. That's why I actually practice organic no-chemical agriculture and actually make no-additive wines. I believe it's a complete waste of my time to argue or try to convince others to be like me! Therefore I don't. I obviously believe that I'm in the right, but I also believe that no good can come out of me trying to make others "right" too.
Perhaps if all wineries were used a similar back label to mine (either legally or voluntarily) and described what they do and don't do to their wine, then their consumers could also decide, with all the facts at hand, whether to buy their product or not. I don't understand why they don't. Surely they're not doing anything illegal? Or are they doing something that they don't want the public to know about? I don't know, and "Frankly, my dears,..."!
Cheers! Here's to what's inside the bottle, not outside :)