What is Deliciousness Part 2: The Stepford Wines

les caves de pyrene

The philosophy of selling the brand is much like having your glass of cheap plonk and drinking it. To satisfy the thirsty market, wines are produced in vast quantities which, by definition, have to maintain a minimum level of consistency, yet the rationale of a brand is to sell more and gain greater market share which in turn necessitates bringing more and more land on-vine at higher and higher levels of production. Thus we can view cheap branded wine as no more than alcoholic grape juice, a simulacrum of wine, because it aspires merely to the denominator of price rather than the measure of quality.

Why should we call it wine at all? Quality wine is what growers make: it is an art as well as a science; it is also, by definition, inconsistent, because it must obey the laws of fickle Nature. Real wine-making is surrounded by an entire sub-culture: we speak of the livelihood of small growers, of the lifestyle and philosophy of the people who tend the vines throughout the year, of how the vineyards themselves have shaped the landscape over centuries and the way the wines have become a living record of their terroir and the growing season. You only have to stand in a vineyard to sense its dynamics. Terroir, as we have said, concerns the farmer’s understanding of the land and respect for nature, and a desire to see a natural creation naturally expressed.

This cannot be said for a commercial product, sprayed with chemicals and pesticides, harvested by the tonne, shipped half way across the country in huge refrigerated trucks and made in factories with computerised technology. For factory farming read factory wine production. The relationship with the soil, the land, the growing season becomes irrelevant ‚Ästif anything it‚Äôs a hindrance. Flavour profiles can be, and are, determined by artificial yeasts, oak chips and corrective acidification. The logical extension of this approach would be to use flavouring essences to achieve the style of ‚Äúwine‚Ä̬† you require. Nature is not only driven out with a pitchfork, but also assailed with the full battery of technology. The fault lies as much at the door of the supermarkets and high street multiples as with the wine-makers. Volume and stability are demanded: stability and volume are produced. Style precedes substance because there is a feeling that wine has to be made safe and easy for consumers.

Such confected wines are to real wine what chemical air-fresheners are to wild flowers or as a clipped hedge is to a forest. Paul Draper, of Ridge Vineyards, highlights this dichotomy in what he calls traditional wine-making as opposed to industrial or process wine-making. (My italics)

Whilst it is no bad thing to have technically competent wines, it does promote a culture of what Draper calls Consumer Acceptance Panels and an acceptance of mediocrity. To adapt Hazlitt’s epigram, rules and models destroy genius. Wines are being made to win the hearts and wallets of supermarket buyers by appealing to a checklist, a common denominator of supposed consumer values. Result? Pleasant, fruity, denatured wines branded to fit into neatly shaved categories: vini reductio ad plonkum. Those guilty of dismissing terroir as romantic whimsy are just as much in awe to the science of winemaking by numbers (or voodoo winemaking as I prefer to call it). But where is the diversity, where is the choice?

les caves de pyrene

Man cannot live by brand alone…

Research shows that branded wines dominate the market (i.e. the supermarket); these wines must therefore reflect what people enjoy drinking. This is a bogus inference, not to say an exaltation of mediocrity‚ĶWhere is the supposed consumer choice ‚Äst when week after week certain influential journalists act as advocates for boring supermarket wines rather than pointing people in the direction of specialist shops and wine merchants?¬†How do we know that consumers wouldn‚Äôt prefer real wines (and paying a little more for them)? Those companies who commission surveys to support their brands are not asking the right people the right questions (otherwise they‚Äôd get the wrong answers).

There will always be branded wines, and there is a place for them, but the dead hand of globalism determines our prevailing culture of conservatism. Mass production ultimately leads to less choice and the eternal quest for a consistency denatures the product of nature with all its imperfections and angularities. We would like to give customers the opportunity to experience a diverse array of real wines produced by real people in real vineyards rather than bland wines that could be produced (and reproduced) in any region or country. There is enough mediocrity, vulgarity and cultural imperialism in our lives. It is time to reclaim wine as something individual, pleasurable and occasionally extraordinary.

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