Wine Labeling, Does it Matter?

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In a recent article for the New York Times, Eric Asimov examined California winemaker Randall Grahm’s attempt to bring transparency to his wine labels by listing every ingredient used in the winemaking process.

Although food labeling has become a major issue, particularly with California’s Proposition 37 coming up on ballot measures this November, the reception to Mr. Graham’s bold decision has been largely underwhelming.

… he felt the wind of chilly indifference. The silence left Mr. Grahm, who revels in playing the provocateur, scratching his head.

“I imagined it would have an impact,” he said by telephone. “I wasn’t sure if there would be a backlash, or they would be freaked out, but most people haven’t really noticed. In a perfect outcome, I would have liked to see interest, and gradually the start of a drumbeat about transparency.”

Although a handful of fellow winemakers have taken notice of Mr. Grahm’s extra attention to detail (among them Barbara Shinn and David Page of Long Island’s Shinn Estate Vineyards), most consumers haven’t.

It could be that most wine drinkers still consider wine to be an indulgence, with varying degrees of ‘necessity’ in the maintenance of their well-being, and allow greater leeway when it comes to the production of their favorite “juice”. Folks who will doggedly seek out 100% pastured proteins to go with locally grown, organic produce… may then blithely open any bottle of wine noting little more than the color, aroma or the neat artwork on the label.

It could also be because some of the most common additives dissipate before consumption, “For example, isinglass, a protein obtained from fish bladders, egg whites and even bentonite clay has long been used to fine, or clarify, wines. It generally bonds with small particles and then precipitates out, leaving no trace in the wine.”

For most people, the issue of wine labeling won’t ever be nearly as important as the need to know if the food you consume every day has been genetically modified, grown with pesticides or packed with partially hydrogenated oil. (Hey, everyone’s gotta eat… not everyone drinks wine.) However, the article does raise some interesting points about consumers understanding the difference in production practices between smaller producers and major, mass-market wineries. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Mr. Asimov writes:

Indeed, by coming clean about ingredients and processes, winemakers might initiate an educational dialogue with the small percentage of consumers who would pay attention. Rather than incite vitriolic debate with incendiary terms like “natural wines,” I would prefer that winemakers simply indicate their ingredients and methods on labels and let the public judge for itself. At the very least, it would make clear the difference between wines that hew as closely as they can to the fermented grapes ideal and those that are more wine product than wine.

“I do think consumers would understand the price differences in wine if they saw the ingredients that went into an $8 bottle with a kangaroo on the label,” Mr. Page said.

With Mr. Asimov’s article, we see another example of the importance of knowing (and wanting to know) where your food or drink comes from, how it was made… and ultimately having a choice in the matter.

Click here to read the article in full.

Does wine labeling matter to you?

Photo Credit: Tony Cenicola | The New York Times