A Conspiracy of Dunces?
Yep…grape growers are getting screwed.
As this article points out, the trend toward higher alcohol wines (wait!…it’s not a trend, is it. What we have at this point is a paradigm.) means growers are getting squeezed. In order to satisfy an apparent desire among consumers for tutti fruiti wines, the grapes must stay on the vines longer, slowly dehydrating. In many cases, growers who do this to satisfy the increasing demand for high sugar grapes that turn into high alcohol wines, see a loss of 10-12% of their tonnage levels. They get paid by the ton. The really ugly thing is that often times the water that has been lost through dehydration is added back into the wine by the WINERY!! Water is a heck of a lot cheaper than grape juice.
The trend toward higher and higher alcohol wines is a very complex issue that speaks to consumer demand, changed growing conditions, the replanting of grapes int he 1990s after the phylloxera infestation, the ratings game and more.
We are going to see this trend continue.
It will come to a head I think sometime around 2007 when the bulk of the 2004 wines are on the market. The 2004 vintage in the North Coast was very hot due to a heat spike late in the growing season. Many growers had no choice but to pick grapes at ridiculously high sugars. This will translate into ridiculously high alcohol levels in wines that aren’t usually associated with high alcohol.
I’m no fan of high alcohol wines. I don’t think they are balanced. I don’t think they work well with food. and I don’t think they are attractive representations of what grapes are capable. However, they make for easy drinking, soft, simple stuff. Well, Yahoo!!
In the end, I see the trend toward higher alcohol wines as an indication that wineries and growers really don’t understand the dynamics of wine making with new clones and new plantings. And I see it as a shortcut to understanding the interaction between man and terroir.
If I were a grapegrower though, whose livelihood was based on, say, 50 acres of grapes, I’d see the trend toward higher alcohol wines as a conspiracy against me. I just might be right, rather than paranoid.