Laboratory Wine vs. Blue Nun

It cannot be that American artificial wine
ends up on the German market without the consumer recognizing it. The German quality wines will be
drowned by cheap laboratory wines because of this deal."

"Artificial Wine"

"Laboratory Wine."

The German Farm minister who is dissing American winemakers here is doing so in the course of explaining his opposition to the tentative trade deal between the U.S. and EU. It’s nice to see that the French, with all their smug, condescending, self-assurance still have something to teach the rest of Europe.

What Herr Farm Minister Horst Seehofer is referring to when he speaks of our "artificial" and "laboratory" wines is the practice in some circles of using "oak chips" to get that oaky quality at a lower price and the use of adding water to higher alcohol wines. The Germans can’t do this, by law.

You’d think it would be enough for the good Farm Minister to simply ask that production practices between the EU and the U.S. be brought closer into agreement with each other. But that’s not quite enough. They feel that denigration is the way to go.

Let’s take a look at the Oak Chip issue, which I assume is the inspiration for his reference to American "artificial" and "laboratory"wines. Yet, it is true that putting oak chips into a vat of wine impart an oak flavor to the wine is a bit of an artificial approach to winemaking. After all, squished and fermented grapes do not come naturally with that smoky, vanilla aromas. Yet, when you get right down to it, I think we can all agree that aging a wine in a barrel made of oak imparts an artificial flavor also.

I can’t quite put my finger on the reason so many European leaders feel they need to denigrate American winemakers as they traverse the political landscape. I’m inclined to believe it’s some combination of desperation and transatlantic politics, combined with pandering to a culture and people that recently have come to despise "America" for our recent change in our diplomatic posture.

The French have made the arrogant dismissal of anything foreign an art. I’d have thought the Germans would have been more creative.

Posted In: Wine Business


7 Responses

  1. St.Vini - December 20, 2005

    Nice soft touch with the Blue Nun, I love that. I posted something similar today – this whole “artificial” vs. “natural” winemaking argument is just silly as you correctly point out with the barrel example. Its more about the acceptance of technology (which I’m sure the basket press suffered from too!)….

  2. Ken Payton - December 20, 2005

    Mr. Fermentation,
    We have no ‘diplomatic culture’. We have a war culture, and therefore, an ‘America first’ culture. The good news is that it is temporary, transient. We shall one day soon find the rest of the world interesting again. Should you, Mr. Fermentation, have the good fortune of visiting other lands, and of talking to other peoples, you will find them worth listening to. Perhaps you will drink their wines, as a guest in their houses. Maybe then you will back off your ‘world vrs. US’ mentality. I hope so. As of now, you run the risk of becoming the Rush Limbaugh of the wine bloggers, without a palate worth paying attention to.
    ‘Oak chips’? ‘Adding water’? Why not sugar, spice, vanilla, coffee? At the end of the day, what on earth do you believe wine to be?

  3. Tom Wark - December 20, 2005

    Thanks for commenting.
    Here’s the thing. I tend to get a tad strident when I read someone bash an entire country’s winemaking experience as “artificial” and Laboratory based. I think you’ll agree, whether the wine is in barrels or in contact with chips, it’s an artificial flavor hitting the wine. And the Germans, French, Italians, Aussies, Americans and Martians all do this. Who’s artificial?
    My real introduction to European wines came in the mid eighties when I was married to a young French lady. Over the course of a decade or so we had the opportunity to travel across Europe on a number of occassions, taking rest in a number of homes and drinknig a good deal of wine from across the continent.
    En fait, nous avons souvent bu des vins des caves de sa famille et nos amis. Je suis en fait un francophile. Mais je ‘n’apprécie pas n’importe qui déprécie les personnes entières.
    As for become the “Rush Limbaugh” of wine bloggers I assume you refer to his right wing politics and not his popularity. Correct? And finally, I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone to pay attention to my palate. But that’s an idea to consider.

  4. Jerry Hall - December 20, 2005

    As for the oak chips, one hopes to get what they pay for. Certainly, one cannot expect to pay $13 and get a bottle of Napa Estate Cab (or any other Appellation with high real estate prices), aged in half or more new French oak, with yields at 2250 kg/hectare.

  5. Peter Finkelstein - December 20, 2005

    Don’t you think it is also so fashioned that the wine industry insists on using grapes? Certainly, something else can be used as a base for wine that liberate wine from the old notion of vines, growing season and one harvest per year. No doubt, much of the current research on GMO is the prelude to such innovations.
    Hopefully, the trade won’t fixate on “the grape,” and the supposed romance of the vine. This is the same type of backward thinking that makes people still want corks rather than clean closures.
    But progress will win!

  6. Tom Wark - December 21, 2005

    By the time I’m done, everyone will be making Walnut Wine from concentrate and water.

  7. Peter Finkelstein - December 21, 2005

    Don’t discount the use of water. A lot of people are adding water these days to calm down their grape vinifications.
    Yet another reasons to move on….

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