Playing nice

Here’s a thought: maybe, as an industry, we could have a clear voice. Maybe we could stop screaming at each other on twitter, or facebook, or even in person. Maybe the consuming public would have a better idea of what was going on if they saw clear debate rather than blind insistence that one view is right, and another wrong.

Case in point – vintage 2011.

OK – in general, a difficult vintage. A whole host of problems most of us had not seen occurring simultaneously ever. Or at least, not since 1974. Things went wrong. There was so much water, and all the problems which come along with a surplus of water in the agricultural industries. In a normal year, fruit as poor as some of what we saw in 2011 would not have been picked. But there was such a deficit of quality fruit, that many looked at ways of dealing with the less than ideal fruit, and turning it into wine to ensure supply.

We went from a glut to fear of a deficit in record time.

Vintage is a whirlwind. Decisions are made. Sometimes those decisions are good, sometimes not.

In 2011, there were decisions made – particularly at the larger end of production, but not exclusively so – which have resulted in wines of a lesser quality than normal into the market.  Fruit was picked, which might not have been in a normal year. Fruit was accepted at the winery gate which might not have made it through in another year. Producers were faced with the task of telling growers that their entire crop was riddled with rot, and not being accepted, and some people found that too hard to do. Wines were declassified. New labels were created. Winery labs got a workout. There was pasteurisation going on at a rate unheard. Just to get wines into the marketplace, and ensure some kind of brand presence despite a less than ideal vintage. Rot-affected fruit was ‘buried’ in better quality fruit in order to hide the taint. And wines were made, for better or for worse.

And those are the wines being reported on.

Hence we have the debilitating media woes facing producers. Even those with exceptional 2011 wines are now dealing with the issue of selling them in a market which has seen only the worst of 2011 – and much of that purely through the eyes of the media often reporting woe rather than success, and the marketing types staying unusually quiet.

To tar an entire vintage across a nation with wildly diverse regions as being poor is purely irresponsible.

There were regions with a crackingly good 2011 – like Margaret River. Actually, pretty much the West in general. The ongoing borderline drought conditions in the West seem to create great wines.  Tasmania. The Hunter.

And there were producers everywhere creating great wines. As there are every year. And every year there are lesser wines.

There were people who worked with their vineyards to protect and nurture them in the face of the vintage issues. There were those who got lucky, and evaded those same issues. There were those who were able to pick earlier, and produce elegant, restrained styles with plenty of life. There are some great wines out of 2011. It would be a shame to miss out just because there is this overarching perception that we all buggered up 2011 fostered by an industry snarkiness. Little producers blaming the big boys. Big boys blaming growers and smaller producers for not having the resources to deal with the issues. Regions blaming regions for their method of dealing with the issue. Writers blaming producers for not having the guts to admit that it was not a perfect vintage. Producers blaming writers for writing off an entire vintage. Consumers left a little lost…

Producers make a choice every vintage – to produce, or not, and if so, to a certain style. If the producers choose to release substandard wines, that is their choice. In the consumerist market, if a wine is perceived to be of poor quality by the consumer, the producer risks losing that consumer, and likely their friends and family too. And they move on to something else.  That is their choice.

Many producers have been dosing the wines with concentrate, and exporting them as either bulk, or finished wine. Now, whilst not necessarily the way we would all do things in an ideal world, this solves an issue. By sending to markets with a sweet-centric palate profile, dosing a wine will hide many faults, and indeed, the simpler style may work to that market.  And it clears wines which may not work in the more discerning (for want of a better term) domestic market. And it makes room for the 2012 vintage.

We did not all bugger up 2011. There are some fascinating wines. There are some lesser quality wines. And there are some great bargains to be had, as the industry struggles to deal with the public perception of 2011.

We learned much from 2011 – we learned how to deal with vintage issues on an inconceivable scale. We learned more about our land and our vines. We exchanged notes with our neighbours and other producers, and fought to make great wines from a difficult time. We are better now, because of what came before. We are better because of this communication, and the resources available at the click of a button. Maybe there were only a handful of great wines from 1974, but we are better now.

Yes, there are some badly made wines. But there always are. Just like there are always some great wines. Maybe the balance was a little out of whack in 2011, but that does not merit the arch judging of others. The producers each made choices. Let the wines be judged by writers given samples, the show judges, and overall, by the consumer.

Perhaps we could have a positive voice for the industry, talking about the troubles we faced, and how we dealt with them to come out as better producers at the end.  How the earlier picks have resulted in lighter styles of many wines, with lower alcohol, and how that works with food. How there are always different styles, and different perceived levels of quality, but that is for the producer to decide, and the consumer to evaluate, and to decide whether or not that bottle is worth their money.

We could maybe not rant at each other about what was good or bad, not accuse, and not denigrate. We could be better as an industry, and that will only ever be better for the consumer.

At the end of the day, we could judge the wine, not the vintage, because I don’t care who you are, but you did not work in every winery, on every vineyard during the 2011 vintage, so you just do not know about every single wine produced.

And as such, it would be wrong to judge, and rant and rail against wines, or writers, or producers. Maybe instead a bewailing 2011, we could see the good wines out of it as great successes, and what we have learned as invaluable. We could have some pride.

We could play nice.