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Saturday 13 February 2016

Back Label Information

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 :)

Thursday 4 February 2016

Sheep in the Garnacha Vineyard

Well, for this post I have some interesting anecdotes about sheep in my Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos).
A flock of sheep entering the vineyard
But first...

This is the same vineyard that I wrote about in my previous post (here), when I discovered that ‘someone’ had pruned my ‘Roman’ vines which I had trained up the olive trees, without asking me first. So the other day I had a meeting with the owners of the vineyard and asked them if it was them who had dunnit – and indeed it was! I’m glad that I didn’t speak to them immediately on discovering the unauthorized pruning, because I was upset and angry and would probably have said things that I would have regretted later! But with the passage of time I had calmed down, and now of course it doesn’t seem so important. They were quite amazed when I explained the Roman thing to them, but they were willing to cooperate. Now I just have to wait another year for the vines to grow and try again.
Anyway, I was in this vineyard again the other day, doing more of the same – raking up last year’s dead grass into piles, pruning and hoeing up around the pruned vines. I alternated these three activities so that the same muscles wouldn’t get sore! The method seems to work J
And an ‘interesting thought’ came to me while I was raking up the dead leaves. At first, I had started raking up dead leaves and grass and tidying ‘just for fun’ and to do a bit of gardening and to make the vineyard look beautiful (and alternating tasks so my back muscles wouldn’t suffer so much). But now I’ve discovered a valid agricultural reason for doing this! By raking up the last year’s dead leaves, it makes it easier for the new grass and plants to come up, as there is no physical obstacle stopping their growth, more sunlight hits the earth and little leaves making germination and photosynthesis more efficient, and also the action of the rake on the ground probably helps stir things up and speed them along! I was actually a bit worried that maybe the grass, and plants and flowers would grow too much, to the detriment of the vines, perhaps. But the perfect solution presented itself spontaneously. Sometimes the universe works in your favour, and “they’re not really all out to get you”!
The perfect solution, of course, consisted of a flock of sheep! As I was working, a man called out to me from over the wall of the vineyard. He was a shepherd and he wanted to ask if he could let his sheep graze in my vineyard. I agreed immediately and off he went to get his sheep, which were grazing in a neighbouring vineyard just down the road.
Sheep grazing in the vineyard

Sheep and lambs

Panoramic view

The deal is that I get free manure and short grass and the shepherd gets free grass for his sheep.

Close-up of my free manure

And also, according to my friend and fellow grapegrower Mario Siragusa (who grows grapes in Barolo country near Turin), the sheep also impart positive electro-magnetic energy to the vines from their wool. Interesting theory - I will have to look into it when I have some free time.
This deal only works until about March, when the vines start to sprout. Otherwise the sheep would eat the young leaves.

Sheep leaving the vineyard

Luis the shepherd says that he only drinks wine from the vineyards where his sheep have been grazing! Because his sheep don’t like the grass from chemically farmed vineyards and because the wine tastes crap! Natural wine drinkers are everywhere these days J.
Other vineyard news
There is still a lot of pruning to be done, some of which I will do myself and some of which I will outsource to neighbours. Then there are other assorted tasks to be done too: removing canes, hoeing up around the vines, fixing fences, and general tidying up. I won’t bore you all too much with the details! Yet!
Bodega news
There are lots of tasks I have to be getting on with in the bodega too. Most urgent is the bottling up. I got off to a good start this year but last week I ran out of corks AND bottles! Duh! So now I have to wait for delivery, which takes about 7-10 days. Which is OK really, as I can now concentrate on the vineyards. I also have to fill two barrels with white wine. It took me about a year, but at last I managed to get my hands on two second-hand white wine barrels. They are incredibly difficult to find, for some reason. More about this later. I also have to thoroughly scrub and clean and disinfect two amphorae, which contained wine and which I have already bottled up. Then I have to press off a tank of Garnacha which is still on the skins! And a tinaja of SB and one of Doré. And lastly I have to tidy up the patio and finish building my pergola. Oh, where is all the free labour?
Other news
In about three weeks I’m going to a natural wine fair in Piacenza, Italy: Sorgente del Vino LIVE 2016. It will be my first time at a wine fair in Italy, so am especially looking forward to it. Attenzione importatori italiani J
And in about one month I’ll be going to another natural wine fair in Barcelona: Vins Nus (which means Naked Wines in Catalan). This is one of two natural wine fairs organized in Spain, which is pretty underwhelming really, considering the numbers for France and Italy.
Enough for now. “Salud y buen vino”. (that means ‘Health and good wine’, in Spanish)

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