Artist or Mad Scientist? The Folly of Label Disclosures
If it were up to me, I’d want no information to be required on a wine label except that which I deem useful. In particular, I would not want to have to disclose any particular ingredients or winemaking methods on a label. It’s not that there’s some stuff going in our wine that’s harmful. It’s just that some of the stuff that does go into the wine and some of the methods that are used to make wine don’t sound good.
A new survey (PDF) by WineRelease.com confirms my suspicion that consumers don’t like the sound of a the things winemakers do to wines. The survey asked both consumers and members of the wine trade to respond to various wine manipulation techniques by saying "those are ok", "those are ok, but need to be disclosed or those should not be allowed.
As you can imagine the consumers and wine trade folks had different ideas on these subjects, substances and techniques.
For example, 87% of consumers said that using oak staves (planks of oak basically) inside a stainless steel tank to give the wine an oaky character was OK to do. However, 52% of consumers said this practice should be disclosed on the label. What I find really interesting is that 13% of wine trade respondents also think it should be required to disclose this technique. Fully 13% of consumers believe that using oak staves in a tank should not be allowed at all.
This kind of result leaves me with a lot of questions. It appears that 52% of consumers believes there is something about using oak staves in a stainless steel tank that demands the practice be disclosed. You have to assume their view of this technique is so negative in some way that consumes need to be warned about it. Here I think we run into two things that are perceived as negative. In some case consumers must think something about this is bad for your health. That of course isn’t true. This goes to why I’d like to see no requirement on the labels for anything. Many winemaking techniques are so misunderstood that they can only have negative connotations to those who don’t understand them.
Meanwhile, there is so much misunderstanding of the use of oak staves in stainless steel among 13% of respondents that they don’t even believe the technique should be allowed at all. Now it’s possible that some of these folks are simply offended aesthetically by the idea that wine would be flavored with oak by staves rather than barrels that can’t see their way to allowing such an anti-natural technique. These folks are crazy.
A variety of other techniques are examined in the WineRelease.com survey including the use of oak chips, the acidification of wine, the addition of sugar to wine, the addition of dyes to wine and the dealcoholization of wine among other techniques of winemaking.
I’d like to have seen more folks included in the study. The opinions of only 469 consumers and 123 wine trade folks were examined. However, the results in most cases confirm my suspicion that putting many sorts of winemaking techniques on labels is likely to confuse consumers who don’t understand the nature of the technique.
It’s a pretty interesting survey that should give pause to those folks who make wine about various moves to require that more and more information be put on wine bottles.