By now, many of you will have heard of, read about, and/or actually watched the documentary Bitter Grapes, a film that examines harsh conditions for workers in some areas of the South African wine industry.
The Washington Post has an excellent summary of the film, its impacts on the image of South African wine worldwide, and the response by the region’s wine trade:
“Danish journalist Tom Heinemann… found that some workers were allegedly being paid less than the minimum wage, exposed to pesticides, consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol and discouraged from joining unions, among other problems.”
The WP piece also puts the film’s findings in important context: like the USA, South Africa doesn’t exactly have a great humanitarian record when it comes to how farm workers were treated in the past. In more recent history, there was the terrible “dop” system (now illegal), under which S. African workers were paid partially in wine.
I’m not here to discuss the implications of the documentary, though for sure I have opinions on those given my past visits to South Africa’s wine country.
What I want to talk about is the Wines of South Africa (WOSA, the promotional body for the region’s wine business) response to Bitter Grapes. Because their response tastes a lot like sour grapes to me…
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White wines get the review shaft (image: winecurmudgeon.com)
A little over a week ago, my friend Jeff Siegel published details by PhD Suneal Chaudhary, who analyzed over 64,000 wine scores, dating to the `70s, from “major wine magazines.” The study’s aim was to ascertain if red wines routinely receive higher point score reviews than white wines (other styles were presumably ignored).
Long-time 1WD readers know that I have become a big fan of statistically relevant data, and the data in this case (including how those data were handled) are, for sure, statistically relevant, in sample size, time duration, and applied analysis.
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions, but Jeff summed up the congruence of the findings with the common sense experiences of wine geeks everywhere nicely in his original post on the subject:
“We don’t pretend that these results are conclusive, given the variables involved. Red wines may be inherently better than white wines (though that seems difficult to believe). They certainly cost more to make, and that might affect the findings. The review process itself may have influenced the study. Not every critic publishes every wine he or she reviews, and those that were published may have been more favorable to reds than whites. And, third, the scoring process, flawed as it is, may have skewed the results regardless of what the critics did.
Still, given the size of the database, and size matters here, Suneal’s math shows something is going on. And that’s just not our conclusion. I asked three wine academics to review our work, and each agreed the numbers say that what is happening is more than a coincidence. That’s the point of the chart that illustrates this post – 90 percent of the 2010 red wines that we had scores for got 90 points or more.”
What to make of all of this?
Personally, I think that we wine geeks ought to be a bit more flabbergasted at the discrepancy, considering that, in general, white wines are superior to reds aromatically…
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