Friday, 15 January 2010

Why is there no militancy in wine?

Loving wine is a hobby of the affluent. The ones that don't love it quite so much buy Jacob's Creek or Yellow Tail. And we're fine with that. But the ones that truly love wine, that buy En Primeur, that sit down at dinner tables and try to catch people out with blind tastings, the ones that will always love Lafite, they're the ones that have the money, that have the power, that represent everything that is so so wrong with this world.

I am prompted to write this by the reaction of the wine world to the disaster in Haiti. Disaster it undoubtedly is. As I write, everyone who's anyone in that closed little world is on Twitter trying to encourage people to give money or to encourage wineries to donate tasting fees to victims, etc (I might make the snide comment that retweeting something that encourages someone else to help people in misery is morally lazy, but I won't). Still, it won't surprise me if there were some benefit tastings set up so that people can give some money and sip a decent claret while Haitians pile bodies on the roads.

But my real point is this: what were we doing for Haitians before the earthquake? What were the wine groups in America and France - two countries so complicit in the county's previous misery - doing to help them?

What is the wine world doing about the human rights abuses in China?

What did the wine world do about the plight of the Palestinians, about that of the Iraqis, and so on and on and on and on and on?

What did it do? Not a lot. Because it follows the general direction of right-wing politics because as I said, those that really love wine, probably voted Conservative or Republican. Because wine lovers are happy while the money is coming in and while we can drink our Lafite, the plebs can hoover up the Yellow Tail.

Why does nobody, and I mean no-one, in the wine world take a stand on some of these issues? Why does Robert Parker pay tribute to the sacrifices of the American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan yet fail to mention the plight of the people of both countries? Why? Because the people that buy good wine will probably walk away from them if they do. An earthquake is different. A natural disaster has no politics.

Let's go back to China. Not one word of criticism for Lafite buying vineyards in the country? No, because it makes sense. It follows the line of investment, of growth, of exploitation. Perhaps it follows the line of early 20th century liberal economics (trading with 'bad' countries will eventually encourage them to see the wisdom of liberal values), but no one wagged their finger or shook their head did they?

I'll take another example. The market price of barrels goes down to around €500 in Bordeaux and the south of France. Producers start to moan, and we ignore them - it's the lesson of a free market, it's surplus to requirements so it's natural. The CRAV get active in the south, and we are outraged. Again, they should just get used to the free market.

But when this happens in the Mosel, suddenly we're facing a catastrophe. All of a sudden everyone (who's got the money) has to spend it on Riesling. We have to try to buck the trend, there has to be a solution, this is a cultural disaster.

Only the unwashed and uneducated drink Bordeaux Supérieur or a Languedoc Merlot. Mosel Riesling is a nobler product, worth saving.

And as you watch the prices of top Bordeaux get higher and higher while the supermarket shelves bulge with ever more reductions, perhaps you can draw the parallels between our economic system and our total lack of moral integrity.

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At 15 January 2010 08:15 , Blogger Oliver Styles said...

In the sense that it's charity, I think you're right, it is a personal thing.

But when it becomes a campaign (like the current efforts to save vineyards in the Mosel - and don't get me wrong their loss would be a terrible shame) that's asking for collective action. Part of what I'm trying to ask is why there is no collective action on other issues (albeit quite angrily, I concede).

The other aspect of what I'm trying to illustrate is the increasing gulf in wine prices (something that mirrors, to a certain extent, the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor).

I suppose I'm also trying to show that in many cases wine is no longer a hobby.

At 16 January 2010 17:24 , Blogger Tobias Ø said...

Good thought-provoking piece. The image of claret-sipping for disaster relief is pretty disturbing.

In my liberal mind I feel there is a distinction between those that ought to be doing humanity service as atonement, your LVMHs, AXAs and other fat cats etc. (who may or may not know who they are), while there are farmers who manage only just by a sensitive margin. And those who don't, but I guess that's what you mean by the gulf.

But a romantic answer to your title, because wine is a harmonious product? I imagine that militancy in one's public profile is perceived to make profits suffer, disturb delicate power structures and end up as a shot in the foot, and maybe that goes for any divisive politics. It would certainly make sense for an agricultural industry to be visibly active or have a leading role in the obviously crucial environmental work that needs to be done, but I can't say I've noticed many who dare to be noisy.


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