With or Without You!

I feel a bit of a fraud here, really – I’m not a big fan of U2 (though I do like this particular song), so I’m not perfectly comfortable with this tiny piece of plagiarism. However, it fits both sides of this blog so I’m sure the U2 members will approive when they read it, avid followers of colinharknessonwine.com that they are!

The two sides of this blog are namely: wine orientated (well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?); and politically orientated. Diverse corners, I agree, but linked, I think!

I’ve recently signed what amounts to a ‘political ‘ petition, most unusual for an apolitical person such as myself. Indeed, my signature has nothing at all to do with any political party’s view on the subject. By definition, I clearly have no knowledge of any such views. It’s plain common sense to me, albeit that I don’t fully understand the financial implications involved, I admit. (Perhaps some would think this lack of understanding makes my opinion worthless, but I’d argue that it isn’t just about finance).

The Costa News Group, for whom I have been writing the wine column, Cork Talk, for 18 years now, is running a petition , in the probably forlorn hope(?) of making a change in UK Law to allow those of us who have been living out of  Great Britain for over 15 years, the right to vote in the forthcoming UK referendum regarding Great Britain’s membership of the European Union.

I presume that the right to vote in UK elections generally has been taken away from the hundreds of thousands (I’ve no idea of the actual number, though believe it to be at least 200,000, pence the plural!) of us because it is believed that as we have ‘abandoned’ Great Britain we no longer have the right to have a say in what goes on there. I have to admit, I do have some sympathy with this view.

However, membership (or not) of the EU does impact upon all Britons living within its boundaries, therefore, for me, rightful ownership of a British Passport should entitle us to a vote in a referendum which will seriously affect our lives, rights and status!

Personally, in case you ask, I’m in favour of continued membership, albeit with perhaps a re-think re its rules and regulations. Safety in numbers, is relevant, I think, but that’s not all – it just makes more sense to me to be working together for the common good, rather than perhaps/probably against other European countries with a worryingly nationalistic, in my view, myopic, agenda.

However, my view is of no consequence. It’s my right to vote that is important, I believe, as is that of every other British ex-pat living within the EU, of course.

Now, a walk on the wine side (a play on words and another piece of musical plagiarism!).

Thinking of the way in which wine making is organised here in Spain and (here’s an aforementioned ‘link’) indeed in the rest of Europe and in particular about the government sanctioned Denominación de Origen controlling system – is it  better to make wine with, our without the auspices of a DO? 

I’ve written Cork Talk articles before referring to this debate. There is a mounting body of evidence which suggests that there are increasing numbers of wineries that are opting out of the DO system.

Their reasons vary –  but it’s all really about a level of dissatisfaction within the DO concerning: their self-policing regulation by the Consejo Reguladores; degenerating quality standards; financial considerations; lack of incentives for innovation; permitted grape variety restrictions; harvest yields; and more. Whilst probably not, ‘never ending’, it’s certainly an exhaustive list!

In the North East, DO Cava (although now strongly fighting back with their new designation about to be improved) has suffered an certain exodus; there are/have been stirrings in DO Valdeorras in the North West; similar changes have occurred in the South East, in the Valencia region; and even in the hallowed pastures of La Rioja discontent has reared its challenging head.

Bodegas which have presumably being trying to effect change from within whichever DO to which they’ve been affiliated, have had enough and decided to go their own way. They’ve wanted to make distinctive, singular wines, in their own way and according to their own passions and beliefs and have decided, no doubt after much heart searching, to quit their respective DOs.

But it’s a big, cruel world out there! Consumers are accustomed to the DO system and it will take a generation before entrenched attitudes are broken down. Some, not necessarily larger, but certainly very well established, famous wineries with a strong fan-base will survive the split and probably prosper too. Others are not finding it so easy.

Plus there are signs (DO Cava for example) that now it has come to the crunch, there has been a considered, positive reaction to some of the criticisms leveled at the DOs/Consejo Reguladores. Change, albeit late, perhaps too late, is happening. This may cause some of the rebels a fair degree of apoplexy as well as, perhaps, regret, even though it was their actions that precipitated the change!

But there’s a way around that too, for the go-it-alone gang – it’s in the phrase, ‘gang’. It’s not easy to be a lone-wolf (mixing metaphors is a problem of mine, I admit!), and it’s certainly expensive having to promote yourself without any backing. So bodegas have been ‘clubbing together’ – for example in DO Penedés, a large wine making area which is included in the DO Cava, several bodegas which defected from DO Cava, still make sparkling wine but under the name of ‘Classic Penedés’, a separate category under the wing of DO penedés.

Thus they are now no longer going it alone – safety in numbers (another link!).

Similarly, in a way, there are bodegas in Spain which have opted out of their DOs and joined/formed other groups. There is, for example the very prestigious Grandes Pagos de España organisation which makes wines of top quality, some of which are no longer made under the rules and regulations of the DOs to which they did, or still do, though more tentatively, belong.

There’s another ‘organisation’ too, though it’s  name is a little confusing. Pagos status is granted to some bodegas which apply according to a number of criteria, one of the main ones of which is a proven, consistent history of fine wine making and a certain individuality of soil makeup and climate. The Pago designation has the same level and importance as a DO, with, of course, many of the approved bodegas insisting that it is of a higher quality.

Plus, there is still the possibility of remaining ‘with’ a DO and achieving change from within. I know of one bodega whose top wine did not conform to the regulations of the DO under whose auspices all their other wines were made. This resulted in the bizarre situation where the bodega’s flagship wine (it’s excellent quality and always to be found in my ‘cellar’) has to be termed a ‘Table Wine’!

After some considerable lobbying, a rule change was implemented, allowing the wine in question to be permitted. Labels were changed and it is now accepted as one of the top wines of its Denominación de Origen! 

So, often it’s with you or without you – as long as the ‘you’ can either the the same, with change, or another group entirly. Solidarnosc – and that’s the final link!

Go on then, one more – things can only get better!

All comments welcome!