Megan Krigbaum published a great article today in Punch about bargain-buster wines and their provenance. Much of the impetus for creating Vineration is the belief that good wine can come in a variety of price ranges, but that wine must be honestly made.
Many of the industrial wine producers, such as The Wine Group who Megan researches in this article, are so shady about what they put into a bottle. There is no way for the average consumer, much less a journalist, to discover how what their wines are made. But I can guarantee it isn't simply fermented grape juice.
It's not that unfined wines are inherently better, or that adding sulfites is wrong... It isn't. The problem with inexpensive wine is that there is no transparency in how it's made. Consumers should know that their cheap wine is more of a chemistry experiment than it is real wine.
The best comparison I can think of is between fruit juices. On the juice isle of the supermarket, it's clearly marked which products are 100% real fresh-squeezed juice, with no preservatives or additives, and which is the sugary quasi-juice, with 10% juice concentrates, loads of hi-fructose corn syrup, ascorbic acid, artificial colors, and loads of other ingredients. People still buy Capri Sun, Hi-C, and other fake juice, but at least they can read the ingredients on the back of the label. They know what they're getting. We wine drinkers don't.
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.
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.