Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

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Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Paul B. » Sun May 14, 2006 12:51 pm

I think this article is certainly of interest to most of us. There is a bit of Mondovino in the juxtaposition contained therein, and the argument for artisanal wines is more than compelling.

Vintners with personal flair can't brag on wine labels by Richard Bernstein
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Sun May 14, 2006 1:41 pm

There's something odd about the story though, Paul. The agreement is talking about the front label, but unless I'm misreading the drafts and the discussion, there is no prohibition against adding a back label where winemakers can brag all they want. I believe German winemakers would be well advised to add back label information in any event to help clear up the confusions about their wines.

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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun May 14, 2006 2:22 pm

Bob Ross wrote:I believe German winemakers would be well advised to add back label information in any event to help clear up the confusions about their wines.

Regards, Bob


What confusion? German wine labels are the most descriptive in the world.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Sun May 14, 2006 2:56 pm

The labels are very descriptive, and often quite beautiful. It does take a bit of memory work to learn the words, and the script is often a bit hard to decipher. Little things irritate: some makers don't include the fuder number in the AP number. There's lots of info but many people are nonetheless confused, David, or at least this person sometimes is.

In any event, what harm would there be in adding a back label that addresses Paul's basic point -- that there is no way under the new regs to distinguish industrial from hand crafted wines?

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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun May 14, 2006 3:12 pm

Bob Ross wrote:The labels are very descriptive, and often quite beautiful. It does take a bit of memory work to learn the words, and the script is often a bit hard to decipher. Little things irritate: some makers don't include the fuder number in the AP number. There's lots of info but many people are nonetheless confused, David, or at least this person sometimes is.

In any event, what harm would there be in adding a back label that addresses Paul's basic point -- that there is no way under the new regs to distinguish industrial from hand crafted wines?

Regards, Bob


Well let me correct one thing that might clear up some confusion for you. Fuder numbers and AP numbers have nothing to do with one another except by sheer coincidence. Producers like Merkelbach (and previously Muller-Catoir) used fuder numbers, but they were never a true substitute for AP numbers. And they were neve even close to universally used. I can count on one had the number of producers that acutally used fuder numbers to differentiate bottlings.

The language issue is one that I can't abide. People are willing to learn the French terms that show up on Burgundies, but German town names baffle?

And as for "hand-crafted vs. industrial", the Germans already distinguish between estate wines and co-operatives/negotiants. Gutsabfullung is estate bottled, and Abfullung is purchased fruit. Now there are a couple of quirky things that have made estate wines use Abfullung (hte law requires its use when vinifying purchased fruit in a rented facility...go figure), so estate wines like the Leitz Dragonstone can be caught in the crosshairs, but it's hardly the norm.

As for the issue of say oak chips vs. oak barrels, that is a whiny red-herring issue. Plenty of industrial scale producers use barrels (Gallo of Sonoma anyone...), and the restrictions on labelling are keeping wording off that was never there in the first place.

After reading the article twice I think it's just so much sour grapes. Must not get enough sunshine.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Sun May 14, 2006 3:24 pm

I'm not complaining about learning German to learn about German or Austrian wines, David. Thanks for the tutorial on fuder numbers -- I thought they were more important than that, but as I've already confessed, I am confused. Frankly, I love Burgundies, but the nomenclature is very confusing and I always have to refer to a little cheat sheet I've put together to sort things out when purchasing or drinking Burgundy. Same thing for German and Austrian wines.

Partly that's because I drink wines from so many different places in my day to day drinking. But if I'm going to Daniel Johannes Burgundy tasting, I always refresh my memory.

The scripts on German labels are more difficult than they should be to encourage sales in English speaking countries, in my judgment.

The article does have a whiney quality about it, but is there any real objection to adding some English text on a back label for wines imported into the US?

Burgundy Wine Company does that for its imports.

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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun May 14, 2006 3:28 pm

Well as for the scripts, most wineries are getting rid of it. Simplified labels are the norm in Germany these days.

The back label for a German Riesling really would not say much. They pretty much pick the grapes, ferment them in some neutral vessel, filter them (to prevent re-fermentation) and bottle. Pretty boring back labels.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Oliver McCrum » Mon May 15, 2006 4:38 pm

There is no objection to descriptive back-labels, and I think they're an excellent idea. The more unusual the wine the more it behooves the producer/importer to help the consumer understand it.

There are some limits to the language you can use, though, as part of the whole process of label approval. I believe I once used the term 'vibrant' to describe a white wine, and was rejected on the grounds that it can only be used for sparkling wines...
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Sam Platt » Mon May 15, 2006 6:17 pm

David Bueker wrote:What confusion? German wine labels are the most descriptive in the world.


David,

I agree. There is a lot of information on a German wine label, but being able to make sense of that information can really discourage novice, english speaking wine drinkers. When I first became interested in German wine I found a little "cheat sheet", based on a Donnhoff label, that helped me to decipher the information. For quite some time I have thought that a descriptive back label would help German wine sales in US.

I second Bob's motion for a German back label.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Steve Edmunds » Mon May 15, 2006 6:22 pm

I used vibrant once and they asked what I meant, because they wanted to know if it WAS a sparkling wine. But they didn't make me change it.
Not sure I see the whininess in the article.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Mon May 15, 2006 7:22 pm

I may have been too harsh, Steve, but this sentence -- "The truth is, it's very hard work to produce wine here." -- set the tone for the piece in my mind. I know it's very hard work to produce high quality wine everywhere. But your reading may be much fairer.

I'm making a note to myself to add the word "vibrant" to every tasting note of your wines. They almost invariably have been, and that way you can always quote wine lovers if you are challenged. :-)

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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Hoke » Mon May 15, 2006 7:42 pm

This article is unsatisfactory on so many levels, Bob, I really don't know where to start.

First I'd say this is sloppy, sensationalist journalism where a writer developed his point of view, which was designed to be argumentative and divisive rather than informed and informative, and then went out and found exactly what he wanted to reinforce his viewpoint.

In short, it's a diatribe, pitting the artisanal winemaker versus the global industrialist.

While I am in sympathy with the artisan, this is a rather cheap, shoddy, painfully superficial depiction of the conflict. Nothing more than a gimcrack "journalist" fomenting an emotional plea instead of examining and explaining.

I don't know the first gentleman he quotes (but I most certainly know a host of people that could be him). I do know, or at least have met, Prinz Michael zu Salm, and hold him in the highest respect, as a busniessman and a wineproducer. He's also a fun guy to drink with.

If I were in Europe I suspect I'd be grousing a bit too, mind you. But I hope I wouldn't posit the problem as those nasty Americans who don't care about quality coming in and disrupting us landed gentry and royalty who only care about making wine one bottle at a time.

Fine wine, and fine wine making, is not going to die because the barbarians are at the gate (and to balance it out, the gate was opened by traitors inside the castle). The artisans will still be with us. It's not like Germany (to focus on the country used here) wasn't capable of producing absolute vast amounts of the most awful swill imaginable and foisting it on their countrymen and the rest of the world for many, many years. And you could say that about, Spain, Italy, France---wherever.

That the Europeans have a tradition of winemaking is admirable. That they have always attempted to control their winemaking by rules and regulations is also admirable. But to say it's all falling down in shambles because the Americans got their noses under the tent (to jumble up the metaphors hopelessly), is absolute balderdash.

Good, sound, well made wine will always fetch a premium. Industrial wines will always be industrial wines. And that battle has always----always---been around. I imagine they had the problem in Sumer, if not before. I wonder who the Americans were then?
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon May 15, 2006 7:44 pm

Sam Platt wrote:
David Bueker wrote:What confusion? German wine labels are the most descriptive in the world.



I second Bob's motion for a German back label.


I think it's a crutch. The people who are totally overwhelmed by German labels are likely never going to drink the stuff in the first place. Why do we have to dumb everything down. Let's make people step up for a change.

Anyway, that's not what the aritcle was about. It was about disclosing winemaking techniques and/or shortcuts on a label, not simplifying wine for the consumer.

And as for the whininess of the article...the comments about "putting sugar in the wine as if they are making Coca-Cola" is pretty silly, considering a huge amount of wine made in Germany is chaptalized! I will bet that since I had never heard of the estate in the article until three days ago that they are not one of the shining stars of Germany, and that they practice a little sugar addition here and there. They probably doctor the acids too!
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Hoke » Mon May 15, 2006 7:51 pm

And as for the whininess of the article...the comments about "putting sugar in the wine as if they are making Coca-Cola" is pretty silly, considering a huge amount of wine made in Germany is chaptalized! I will bet that since I had never heard of the estate in the article until three days ago that they are not one of the shining stars of Germany, and that they practice a little sugar addition here and there. They probably doctor the acids too!


David: yeah, I thought that was pretty funny too, since by far the greatest amount of German winemakers aren't exactly strangers to a little sugar. And what makes it funnier is that the rules here for the denigrated Americans stipulates that they are not allowed to use chaptalization (for the simple fact that they don't need to; getting sugars isn't the problem here, which is the opposite of Germany).
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Mon May 15, 2006 10:37 pm

" think it's a crutch. The people who are totally overwhelmed by German labels are likely never going to drink the stuff in the first place. Why do we have to dumb everything down. Let's make people step up for a change."

David, it sounds like this is an old discussion for you, but I'm just starting to get into German and Austrian wines, and I have a very different perspective. Let me illustrate my experience.

About 11 years ago, a doctor suggested I start to drink red wine regularly to help control cholesterol levels. The second bottle of wine I remember buying was Château La Cardonne. The back label read:

"The wines of the 'Domaines Barons de Rothschild' identified by the family crest of five arrows, for a collection of some of the finest vineyards of Bordeaux. The wines include:

Château Lafite Rothschild: Premier Gran Crû.

Carruades de Lafite: 'Second Wine' of Château Lafite.

Chat. Duhart Milon Rothschild: Grand Crû Classé.

Château La Cardonne: Crû Grand Bourgeois.

Château Rieussec: Premier Grand Crû de Sauternes.

From the planting of the vine to the final bottling of each vintage, very step in the production of these exceptional wines is directed by the management of Domaines Rothschild, headed by Baron Eric de Rothschild."

Of course I had heard of Lafite from time to time before I got into wine seriously, but this label was so interesting, it led me into exploring the empire of Bordeaux -- I actually bought a case of the stuff so I would be sure to have a back label around to refer to . (The wine was good too.)

I'm not suggesting dumbing down the German labels in any way, but simply adding a bit of explanation of what some of the basic words mean. Advanced wine lovers will simply ignore the back label; beginners in German wines will remember the label with gratitude. At least, I still have a warm spot in my wine life because of Lafite -- even after they sold Cardonne.

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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue May 16, 2006 8:04 am

Bob,

Yes it is an old discussion,and I am obviously not thinking of those who are confounded by German/Austrian labels.

But I am also wondering how an article about a couple of things:

a) How an article on "hand-crafted" and the ability to disclose winemakig methods on labels became a call for explanatory information

b) How the back label of that bottle of La Cardonne did anything but market the wines of 'Domaines Barons de Rothschild'. There was nothing there that explained a thing about Bordeaux - a wine which does not even display the name of the grape varieties, unlike German wines which (other than industrial Piesporter) have the name of the grape right smack in the middle of the front label.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Tue May 16, 2006 9:28 am

My only point on Cardonne was that it introduced a beginner to the different levels of Bordeaux, David. It helped me, and I don't see how it dumbed down the label.

I was happy to read this discussion to learn that you can tell the difference between Gutsabfullung is and Abfullung, and my confusion on the importance of fuder numbers.

In any event, it looks like a well hashed topic, and I'll butt out. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue May 16, 2006 10:07 am

Bob Ross wrote:
In any event, it looks like a well hashed topic, and I'll butt out. :-)

Regards, Bob


But I was having fun!
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Tue May 16, 2006 10:11 am

Tell you what, David. I'll rework my German wine label crib sheet to make it small enough to put on the back of a wine bottle and post it here for you to critique.

That will give you some yucks!

Regards, Bob

PS: I'm glad some bottlers are making the scripts a little easier to read. B.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Bob Ross » Tue May 16, 2006 11:20 am

BTW, David, the French may already be adding explanatory back labels, at least for the fighting varietals. Here's a recent note by Jancis Robinson on the Chamarré line:

As all these wines are vins de table, they may not carry a vintage year although all these debut wines are based on the 2005 vintage and are being aimed chiefly at the UK and US, although such has been media coverage of the scheme in France that Leclerc French supermarkets have taken them on, I’m told. RR by the way is Renaud Rosari, the chief winemaker, based in Marseille.

The labels are already adorned with ‘Contains Sulphites’, soon-to-be mandatory within the EU. And they also carry a warning, less familiar in Europe, against drinking alcohol while pregnant and breastfeeding.

I asked a representative of Chamarré why on their thoroughly non-Gallic and explanatory back labels they called Syrah ‘Shiraz’. “Because we are very modern,” I was told.


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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby lewis.pasco » Tue May 16, 2006 6:58 pm

Or maybe because they were hoping that someone would mistake their French plonk for (better quality) Australian plonk.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue May 16, 2006 7:21 pm

Vin de Table are not fighting varietals. They are quite a notch below that. Just a way to get plonk out of hte country and vignerons and grape growers out of the streets.
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Re: Excellent New York Times article on industrial vs. hand-crafted wine

Postby Paul B. » Wed May 17, 2006 10:29 am

David M. Bueker wrote:People are willing to learn the French terms that show up on Burgundies, but German town names baffle?

I have to say that I have honestly wondered the same thing for a long time. I don't know if it's correct to assume so, but my gut feeling is that French words have often had - whether rightly or wrongly - that "romantic" tag attached to them; people who don't know the language like to nevertheless say French words because it makes them feel sophisticated. Many of us have heard German, on the other hand, decried as agglutinative and intimidating - though I've never found it intimidating and in fact enjoy the challenge of deciphering German and Austrian wine labels. All of it adds to one's overall wine education.
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