Don’t let the title deceive you, because this post is not what you think it’s going to be about. We at Catavino have already laid out our rules of disclosure, and hope that we’re abiding by a code of conduct that is both fair and even handed. But ironically, this is not the type of disclosure I want to talk about. What I want to ask everyone is this: should a winery be honest with the consumer about their winemaking practices? Should they honestly tell us how a wine is made? Should they honestly tell us everything they do? Does it really matter? And if it doesn’t matter, why bother telling us anything at all?
I ask this question after coming off three weeks of wine tasting, while listening to over fifty wineries try and convince me that what they do is different and sets them apart from others. I’ve heard how they use X type of oak on there wines in various combinations and with various ages of barrels. I’ve listen to the way they gently set their grapes in boxes of no more than 12-15 kgs, restricting themselves to only one layer, or maybe two at the very most. How they cold macerate their wines for 1, 2, 3…day, or that handpicking grapes is ideal, but adjusting acidity is bad. Don’t forget that pumping over is also bad(sometimes), but of course, gravity is good. Etc..etc…etc…snore………………………
The truth is, I’m sick of it!!! Not because I’m bored with the process, but rather I don’t know what to believe. Every winemaker I meet seems to have a new and revolutionary way of draining their wine from one barrel to the next in hopes of causing less trauma. One day I expect to hear that some new winery will just give you the barrel when you want to buy the wine, but you’ll need to consume the wine at the winery so as not to disturb it before you’ve had a chance to taste it. Generally, this information is fine, and sometimes even interesting, but unfortunately, much of it is BULL.
Now, I have no intention in turning this post into a Jerry Springer tell all show. Hence, I will not be sharing names, nor will I be calling out anyone as a liar, but I will tell you some facts that fellow wine writers know to be true, but fellow winedrinkers, may not. Things that
- Fact #1: There are Parker 90+point wines that use mechanical harvesters to collect grapes and claim to only harvest by hand. Does it matter? Do you care when they tell you this? I thought wine was better if it’s from hand harvested grapes.
- Fact #2: Wineries sell wine from one DO to another to use when grape shortages occur or when wines need some extra color or extract. Illegal? Yes! Common? Hell yes!
- Fact #3: Some wineries will admit to adding acidity, while others claim they never adjust acidity. Do we care? I don’t, but why lie that you don’t?
- Fact #4: Wineries frequently blend their wines as we all know. This is important to understand because in many regions, wineries are required to only list the grapes that make up X% of the wine. If the variety does not reach this percentage, the winery can choose not to list the grape at all. Does this bother anyone? 100% Tempranillo wine with 5% Garnacha? I don’t care, but then again, why not tell us?
- Fact #5: Second labels. I know of a few wines currently in the US that are the same wine in different bottles. More frequently, you’ll find different labels for different countries/importers. Should we care? This is not the winery lying per se, but rather trying to sell extra wine to different markets. I can’t blame them for that. But what if these two wines received different ratings?
- Fact #6: Oak aged wines that come in under 10euros/dollars/pounds are 9.9 times out of ten flavored with chips/oak slats/oak tea bags. “Aged in French Oak” should read, “Aged with French oak”. We like our vanilla, but do we mind that there is no cellar? Other examples of sketchy wine making include Mega Purple.
- Fact #7: That 14.5% alcohol wine is actually 15% or more. Some places the rules are tighter than others, but in the end, it’s fashionable right now to be lower in alcohol, so winemakers do their best to reflect this! As we all know Cali Zin is a frequent culprit in this false hood.
In the end, none of these practices really bother me(some more than others). What does bother me is the wink-wink a winery might give me, or the slight pause before answering certain questions. Anyone that tastes and visits wineries knows what I mean. For me, the answer is simple. If the product is good and true to itself, why lie? I know the consumer has a romantic view that wineries need to cultivate, and that marketing can be more important than the wine, but really! Omission is one thing, but flat out lying about the way you make your wine is something else?
The real point I want to make is this. I do not want to see wine labels that look like this FDA debacle, where wineries have to label everything that ends up in a bottle. But I also want to know what the truth is behind the process.
What do you think? Do you care? Should wineries care? Any winemakers out there have any secrets they need to get off their chest? Let us know what you think!!
I am making no claims that any winery we visited or whose wines we tasted in the last week are telling lies. In truth we don’t know. This is more a series of thoughts that have built up over time.