Thursday, November 01, 2007

Opinion, Influence and Sucking up!

I'm sitting here without a responsibility to anyone except myself and my BH (Better Half) - not that she isn't capable of getting along without me - not that she would want want to... nor even want to push that day forward. I can sip contentedly, put some words together that describe the six components of a tasting (Base 50, Colour 5, Nose 15, Flavour&Finish 20, Potential 5, Typicity 5) and blog away. I don't have any peers looking over my shoulder nor a winemaker anxious to see my column knowing that it could make or break the 10,000 bottles of plonk sitting with a SKU on Ontario shelves. He could pay the rent on an additional vineyard or perhaps plant another acre or two or, better yet, pay for the river cruise through Bordeaux he's already booked. No one influences me. I certainly don't have any opportunity to suck up to the wine industry nor them to me. But I do have opinions.

The other day, one of many, I walked through the Ontario section of my favourite LCBO outlet (they're all my favourites actually). Asking where the Pillitteri wines were the shelf stocker pointed me to the one solitary bottle of Pilleterri Cab Franc. He ad lib'd, "The Niagara Wineries are starting to take the business seriously!" Not knowing quite what he meant I replied, "Perhaps they should find out what they're doing wrong first!" adding "Cellared in Canada products haven't filled me with any confidence that they are being serious!" "But" he said, "every country is doing it - shipping grapes and juices from other countries and blending, bottling and exporting." "France, Italy... " and left the comment hanging.

Considering grape harvests in various climates and countries it would be logical for an Italian winery to import surplus grapes from its Argentinian fields. You would and I would. But importing grapes from a wholesale market in, say, Hungary or Greece - not knowing the vineyards, the irrigation, pest control or storage conditions - would be the other extreme. Not that Hungary or Greece are negatives. Now I wouldn't do that... would you? And if I were presented with a bottle that ambiguously says 'Cellared in Canada' I would want to know the origin of the contents.

The CBC did a piece on the East Coast fish industry pursuing the basis of 'Product of Canada' packaging on supermarket shelves. The net was that the Product contained seafood from many countries but not from Canada let alone Lunenberg the prominently displayed location of the Company. Labeled Pacific Salmon and Product of Canada I would jump to the conclusion I was buying actual Pacific salmon from our west coast, wouldn't you? My wife and I have tried the particular products featured in the article with our promise 'never again'. We'll buy from 'Paul's Fish Market' where not only the purveyor is trusted his product is flown in at least weekly and known to be 'Product of Canada'.

Back to Ontario wines... The popular excuse for some Ontario wines is a common referral to them being a product of 'cold climate' grapes. This to me is similar to saying 'hot house tomatoes' or 'Californian strawberries' or 'Mexican cantaloupe'. One fact changes each phrase to an oxymoron, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the country. You have to pick the fruit before its ripe so it will survive the shipping conditions and the fruit often has to be 'conditioned' for traveling. Let's face it... when you've tasted Ontario tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, etc. in season anything else is second class. When a vegetable or fruit is from 'offshore' - each supermarket tells me where it's from... or else I'm standing at the farmer's stall beside the fields where the produce has grown and been harvested. Simple... if the climate doesn't support the fruit don't grow it. And if where it's grown is so far away it has to be harvested prematurely or conditioned for travel for heavens sake don't build a business on it. And I think it's compounding the felony to jump over flaming hoops, eg. bury vines so they survive our winters, then charge a premium to cover the costs and describe the bottled product as being exemplary of a 'cold climate varietal this or that'.

The Wine industry in Canada seems to be different... a different culture, different legislation, different technology, different business... at least throughout Ontario it's being treated differently than a 'food'. I don't know why it's different. To me a business is a business and anything edible or quaffable is food. Given the increasing wine consumption some businesses are taking advantage of a lack of regulation. 'Corporate greed' is not limited to oil companies or to Corporations. It only takes a few interlopers to cast doubt and suspicion on the rest. Wine zealots... per John Szabo's article (Vines Nov/Dec 2007) espouse the benefits of using additives in wines, additives which have betrayed many a wine reviewer. The same zealots contrived to legitimatize the 'Cellared in Canada' label. What gets me is how so few can so influence a whole Canadian industry. How immature or unconscionable do business people have to be for such perversions?

'Taking the business seriously' needs to be pervasive. Anthony Gismondi (Wine Access June/July 2007) says 'checks and balances' should be put in place... and I say, if not by the industry, then the LCBO. If not these, by individual wine reviewers. Utopia would be if every facet worked together to 'take the business seriously'. My perception is that to be eligible as a wine reviewer all one has to do is author a wine blog, publish a compendium of wine labels with outdated reviews (wine is a living thing), or have a newspaper column and, oh yes, know how to drink free booze politely. Repeating myself, checks and balances need to include everyone. Even appearing to be compromised is to be compromised. To be serious about their craft critics need to establish a professional code that puts their behaviour above opinion, influence and sucking up.

Only my opinion... Ww

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