Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Is Prosecco Unethical? The Latest Debate...

A friend of mine shared the following Guardian article with me on Facebook today:

And it bugged me so much, I was immediately spurred to a verbose reply, which quickly veered this way and that way as I attempted to convey all the sudden feels.

Go take a peek at the article, and then come back.

Okay, so my first thought: has Prosecco's popularity caused over-production? Absolutely. But this is not a new trend. Prosecco is Italy's largest DOC (controlled area of production,) producing over 300 million bottles a year. There are very high permitted yields to be able to reach that number. What is the downside of high yields? Loss of quality. Do higher-yielding vines cause more erosion than lower-yielding vines? Questionable. In the Northern Rhône in France, which has quite low production and yields, soil erosion is a big problem, especially in Hermitage. (There are areas of the Northern Rhône that are so steep and so eroded that they have a pulley system with carts to tote soil back up the hill after it's cascaded down!) Perhaps elevated production means increased human and mechanical traffic, and that might affect erosion, but there's no way to unequivocally know. (I don't have time or money to do a study, but would be happy to, once I'm done with my Diploma, if anyone wants to fund me!)

Then -- the article mentions possible fixes, like the planting of grass in-between rows. They question if producers would embrace that. HELLO: wine-grape growers have used cover crops since the dawn of winemaking for various reasons. Cross-pollination, encouraging useful pests, indicator crops, etc. So, also not a new trend. If they feel soil erosion is a big problem, I'm sure planting grass to halt it would be a no-brainer. And let's talk about nutrients for a minute... poorer soils that cause the vines to struggle actually create better wine (if wine vines get everything they need, they're not really motivated to produce greatness, kinda like some humans.) Common fertilizers can replace nutrients to a degree that they will nourish the vine but not spoil it rotten. And the question of pesticides moving downstream? That would happen in ANY vineyard near a water source that uses pesticides.

There are holes all over this article, and it's no wonder that the paper it's based on has not yet been peer-reviewed. So here's the thing: if you REALLY want to be an ethical consumer of wine, here are a few things you can do.

  • Buy wine from sustainable and/or organic producers.
These producers embrace practices both in the vineyard and the winery that reduce their carbon footprint and treat the environment with care. 
  •  Seek out wines with alternative packaging.
The thing is, glass is HEAVY. And bulky. So shipping it all over the world causes more carbon emissions, and uses more fuel. Unfortunately, many wines with alternative packaging are associated with lower-quality because it's all about saving money on the production end, but movement is afoot. 
  • Recycle your wine bottles.
This should go without saying, but if you're consuming wine in a glass bottle, you'd better be recycling that baby when it's empty!
  • Seek out individual producers.
Wines made by many big brands or producers may be easy to find and are recognizable in the supermarket, but a lot of them are such large-scale operators that they sacrifice quality to quantity. This also means occasional unscrupulous activities (like the addition of grape concentrate Mega Purple to dye the wine's color to something consumers might find more appealing and to cover up "off" flavors) and lack of attention to detail in the vineyard. Better to go with a smaller producer who is more hands-on and aware of how every step in the winemaking process affects his or her product. 
Image result for prosecco

So don't banish Prosecco to the "don't buy" list just because of this article. But do look for quality producers and learn more about the way they grow grapes and make wine, in Prosecco and in every wine region you "frequent." 

And just so you know, the Prosecco consortium is very concerned with sustainability.  


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