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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Friday, 27 November 2009

Wine riots and the economy

Margaret Thatcher isn't popular among those of the liberal/left persuasion. In fact, she's pretty unpopular in popular culture generally. Her policies towards the miners in particular have been attacked as heartless and engendering the destruction of a way of life. As a child of the 80s I am ambivalent. I understand that the law of a free economy should be one that does not support unprofitable businesses. Supply should equal demand. Etcetera.

So why do I feel a twinge of sympathy for the Languedoc winegrowers on protest in the south of France? I have little time for their vandalism, but only because it's so pathetic. Others get their nickers in a twist about this. They smashed windows in a supermarket and a bank. Well, anyone who loves food has little sympathy for supermarkets and banks...well, banking isn't the world's favourite profession right now.

A lot of people feel they are wrong to protest about a guaranteed income, much as the miners might have been wrong to strike back in the 80s. On Twitter Jancis Robinson said of the protesters: 'They really do think we all owe them a living'. A comment I admit to also sympathising with. After all, why should EU farmers be subsidised for producing food and drink we don't need? It's the law of liberal or free economies that we should not have to prop them up. We shouldn't be interfering with it by supporting this over-production.

Well, this prompts a few questions. Is not asking people to buy locally-sourced food, in season, not interfering? If we took away all subsidies for EU produce, wouldn't we end up destroying hundreds of thousands of livelihoods across the member states? Do you, for one second, believe the USA (the bastion of liberal and free trade) does not do what it can to protect its own farmers against overseas competition?

And surely, a removal of subsidies should mean increased competition, and thus a better product? Or does increased competition mean a cheaper product, not necessarily a better one? I'd argue for the latter.

It's very easy to dismiss, offhand, protesters and picket lines. Especially when it consists of ten farmers standing 'round a brazier, enjoying a day off. But carrying our love of a free trade market to its logical conclusion, you are forced to pushing a lot of people into misery.

In Europe, it seems, much of my taxes go to being squandered by MEPs in Brussels (I'd love, for example, to see their accounts published in much the same way as MPs' expenses were revealed in the UK). I don't mind some of that keeping a few more grape-growers in business.

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