When it comes to buying food and wine, I am, as Sam and Dave, “A Soul Man”. I choose carefully and slowly – sometimes annoyingly so for the VOR – enjoying the whole shopping experience, for which I set aside a considerable portion of time and family income. I care about what we put in our mouths and stomachs, and try to avoid, where possible, mass market bulk produce. Part of this stems from my concerns about regional variation and difference, chemicals, pesticides and additives and partly due to the basic sensations of taste – I almost never confine my decisions solely to price. This may seem a trifle elitist, and is, I admit, often beyond my budget – but that’s how I roll.
I like shopping locally, rather than globally, in order to ensure that innovative and energetic small businesses remain open – not the lazy one’s mind you – but I champion the shopkeeper as civic leader, pioneer, entrepreneur and innovator – Oh and they need to sell good stuff.
It’s also about sustainability and sustenance, slow rather than fast food, local economies, farming, agriculture and community – as I write this, the VOR is evangelically joining a small online fruit and veg supplier that sends a monthly seasonal selection direct to your door – in a box.
Soul and Body, Lightness and Weight, to quote Kundera’s great novel, are important when choosing wine. The history of traditional winegrowing areas, the winegrower and makers singular vision with an eye on the future but roots in the past, thus ensuring that vineyards are not being grubbed up (the more observant amongst you may have noticed rapeseed replacing vineyards during your summer drives through France) and that families can remain connected to the land. It’s that community thing again – but it costs more to care.
I bet you didn’t know that many of the wines you routinely buy off your local supermarket shelves also arrive in a box.
Not the kind of 2.5 litre “goon bag” that looks uncool on the dining table, but a 24,000 litre polypropylene bladder on a container ship. On arrival – at rather depressing dockside locations – it is then decanted into a bottle (often bearing an exotic brand name or critter label) and hey presto the bourgeoning thirst of the unromantic is satisfied at the rate of 1.3 billion litres a year.
No doubt about it, big BIB equals big business, but in the words of John Berger “To remain innocent may also be, to remain ignorant.”
At 56p a litre pre shipping, and with 57% of the average £5 UK wine being pure tax (a cost presumably dressed up as protecting the interests of the national liver rather than the exchequer) this keeps costs down and profits up, – but “what gaineth a man if he loses his soul”.
You can play the green card for UK bottling under the auspices of environmental issues in reducing carbon footprint via shipping, but what about the glass? You may prefer to buy your wine for the cost of a London pint but you still like it to come in bottle – right! If you have 20/20 vision you can discern “bottled and filled in the UK” in very small print on the back label of these wines, although qualitatively it’s much the same as “brewed under licence” – which brings me neatly back to Kundera and “Words Misunderstood”.