The Wine Rules – Introduction
by Dudley Brown
The Wine Rules blog is about wine that respects the only person who really matters in the hedonic sweepstakes of fine wine: You!
As a winegrower of site expressive, estate grown wines in McLaren Vale South Australia, I am often struck by how little (even very informed) wine consumers and trade members know about what is actually in, or permitted, in a bottle of wine. The label rarely tells the story because of The Wine Rules. These rules vary from country to country but have broad similarities. Some are legislated, many just “how they do”. For anyone familiar with the novel, The Cider House Rules, by John Irving, you’ll know that, in life, there are the written rules and then there are the real rules. In Christopher Hitchens’ words, its about “keeping two sets of books.” Wine is no different.
As the producer of the Inkwell brand of wine, I have to know, and meet, the legislated rules. As someone who meets with keen wine drinkers pretty regularly to talk about wine, I am learning that while we all implicitly know that wine is fundamentally grape flavored ethanol and that what we don’t explicitly know about what we drink is what interests.
As a long time wine collector and consumer, I realize how little assurance the wines that I have drunk – and often loved – provide in terms of their integrity, authenticity and transparency. The degree of respect shown by wineries for the consumer is what I want to explore here. The goal of this blog is to create more interest in wine that respects both our intelligence and our palates. The assumption here is that the winemakers who are more transparent have less to hide and, often, make quality wine more worthy of our custom. For those who conceal more – well, as with anything in life and business, maybe they have more to hide.
As a rule of thumb, with wines costing less than $20 per bottle you cannot expect much in the respect department (though, of necessity, they will still be part of this conversation). For wines worth savoring, storing, aging, collecting, sharing with loved ones, special occasions etc., a higher standard of trust and respect should exist between the producer and consumer. While some producers “get it” and really care, the standard(s) that most seem to care about are the “standard” things – making, selling, getting paid, making more, etc.
The point here is not to “out” serial offenders of vinous integrity, authenticity and transparency (there are some who are far better equipped for that task) but to celebrate wine, winemakers and wineries that respect the consumer enough to create their art without the safety net of the legislated rules. Those who engage in a higher degree of transparency – who talk about what is really in the bottle and who stands behind the bottle; the winemakers, the grape growers, the vineyards, the lot.
This blog is the beginning of a conversation, not a sermon. Please join with me in it.
The Wine Rules will be a conversation about the conundrums I’ve thought and wondered about for years relating to how wine is grown and made. Largely, the rules relate to provenance – the rules for vintage, variety, regionality, additions, wine-making processes, additions, personnel and location, sources of fruit, how it was picked (and when) etc. I will explain my understanding of the purpose of the existing legislated rules (many for numerous good, but insufficient, reasons) and, together, we will build our own Rules that represents our highest standards for winemakers to meet. Over time, the goal is for our rules to supersede the legislated rules for wine. As customers, we should ask for no less. To quote Christopher Hitchens again, “There is no such thing as a little heresy.”
The wine game is a bloody difficult business where the reality of the market always defines decision making. A place where, I believe, most have very good intentions. The core insight is that prices are a function of supply, quality and demand in the wine game. But how we are treated as consumers is a function of what the producers think and feel about us. The space on the back of a bottle is clearly inadequate for winemakers to explain much – let alone everything – particularly after meeting the legislated rules for what “must” be said there.
However, in the era of websites and social media, there is no reason why all can’t be explained somewhere for winemakers to precipitate a bond of knowing trust with knowledgeable consumers. To me, the value of a “brand” is the premium paid for trust. The hope here is that by shining a bit of light on The Wine Rules, we will all become more knowledgeable, more demanding and a lot happier with what we drink. And more trusting. For those who make wine, it is an opportunity to build trust, and custom, with consumers of their art.
So, if any wine will do or you don’t really care about what you drink, this blog is not for you. If you think about wine, care about wine, love and savor wine, perchance dream about wine, read on. This will definitely interest you.