Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wine Overboard!

Imagine a beautifully-sunny, summer afternoon. The neighborhood lake is dappled with sunlight while bright splashes of color mark large, inflatable rafts -- some bright blue, some blazing yellow, others shocking pink. Motorless, the rafts silently carry two or three people each across the shallow lake, most simply drifting in the light breezes.

Suddenly, a shout breaks into the transcendent feeling of calm. "Oh no!" calls an occupant of the most sedately-colored raft (the baby blue shade blending into the dreamy blue color of the lake itself). "My wine glass (plastic, of course) just went overboard and it was almost full!"

If you, like the Ingredient Sleuth, feel the gnawing twinge of loss at this thought, imagine further how European vintners must be feeling right about now. An article run this week (June 8) in the online edition of the London-published "Times" newspaper discusses the European Commission's upcoming proposals for reforms of the EU's wine industry.

To improve the competitiveness of European wines, the commission recommends paying farmers to put 400,000 hectares of vineyards idle (at the cost of 2.4 billion Euros), thereby limiting the amount of grapes produced. These vineyards cover a wide area of Europe and multiple countries will be affected, the article states.

Why would such drastic actions would be proposed?

Simply stated, there are more grapes and wine being produced than can be sold. Right now, there is the equivalent of a year's production of wine without demand. It is waiting, in barrels, to be turned into petrol! Some unused wines are turned into brandy, others into disinfectant. The article estimates that nearly 25% of all Spanish wine ultimately is used for industrial purposes at this time.

Competitive pressures, of both quality and quantity, continue to grow as so-called "New World Wines" from Australia, South Africa, South America and the United States lay claim to their share of the worldwide market. Without climbing onto my soapbox and bemoaning the progression of yet another facet of our lives to the incursion of the conglomerate (while maybe a little moaning ....), I still have to think of the small producers who will likely bear the brunt of these potential reforms.

People who do difficult labor, climbing on steep hillsides (like the one in today's photo of a German hillside vineyard) to care for and harvest grapes from vines that have represented a family's identity for generations, will surely be affected. Could not these grapes be diverted to some NUTRITIONAL purpose, with commission money being spent instead to redirect that FOOD content to the starving areas of the world? Could not the vines be allowed to grow, rather than plowed under, protecting their future NOURISHMENT potential?

Surely, wise minds have considered these issues? In any case, it is shocking to consider a billion bottles of wine going to waste -- especially when each of us can relate to our individual disappointment at losing only one glass.

For now, as we lift our glasses to toast, I will be thankful that THIS particular glass of grape-filled wonder found its way to its true destiny. It, and the work that went into it, is truly appreciated. Cheers!