Thursday, January 05, 2006

Where'd she get that?

The following excerpts came from an article which appeared at the beginning of last month, and was one of the gazillion-and-counting pre-holiday wine and drinks specialty columns written to ‘help’ consumers with the task of selecting holiday wines. The writer was Lucy Siegle of the Observer Magazine in the UK.

And there are some serious flaws with it.

I’m concerned first with the comment made that “…it's no secret the average glass comprises several splashes of oil (if you factor in production and transportation) and even optical brighteners…”.
To a casual reader this may come across as the wine actually contains oil, which it certainly shouldn’t. As to “optical brightners” – I can only assume she is referring to fining – and those compounds get filtered or racked away from the wine, so aren’t really present in the final product. There is petroleum used for the production machinery and farming equipment of all things in the modern food supply, and if that’s the only yardstick used to measure a particular wines worthiness…well, read on…there’s more.

She continues with “Then there's viticulture's massive pesticide habit: a recent Friends of the Earth study found residues of two pesticides in white wine which are known human disrupters.”
What are these human disrupters? Are they similar to Romulan disrupters? Kilngon disrupters, perhaps?
All joking aside, any specific information is lacking, and leaves the reader wondering what the severity and nature of these residues are, which wines they were found in – certainly not all white wines have these residues, right? - as well as what level they are found at and if it’s significant. But that information isn’t there, and the reader is locked onto her personal emotional rollercoaster…

Next is “Move the focus away from the personal health effects, and you're left contemplating the impact on the environment. Industrialised production - a recent Ethical Consumer investigation ( discovered that the world's viticulture industry is now in the hands of 10 major corporations - has resulted in the increased use of pesticides and global transportation.”
Hmmm. I guess I wasn’t too far off the mark with my previous point: She’s insinuated negative health effects from the residues found, extrapolated those findings to accuse all wines and wineries, and then slapped the entire industry with her conclusion that “industrialsed production” = negative environmental impact.
No question or debate arises, and no support for that conclusion follows (other than the false impression left from her reference to the Ethical Consumer article – and NO, the world’s viticulture is NOT controlled by just 10 companies). Incidentally, the link to Ethical Consumer isn’t really all that informative…it’s their homepage, where (conveniently) you can purchase their report on perfumes and wines.

"The real grapes of wrath, however, lurk in the industry's appalling record on social justice. Again, there's the prolific use of pesticides (200,000 people die as a result of pesticide poisoning every year); add to that the fact that cellar workers often suffer from respiratory illnesses. As well as this is the industry's inglorious tradition of paternalistic vineyard owners, racism and exploitation." This is news to me…are there really 200,000 deaths in the wine industry due to pesticide exposure every year? Or is she using the yearly worldwide death toll from pesticide exposure in all industries? The context there is damning, and I’m also not aware of any higher incidence of respiratory problems within the wine industry’s cellar workers then the normal population.
She continues with some quick snippets against wineries which haven’t made the list of her favorite ‘fairtrade’ and ‘organic’ watchdog groups, or that may ship wine around the world.

Finally, she concludes with “Before we raise a toast to sustainable Christmas wine, there's one last point to make. Last year Oddbins changed 40 per cent of its bottles to plastic screwtops, part of the drive that has left Europe's indigenous cork oak forest under threat. So reverse this trend, in a final act of ethical drinking, and remember to put a cork in it.”
Oh, right…like screwcaps and alternative closures are the real reason cork is on the decline. Has this hack never heard of TCA? And those screwcaps are probably tin or aluminum, not plastic as she states (except the liners of said closures) which is yet another way she throws a slant on the conversation.

This article suffers from one of the classic failures of environmentalist writing (and I say that while I count myself ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘eco-concerned’) – it plays to emotion with no real logical support. All the while it argues from passion, but it does not convince, and it remains easy to dissect and deconstruct because no evidence is brought forth to defend the position taken. Eventually the reader who is actively reading (thinking) is left with the impression the writer is just another crackpot activist…and that’s a disservice to the environmental movement on the whole.

It’s also one of the reasons the recent anti-GMO ordinance in Sonoma County failed: emotion was the only argument presented in its favor (not that it should’ve passed –it was reactionary and fatally flawed).


Blogger jfalstaff said...

St. Vini: an excellent and concise deconstruction of a poorly-written article in The Observer - a rag not known for the highest standards of journalism in the first place. Of course you are mostly preaching to the choir, as was the author Ms. Siegle. Sadly, this sort of inaccurate, emotion-laden tabloid fearmongering DOES sell. Call it "industrialized journalism". Ms. Siegle's sort of "advocacy" does more harm than good to the causes of environmental and social justice.

BTW - just came across your blog this morning while looking for information on the sale of La Jota - which has generated surprisingly little news, n'cest-ce pas?

January 07, 2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I'm not really sure why the La Jota news hasn't been picked up a bit more widely - unless Jess Jackson buying up some small highly regarded winery just isn't news anymore.

I guess the bright side is that Jackson tends to buy these small wineries and leaves them "as is" (producing their own label with their original philosophy), rather than turning them into yet another winery producing his Vintners Reserve label.

It'll be interesting to see whether that's the case with La Jota as well.

/St. Vini

January 09, 2006 7:00 AM  

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