Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Is VQA Falling Behind?

NOTE: Not considered in this blog entry is whether a winery could/should avoid VQA accreditation. Evidently some BC wineries are doing just that!  Join the comments below if you have an opinion.

Given the intrusion of technology and modern business practices into winemaking has VQA as a regulatory standard lost its significance? Does being accredited to wear the VQA symbol have any bearing on a winery's adherence to natural winemaking practices or has the intrusion of modern options outrun this standard as complete and thorough as it is (was?)?  A number of years ago there was a similar phenomenon in the music world with the introduction of 'Auto-Tune'.  Now anyone with a larynx and nerve can have a career in music. Has the same phenomenon occurred for winemaking?

Brad Wheeler calls it "pitch-correction shenanigans" in his Globe & Mail article, April 20, 2013,  "Auto-Tune, the Botox of pop".  Why take the chance of forgetting the words to the National Anthem the next time you open the Baseball season, or putting a stanza out of sequence - even hitting that sustained note off key? Instead use a prompter, lip-sync... or be more sophisticated for your entire arrangement by inventing your own 'sound'? Auto-Tune's 'Botox' is your arrangement with crystal accurate melodic notes and custom resonance. Why stay an amateur when you can, with modern technology, be perceived as a professional ?

But Auto-Tune has a defined structure: a musical selection of octaves, sharps and flats, chords although each may be heavily accented with 'nips and tucks' the severity of which is controlled by the Artist or arranger. A personalized set-up can be associated with the style of a single Artist or a music genre. Many modifications are well beyond humanly possible - but does it matter if there's extra 'snare' in the drum or a surreal chorus for accompaniment - as long as it sells? (Cher's hit 'Believe' and Grimes' single Genesis are examples of the 'extreme' use of Auto-Tune.)

My questions are:
  • Is there such a thing as 'Auto-Tune' for winemaking?
  • Shouldn't I know if/when I'm paying for 'shenanigans' ? 
My answer to the first question is 'If I really stretch to make a point'. Auto-Tuning of wines through the use of chemical cocktails can be an improvement over the raw fruit/juices used as basic ingredients. But there are no keys/notes/chords to align with grape types or wine styles. We're left to the imagination of the chemist but if you prefer or acquire the taste, the texture and finish of artificiality, the price point can be attractive. My view is that too many wines sitting on LCBO shelves end up being pure dissonance in the bottle. There's no way to distinguish what a consumer is purchasing, VQA or not.

Do I want to pay for wines not carrying the stamp of its origins, its family roots and philosophy? No, I don't - more complete labelling would avoid this but there is a simpler approach. For Canadian wines updating and expanding VQA regulations to enforce levels of a wine's authenticity could do the job. An additional two  coloured trademarks (labels, bottle caps or foils) could easily be apparent to anyone perusing LCBO shelves.  

  • Green - Eco/Sustainable/Biodynamic, single vintage, source vineyard(s), 100% Canadian grapes
  • Purple - Additive and -cide free, single vintage, source vineyard(s), 100% Canadian grapes 
It's time to define higher levels of integrity for all Canadian wines. Does it mean a winemaker's autonomy is neutered? Absolutely not! It means the integrity of the winemaking process from vine to wine is defined. However, the people behind VQA accreditation must show restraint. Given oversight does not mean using personal power to judge varietal correctness nor interfere with a winemaker's art. No bureaucracy should have the discretionary power to use monetary rewards or conversely, penalties, to enforce their subjective evaluations. They do not speak for consumers who should retain their right to determine a label's success through their purchasing power. We do not abrogate this right to a 'VQA tasting panel'!   

My opinion, Ww

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