10 Jan 2011

6 Wine wishes for the New Year

There is a strong tradition, in France and elsewhere, which leads people to emit wishes for things that they would like to see happen in the coming year. This fairly useless practice is nonetheless symptomatic of some of the subjects that currently preoccupy us. Having been totally self-centered in the resolution I published here on December 31st for the new year (modify a motorbike I own), I will now attempt to be a little more altruistic, as well as giving this a professional slant by limiting my wishes to the field of wine. If it is true that most of these wishes apply, first and foremost, to the country in which I live (France), many of them can easily be extended to situations in other wine-producing and consuming countries.  

Wish number 1
That the French government declare wine to be a national priority, national heritage or some other formula that actually gives it the status and promotional assistance which its position and financial importance (the wine & spirits industry is France's 3rd biggest earner in terms of balance of payments) merit. In this, France would join countries like Spain and Argentina which have already taken such a step.

Wish number 2
That the powers-that-be cease creating new wine appellations all the time, and start, on the contrary, to drastically reduce their numbers. A reasonable goal would be to halve the actual number of 480 or so (for AOPs alone). If one adds in the IGP category the numbers rise even further! Most of these are quite meaningless in terms of helping to sell the stuff, and the whole system is totally counter-productive. In any event, it is the winemaker who makes the wine and determines its quality, not the name of the appellation.

Wish number 3
That all French wines work together to promote themselves on export markets, and stop shooting themselves (and each other) in the foot (or elewhere) by thinking and playing individually and not as a team.

Wish number 4
That people stop using the silly term "natural wine". It is erroneous and misleading, as no wine can be "natural", with the possible exception of vinegar. If they want to talk about no added sulphur, or some other part of their wine-making pratice, that is fine, but the whole concept of "natural wine" is ridiculous. In general I would like to see all such labels and phoney sub-categories (and that includes organic) disappear. Wine is about taste, not labels. And the simplistic self-righteousness of those who bandy these labels about is often nauseous.

Wish number 5
That the vast majority of restaurants, brasseries and bistrots in France who rip off their customers by charging far too much for indifferently chosen wines that are usually badly stored and served finally understand that wine is not just a milk-cow in their miserable business plan, but can be fun, attractive and help build them a reliable consumer base, also generating image and reasonable profit. If they need to see how this can be achieved, they should take a couple of trips to Italy, England, or several other countries. There are even some good examples in France! Only then will they be allowed to winge about the drop in wine consumption.

Wish number 6
That screwcaps or glass stoppers become compulsory for all bottled wines. This will ensure that any of the minor drawbacks than can sometimes occur with these closure sytems, such as reduction for certain wines, get solved quickly. We can then move on and enjoy all wines for their true worth, and not for the part of them that the totally unreliable cork stopper deigns to leave unscathed by premature oxidation or other inacceptable deviations.

And just what are the chances that we see just one of these wishes fulfilled? About the same as seeing the end of war in the world, I am afraid, the definition of a optimist being a "realistic pessimist". We can, however, live in hope.


  1. Wish # 1 : I attended the Artvinum conference in Stuttgart in April 2009, as an invited guest. Indeed, each table of 12 at the gala dinner included one local winemaker, and one “foreigner” from outside Germany. The event was chaired by a very significant official: the Minister-President of the State of Baden-Württemberg himself ! He reminded the audience, in his introductory speech, that this area of Germany had 3 poles of wealth: the car industry (Porsche and Mercedes, for instance), the chemical industry (BASF to name just one) and ... agriculture with wine as its flagship. And that he intended to further develop it. This is already good enough. But he also added that your average German drinks approx. 30 liters of wine every year (I’m not sure about the exact figure, but the order of magnitude is correct) but that HE, for one, drinks about twice that amount! And he is not known to be a drunkard but rather a hard worker. When is Coke-drinking President Sarkozy going to attend such a conference?
    Wish # 2: When I first started making my own wine, anno 2005, I declared them all as AOC’s (and was entitled to), to be fair to the local colleague. Now (2010 is the vintage to be bottled), I kept just one cuvée at this status, for all the reasons you list. My other wines will all belong to the newly created “Vin de France” category (an appropriate description).
    Wish # 3: I’m not sure that’s the solution. First of all, winemakers are individualists. Second, what’s so special about “French” wines? Nothing, if you ask me. True, there exists a large number of very good (even some outstanding) wines in that country, and a long standing tradition, but that also holds true for Italy, for instance. No, quality and presence is the solution. And this is exactly the stumbling block for small quality estates: it is impossible to be present in the field or at the winery and on the export markets at the same time, let alone have the skills to do both.
    Wish # 4 : I back the idea that sulphur should be used with some sense, and not “liberally” as some still do. But the fashion of “no sulfite” at all is just a fashion and also has its limitations.
    Still, it is part of the customer’s wishes. Some winemakers succeed in offering splendid wines with hardly any added sulphur: brilliant. But this should not become a goal in se. Moreover, many of the wines elaborated without the protection of sulfites would appear to be faulty in some way or another to most of us. This being said, you are right, ”natural” is definitely a misnomer.
    Wish # 5: 100 % correct! Problem is: restaurant bosses don’t read your blog, winemakers are not in the position to make these comments. So, please, bloggers, tell them you want better wines, at a better price, with more original choices, and to take the bottles with you if you don’t finish them. And once you have achieved this: behave accordingly and buy some more!
    Wish # 6: I opted for screwcaps rather than cork. There are alternative solutions, all of them with draw-backs as well. The problem with glass stoppers (I find them very appealing) is their ... silicon seal, not the ideal material as far as health is concerned! The screwcaps seem to put some customers off as not being “romantic”, but apart from that, they offer a lot of technical advantages. Of course, as you mention, great care should be taken to bottle a wine that is not reductive any more. But that’s part of the job and any decent professional (even a recent one) should be able to handle that!
    In order to achieve “The Magnificent Seven” status, I would add one more wish: that blogs like yours, and ideas like yours, should become more wide-spread!

  2. As usual, Luc makes good points here. And thank you for number 7, a magnificent compliment.
    By the way, I found this comment in my spam box on the blog. Big brother is out there?