Andrew Jefford and the Contamination of Wine
Andrew Jefford certainly ranks as one of the most thoughtful people to ever write about wine. If you need proof of this, simply read the transcript of the speech he gave to the conference of Wine Communicators of Australia in 2012: “Wine and Astonishment”. It’s a profound piece I’ve gone back to read over and over simply for its beauty, insight and humility.
It’s because of the soundness and creativity I have long enjoyed in Jefford’s thinking that I was a bit taken aback by his most recent essay in Decanter entitled, “Wine & Money”, and in which he argues that money is the greatest contaminant to fine wine.
In it, Jefford bemoans the fact that some wines are used for nothing more than investment purposes and for conspicuous consumption—as a means to boost the social status of the owner of the wine:
“More prominently than that, though, fine wines are stuffed with fifty-pound notes, fifty-euro notes and fifty-dollar bills. It’s the money that makes ‘top wine’ an object of popular fascination. A swelling percentage of those buying them do so principally in order to grow money, without any intention of drinking them, as an investment prospect. And a substantial minority of those who do finally pull the corks chiefly enjoy the taste of money inside them. Thanks to the social-media revolution, their peers can now instantly watch them sip money in this deliciously coded manner: a uniquely stylish opportunity to enhance status.”
He’s correct in this, of course. But he must also know that the percentage of wine buyers who use wine in this way is so minuscule and so irrelevant as to be nearly meaningless to the project that is wine appreciation. Moreover, the percentage of wines that are purchased with the intent to never be drunk but rather sold or to burnish the social standing of the buyer is even smaller than the buyers that pursue these wines.
Jefford seems willing to engage in what he calls “Corbynist” wine writing despite the fact that he acknowledges that there is a bounty of other wines not contaminated by money. And toward the end of his Decanter article he plows forward in his Corbynist pitch:
“Those who care for wine’s broader culture, though – a dappled landscape of intricacy, depth and subtlety – have to concede that great tracts of it are now being burned off by money, and rendered forever inaccessible save for those for whom money is a wine’s primary marker.
But this simply isn’t true. I don’t need to concede that there are “large tracts” of wine that have been contaminated by money and inaccessible. I need only concede that there are a mere tiny fraction of the world’s wines that are inaccessible to most people. What I instead would insist is that these wines don’t matter, particularly when I can find thousands and thousands of wines that are fairly and accessibly priced that provide me with insight into their makers and their source. I don’t’ need for a moment to consider the nature of a wine that is priced at $400 a bottle. I have far too many priced at $30 a bottle that are of great interest that I’ll never have the time in my life to taste.
Over the past 24 months, more than 230,000 wines have been approved for sale in the United States by the federal government. If more than one-half of one percent of these wines cost more than $30 a bottle I’d be shocked.
Andrew Jefford cares for the wine drinker. He clearly cares for the health and well-being of the winemaker and the industry in which he works. He need not be concerned with the price of Petrus, La Tache, Tignanello, Grange, Screaming Eagle or any other collectible or investment grade wine. It just doesn’t matter.