I always thought the end of the world would be a bright, sunny day. It’s been very hot this weekend. This is the time you’ve been waiting for if you work in wine. It is the moment we’ve been talking about for so long, that elusive hot day to have those Rose. Then I pick up the Guardian. The Guardian recommends Gallo’s Barefoot Shiraz. Speechless.
Yet I have seen a lot of recommendations for Gallo recently. Before Fiona Beckett in the Guardian, there was Jancis Robinson’s two posts on Gallo and Victoria Moore in Daily Telegraph. These are all people who taste a lot of wine and I respect. What is going on? Let’s put this another way.
If I saw a big up for Coca Cola from journalists, I’d ask questions. You’d have to ask questions. Coca Cola: it’s a classic taste of America. A brand icon of the 20th century. It is a big company and it is creating a product that a lot of people seem to love. But is it necessary to recommend it? And what does that mean, and what are the implications of promoting this soft drink in a national newspaper?
Then I see four pieces on this wine that really needs no introduction.
But I am not the only person who feels a bit queasy about this cheerleading, it’s just that I say it publicly on twitter. The response from journalists was along the lines of “I am looking after my readers,” and also “I think about taste only”.
I asked Jamie Goode* on twitter: if you have a wine that has a bad environmental track record, tastes GREAT, would you recommend it?
“Good wines tend to be made by good viticulture”.
This avoids the question. But at least it’s a fundamental point we agree on. (And the reverse, what if a wine doesn’t taste good but has good viticulture? That could be the summation of many natural wines. Yet, the opposite seems to be a hazier area).
There is a huge interest in how companies produce and their impact on the planet. In 2000, Naomi Klein published No Logo opening up a Pandora’s box of big brand bullying. For the wine industry, an industry that is so aligned and in touch with the weather, climate and environment, this seems to matter more. Wine is the connection between culture and nature.
Maybe we can’t expect more from our wine critics. They have a wine in front of them and they decide if it’s good. The whole system of wine judging seems to support this idea: wine is divorced from its place and judges by the hundreds in lab style conditions. But it is naive to think that this is the whole story. Especially when journalists are constantly talking about companies that are too big, wines that are natural with dubious tastes, and critical on certain points that are arcane to the most average reader. Also, as there is a well-developed PR industry to cater to wine journalists.
Maybe we expect too much from wine writers. We want them to be advocates of the best. But they are just trying to do their job like anyone else.
As Gallo is a wine seen everywhere I walked down to my local off-licence and asked him for a wine recommendation. He was stacking a bright pink Rose from Sicily. I said, is it any good? He said, It’s not bad. It’s 2 for £5.
Provenance is important. If you work in wine, you know this is what is true, and real, and what moves people to try something new. Where and how the wine is coming from has an impact on the wine. It is also one of the unique characteristics of wine. As someone who worked at Fosters, I know how the wine sector is treated when its seen the same as a brewery. It’s not good on many levels, and many people lose their jobs and good products get wrecked. Just look at Wynn’s Coonawarra.
I will lay it on the line. If you eat McDonald’s, you ipso facto support McDonald’s. If you buy from independents, you support independents. If you eat out at your local pub instead spending same amount on frozen food section in supermarket, this says something. Where you spend your money matters. This is not a new thing nor even that radical anymore. Companies are very aware of this. It’s a shame wine writers don’t seem to feel the same way as the people who work in the wine industry. Yes, they want to look after their readers rather than the industry that supports them, but I would wage a bet many readers would like to know the wine’s provenance if they were given a chance.
If you don’t think brands are an important issue, then you weren’t in London during the riots where gangs smashing and looting shops. Brands are what move people, whether this is right or wrong – the power is there.
Think and choose. If you want to drink a wine that is £7.19 from Gallo. Go right ahead. But don’t think your decision exists in a vacuum and doesn’t matter. Like those CCTVs during the riots, it’s being monitored every step of the way.