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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.


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.

Comments (10)

Chris wrote:
09.20.08 at 10:01 AM


Who is using this as an opportunity to "ush their own "if it's not biodynamic, it's poison" agenda"?

Why the big chip on your shoulder about Biodynamics?

Alder wrote:
09.20.08 at 10:18 AM


Check out some of the comments from wine producers and distributors on the Decanter article I've linked in my post for starters.

I don't have a chip on my shoulder about biodynamics. Some of my favorite wines in the world are biodynamically produced (Movia, Deiss, Zind Humbrecht, Lopez de Heredia, Leflaive). I find the opinions of some biodynamic practitioners and evangelists to be arrogant, elitist, and counterproductive to what should be the mission of all wine drinkers and producers: which is to create more wine lovers.

There is a whole segment of the wine producing world that is not content to simply state their philosophical approach to growing and making wine, but insist on suggesting that not only is this the "real" or "proper" way of making wine, but also those who don't follow this philosophy are somehow making, inferior, fake, or even dangerous products.

Hank wrote:
09.20.08 at 10:22 AM

I think the labeling idea scares the "S" out of a lot of people. Somehow, wine has been immune from this trend to label everything. Doesn't Bonny Doon put ingredients on some of their labels now? What's the reaction been?
Frankly, it doesn't put me off if a winery uses yeast, tartaric acid or tannins in their wines - these are additives which "correct" deficiencies in the grapes. (A lot of times, these additives do not help, and I can taste them in the finished wines.) My personal problem is the use of reverse osmosis (which I assume would not be on a label as is is a process and not an additive) or other destructive techniques which remove wine further from its agricultural roots and bring it much closer to a manufactured beverage a la Coke Cola.
Who really cares if a wine is fined with bentonite? - I'm much more interested in HOW it was made.

VINTUBA wrote:
09.20.08 at 10:48 AM


Unfortunately allot of people love sensationalist journalism, which is more often than not peppered with inaccuracies and disinformation. It is up to us the wine professionals, enthusiasts, and educators to help demystify the winemaking process and shed some light of truth on the subject.

The truth is that most of the additives used in making wine are benign and of natural (not chemical in origin) even though they have intimidating sounding names like bentonite (clay), casein (milk byproduct), and egg whites. It should be noted that only insignificant trace amounts of these agents remain in the wine. The issue of acidifying, adding tannin, sugar, mega purple, sulphur, de-acidifying, de-alcoholising, removing tannin, etc this is nothing new and as natural as adding salt to food or water to a chicken stock.

I do however agree that there should be ingredient labeling on wine so that those who suffer from potential allergic reactions to any of the items used in the making of wine have some fair warning before choosing to consume the product. I just fear that most people will see some of the listed items and will assume, as the British media did or does, that these are hazardous or unnatural.

For those of you how think that organic or biodynamic wines are the answer be forewarned that they also add sulphur, fine with some of the same agents, and can manipulate the wines in the cellar just as others do. They do however grow their grapes without using the very hazardous petro-chemical pesticides and fertilizer that pose a far greater risk to you and the environment than anything added to the wine in the cellar.

Let's drink to that


09.20.08 at 2:00 PM

Ah English journalism... Two words:

Mad Cow.

But seriously, this is a prime example of exploiting the general population's ignorance of wine, as you alluded to with the "shocker" revelation that sugar is added to Champagne (cause that's what is giving you gout, the sugar in the Champagne). Because people think wine is merely gone-ff grape juice, they predictably react within the confines of what the "reporter" wishes his readers to react, appalled. It give the "reporter" a false sense of job-well-done when he gets reaction, and it makes the reader feel like a service has been done. Now if this had been an article about KWV Sauv Blanc, then great. But since it's just about normal natural ingredients being placed under the worst possible light, eh. That's why I stick to fake news.

And while we're at it, let those same people taste those mediocre wines without the added benefit of the "manipulation" and see if they like it. I bet they will be running for their Mike's Hard Lemonade as fast as they can.

Dylan wrote:
09.21.08 at 7:01 AM

Incredible spin put on that article. I whole heartedly agree, Alder. People have a right to know, but the core issue was lost during that "investigative piece."

It's the equivalent of my doing an investigative report on farming to make the claim, "Not all farmers use the dirt they are given, some use natural fertilizer (organic matter from cows). What else is growing in that? Is this the kind of harvest you want to be eating?"

Pretty silly.

09.22.08 at 4:18 PM


What about the copious amounts of copper allowable by biodynamic standards ( on vineyards ) or the increased use of petolium used in the application of all of the 'biodynamic' preperations? The notion that biodynamic somehow equates with sustainability is a bit suspect. The equation is far more complicated than simply looking at organic vs inorganic inputs.


Nice post. I obviously wasn't shocked to learn that yeast was added to wine or that sugar was added to champagne. I was shocked that this was news at all much less some sort of ground breaking, earth shattering 'investigative report'. I also agree that there needs to be more disclosure though I hate the idea of the TTB or USDA having yet one more hurdle for me to leap over. As far as winemakers hating journalists; I suspect that we are no different than anyother profession that is analyzed by someone with no understanding, experience or perspective of or on the job we do. I have said it 1000 times and I will say it again; almost without exception these 'interventions' are done with the consumers best interest in mind. Last I checked the market for shitty wine had nearly dried up.

brian wrote:
09.25.08 at 12:20 AM

Actually, the market for shitty wine is very much alive and thriving in this country. And as for the "interventions" being in the consumers best interests, so many of these are "buisiness decisions" to satisfy market trends rather then to make better wine. So in that respect, yes they are thinking of the consumer (and their bottom line), but thank god for the winemakers that put themselves out there and take risks to make great wine for the sake of the art of all that goes into such an endeavor. In these cases it is the individuality of the wine itself and not the consumer that are the goal. Great wine will find its consumers.

Big Daub wrote:
09.30.08 at 5:31 PM

Wait until the Chinese use melamine to enhance the mid-palate mouthfeel in their doughnut hole wines.

"Plans for a future war, was all I saw on Channel 4"... Shoplifters Unite, The Smiths

09.30.08 at 6:16 PM

Big Daub,

tee hee. there's a mental picture for ya...

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