Thu 12 Jul 2007
I’m not usually a connect-the-dots kind of guy, you know, one of those globalizing futurists who can see the correlation between a one-dollar a month rise in the wages of shoe factories in Indonesia and the after-school mortality rate in the playgrounds of Detroit, but still, I think that there could be a connection between these two news items.
First, we all know that there’s a glut of cheap and not very good wine in Europe, that huge quantities of wine fuel the vinegar manufacturies of the continent and that small-time grape-growers in France revolt against governmental agricultural regulations and the devastating downturn in prices by making the next logical step and burning down their local McDonald’s. “Take zat, you damned imperialist golden arches!”
An article in The New York Times last week confirmed the worst of all these notions, namely that the European Commission is proposing to rip out 500,000 acres of vineyards on the continent, generally in France, Spain and Italy, and to cease paying subsidies for distilling unsold wine into industrial alcohol. “Instead,” wrote Stephen Castle, “it would make payments directly to farmers, encouraging them to diversify into other crops, rather than continue to over-produce sometimes poor-quality wine.”
On the other hand, the restrictions would be relaxed after 2014 on “successful vineyards,” which would allow “the most efficient producers to optimize the size of their holdings and to operate at the most convenient production scale.”
Big Uh-Oh there. The definition of “most efficient producer” and the phrase “optimize their holdings” means the guy who grows the most grapes and makes the most wine, which is exactly what the French, at least, don’t need, because they have been taking a beating in the reliable cheap wine department, being overtaken by the Australians, the Argentines and Chileans and their neighbors, the Spanish and Italians. (Well, Australia is problematic; since Penfolds, Lindemans and Rosemount are all owned by the giant Fosters company, their inexpensive wines mainly taste the same.)
Anyway, the second point. An email bulletin I received a few days ago from Global Wines and Spirits, “The E-News Weekly Portal for Wine Professionals” — a fascinating brokering function for agents, wholesalers and retailers — says this: “In the past few months, Global Wine & Spirits has noticed a rapidly increasing demand for bulk organic wine. Requests have been coming in from every continent, but very few producers are currently able to supply this product.” Everybody wants cheap organic wine! Imagine that!
Now, if I’m not mistaken, it wouldn’t take Malcolm ‘Made Ya Blink!’ Gladwell to figure out that what the European governments need to do is not persuade farmers to grow pears or artichokes but to sink those subsidies into educating grape-growers in methods of organic farming, helping them shift their vineyards to organic practices and getting the word out to the world’s wine consumers, who are obviously keenly attuned to eco-issues and want organic products to consume in their daily lives. The demand is clearly there; the European wine-producing countries (and principally the French) have to take advantage of the situation.
Then maybe the disgruntled farmers can stop bull-dozing and burning McDonald’s. Or is that the bright side of globalization?