Sunday wine news perusings and musings for you. An article in Forbes about Swiss wine that will please the country’s wine promotion body, an interesting article about natural wine in The Guardian that is too focused on France, a provocative story in Le Temps about Bern’s efforts to centralize agricultural (including wine) research, a promising new book expected this summer on Swiss terroirs, and the original source article for those 5 healthy lifestyle tips (wine, of course, is one) you’ve probably heard about.
Swiss wine promotion: holding steady, not ramping up
Forbes in early May published an article, “Why Swiss wines continue to impress“, by independent wine and food writer Tom Mullen, who suggests that Switzerland “appears to be ramping up wine promotion”. I don’t agree with his conclusion, which appears to be based on a minor misunderstanding (wine competitions are not wine festivals, nor are they new) after a short visit to the Sierre area. But the article will do Swiss wine no harm and quite a bit of good, with 1,300-plus readers and attention from a mainstream American business magazine.
He mentions that at one point he lived in Ticino for a while, but not when; if we’re talking about ramping up promotion compared to 20 years ago, yes, more is happening. If we’re talking about the past decade, Swiss Wine Promotion is doing some good work, at home and abroad, but I see, and I hear worried wine producers talking about the recent dangerous splintering of limited resources for promotion. Switzerland’s weakness, in everything from politics to wine, is its fear of centralized power, which makes it hard to pool resources. The cantons don’t want Bern to have power, and the communes don’t want the cantons to have it. So while yes, there are more wine fairs today, they are smaller and pulling in smaller crowds. The notion of “Swiss wine” is, as a result, fading behind regional messages. The message that should be loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear, about the very high level of quality of Swiss wines, is at risk of being diluted.
Leaving behind the wine recipe mentality
A general press article that is garnering attention appeared last week in The Guardian in the UK, “Has wine gone bad?” by Stephen Buranyi, a former immunology research (thus a writer with a science background). He has a good grasp of the complexities of the natural/biodynamic/organic wines debate that has been playing a strong role in the development of wine in the 21st century and does a good job of sharing these. But he implies that moving towards natural wines is the world’s hottest trend for wine consumers, which I think is making an unwarranted leap to world drinking habits from trendy London thinking.
I was more irritated, though, as I read this long and well-researched article by the underlying idea that France = the wine world. The French have not invented and solidified every move that has defined wine in the past 200 years, perhaps longer. That they might have done so is to me the kind of nonsense you get from a blinkered centuries-long British love-hate relationship with the French, especially where food and wine are concerned. No one is going to pretend the French have not led many changes in wine and set standards in the past, from scientific advances to AOC labels. But there is a world of wines outside the Hectagon where the internal political – and this includes wine politics – struggles of France don’t rate much interest, thank goodness. I hear in Spain and in Italy, also in the US, over and over, that people’s eating habits are changing, and that this is driving changes to the kinds of wines we want. France is just one more place where that is happening.
The Swiss, with small wineries by world standards, have no choice but to focus on quality and take or leave the benefits of various approaches to winemaking. Yes to quality, which holds up over time, no to trendiness, which is a recipe for disaster if you’re small. The Swiss were pioneers in integrated production, which was well developed and widespread 10 years before more than a handful of French wineries were willing to consider making organic wines. I remember being shocked in 2010 at the Primeurs in Bordeaux by the sneers and snobbery of other French producers towards the side show of organic wines. Only 8 years later they’ve discovered the marketing tool that words like organic and natural wine give them, and I have the same trouble with this heartfelt conversion that I have with 19th century African nations that became Christian overnight.
Today, Swiss IP looks like a soft version of organic but given that at the start of this century most vineyards here were small and surrounded by vines of other owners who weren’t ready to move to organic, it was a necessary compromise. It gave the Swiss some valuable experience in reducing pesticides and herbicides; as more wineries move to organic and biodynamic, occasionally to natural wines, this is standing them in good stead.
Changins to move to Bern?
Le Temps provides very good background (article in French) on the federal government’s announcement in March that the dozen or so satellite agricultural research stations around the country will all be brought together in Fribourg as part of an efficiency drive. The news, handed to the public with little or no forewarning for the Agroscope stations concerned, has sparked some strong dissension, notably at the large Changins station near Nyon (130 of the 850 jobs concerned, according to Le Temps). Changins not only has a world-class reputation for its wine research but the government has invested in a large and expensive new building. It is also home to the country’s university programme in viticulture and viniculture. The Federal Council in Bern is slated to make a definitive decision in June.
Roche et vin
A book on Swiss terroirs, Roche et vin, will be published this summer in German and French (separate editions). The work by several authors is 650 pages and takes an in-depth look at Swiss geology.
Wine and longevity
Harvard came out with research results earlier this year showing that American longevity could be increased by 14 years for women, 12 for men, if people developed 5 healthy habits. The popular press continues to have a heyday with the suggestion we should drink, but if you want to see what the researchers really said, go to Harvard’s press release.