Socialism run amok! - Printable Version

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- hotwine - 06-22-2006 05:57 PM

A column on the editorial page of today's WSJ was written by a Ms Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development. Entitled "Message in a Bottle", it's all about how "Europe is producing too much wine for which there is no market... Stocks are already equivalent of one year's production, squeezing wine-makers' incomes". Even such measures as "distilling excess wine, storing it and in some cases, turning it into bioethanol for use in cars and factories has now become regular tool(s) of market management." At a taxpayer expense of some half-billion euros per year!

Her proposed solutions: spend more on marketing, take vineyard lands out of production, and loosen the rigid rules that govern the entire industry. All under the omnipotent hands of the EU bureaucrats, of course! Ha!

Here's a novel idea: how about firing all the EU micro-managers and letting the free market set the rules of the European wine industry? Figure the odds...

- Thraz - 07-09-2006 07:18 AM

I like the part about loosening the rigid rules. The rest is as expected.

Of course, the benefit of over-production is obvious - to the consumers. But they do not often rank high as an interest group in Europe in general, and in France in particular.

- Innkeeper - 07-09-2006 07:41 AM

I don't like any of her ideas including loosing up the rules. That means watering down the appellations. If producers don't want to stick to the rules they can make some other kind of wine, e.g. the Super Tuscans or Vines de Pays.

- Thraz - 07-09-2006 10:29 AM

Actually they can't always even do that... Somewhere in the archives should be a story about a guy who wanted to make wine out of syrah in the Loire valley, without using any of the existing appellations... It never made it to bottle stage.

As for the existing appellations, I think they could also use some revamping and loosening. For example, why should the Bordeaux consumer not be allowed to know from the label what grape mix is in the wine they're buying?

- Thomas - 07-09-2006 03:26 PM


I generally agree with you--consumers ought to know what is in the bottle.

In the U.S. listing the blend is not mandatory, and when you buy an American wine that says only Cabernet Sauvignon on the label, the wine could be 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and anything the producer wants the remaining 25% to be in the blend, and since there are no rules governing what can be grown in an American Viticultural Area, the possibilites are myriad.

You really have more information when you know that in Bordeaux only certain particular varieties can be grown and put into in the blend and that, generally, Cabernet Sauvignon will dominate the left bank and Merlot will dominate the right bank. Loosen that and we will know as little about Bordeaux as we now know about a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon.

I think we should tigthen American rules.

- Thraz - 07-09-2006 03:46 PM

I'm not against a labeling system, but I have three objections to the French one. One is that the information on the label is often not enough for producers to market a specific angle of their wine. Yes, if the wine is from, say, St. Emilion, it has to meet certain criteria. However, these are elastic as far as the grape mix is concerned - you know there is a relatively big portion of merlot, but that's it. If you want to market your St. Emilion as being a merlot-cabernet franc mix (for any reason), you're out of luck. The second one is that innovation is stifled - witness the Loire syrah situation. The third one is that a government runs it. Let private players come in, or competing systems develop, the one (or several) that the market likes best will win. I'm continually amazed at the support the system gets in France. If it's such a great idea, why have they not tried to apply it with the same strict constraints to any other sector? How about an AOC for cars, or for perfume, or - you name it? Would that help these sectors? I have to wonder why wine should be the only product so rigidly codified. After all, it's still just wine. There is an AOC system coming up for various European foods now, e.g. cheeses known for their particular local origin, but so far that has only formalized well-known products and does not at all have the same constraints (for instance, it's allowed to produce goat cheese in Brie - just don't call it brie cheese). Also, it's too young to know the negative consequences.

As for the US system, I would not strengthen it either. If wineries want to advertise 100% chardonnay, I assume they are allowed to. If they don't, it's probably only because they have not felt the marketing need to do it. There are things that I would like to see on some American bottles, but it's just me, and I don't expect the rest of the world to adpat to me - unlike the French civil service apparently (have I mentioned I'm French?).

- Thomas - 07-09-2006 07:15 PM


Just like France, in the US the federal government controls wine regulations. The difference is that in France (and the rest of Europe) the regulations were set up to accomplish two things: try to prevent fraud and try to create regional identity.

In America the regulations were set up mainly to protect the government's tax revenue stream.

By looking at a shelf full of, say, Napa Chardonnay, you have absolutely no idea what to expect from any of them--they could have been produced in a variety of styles, and a variety of blends.

By looking at a shelf full of Burgundy whites, based on their location (Chablis, Meursault, etc.) you have a good chance at knowing what each might taste like.

Which system is giving you more information?

[This message has been edited by foodie (edited 07-09-2006).]

- Thraz - 07-09-2006 09:55 PM

I understand the systems were set up for different purposes - but I'm not sure that's relevant today. Is there any information that a US winery is not allowed to give? I can think of plenty for French wineries that want to follow the AOC system. So in answer to which system gives the most information: well US labels give the information the consumer wants to see, French labels give you the information the government allows you to see. I have to choose as a consumer on this one.

Also, you chose two AOCs that are very similar (Chablis and Meursault, both 100% chardonnay). Leaving out the 0.01% of the population that would pass that taste test (and Foodie I am certainly not saying that you would not be part of that small percentage - only that I wouldn't), most of the appellations are not that crystal clear. The Bordeaux and Rhone appellations, for instance, allow for a lot of manipulation and variations (which is a good thing - please nobody get the idea to get rid of that too!!!). As a consumer, you have no idea what's in the bottle unless you are a professional with good access or a consumer with an exceptional palate. The winery just can't tell you, even if they want to. And if the worldwide market wants to know what's in the bottle - well, too bad, as a winery you still can't tell them because some civil servant in Paris said no (and yes, I'm also from Paris). So you're not allowed to compete with other countries that can market according to the demands and tastes of the market. You have to wait until some bureaucrat decides to come up with a solution, and it will still be the wrong one, along the lines of the WSJ article.

Again, I like labeling systems, I'm certainly not advocating getting rid of them. But when a bureaucrat comes up with yet another government solution as described in the article, I have to wonder what the winery that competes with Yellow Tail thinks. Or with Grange or Montelena for that matter.

And going back to the Chablis and Meursault reference, I think the percentage of people that know what grape goes in there when shopping for wine is small. But they know they like chardonnay, so maybe they will buy Yellow Tail or Beringer instead because they know what that is - even if it's only 75% intead of 100%. So, as a French consumer looking at the plight of the French winemaker, I still have to wonder who the system is protecting. The system should not be ditched, but change is inevitable and overdue.

By the way, that was a rhetorical question, and yet I have the answer. The system protects the bureaucrats who perpetuate it, as so many others in France do.

[This message has been edited by Thraz (edited 07-09-2006).]

- Thomas - 07-10-2006 05:34 AM

"well US labels give the information the consumer wants to see, French labels give you the information the government allows you to see. I have to choose as a consumer on this one."

That is is an argument for having no regulations at all, and is precisely what fostered fraud in the past. If a producer is told to put on the label what the consumer wants to see that is exactly what the producer will do until someone finds out that what is on the label is not in the bottle.

Plus, I still haven't a clue as to how the word Chardonnay on a label tells me whether or not it is oak aged, produced completely in stainless, gone through ml, or is more than 75% Chardonnay. So how do I choose if I like a Chardonnay that is 100% stainless steel only, no ml? I could go by past experience with that producer, but there is nothing that says the new wine will follow in last year's production methods.

What is needed is a happy balance between "real" regulations and "educated" consumers. Yet, I fully agree with you: consumers seem to prefer to be told rather than to find out, so the happy balance will likely not get the second part of the equation.

Just think of the word "organic." Consumers love to see it on a label but I have yet to meet a consumer who knows exactly what that word on a wine label is telling us.

Incidentally, I think the French have missed the mark terribly but not in regulations--in marketing. They stupidly have a mentality that "because it is French there is no need to explain it." That attitude is what will doom their modern wine industry. They could learn a lot from the Italian wine industry, which got where it is by first learning a lot from the French and regulating its industry and then doing the marketing and the changing.

[This message has been edited by foodie (edited 07-10-2006).]

- Thraz - 07-10-2006 08:45 AM

Foodie we do agree on one thing (more than one in fact), fraud needs to be weeded out. However I disagree that the AOC system helps do that. In the end it is only a matter of whether what is on the label is true or not. The fact that you are mandated to put things on a label or prevented from doing it does not change much. In both cases you need honesty and investigation. I would even say that without the 75% regulation, lawsuits would have forced wineries to state the exact chard percentage on the bottle by now. The regulation is one factor behind the lack of full information. Same in France, again the example of St. Emilion where the appellation does not tell you what most of the grape mix is and vastly different mixes can have the same appellation.

As for the stainless vs. wood etc.: some producers say it on the label. Apparently there are not enough consumers clamoring for it (I would be one too, but you and I and a few more are apparently not enough) for many wineries to add it - but then, this is also not mandated by the AOC system. So, again, it is a matter of putting the information the wineries feel the customers want to see. I believe the wineries should be the decision makers there - again, what they say should also be true but that is another matter.

Also, remember that I do like the idea of a labeling or AOC system - something else we agree on. I just wish the French one were more information oriented, less top-down-we-know-better-than-you-how-you-should-produce-and-market-your-wine.

- Thomas - 07-10-2006 09:26 AM


I could not agree more with your last paragraph.

You've heard of the Georges deBoeuf (sp) conviction? The French AOC is on the lookout for fraud, and it is discovered every so often.

As long as there is such a vast consumer base, and such a vast volume of things to learn about wine, there will forever be misinformation on labels, in the press, and in that worst of all methods--word of mouth!

- Thraz - 07-10-2006 09:54 AM

I saw that - a good sign, although the fine was small.

Hotwine, the title of this thread just struck me as an oxymoron? [img][/img]