Last month, my hometown newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, published a two-part investigative series into the farm-to-fable concept in restaurants and farmers markets. This groundbreaking story unearths the truth that - surprise, surprise - most restaurants and retailers that tout themselves as "farm-to-table" are liberally stretching that term, if not boldly lying about it. Here are links to the articles:
Part 1: Farm-to-Table Restaurants
Part 2: Farmers Markets
While this investigation only covered one region of Florida, it's not an unreasonable assumption to believe this goes on all over the country. It's too difficult for consumers to verify the source of produce, seafood, and meat, so we're forced to take vendors at their word. Journalism like this puts the pressure on retailers to be honest and the government to put more regulation and enforcement in place.
Similarly, half-truths and outright lies exist in the wine industry. It's impossible to verify most claims found on a bottle's label in the store unless you already know the producer or have time to kill in the aisle Googling for information. If you live near a wine region, you have the luxury of being able to visit the winery and ask direct questions. But even then, some claims can be stretched or generalized by tasting room staff.
I'll keep on the lookout for good investigative journalism on these practices by winemakers. We all deserve to be eating and drinking authentic products.
Take some time and listen to the "I'll Drink To That" podcast episode featuring Jeffrey Patterson, winemaker and owner of Mount Eden Vineyards. I love his approach to winemaking.
Today I drummed up this quote from him, and it struck me as incredibly true in light of the dinner we spent with friends last night. We drank a reserva Malbec which I had carried around Argentina for weeks looking for a place to ship a case home. Upon uncorking the 2011 Jose Luis Mounier Reserva Malbec, it was too bold and too tannic. Disappointing after telling a great story about the beautiful estate and the bottle's journey. But I loved how the wine opened up over the course of the next hours, and how as the tannins settled in my mouth, the flavors began to come through.
“Martin’s only mentor was this old-world Frenchman, Paul Masson. Wine in his world was not as it is today. Wine was fundamental, sometimes great, sometimes not-so-great. Paul Masson once said, ‘I don’t care how a wine tastes, I care about how a wine drinks.’ The meaning is that the last glass is the best glass – that wine should evolve over the course of an evening. This is meaningful because wine criticism today is only a brief sniff-sip-spit regimen. One cannot truly appreciate a wine’s true qualities and future potential without spending an evening with it. “
Jeffrey Patterson, Winemaker, Mount Eden Vineyards
In my research about the much-loathed Three Tier System of the American alcohol industry, I came across this interesting article. Featured in Washington Monthly in 2012, it explores the agglomeration of the alcohol industry and the vertical integration of the production-distribution-retail model as large corporations break down barriers. The article mostly examines the beer industry, but similar trends can be found in the wine industry. I loved this quote:
"Horizontal integration of alcohol production. Vertical integration of distribution and retail. Loosened local regulations. National chain stores. Streamlined marketing. Volume pricing. Alcohol as an ordinary commodity. America resembles Britain more and more each passing day. How do you like them apples?"
The article also examines the phenomenon from a perspective of curbing alcoholism, in relation to high levels of alcoholism in Britain. While I readily admit that alcoholism and binge drinking are growing problems, I'm less sure that the Three Tier System does much to prevent it. I have a hard time believing raising alcohol prices prevents alcoholics from getting drunk. And binge drinking is a social issue tied to not being raised with a healthy respect for alcohol, the age 21 drinking law, and Millennial "late blooming".
Overall, the Three Tier System helps corporate wine producers and can hurt independent, small-scale winemakers. The incentives are stacked in favor of large wineries who can move lots of standardized product. And those corporations only continue to grow and acquire more labels.
Other non-travel ramblings on wine and business.