I was looking at our Vinonomics visual in our Cellar Door yesterday which shows how much actual wine value there is in a bottle of wine of differing costs.
It struck me that this only tells half the story. Questions pinged around my head:
“What price is a decent bottle of wine?”
“Why an earth would you want to buy a bottle of wine simply because it is cheap?”
“If only wine could taste the same without alcohol!
The question I kept coming back to though, was “Where is the love?”
Did you know that 600 million bottles of wine consumed each year are actually bottled here in the UK? Shipped over in 24,000 litre containers to be cleaned up and bottled in one of the UK’s ever growing bottling plants. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of bottling in this country is second to none, I have absolutely no gripe there. But this is factory wine. Nothing more, nothing less. For those of us who want food and drink that are minimally processed, authentic expressions of what they purport to be, then we must be able to distinguish between wines that are relatively unmanipulated and those that are industrial products.
The massive expansion in UK bottling was initially driven by the Courtauld Commitment launched in 2005, an agreement signed by the major retailers to reduce packaging waste. I won’t bore you with the UK’s Packaging Waste regulations... Seriously, who an earth dreamt up such a bureaucratic system?
However, the cynics would say that this has proved not to be a commitment to sustainability, but an opportunity to maintain and increase margins, in the face of the dreadful duty escalator introduced in 2008. Since then alcohol duty has increased by 54%.
At House of Townend, we are very open about our aversion to UK Bottling, preferring to focus on wines bottled at source. We are prepared to pay more for our Chilean, Argentinean & South African everyday drinking wines and explain to customers the benefits of bottling by the producer in the country of origin. Winemakers like to see their wines leave their care in an individual bottle, not in a big bladder!
The chances are that if you buy a bottle of New World wine under £7.00 per bottle in a UK supermarket, it will be bottled in the UK. Even wine wholesalers who purport to be quality driven, have succumbed to the opportunity for profit and offer Chilean, South African and even New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that is shipped to the UK in bladders and bottled here. At House of Townend that is not our way. We may be swimming against this strong tide, but we love our wine!
And that brings me back to the question “Where is the love?”... Well for me, I am glad to say it is in abundance in the family owned and run, wine domaines and estates around the winemaking world. Those vignerons who have spent the many long and often lonely hours in the vineyard, pruning and nurturing their vines. Some may farm organically or even biodynamically. Others are more practical and understand that this is not feasible given the location of their estates, but will farm as naturally as possible – ‘lutte raisonée’.
Wine is like us. It has a life. It is conceived and nurtured in the vineyard/womb. It is born and raised by the vigneron/parent. When bottling time comes, it needs that love, care and attention. What kind of vigneron/parent would simply wave goodbye to its labour of love in bladder? Come on!
Our winemakers don’t run puppy farms, they care desperately about their wines. Asking a winemaker to say which of his/her wines they prefer is tantamount to asking them to choose between their children. Just don’t ask!
So to me UK wine bottling is like battery chickens. Raised as quickly and cheaply as possible – but offering little pleasure. It is very surprising how many people will drink mass-produced, highly processed wines without thought. But I believe this is changing. Wine that has character and personality is the result of great care and yes... love.
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