The Wine Cellar: Ethics and Wine

The Wine Cellar: Ethics and Wine

Ethics and wine

By Kay Pfaltz


The human condition by nature is one of contradiction, and for some humans like me (foxhunter yet animal activist, meat lover yet vegetarian) one of conflicted desires and values.

Thus, when two bottles of $499 wine arrived at the shop, Bev got nervous, I got to thinking, and we both began talking and questioning the ethics of wine, in particular spending such a sum on one bottle when around the world people go hungry. Is it ever worth it?

The average European is unlikely to spend $500 for one bottle—more the domain of Americans, English or Japanese—opting instead, because he or she consumes wine daily, for the inexpensive and local Vin dePays. When prices climb this high, wine becomes something of a status symbol purchased at Sotheby’s or Christie’s instead of that which I believe it was meant: a life-giving (and life-prolonging!) beverage to be enjoyed and shared with company, song, dance or food. Rarely are the majority of these great auction wines consumed, for to do so destroys their monetary value.

Should wine even be measured by money? Doesn’t the intrinsic value of wine have to do with family, friends, and brilliant (at least at the time we thought it was) conversation? Or with its warmth and taste and the pleasure it provides?

Anyone can spend $1500 or $2000 on a bottle of wine if he’s (fill in the blank: rich, stupid, passionate) enough. That’s nothing to brag about. Many people do, but before we pass judgment, declaring the money better spent if given to the poor or the animals, consider that many people with a passion for great wine, also donate great sums. It’s a bit like Oprah being criticized for throwing a lavish $50 million birthday party for herself, when she also donates equal amounts to children in need. Perhaps then, one answer lies in donating sums equal to our luxury good expenditures to the elderly, children or animals.

Wine prices have skyrocketed since the 1970s, and most of the small vintners I know inFranceall say the same thing: there’s never any reason to pay more than $30 for a bottle of wine. I also know most of them have splurged from time to time.

So what are these $500 bottles of wine sitting around Basic Necessities? Château de Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2000. The wine is perfection: rich and smooth, loaded with layers of fruit, very complex with notes of cherry, raspberry, licorice, coffee, chocolate, cedar and a multitude of spices. It’s a wine that tells you know you’ve tasted something special and something exceedingly well-made. I tasted it two years ago and it was incredible then, so I can only imagine that it’s now sublime and in two or four years, well, I don’t have the adjectives. The year 2000 was exceptional, but unlike the great 2000 Bordeaux, most of which are not anywhere near ready to drink yet, this Châteauneuf-du-Pape is stunning. If you promise to donate to charity, we’ll knock the price way down. We want the bottles out of here.

Is it ever worth it? That’s a question I cannot answer, but perhaps it involves some kind of contradiction. As Thomas Carlyle liked to point out, if contradictions in life don’t continually occur, we stagnate. I’ll let readers decide, but last night I had a Vin de Pays from Haute Provence, simple, earthy and red and it cost $10.99. Now that’s something to brag about.


Published in Nelson County Life Magazine

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