Chipping Away At Old Wine Attitudes


It appears that the European Union is on track to institute a variety of winemaking and wine marketing reforms, assuming the top winemaking countries don’t find a way to shoot them down. What I find fascinating is the rationale for the opposition to the reforms.

Among the reforms:

-The EU will remove 500,000 acres of the "least viable" vines. This is roughly the amount of all of the vines planted in California

-Oak chips use will not be permitted

-Varietal designation may appear on the label.

-Some wines will be allowed to carry a geographic designation with only 85% of the grapes coming from the region stated on the label.

Sound familiar? If should if you are familiar with California wine. These reforms would essentially put European winemakers on par with their New World counterparts. It would, in essence, allow Europe to take that one hand out from behind its back when competing on the world stage.

The "Traditionalist" response is summed in this quote:

"Quality wines have been built
around a tradition using certain rules, and these should be kept and
respected. This cannot be changed just like that.”

In fact, things can be changed "just like that" if the EU can muster the political support. And they should be. What the traditionalists fear is that the high quality wines of Europe will see their reputation diminished by others who now may produce wines with the Bordeaux, Rioja and other famous geographic names on the bottle that don’t have to use the same standards that were in place when these regions became famous for their wines and created wines of a particular style based on those standards.

The real problem here is a misunderstanding and even a disrespect for the consumer and wine lover. Those folks who know and and appreciate what has been called quality in Germany and France and Italy will still find the high quality wines. They’ll see out those wines that reflect the kind of "authenticity" they are looking for. Of course a new kind of burden will fall on the traditionalists to better communicate what sets them apart. They’ll need to explain why their use of 100% oak barrels is preferred. They’ll need to explain the intellectual significance of using 100% estate grapes.

Meanwhile, the liberalized, "New World" regulations will allow European vintners to more easily deliver to market the kind of wines and labels that many in the New and Old Worlds seem to want and seem to understand. The ripping out of over-cropped, crappy vineyards should eventually allow the EU to stop subsidizing the production of industrial alcohol from wine grapes.

I like these reforms.



2 Responses

  1. Sean Sellers - July 11, 2007

    Stumbled across your post from a Sphere-link on my friend’s site and I have to say that I, in my present work, I have encountered a lot of the kind of winemakers that you describe.
    I think some of the traditionalists are worried about what the EU rulings could mean for what are ostensibly cloistered family businesses. I think they’re afraid that it will lead to a European Hardy’s or Gallo – two winemakers that I think of as the Coke of wine. I actually agree with you and think that the changes would help make many European wine makers more agile and approachable. And from what I can tell, the winemakers that have simply tried to ape the Californians or Aussies with twee looking labels miss the point and have failed miserably.

  2. Eric Nyeste - July 11, 2007

    I can see how the traditional producers of fine French wines would take offense at this move, but they don’t have to change their labels. This is a solid opportunity to introduce old-world wines to a world population of uneducated wine drinkers.
    I was initially insulted by the prospect that the effort I had placed in learning to read French wine labels would be for nothing; then I realized that the wine labels worth reading would not change as a result of new legislation. As long as the makers of average French wine change only their labels, and not their wines, average consumers might just enjoy an unoaked “France Chardonnay” over a Chablis, yet develop a taste for old-world. Its like eating dim-sum without asking, “what’s in it?”

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