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09.19.2008

Why Do Winemakers Hate Journalists?

Perhaps the only thing worse for winemakers than getting a below average review in a wine publication is being mentioned in any publication that describes itself as investigative. "Normal" journalists, namely those that don't normally focus on food, wine, or lifestyle issues, have a pretty lousy reputation in the wine industry, and sometimes for good reason.

Especially when they publish pieces like this. Or when they try for a "new angle" on a particular issue.

The issue of ingredient labeling on wine has been discussed at length in the United States, and it's apparently also under discussion in the EU. I've written about the subject here on Vinography before.

Now, apparently Channel 4 and its investigative program "Dispatches" has aired a program suggesting that much of the wine industry adulterates its products with all manner of ingredients. The discussion about ingredient labeling has now turned into a muck-raking sensationalist exercise, that threatens to completely misinform and alarm UK consumers.

Here's a clip from the segment. Here's another one.

While neither of these clips contain the worst claims supposedly leveled in the program (namely that winemakers use so many additives in the winemaking process, that what you get at the end isn't really wine), you don't have to see much of them to hear the agenda being pushed. Those in the UK can see the full program online for the next seven days.

Now, I'm all for truth in labeling when it comes to wine. I think winemakers should err on the side of disclosure. There are certainly a lot of things allowed in wine that most people have never heard of. I probably wouldn't make buying decisions based on the fact that a winemaker had used reverse osmosis to lower the alcohol of a wine, or that it had been fined with isinglass (a fish protein). But I wouldn't mind knowing those things, and some people have the right to make purchase decisions based on them if they like.

But I do object to the sort of "digging for dirt" that this program seems to have been after. Apparently they called Jamie Goode, looking for some sort of expert witness who could tell them all sorts of nasty things that people put into their wine. His impression was that they had already decided what conclusions they wanted to draw, and were simply looking for supporting evidence, which he declined to give them.

Apparently they ended up revealing the scandalous truth that sugar is added to most Champagne.

Duh.

My sympathy goes out to retailers, producers, and distributors in the UK wine market who are rightfully upset at how this issue has been reframed as a "doctoring of the product" as opposed to a legitimate debate about how wine gets labeled.

I also cringe at the way that some folks in the wine industry use such occasions as an opportunity to push their own "if it's not biodynamic, it's poison" agenda. That's as inappropriate as the lousy journalism.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud