When we are in a wine store choosing a bottle to take home for dinner, our choices essentially boil down to “Does it taste good?” and “Is the price right?” Beyond those basic concerns, though, choices abound. Maybe we choose a wine because the label is attractive. Or it’s local. Some wines’ profits support philanthropic causes or social activism. Perhaps we favor environmentally friendly wines that advertise sustainable, organic or biodynamic practices. Some people favor wines from small family producers rather than large corporations.
Those choices reflect who we are and our outlook on life. But is there a common outlook, or philosophy, or even political ideology that defines wine lovers? The British wine writer Andrew Jefford, in a January column on decanter.com, the website of Britain’s leading wine magazine, argued that there is — or there should be.
Jefford called this outlook “Wineism.” That’s not an appealing name, but I’ve yet to think of a better one. And it’s a decidedly progressive view, embracing tolerance and inclusion, which could be controversial. I know people in the wine trade who are politically conservative. Yet while they might not lean to the left as Jefford does, they invariably share the generous spirit that unites wine lovers.
Jefford was reacting to three political movements he saw endangering the free trade of wine: Catalonia’s independence movement, which threatens to tear Spain asunder; the British exit from the European Union; and President Trump’s advocacy of trade tariffs and skepticism toward climate change.
Wine was a major commodity of international commerce in medieval times, and it has always promoted and benefited from free trade. “Our wine is what it is today because of 800 years of international trade,” Jefford argues. “Its sensual intricacy and refinement, and the prosperity of those involved in farming, creating and trading it, would collapse without international trade.” A love of wine is conducive to an international outlook. It argues against parochialism.
Wine celebrates difference. “If you drink branded vodka, whisky or beer, you replicate the same experience each time,” Jefford wrote. “If you drink wine, you dive into a world of multiple differences” — vintage, place of origin, grape variety, etc. “Wine teaches us the valuable lesson that nothing is ever truly the same twice, either in place or time, and that differences merit respect.”
Wine also refuses to be locked into a single identity. It may be red, but also American, Californian, cabernet, merlot or pinot, Napa or Santa Barbara, Howell Mountain or Happy Canyon. And I’m not just an old white male. I’m a French soul trapped inside a Scottish-Irish-American body, and I embrace my multiple identities and contradictions.
And rather than “Britain first” with Brexit, or “America First,” Jefford advocates “the environment first.” “Wine is agriculture, and agriculture is wholly dependent on the environment and our relationship to the environment,” he said, reminding us that “there are no national boundaries in nature.”
That brings us back to how we spend our money when buying wine. Several wineries dedicate some or all of the proceeds from certain wines to charitable causes. Smith Story Wines donates clothing to displaced mothers and their children. Colby Red supports research on heart disease. Lubanzi Wines sends money back to South Africa to help support the farmers who grow the grapes, with the catchphrase, “Locally run, globally minded.”
Iron Horse Vineyards, a Sonoma County producer of top-notch sparkling wines, recently released the 10th vintage of its Ocean Reserve bubbly, with proceeds benefiting the National Geographic Society. The winery has also released wines in support of progressive causes, such as a Rainbow Cuvee for LGBT rights and another to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality.
Iron Horse donates $4 for each sale of Ocean Reserve to National Geographic’s efforts to establish marine protected areas and promote sustainable fishing practices. CEO Joy Sterling says the Ocean Reserve campaign reflects viticulture’s relationship to the environment.
“The health of the ocean is key to our microclimate and ability to make bubbly on this level of finesse and elegance,” Sterling said in an email. “It is all intertwined.”
Such are the choices we make when we purchase wine. Skeptics needn’t feel left out. They may prefer Iron Horse’s delicious Russian Cuvee, or perhaps a tasty bubbly from Trump Winery.