Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cynicism Down Under

We all know that greed can, and often does, lead to cynicism and outright dishonesty. But a recent report on tells the story of a whole new low. The article begins:

“Faced with strong demand for a highly-rated wine, an Australian winery has simply created more of it. Wine Spectator has learned through an investigation that Schild Estate, a family-owned winery in the Barossa Valley whose 2008 Shiraz placed in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of the Year in 2010, found itself running low on supply and decided to purchase, blend and bottle additional wine under the same label.”

The report goes on to note that, though this is “technically legal, the decision raises questions about the winery’s integrity and philosophical issues of what defines a wine’s identity.”

In fact, I tend to think that there is no question about what this does to a wine’s integrity: It destroys it, and, frankly, undermines the very thing that sets so-called “real” wine apart from the mass-produced juice that masquerades as decent wine behind often cute labels and appealing ad copy.

When Wine Spectator asked about what had been done, Schild’s General Manager said, “The last sourcing was from a local grower, and it has been matched as closely as possible to the original blend."

By this logic, there really is no importance of terroir, nothing that sets apart one vineyard from a neighboring one, just so long as they’re near each other. In fact, just for fun, let’s play this out to its logical conclusion, what philosophers and logicians call reductio ad absurdum, or taking a point out to its logical end point, where things generally, as the Latin cognate implies, get absurd. Here we go:

Chateau Petrus is the same as Vieux Chateau Certan because they’re near each other. Therefore, they taste the same.

Richebourg, Romanee-Conti, La Grand Rue, and La Tache all produce identical expressions of pinot noir, because they’re neighbors.

Chevalier-Montrachet, Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet all produce chardonnay that tastes exactly the same guessed it: They’re right near each other.

What Schild has done is bad enough. But how they’ve tried to justify it is despicable, an insult to a thousand years or more of viticulture and winemaking, and to the consumers who gave them their money and their trust. They’ve taken advantage of the often blind enthusiasm consumers have for highly-rated wines, and they’ve taken a serious chip out of the excellent work the Australian wine industry has done to convey the fact that it is a country of wonderful diversity of terroir and wine-styles.

The team at Schild should be mortified by what they’ve done. It will take a long time indeed to undo the damage they have caused.

[NB: None of the second-blend wine has been sent to the United States. If you've purchased any wine from Schild, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to the juice in your cellar. This is a philosophical problem for American wine-lovers, not a literal one.]


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