Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Wine additives

Back in November, while the wine world was in Rioja talking about the future, I penned a piece on the future of wine writing. In it I said I was worried about the kind of information the consumer would be receiving from new media.

While Twitter and video and blogs are very useful sources of information, I still have enormous worries about the popularity of Randall Grahm and Gary Vaynerchuck. Because one's a winemaker and the other's a wine seller. Whether they like it or not, they have conflicts of interest. And they are the most listened-to people in the wine realm of social media.

So what about this piece (a blog which I got through Twitter...) on additives in wine? A pertinent question. Are we ready to be told how much Tartaric Acid, sugar, Citric Acid, PMS (Potassium Metabisulfite), tannin, etc. has been put into our wine? Personally, I can take it either way. It's like corks. There are better, more scientifically-proven closures out there, but I'm quite happy to be blind to that, just as I am happy to be blind to what goes on in the winery.

Because whether you like it or not, any given winery in the world has a room of test tubes and pipettes. You have the option to see winemaking as scientific food production (which is essentially what it is) or you can shut your eyes and believe it is an esoteric craft, touched by nature. The more we clamour for information, the more we risk losing part of the enjoyment of wine.

But let me return to my original point. Who wrote the blog? Well, CleanSkins Wine Company. They specialise in organic and biodynamic wine. They patently have an interest in promoting wines that have no 'additives'.

many wine lovers would cringe if they knew how many additives are routinely added to commercial wines, even more so if they also understood why the additives were being used

Which is a fair point. But. Point one: PMS is regularly used in making biodynamic wine - because sulphur is a naturally-occurring element. Now, find me a wine additive that isn't naturally-occurring...can't think of one? Thought not. Point two: isn't burying a cow's horn filled with cow dung in the ground an additive? If you believe it has an effect on the wine, then surely it is. Much like irrigation - it's not a naturally-occurring phenomenon and it isn't directly added to the wine, but it does affect it.

These bigger questions go unasked because (a) ClearSkins Wine wisely avoids them and (b) just as the consumer might have limited knowledge of what goes on in the winery laboratory, we have even less understanding of what biodynamics or organics entails.

So in calling for more detailed labelling and at the same time asking for a more natural approach we are, in effect, going from an increased popular understanding towards something more esoteric. Which is much the same as me turning a blind eye to the defects of a cork closure and wishing, with closed eyes and a Romantic mind, that wine was still a natural craft.

  • A final point: Perhaps I'm being unfair to Randall and Gary's audiences by assuming they're not capabale of discerning the messages of their heroes from those of independent wine writers. Perhaps I'm really saying, via my comments on the ClearSkins blog, that those of us on social media should be much much more attentive to the background of what we are watching and reading.
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