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The danger of fake wine

Naomi Kleinís No Logo is an important book, although I confess that I didnít finish it. I got about two-thirds of the way through before the repetition and heavy agenda put me off. But it is important, despite what I felt to be its flaws, because it points out the ugliness and soullessness of a world touched by Ďglobalizationí. The dominance of big business results in a popular culture that is uniform and sterile, with branded goods dominating, and a constant push of relentless advertising invading our mental space. Our senses are bombarded daily with commercial messages. Our participation in society itself is, above all else, as consumers.

While Klein does a great (and rather depressing job) of pointing out what is wrong with our culture, her solutions are rather fewer. The big danger is that if you start interfering with a faulty system you can make it a whole lot worse: despite its flaws, the free market has delivered us a society that is largely functional Ė at least compared with societies based around planned economies, which generally suck. Ideology is dangerous stuff when it isnít countered by healthy pragmatism.

Still, this doesnít mean we canít gripe about what is ugly in our society, and seek to change it. In my gripe, Iím going to focus on the wine business, not because I think it is especially important compared with issues such as health, poverty and education, but simply because this is my corner of the world.

I find branded wines upsetting, largely. They are dressed up to look like interesting wines; made to sound as if they have been lovingly created from a single vineyard by artisanal winemakers in small, rustic cellars Ė aged gracefully in oak barrels with the attentive hand of the grower never far away.

The truth is they are industrial concoctions manufactured in huge factory-like wineries from machine-picked grapes that come from huge, flat, irrigated vineyards, and cooked up with all manner of winemaking trickery. They are blended together to offend as few consumers as possible (i.e. to taste as little of Ďwineí and as much of fruit juice as possible), sometimes sweetened with a couple of grams (or more) of residual sugar, and sold by deep discounting to give the punter an impression of quality.

All very well, you argue, but the world needs good cheap wine. I couldnít agree more. But why canít we have cheap honest wine? Why does there have to be this binary choice between cheap, branded, fake wine and expensive, authentic fine wine? [In truth, there is now as much fake authentic fine wine as there is honest stuff Ė the branders want to wean you from fake cheap wine to their fake expensive wine.]

Is there actually such a thing as fake wine? I think so. Itís wine that is made with the specific intention of being something that it is not. It is like a person who puts on a front. They may be very good at acting out their persona, but eventually the lack of genuineness shows.

Cheap, honest wine still exists, and thanks to the growing natural wine movement, looks like it will have a future. Youíll have to search for it, though, because the modern retail environment, with its demand for uniformity, continuity of stock, and large volumes means that only the big players get invited to the party. Honest, affordable wine is most commonly made by smaller growers who canít deal with the quantities needed by major retailers. Increasingly these producers are finding it hard to access the marketplace.

The danger with fake wine is that it could kill the whole wine category. If wine becomes just another manufactured beverage, shorn of its interest and diversity, then whatís the motivation for consumers to trade up? Will people ever think wine appreciation is a worthy hobby if all they are weaned on is industrial crap? Branded wine is like a movie set: looks great from the outside, but pass behind the edifice and itís all plywood and 2 by 4s.

What can stem this rising tide of branded wine? I reckon some gently subversive counter movement is needed. People need to be champions of honest, natural wine. If thereís an increased demand, then perhaps the continued existence of real wine will be assured.

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