Cutting corners to save pennies isn’t just a problem for supermarket ready-meals. Some wine producers may be equally culpable.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are a supplier of “value” lasagne to a major national supermarket. Your costs keep going up yet your customer is not willing to pay more. Indeed, because they buy so much from you and know that your survival depends on it, they lean on you hard to pay less for your product.
You find yourself forced to look for ways to save money. You will naturally look at cheaper packaging and manufacturing costs but eventually you will have nowhere else to go but to reconsider your ingredients list - the stuff that actually gets eaten. In the case of the lasagne you could look to use less of the expensive ingredients (like meat perhaps?) and more of the cheaper ones and hope nobody notices But suppose that you’re then offered a way to make the same product, with just as much meat in it as before but which will suddenly make the sums add up? Hey! You might even be able to turn a profit this time too! What would you do? Would this apparent winner be worth backing?
None of this is alien to the world of wine. Back in 1985 the Austrian wine trade was almost killed off by the “antifreeze” scandal where diethylene glycol was added to some wines to make them appear fuller-bodied than they naturally were. The following year methanol was used by some Italian producers as a means of boosting the booze content of otherwise thin wines. 21 people died having drunk the stuff.
There is a list of ingredients on your value lasagne (though you may have to have been rather creative in writing it) but there are no such labels on bottles of wine. What’s the answer then?
Well, the obvious answer in the case of the lasagne is to buy the ingredients you need from trusted sources and make your own. You’ll know what’s in it and it won’t necessarily cost you more. I bet it’ll taste better too! Not that I’m advocating that you suddenly attempt to make your own single vineyard Sangiovese though. The simple solution with wine is to make sure you pay enough for the stuff you’ll be consuming. It works for lasagne too by the way. I know we bang on about this all the time, but in the light of the horsemeat revelations it’s worth remembering that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Pressure from the big retailers producers to hit price points grows all the time. Taxation constantly rises, as do fuel costs and the price of dry goods. The recent loss of the UK’s AAA credit rating has sent sterling into a nose dive making all things foreign that bit more expensive at source. Recent harvests have been of decent quality (mostly) but low quantity and prices will go up; it’s unavoidable. Unless, of course, someone is prepared to sell at a loss or simply resorts to cheating of course, in which case you may still be able to find those supermarket deals, but what will you actually be drinking?
People have been caught cutting corners making wine for commercial sale before. Now, more than ever, the pressure will be on prices. One famous drink brand has previously used the advertising tag “Reassuringly Expensive” but it’s probably truer of decent wine than it is of lager. Low yields, a worsening exchange rate, and George Osborne will produce an unhappy combination this year, but take comfort from the fact that there will still be plenty of winemakers (and wine merchants) who will steadfastly refuse to cut corners so that you can be confident of what you’re drinking. After all, that homemade lasagne deserves nothing less!