Jefford on Monday: Wineism – towards a political philosophy of wine

Jefford on Monday: Wineism – towards a political philosophy of wine

Andrew Jefford takes his cue for 2018 from the bottles…

In mid-December last year, I received a letter from Miguel Torres senior, outlining some of the difficulties Barcelona has faced over the last six months, and asking me to help support the city if I was able.  Those difficulties were the terrorist attack of August 17th, followed by the Catalan referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence by secessionist parties.  As “a consequence of all the events above,” wrote Miguel, “many tourists have cancelled their trips to Catalonia and Barcelona.”

I wrote back to Miguel and we later discussed the matter on the telephone.  Since then, the elections of December 21st have served only to confirm the deep divisions within Catalan society (secessionist parties won 47.5 per cent of the vote, and unionist parties 43.3 per cent).  The tense, flag-infested atmosphere in Catalonia is unlikely to lift soon.

The eighteenth months of post-Brexit turmoil in Britain and the effects of the political and economic nativism of President Trump’s ‘America first’ policies provide more evidence of how swiftly political populism translates into separatism and identity politics.  More of the same awaits us in 2018.  How might this affect wine and wine trading?  And beyond that, on this New Year’s Day, might it be possible (or at least fun) to sketch out some kind of political philosophy based on wine?

It’s difficult to see how Catalonian secession from Spain, the British voting to leave the European Union, or the US abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, seeking to renegotiate both NAFTA and the Korus FTA with South Korea, and failing to progress the TTIP agreement with the EU might actually facilitate the flow of wine across national borders.  Let’s briefly consider each in turn.

Miguel Torres reported that, as his company exports 75 per cent of its wines, the effect of the Catalan crisis on sales had not been marked – though sales in Torres’ own Vinoteca in Barcelona had slumped by 30 per cent since October.  Things would certainly worsen if Catalonian independence was to succeed, since the new statelet would then crash out of the EU with economically catastrophic consequences for this prosperous region of Spain.  This was why Unideco, the holding company of Codorníu-Raventós, was one of many major Catalan employers and businesses moving its headquarters away from Catalonia over the autumn (the headquarters officially shifted to Haro in Rioja, where Unideco already had Bodegas Bilbainas, on November 27th).

Exactly how tortuous, complex and problematic the process of creating new trading arrangements in place of those painstakingly put in place over decades will dominate news reports in Britain over the next 12 months, and probably for years after that.  Britons were completely unprepared for the complexity of the Brexit process (many Leave voters naively thought “we’d be out in a week”).  Having been slathered with blithe optimism from the Leave campaign, they didn’t realize how many aspects of their lives would be affected.  The wine trade may not be a headline part of this process, but there must be negative consequences for importers and merchants, given that two-thirds of British wine imports (by value) come from the EU.  The only certainty is that no new arrangement will better the existing one.

US renegotiations of existing trade agreements are at an earlier stage, and in any case the Trans-Pacific Partnership had not yet been ratified, but producers in the leading wine-producing countries behind the TPP (P4 founder member New Zealand, plus Australia and Chile) will certainly be disappointed by its failure to open access to 800 million potential consumers.

The separate TTIP trade agreement (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) with Europe seems unlikely to make much further headway during the Trump presidency.  It’s worth noting, though, that many supporters of Bernie Sanders were deeply opposed to the TPP, just as opposition to TTIP in Europe has come chiefly from the political left.  This was also the source of opposition to CETA, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.  Nativists and anti-liberals tend to see eye-to-eye on free trade: they don’t like it.  It threatens the dreams of control which both share.

My proposal for 2018, then, is that the wine drinkers and wine producers of the world should unite in adopting and advocating a political philosophy of wine.

Here are just five founding principles of what we might call Wineism; readers may wish to add more of their own.  Write to your representatives now!

The acceptance of and legal protection for multiple identities

We’d all like to be sitting in front of a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny les Amoureuses, I don’t doubt.  What is its identity?  An Amoureuses?  A Chambolle?  A Côtes de Nuits?  A red burgundy?  A French wine?  A European wine? A red wine?  The answer, of course, is all of these.  What is true for wines is still more true for human beings.  When I begin to enumerate my own identities, I soon lose count.  Wineists should facilitate the legal recognition of multiple identities, and combat those who seek to impede it.

The celebration and protection of difference

If you like wine, you love difference; difference should be therefore be accepted as an absolute good.  If you drink branded vodka, whisky or beer, you replicate the same experience each time.  If you drink wine, you dive into a world of multiple differences – of vintage, of origin, of variety, of wine-making techniques, of ageing practices, of level of maturity.  Wine teaches us the valuable lesson that nothing is ever truly the same twice, either in place or time, and that differences merit respect.  It’s time we learned the lesson, and wrote it into our political thinking.

Support for the transnational

If you accept and embrace the wine-based principle of multiple identity and the wine-inspired celebration and protection of difference, it follows that the primacy of national identity over all other forms of identity is objectionable and inadequate.  Wineists should therefore seek to support and strengthen all of those transnational organizations (economic, political, social and charitable) which seek to better the lives of citizens of the world, and should actively work to stop their own nations impeding such initiatives.

An end to all trade barriers

Philippe Roudié, Emeritus Professor of Geography at Bordeaux University, has pointed out that the largest of all commercial trades in the medieval western world was the wine trade (900,000 hl of wine shipped out of Bordeaux in the autumn and winter sailings of 1306, for example).  Our wine is what it is today because of 800 years of international trade.  Its sensual intricacy and refinement, and the prosperity of those involved in farming, creating and trading it, would collapse without international trade.

The fewer barriers there are to international trade, thus, the better.  The superficial attractions of protectionism sometimes appeal to struggling wine producers, but rarely to those who are thriving. The best solution in such circumstances is to tax those who thrive, and use those resources to help the strugglers to find new employment — but not to step back from or abandon free trade.

The environment first

Wine is agriculture, and agriculture is wholly dependent on the environment and our relationship to the environment.  Our leaders may not all recognize it, but we are standing on the edge of an environmental cliff edge at present, caused by population growth, anthropogenic climate change and an often arrogant disregard for the environment by the ‘developed world’ as it enriched itself over the last century.  Once we start to tumble from that cliff, disasters of an order we can as yet barely imagine will follow, thick and fast.

These will only be capable of resolution by transnational action (there are no national boundaries in nature) and a radical re-think of all our systems, behaviours and economic assumptions, if they are capable of resolution at all.

Wineists recognize this – as, by the way, does Miguel Torres.  “My principal concern,” he said, as we ended our conversation before Christmas, “is not politics, but climate change.”


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