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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Thursday, November 26 2009. 11:20

Davos of Wine: Gaja Decries Spirited Approach against wine

Angelo Gaja, invariably described as the Prince of Piedmont, also owning wineries in Maremma and Montalcino in Tuscany, mounted a scathing attack against the approach by bureaucrats and the spirit industry against the development of  wine culture- the sentiments expressed by several other speakers.

Angelo was speaking as a special speaker at the First edition of the World Wine Symposium, dubbed as the Davos of Wine earlier this month. He spoke passionately about the development of Italian wines with a special reference to the Piemontese wines, tracing back the history of the family and the region and the pride the producers of Piedmont in their wines.

Talking about the current crisis in Europe and the declining wine consumption, he said wine is a natural form of alcohol and a way of life in Europe and is not only to make money. Politicians sometimes take a different stand for expediency. ‘We must not be silent spectators. We must come together and learn to take a position on wine,’ he said, referring to the wine producers in Europe.

Angelo also spoke of the freedom in wine making and the influence of New World wines in Europe. ‘We have received some influence of full and powerful wines. Earlier Europe produced elegant wines. New world makes highly structured and opulent wines. This has influenced the taste of journalists, consumers etc. When you taste a lot of wines in a day, you tend to rate rich wines higher. If you taste 30-35 wines, the ones with higher opulence will stand out better,’ he said.

The Scandinavian Gil Schwartz, a resident of Las Vegas and an international wine consultant did not mince words when he said that Europe was fast losing its edge as a wine producer. ‘ With two recent French presidents not drinking wine- the natural food product of the country, there is a tendency to treat wine as an alcoholic drink and unless countries like France and Italy took corrective action, you will lose out,’ he said.

Prof. Jean-Robert Pitte, former president of the Sorbonne University also talked about the anti-wine wave while talking about history of wine as a cultural beverage, on the second day. ‘Wine is not a sin’, he said. “It’s a cultural value which has created happiness for a thousand years and we must say that it is good for us all.’’

Jacques Berthomeau, a senior official of the French Ministry of Agriculture took pains to tell Gil that the French industry was not in crisis of losing out but admitted that the ministry of health, which was focused on curbing alcoholism, has perhaps turned of the younger generation by condemning wine also as a harmful alcoholic product. France has a very strong, almost fanatic anti alcohol lobby-which has found a sympathetic President Nicolas Sarkozy who is a teetotaler. 

Steven Spurrier, the UK based journalist and a former merchant who lived in Paris and was the architect of Judgment at Paris strongly criticized the French government for its lack of understanding of wine and comparing it with hard liquor. Gone are the days when the workers would drink gallons of cheap wine and get drunk, he said. ‘The government needs to change its stand,’ he felt.

To non Europeans, it was rather surprising to find the Old World almost paranoid even if some did not want to admit it in public. When I talked to Elin McCoy, a journalist-author friend from the US who writes for Bloomberg, about her impression about the conference, her instant reaction was, ‘it is surprising that the Europeans are so anxious about the erosion in wine drinking culture,’ adding it would be a pity to see this happen to the ‘cradle of wine culture.’  

The topic is probably going to grab the center stage next year when Francois Mauss, the French born founder of Grand Jury European in 1996 and organizer of the fist edition of World Wine Symposium, tweaks the programming for the next year’s conference at Villa d’Este.

Subhash Arora

Post Script: It would perhaps be naïve to conclude that the conference had anything to do with it directly but France has recently announced –post conference, that the French industry has set up a new pro-wine lobby with a budget of about €2m  to counter the effects of the anti-wine campaign of the French government.

Starting next year, Bordeaux, Champagne and other French regions will support and finance 'serious, in-depth studies by doctors and scientists to show the beneficial effects of wine,' says Pierre-Henry Gagey, President of BIVB- the Association of Burgundy producers.

The lobbying body ought to react to Prof. Pitte’s remarks at the World Wine Symposium that France should encourage wine clubs for 17-19 year olds so that the youth can be initiated into wine rather than other hard liquors.


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