Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Studying the (post) classics

An unedited version of a cover article that appeared in the G2 section of the Guardian on March 4. 2008 (invaluable additional reporting from the Global Warming Conference by Felicity Carter)

For anyone who feels they have finally mastered the concept of postmodernist books and architecture, there's a brand new intellectual and linguistic challenge, in the shape of "post classic" wines. The term was coined by the world-leading viticulturist Dr Richard Smart at the second World Conference on Global Warming and Wine in Barcelona late last month before an audience of the great and good of the wine world and – via a carbon-saving video link - Al Gore. If even a few of the more alarming predictions made by experts at that event prove to be accurate, over the next 50 years, many of the world's most famous wines may either simply cease to exist or be altered beyond recognition. And the effect may not be restricted to wine. For Dr Smart, wine may be "the canary in the coal mine of agriculture".

According to French tradition, the character of a classic wine – its DNA if you like – is attributable to four factors that are collectively known as terroir. Three of these – the slope of the vineyard, its soil and subsoil and the climate - were, it was believed, immune to human influence. The other ingredient – the choice of grape variety – was dictated by custom or law, so a Burgundy producer, for example has to make his red wine from Pinot Noir grapes; even the thought of his experimentally planting a few Merlot or Shiraz vines is as acceptable to the French wine establishment as birth control to the Vatican. For true believers in terroir – a group that now includes a growing number of Californian self-termed terroiristes - the part played by the winemaker is very similar to that of a musician performing a musical score. One vineyard should always produce the liquid equivalent of the Eroica while another will give you Clair de Lune. This is nowhere more evident than in the cellars of small Burgundy estates whose vignerons might produce small batches of wine using the same grape variety and methods from each of a number of plots situated often only yards apart. The variations in weather from one season to another and the winemaker's skills will all naturally affect the final result, but in theory at least, the Meursault he makes from his Chardonnay vines in the Perrières vineyard which was planted on the site of an ancient quarry, should always taste recogniseably stonier than more immediately softer, more appealing wine from a plot called les Charmes made from the other side of the road.

To a Gallic chauvinist, the subtleties of terroir are rarely if ever found outside France. Aimé Guibert of the Domaine Mas de Daumas Gassac in Languedoc Roussillon has dismissed all New World wines as "industrial" and said that "every bottle of American and Australian wine that lands in Europe is a bomb targeted at the heart of our rich European culture". But you only have to watch a gifted, experienced taster such as Michael Broadbent, former head of Christie's wine department, or wine critic Oz Clarke successfully identify Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in Australia, the Stags Leap area of Napa in California or Curico in Chile when presented with them "blind", to see that unique combinations of grape, site and climate abound across the planet. Even a complete vinous novice can spot the differences in flavour and style between the Rieslings top Australian winemaker Jeffrey Grosset produces in his Watervale and Polish Hill vineyards in the Clare Valley. Which is just as well, because the Polish Hill can cost a fiver a bottle more. And the effects of those combinations transcend the climatic influences of particular years or winemakers. In other words, a 1955 Chateau Latour should be as recogniseable in a line-up as the 2005, even though the cellarmaster and the weather of the two vintages were quite different.

Whether this will be as true of the 2055, however is another question – and that was the issue that most troubled the 350 delegates to the Barcelona conference. According to research across 50 wine growing regions by climatologist Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University, Bordeaux will be 1.2˚C warmer in 50 years, while Chianti's vines might be baking in temperatures that are a full 2˚C hotter than they are currently. Stated bluntly, both areas will be enjoying a similar climate to North Africa today. This warmer weather will give riper, sweeter grapes, which then become stronger more alcoholic wines: "post classics" that lack the fine, complex subtle characteristics and defined flavours that are now associated with the world's finest wines.

Many wine lovers will have already noticed the phenomenon. In the 1991 edition of his seminal book on Bordeaux, David Peppercorn recalled that the great reds of the Medoc in the 1940s usually had alcoholic strengths of 11-11.5%. By the late 1980s, he regretted that the trend towards 12.5% had become "the norm to be aimed at". In 2005, the norm was closer to 13.5% and critically well-received reds such as Chateau Balthus and l'Ynsolence weighed in at a wopping 14.5%. In California, where, in 1971, red wines averaged 12.5%; the Martinelli winery now makes a Zinfandel with an alcohol content of 17.4%

Whatever you might think of a red wine that's a strong as a gin-and-tonic, there's no denying that California's Zinfandel grape is actually quite well suited to producing high alcohol wines. But that's not true of a number of classic European varieties. According to Dr Richard Smart, (you’ve introduced him), Burgundy may become too hot for the Pinot Noir, the grape with which it has been associated for over a thousand years. Jacques Lurton of Chateau la Louviere in Bordeaux expects the widely-grown Merlot in his region to be increasingly supplanted by the less heat-averse Cabernet Sauvignon and legal but currently unused grapes such as the Malbec and Carmenere that are now more usually associated with wines from Chile and Argentina. And what's true of these ancient French regions will be apply to areas like Barolo in Italy, La Mancha in Spain, Australia's Hunter Valley and Rioja, all of which will effectively be rewriting the melodies and orchestration of their terroir.

As the world's top viticulturist Dr Richard Smart told the conference, research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and INRA (the French national agronomic research institute) show that even a one degree rise in temperature leads to significantly different weather patterns. Smart's point about "different" weather is a crucial one. What we are already seeing is a greater variation between vintages, and far greater unpredictability. For one of Germany's most respected estate owners and winemakers Ernst Loosen, "Every year seems to be another challenge... a new problem. How do we handle these weather patterns? How am I to keep the style of my wine? It requires a lot of experimental stuff".

Among the solutions to Loosen's and hundreds of thousands of other winemakers’ problems will what his compatriate Hans Schultz of Geisenheim University called "climate adjustment" or "shaping wines with technology". This will include new ways of growing and training vines and the introduction of irrigation to the classic regions of Europe. Watering vines is currently illegal in these areas because of fears of the overcropping it might facilitate but, as Jacques Lurton revealed to the conference, grapes may ripen better in higher temperatures, but if all that sunshine isn't accompanied by rain, they can simply shut down and stop ripening completely. If the legalisation of irrigation seems to be an undramatic move, lovers of classic wines may be more affronted by the use of sophisticated reverse osmosis filters to remove alcohol from wine. These machines are already widely employed in California where it has been estimated that some 55% of wines initially pack too much of a punch.

The alternative to altering the way wine is made in traditional regions will be to shift production to places where the process is easier. Spain's leading winemaker Miguel Torres who is spending millions of dollars on research into ways to counter climate change is, for example, developing new vineyards high in the Pyrenees. Others are looking beyond their own borders. The challenge of course is to choose which countries offer the best prosects.

For Dr Smart, some areas that already produce wine will fare better than traditional parts of Europe. Tasmania, New Zealand and Argentina are all on a "lucky list"; at the very top is Chile, thanks to the cold current that runs runs along its long coast. The southern hemisphere, Smart believes, will be generally less badly hit than the north because of its smaller land masses, and larger cooling oceans. But there is one northern hemisphere region that has caught his fancy. China is currently the seventh largest wine producing country in the world. Most of its existing vineyards are less than ideally situated, but there is a cool, new, unexploited region to the to the north west of Beijing that shows real potential.

Anther surprising possible beneficiary of post classic wine may be England, though when English winemaker Stephen Skelton stood up at the conference wearing a Union Jack shirt he was at first, perhaps understandably, taken less than seriously. When he began to describe his experiences, however, the audience began to take more notice. "For the first seven years of my wine growing I never saw a day with a temperature of over 29 degrees,” he said. “Since 1994 there has only been one year when it did not rise about 29. Last year was actually the second warmest year... in 356 years of record keeping, even though it was overcast in June and July.” For the moment England's strongest suit lies in its sparkling wines – which not only beat Champagnes in blind , but which sell at Champagne prices.

Skelton has apparently had interest from two major Champagne houses but so far the costs of investment, have proved too high. Another worry is the thought that global warming might lead to a stoppage of the gulf stream, leaving England a better place to develop ski slopes than vineyards. This theory of possible gulf stream failure has recently been dismissed by some experts but it still has supporters, and there are even suggestions that the stream actually did stop for 10 days in 2004.

One person who evidently does not believe in the fragility of the gulf stream is Bernard Seguin of the French research institute, INRA, who pointed out that, with just two degrees of global warming, there will be places in Finland that might enjoy a climate that is very similar to that of wine regions in northern France today.

And then of course, there are those who simply dismiss global warming as being of little concern – or as being manageable. Bruno Prats, former owner of Chateau Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux said that he was very confident in the future of that region, provided the producers amended the blend of their grapes to suit the new conditions. In his view, the spicy Petit Verdot, traditionally a bit player in red Bordeaux where it rarely makes up as much as 5% of the final wine, may have a major role to play. But Prats is hedging his bets: today, the wine he makes comes from Chile. Another participant in the conference who seemed relaxed about climate change was the Bordeaux-based superstar winemaking consultant, Michel Rolland who has successfully helped to produce wine almost everywhere, including such unlikely countries as India and Uruguay. "So far" he said "climate change has been very good for us…Perhaps the warming will stop? We don't know,". But, it is interesting to note that, like Prats, Rolland has cannily invested some of his money in high altitude vineyards in Argentina.

Rolland might in any case respond to the suggestion that the move to post classic wines is exclusively explained by a changing climate by saying that long before climate change was a cloud on a distant horizon, many of us had already begun to discover wines that bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones that Old Europe is wrestling with today. Way back in 1993, Oz Clarke, author of an excellent recent book on Bordeaux, published an equally good one called "The New Classics", in which he heaped justifed praise on then-new regions such as Casablanca in Chile, Margaret River in Western Australia and Marlborough in New Zealand. All of these were places that were already delivering wines that offered a new spin on the traditional efforts of regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Fifteen years ago, however, the idea that southern hemisphere countries could be talked of in the same breath as those Gallic meccas was complete anathema. When Clarke launched his book at an international tasting event in New York, many of the French members of the audience ostentatiously left the hall. Today, some of those same Frenchmen and women are busily prospecting for vineyards on the other side of the world.

When lovers of classic wines that taste the way they did in the 1950s and 1960s have wanted to apportion blame for the fact that their modern counterparts have become bigger, richer and less "elegant" and "austere" - to use the old fashioned wine taster's vocabulary – the two words that have sprung to their minds have rarely been "global warming". Far more usually, they have pointed their fingers at the US guru Robert Parker and his favourite winemaker Michel Rolland. Parker, the "emperor of wine" whose opinions shape the destinies and even the pricing policies of the most famous wines in the world, likes the big flavours that are associated with ripe grapes. His tasting notes rarely include words like "elegant". The bottles that get the highest marks tend to be described as "opulent", "inky" "blockbusters" with "gobs of fruit". That 17.4% Zinfandel was, for example, a wine he particularly liked.

Parker owes his success to the fact that large numbers of people across the world agree with his tastes – or, at the very least, have lost their inclination for the way wines used to be. A glance at the shelves of Tesco or Thresher reveals that, far from being at the dawn of the age of the post-classic wine, we’ve been increasingly surrounded by it, and enjoying it, since the arrival of the first bottles of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon and Rosemount Chardonnay two decades ago. Today, it is an inconvenient truth that while thousands of producers in Europe still strive to make classic “elegant”, food-friendly, wines with moderate levels of alcohol, to judge by the supermarket shelves, the bottles most of us apparently prefer to uncork come from Australia and the Americas. Or from European producers who welcome the unusually warm weather of years like 2003 and 2005 to make wines with more than a passing resemblance to those more opulent New World offerings. No wine exemplifies this trend better than Chateau Pavie, the St Emilion estate that, since a change of ownership, has fully embraced the post classic style - to the approval of US critics and the dismay of many a Brit. Robert M. Parker described the “inky” wine from the hot 2003 vintage as a “brilliant effort...a wine of sublime richness... with extraordinary richness". In Britain, Jancis Robinson, thought it "Completely unappetizing. Porty sweet. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late-harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux”. For the moment, at least, you pays your money and you takes your choice between ckassic and post classic Bordeaux, but who knows how long that will last? And how long it will be before we switch our allegiance to the post-post-classics of China, Finland and, just possibly, maybe even Yorkshire.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Going for the throat

A column that originally appeared in Meiningers Wine Business International magazine

"Wine is part of civilization". "Wine offers a consumer an unequalled link with a specific piece of soil or region". "Wine is a necessary accompaniment to food…" These are comments almost guaranteed to get a small nod of appreciation from most readers of this magazine – and most members of the wine industry. But how about this? "Wine is an alcoholic beverage which has to compete with vodka, beer, Coca Cola and coffee for its 'share of throat'". In other words, wine is just another beverage competing for consumer attention. I'll admit that ‘share of throat’ is not an attractive expression. But it's one that is common at Starbucks and Coca Cola.

According to research conducted in 2006 by NPD Group, a New York consumer research firm, "consumers eating breakfast outside the home order soda pop with 15.1% of their breakfasts, compared with 7.9% in 1990". Coke and other soft drinks appear less often at the home breakfast table in America, but the trend is still striking. In 1985, only one morning meal in every 200 would have been washed down with a carbonated soft drink. Today the figure is just under one in 40. And, over the last 15 years, coffee consumption with breakfasts outside the home plummeted from 49 to 38%.

For many of us, this statistic – like the one that says 17% of US meals are now eaten in cars (where they are presumably not accompanied by wine) – is yet another example of the increasing barbarism of North American life. But, in the case of at least one carbonated drink, there's a kind of logic. A standard 12oz serving of Diet Coke contains 46 milligrams of caffeine. That's 30mg less than a similar serving of Starbucks’ cappuccino or latte, and 34mg less than Red Bull, but is probably still enough caffeine for some people to kick start their day.

The ‘share of throat’ issue is just as important for tea manufacturers who saw their total British tea market plummet by around 12% over five years, from £707m in 1999 to just £623m in 2004. This helps to explain why the tea industry has increasingly shifted its focus to Ready-to-Drink – RTD - bottled and canned iced tea. Sales of iced tea in Hong Kong now account to over 15 litres per head and sales in China grew by 29% in 2005, boosted, as Just Drinks reported, by leading brands such as Tingyi, Uni-President, Wahaha and Coca-Cola.

Now, just pause for a moment and consider what you have just read. Coca Cola is helping to convert the Chinese from a traditional hot, unsweetened beverage to a cold sweet one that, apart from the absence of bubbles, bears more than a passing resemblance to some of its other products.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I haven't so much as mentioned wine since the opening paragraph, but I make absolutely no apology for its absence. The wine industry globally spends far, far too much time analyzing its own navel. The interminable discussions over screwcaps and other alternatives versus corks, the use or abuse of oak chips and the European legality or otherwise of designations like Vin de Pays des Vignobles de France all remind me of the discussion had by orchestral players on the Titanic about which songs they would play as they sank beneath the waves.

As a member of the wine industry, just ask yourself how much time you have devoted to watching trends in the rest of the drinks industry over the last year. Did you notice, for example, the way that heavy promotion by one brand – Magners – about serving cider on the rocks (anathema to traditional cider drinkers) contributed to a growth in the previously dormant UK cider market of 23% in 2006? Maybe you didn't, but I'll bet the trend didn't go unnoticed by E&J Gallo, the South African brand Stormhoek and Piper Heidsieck, all of whom launched wines specifically intended to be drunk on ice. Wine may indeed be part of civilization, but civilization itself is evolving at a frightening rate.

Looking for the new paradigm

From an article in Meiningers Wine Business International
In the last issue of Meininger's Wine Business International, Dan Jago, wine supremo of the UK giant Tesco asked his suppliers to give his customers more reasons to spend more money on a bottle of wine. That call, from the largest wine retailer in the world, reminded me of a couple of other things I'd read in recent months. First there was a line from " Small is the New Big" a new book by the American writer Seth Godin, whose previous works include the hugely recommendable Purple Cow, and A ll Marketers Are Liars: The Power of of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust World. Godin suggests that anyone in any kind of business today needs to answer three basic questions:

Who are you?

What do you do?

and, most importantly,

Why should I care?

Now, hold onto those thoughts and then turn your attention to another visionary American called Marc Engel, Associate Partner and Director of Wines Research at a Californian marketing research agency called B/R/S. Last year, he gave a talk at the Wine Evolution conference in Paris entitled Engaging the Wine Consumer: A New Paradigm. The difference between Engel's "new" paradigm with the one that went before, is the gulf that separates a monologue from a conversation. Traditionally, wine producers – like makers of other products – tended to say "Hey, consumer, here's my story and why you should buy my wine.". That "story" might have been about terroir, history, Parker points or whatever, but in Engel's view it tended to be a "one-size-fits-all approach in which [the winemakers] assumed there was a singular type of person who perceived and used their product as suggested. This approach was paternalistic, even authoritarian".
Consumers, by contrast now say "Hey, winery, catch my interest and I'll build my own story around you based on what's important to me." Catching that interest could be achieved by a few words in a magazine, by an eye-catching t-shirt, a bargain price tag or a memorable label – or, and this is the tricky part, by something else altogether. Successful players in today's market have to be like a clever trout fisherman who has learned the subtle art of using a rod and fly. Or, more prosaically, a successful participant in sessions of speed dating where the skill lies in making the required impression on a potential date in less than three minutes. Of course, explaining that mastering speed dating is a necessary way to run your business more effectively may take some explaining to loved ones at home, but sometimes, one simply has to make a few personal sacrifices.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Industrial Strife

An article that first appeared in Meininger's Wine Business International

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. What an Anglo-Saxon might call a perfectly decent glass of Chardonnay or Shiraz might strike a Frenchman as the essence of industrial wine. The precise definition of what is and isn't an industrial wine is, however, really very hard to pin down, especially now that the French authorities have finally decided to permit the use of oak chips – usually cited by Gallic stalwarts as typical of the industrial methods used in the New World.
The person who deserves the greatest credit for promoting the concept of industrial wine is Aimé Guibert the passionate creator of the Mas de Daumas Gassac estate at Aniane in the Herault, who last year proposed an absolute division between wine described in this way and what he called "Vigneron wine". Guibert is a fascinatingly complex character. A forthright spokesman for French and European wine and their history, he has paradoxically managed, by example, to do as much to undermine the hierarchy of the French appellation system as many a New World – loving critic. A bottle of Guibert's top 2003 red currently costs rather more than the some retailers ask for a Chateau Rauzan-Gassies of the same vintage. In other words a Vin de Pays de l'Herault trumps a second growth Margaux. Guibert is also one of the heroes of Jonathan Nossiter's film Mondovino which, among other things, chronicled the saga of the winemaker's successful fight to keep Robert Mondavi from investing in a swathe of hillsides close to his own estate. The film revealed that Guibert had, in fact, discussed a possible sale of his beloved domaine to Mondavi before negociations broke down and the Americans resolved to go it alone. It did not, however, include the fact that Guibert had previously had similar talks with Southcorp, owners of Penfolds, Lindemans and other Australian brands he would certainly qualify as industrial. There are some who would mischievously describe such contact as sleeping with the enemy; Guibert might call it pragmatism.

A similar pragmatism is evident in Guiberts argument about industrial wine. Europe he implies, in a style thats reminiscent of Orwells Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad makes real wine while the Australians and Americans make the other stuff. French vignerons he states always produced real wines, intimately linked to the climate and soil. Quantity was not a problem. They produced very little, but it was good. This is an attractive picture, but one that adds a rosy tint\nto reality. In the first half of the 1800s, the French author Stendhal visited chai, or wine factory where out of wine, sugar, iron filings and some\nflower essences, they make wine of every country . A few decades later a correspondent to Punch noted that a firm in Sete (then known as Cette) had won a bronze medal for imitation wines at the Paris Exposition of 1867. Industrially produced wine is no more modern than the protesting winemakers we have recently seen in Bordeaux and the Languedoc. In 1907, people died when growers rioted against a wine glut and low prices. In the 1930s, a Statut de la Viticulture was enacted to try to eliminate surpluses but these continued, thanks partly to the fact that, as recently as the late 1950s a third of the wine grapes in France were productive, low quality, American varieties and hybrids planted after the uprooting of phylloxera-hit vines at the end of the 9th century. In 1971, a more serious attempt to tackle the ituation came with the implementation of the Plan Chirac which led to the\nwidespread uprooting of vines and vineyards, but surpluses are still endemic. Today, France has given up a third of its wine-producing land and there are few who would claim that what has been lost yielded what Guibert calls little but good\u0026#39;. When I moved to France in 1975, the fastest selling wine came in glass\nor plastic litre-bottles with absolutely no indication of origin; the only reason for buying one example rather than another lay in its alcoholic strength. Hardly the Vin Vigneron son of the Old Europe, made in small quantities with lots of time that Aime Guibert prefers fondly to remember.",1] ); //--> 'industrial'. There are some who would mischievously describe such contact as sleeping with the enemy; Guibert might call it pragmatism.

A similar pragmatism is evident in Guibert's argument about industrial wine. Europe he implies, in a style that's reminiscent of Orwell's 'Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad' makes real wine while the Australians and Americans make the other stuff. 'French vignerons' he states 'always produced real wines, intimately linked to the climate and soil… Quantity was not a problem. They produced very little, but it was good'. This is an attractive picture, but one that adds a rosy tint to reality. In the first half of the 1800s, the French author Stendhal visited a 'chai, or wine factory' where 'out of wine, sugar, iron filings and some flower essences, they make wine of every country'. A few decades later a correspondent to Punch noted that a firm in Sete (then known as Cette) had won a bronze medal for 'imitation wines' at the Paris Exposition of 1867. Industrially produced wine is no more modern than the protesting winemakers we have recently seen in Bordeaux and the Languedoc. In 1907, people died when growers rioted against a wine glut and low prices. In the 1930s, a Statut de la Viticulture was enacted to try to eliminate surpluses but these continued, thanks partly to the fact that, as recently as the late 1950s a third of the wine grapes in France were productive, low quality, American varieties and hybrids planted after the uprooting of phylloxera-hit vines at the end of the 19th century. In 1971, a more serious attempt to tackle the situation came with the implementation of the Plan Chirac which led to the widespread uprooting of vines and vineyards, but surpluses are still endemic.

Today, France has given up a third of its wine-producing land and there are few who would claim that what has been lost yielded what Guibert calls 'little but good'. When I moved to France in 1975, the fastest selling wine came in glass or plastic litre-bottles with absolutely no indication of origin; the only reason for buying one example rather than another lay in its alcoholic strength. Hardly the '"Vin Vigneron" son of the Old Europe, made in small quantities with lots of time' that Aime Guibert prefers fondly to remember.

So how does Guibert define the difference between Vigneron Wine and Industrial wine today. 'When the estate extends beyond a few tens of hectares; when the vigneron doesn't know his vines; when he doesn't see his grapes come in year after year marked by the difference in seasons and vintages… it's no longer wine; it is perhaps an industrial wine, but no longer wine in the traditional European sense of the term.'

Hmmm. Guibert raises some interesting issues here. Chateau Latour has 65ha of vines and Chateau Margaux has 78, do these figures fall within Guibert's 'few tens of hectares'? Or are these wines industrial? Presumably, according to his rules, 'Vigneron' status would go to Australian wines like Bass Phillip Premium Pinot Noir (4ha); Jasper Hill Emily's Paddock (3.2ha) and Tahbilk's 1860 Shiraz (1/2 ha, planted in, yes, 1860). But what is one to make of large volume French wines like Guigal Cotes du Rhone (500,000 cases) or Duboeuf Beaujolais, or wines produced by big cooperatives such as Chablis or Tain in the Rhone. The grapes may be grown and picked by vignerons, but it's hard to imagine how their individual fingerprints are going to survive the process of crushing, fermenting and blending by the negociant or coop.

Vigneron Wines, Guibert continues 'have a planting density of 7,000-15,000 vines per hectare; the same area of vineyard for industrial wine would have only 2-3,000 vines. This statement ought to worry Bordeaux where the density in the more basic parts of the region is often less than 2,000 and where even such top quality estates as Chateau Magdelaine in St Emilion have only 6,000 vines/ha. Besides, the density argument ignores the fact that the number of vines needed per hectare changes in direct proportion to the amount of sunlight the plants receive. Cool, cloudy Northern Europe needs much more tightly packed vines than sunny South America or Australia.

Curiously, and perhaps wisely if he wishes to pursue a Europe = good; New World = bad argument, Guibert does not raise the subject of irrigation, a process that is is often referred to by others as typical of the industrial character of the New World. Unfortunately for this argument, there is a growing move towards dry-farming in countries like Australia where water resources are short, and growing calls for irrigation to be allowed in Europe during the hot dry summers caused by global warming. But what of the use by Christian Moueix of a helicopter to keep his vines dry during a rainstorm? And what of the widespread use in France of reverse-osmosis, must concentrators that cleverly remove excess rainwater from grape juice. Isn't the use of these by some of the top chateaux in the Medoc just a touch industrial?

Other pieces of commonly used equipment that are widely used in both New and Old Worlds include harvesters, rotary fermentation tanks and of course the big giropalette riddling machines that have almost universally replaced the human beings who once shook the yeast from champagne bottles. What could be more industrial than those? And what of the use of micro-oxygenation developed in Cahors and now used by Bordeaux chateaux such as Canon La Gaffelière? The newest computerized pneumatic bag presses and pumps to be found in top Old World cuveries are a lot more high-tech than their predecessors, but they are also more gentle to the grapes. And doesn't the continued use of traditional basket presses by big Australian firms like Hardys (for its Chateau Reynella reds) undermine accusations of industrialization? Meanwhile Pascal Delbeck of Chateau Bel-Air has come up with an ingenious notion in the form of a subtly porous latex bladder that can be introduced into a tank and inflated with oxygen which it then gently introduces into the wine while removing undesirable aromas. Delbeck is a highly spiritual, gently bearded giant, and one of the least likely industrializers I can imagine. But what if his invention had been devised at UC Davis or Roseworthy instead of in St Emilion?

One of the New World 'industrial' practices that is most frequently criticised in France is the use of oak chips or staves as a cheap alternative to new barrels. I've always thought that this was a slightly odd target to choose, given the readiness of French critics to applaud "garage" Bordeaux that have been given 200% (both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation ) new oak treatment. If it is legitimate to flavour wine with wood, does it really matter whether the wine goes into the oak, or vice versa? However, there is a far more dubious New World practice that has gone unnoticed. When Californian winemakers add tannin, they can opt for it to come in liquid form with extra vanilla or mocha flavouring.

Use of other flavouring essences certainly goes on, as the recent scandal in South Africa revealed, but it is far from certain that this – or the addition of flavoured tannins - is restricted to the New World. The firms that produce these products are multinational and it is hard to imagine either that they refuse to sell them in Europe, or that European winemakers are collectively so morally perfect that they'd refuse to buy them. But if flavourings are frowned upon, what is one to make of the use of clones, cultured yeasts and enzymes developed to increase a wine's aromatic character? Much of the 10 or 11 grams per litre of sugar that is to be found in many of the 120,000,000 bottles of Yellow Tail that were sold last year (and in the myriad copies of this all-conquering Australian brand) will have come in the form of grape concentrate. This is effectively the same stuff that is legally used to chaptalise - raise the alcoholic strength of - French wine, but its use today is far more widespread than it used to be.

One internationally applied example of industrialization that is mentioned by Guibert and with which I'd agree is the widespread use of fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. With any luck, the products used to protect the grapes from disease and insects shouldn't have too much effect on the flavour and character of the wine (though it has happened), but the fertilisers certainly will. Two or three decades ago, the acid:alkaline balance – the pH – of most red wine would have been below 3.4; today the figure is often likely to be closer to 3.6, 3.7 or even 3.8. In simple terms, wines with lower pH will be 'harder' and more obviously acidic and less immediately drinkable, but they will have greater resistance to bacteria and oxidation and possibly greater longevity. Much of the change in balance can be attributed to a trend to later harvesting driven by a taste for riper grapes, but many believe that the phosphates in fertilisers have contributed significantly to the rise in pH. (As Jean-Claude Mas a go-ahead producers has noted in Languedoc Roussillon, vines planted on previously untended land produce grapes with lower pH). Whatever the cause, Old World winemakers have had far more need to correct the balance of their wines by adding tartaric acid; a common technique in the New World, but traditionally frowned upon in Europe. The practice of acidification most famously came to light in Burgundy where the laws had to be changed after they were challenged by the winemaker at the Hospices de Beaune.

Ultimately, it seems to me that, with the exception of bio-dynamic producers who abjure most technology and chemical treatments (and for the moment we're talking about an infinitesimally small proportion of the global wine industry) any attempt to categorise wines as purely industrial or artisanal involves tiptoeing through a minefield. If I had to choose, I suppose I'd rather drink a wine that has been made from organically grown grapes but produced using oak chips and sweetened with grape concentrate than one that is bone dry, aged in an old barrel – but reeking of sulphor dioxide and made from vines that were dripping with chemical treatments. But quite frankly, given that choice, I'd far rather opt for a beer, even an industrial beer. Sometimes it can be very tough picking the terrorists from the freedom fighters.