Consumers should feel more cheated than championed by Channel 4's alleged exposé
of the supposed murky ways of the wine world this week. As agenda-setting journalism goes, Dispatches fell well short of its brief.
But, with some suggestive juxtapositions, the common place use of fish finings, sulphur and malolactic bacteria took on
a sinister edge. Spliced with commentary about some high-profile scandals, which really do give wine a bad name, it put everyone in the dock, implicated for employing acceptable - and, above all, entirely legal - practices. In fact, the programme makers would have had much more engaging material
had they focused on the real Frankenstein wines - the ones where producers do flou t the laws.
The addition of a few oak chips does not a swindle make. Such glaring failings in the programme's composition make it easy for the trade to be dismissive of its impact - and surely consumers know this stuff anyway? But the smear campaign is under way. A
glance at various website forums shows the extent of consumer shock about Dispatches' "revelations". M in Bedfordshire (who presumably also buys bread and beer made from cultivated yeasts) calls for more naming and shaming so they can tell which brands are
OK to drink.
An enlightened few have sought to educate the doubters, posting details of the winemaking process to allay concerns. But, frankly, who can blame drinkers for being confused?
Educating consumers about wine is our job, a vital step in the journey on which the industry believes it is taking consumers
as we inspire them to explore and discover. Now, for the time being at least, some of th ose we are trying to convert are more concerned about finding wines that won't strike them down - forget
the differences between
Rhône and Bordeaux.
Such is the pace of the media machine, hopefully the mud will
not stick indefin itely - and certainly there is a core
of wine-lovers for whom this programme will have no impact whatsoever.
If anything, the consternation expressed by consumers who feel they've been duped should be seen as encouragement. These people like and trust wine, but they've been surprised by what they have heard. We have successfully, and justifiably, built up their expectations - and we need to manage them better.
Imparting more knowledge about some of the things we take for granted would be a good start.