Hi my healthy friend 🙂
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes. This drink, a blend of local expertise, the grapes, the sun and know-how is apparently natural. Be they red, rosé or white, all our wines are praised in a most complimentary manner. France, the leading producer of wines in the world, boasts of the quality of its terroirs while describing its winemakers as craftsmen.
But what is the actual reality on the ground, what are the benefits and/or risks associated with this drink?
In this article, I am doing for you a summary of the 6 months of investigation that were required for this nearly 55-minute-long “Special Investigation” report. This is a French program featuring investigative reports that go right to the heart of the reality of the topics, covering them in a fully transparent manner. This French wine report is called:
1. Grand tasting at “Carrousel du Louvre”
The journalist, together with a renowned sommelier, took part in “Grand tasting at Carrousel du Louvre”, the biggest event for lovers of wine. It is taking place in Paris in France. As you can see on the link, this event is also happening in Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The key selling point of French wine is what is called the “goût du terroir” – the distinctive taste that can only be acquired from the conditions in a local region.
Is this really the very soul of the wine, or just marketing hype?
Journalist: “Have you recently tasted a terroir wine which had a truly distinctive character or not?”
Sommelier: “No, forget about the terroir.”
2. Pesticides are used on a large scale
The journalist went to Bordeaux, three months ahead of the harvest, tractors go flat out spraying gallons of pesticides (chemical products protecting vineyards against disease). But those substances are toxic and irritating and sometimes carcinogenic.
In the heart of the vineyards, pesticides are the elephant in the room and the journalist in not welcome.
After struggling in making a booking, the journalist managed to get one. He will finally meet the director of the château, at St Émilion. The director joined by a winegrower will always try to proof the pesticides are mandatory for the good health of the vines.
Before his appointment and to prepare his interview about pesticides, the journalist had three bottles of chateau wine analysed by an independent laboratory.
The results come… Boscalid, Cyprodinil, Dimethomorph, fenhexamid, fenbuconazole et phthalimide are found in the bottles…
Is the director aware of pesticides in his bottles?
Answer: “No. Because of the filters I have, there shouldn’t have any”
The journalist shows him the results analysed by the independent laboratory, especially the quantities.
Answer: “It is very surprising to find some fosetyl-aluminum in my wines in those large amounts”. He thought that fosetyl-aluminum was disappearing, but he is taking the blame as this was entered into the specifications sheet of the “softest” products.
The journalist is showing him another result with 4 pesticides found in a bottle.
His answer: “OK, but I used more than 4 during the season, this demonstrate that we cannot find everything”.
After this meeting, a dozen bottles from the main wine-producing regions in France were analysed… ALL the samples included traces of pesticides. Between 2 and 14 residues, with a very serious finding of a European prohibited substance present in 3 of the bottles. It is carcinogenic and its name is carbendazim. The amount was small, but still thirty to forty times more than the quantity allowed in water.
So far, there is no maximum amount required regarding the pesticide residues in wines.
Carbendazim was found in Aude Rouge, Baron de Lestac and J.P Chenet.
How did this substance, which has been banned throughout the European Union since 2009, still end up in these wines?
Spain… The journalist went to Figueres, next to the boarder, to double check. He went with a beekeeper who lives near the border, speaks Catalan fluently and is familiar with the stores that engage in trading in Carbendazim.
They passed themselves off as winegrowers. In Spain, the pesticide based on Carbendazim is called “Maypon Flow”. By simply asking, they will get three bottles of it without any issue. And it seems that they are not the only ones coming to this shop to get some. People are coming from everywhere with trailers that they load up with large quantities, they travel some 400 km to come and acquire some of it. Crossing the border is very easy as the police is barely checking.
Back to Paris, the journalist contacted the three companies that sell the wines containing Carbendazim. The producers of the Aude Rouge are part of the Carrefour group, which does not respond to the reporter. Castel, the company producing Baron de Lestac, will not reply either for many weeks, but after persistence, the response instead comes from the CEO himself. “Traces like the ones you detected are sometimes identified through our controls measures. When our own analyses detect minute traces of this molecule, we instigate a traceability process that enables us to straightaway confirm that these traces are the result of the degradation of another molecule.” After the journalist requested to see the results of traceability process, Castel company refused to show those documents.
The third bottle with some Carbendazim is J.P.Chenet.
The journalist went where this wine is produced, near Béziers. With 85 million bottles, J.P. Chenet is the best-selling French wine in the world. The brand’s red wines are made from grapes sourced from thousands of winegrowers from this French region.
The two persons in charge of quality and purchasing for J.P. Chenet agreed to meet with the journalist. According to them, traces of carbendazim in their wines is related to the degradation of another substance, with this latter one permitted.
After the interview and saying that they don’t know if winegrowers are using this product, the purchasing manager takes him into his confidence, saying that while some winegrowers use banned pesticides, this is due to economic pressures. “These guys are no longer able to live off their viticulture activities. The guy in Champagne is not going to buy his products in Spain with his 50 or 60,000-euro gross per hectare. He doesn’t need that. Here, they are 3 or 4-thousand-euro gross per hectare. So obviously, it’s killing them.”
More surprisingly, those pesticides have a direct effect on the taste of the wine. The journalist went further at “Faugères”. He is meeting the sommelier there, to listen to two soils engineers coming on the winemaker’s vineyards following their request as they are worried about their “terroir” and their wine. On site, engineers found a problem. In the soil, the vine stocks were growing horizontally instead of vertically down deep into the soil and rock (Schist), down where the taste of the terroir is to be found, where the taste of wine is defined.
According to the experts, the roots are no longer growing downwards in the soil due to pesticides. Insecticides kill insects, pesticides kill the grass, whereas the wildlife eats grass and therefore creates porosity (holes) on the surface. These holes allow oxygen and water to get in, and roots need oxygen and air in order to penetrate downwards. Without this, the only option the roots have is to grow towards the surface to find this water and oxygen. All those treatment products make the vine stocks going up. Therefore, WE ARE NO LONGER IN THE “TERROIR”. Engineers understand the economic challenges but they are struggling to make the winegrowers sowing the seeds of their own destruction because it is not going to last for long. These researchers analysed more than 400 plots in France and estimate that 60% of the vines do not reach down into the rock.
3. Down in the cellars, winemakers play at being chemists
The journalist keeps investigating during the harvests, as he wants to see how the vine is made in the vast. But this, NOBODY is willing to show it. Therefore, he decided to infiltrate them. After several applications for internships, he received a positive response from a chateau with a very good reputation located in the Bordeaux region.
An “idyllic image” is used to depict the production of Bordeaux wines by industry representatives – with a nice clip accompanied by a soft voice slowly reeling off a warm and harmonious melody of words – highlighting traditional crop harvesting method, starting with the hand-picking of ripe grapes that are poured into baskets. Down in the cellars, there are only two ingredients: grapes and yeast, which is used to convert the sugar into alcohol, a process called “fermentation”. The woody flavor is then a product of the wine aging in oak barrels for 16 to 18 months.
The journalist will stay undercover for a month. The day before the harvest, the person in charge is worried because all the grapes are green (not ripe yet). Waiting for the grapes to be ripe would be taking the risk to lose part of the harvest in case of bad weather. The order is given for the harvest to start, then machines gather grapes up by the bunch – which is a far cry from what is seen in the promotional clip.
Once it is time to put them into vats, the employees turn into micro-chemists (we are no longer in the traditional fermentation of the video clip) … First product added to the grape; yeasts (all industrial) to speed up fermentation. To give color and taste; inputs. For example, they add some tannins giving a darker color. Also, Ammonium sulfate, a fertilizer that accelerates fermentation. Also, sulphites prevent oxidation, while oak chips give it a vanilla flavour…
Finally, when the fermentation is finished, the wine will then rest in oak casks for 9 months, not 16-18 months as the promotion clip says. To give a taste of wood in such a short time, once again, there is a trick; pieces of oak are added in nets. This technique allows you to avoid the yearly change of the oak cask. At 600 euros for an oak cask against 60 euros for the sticks (nets), the château makes significant savings.
The customer is fooled, because after a while, wine doesn’t taste anything anymore when it is supposed to improves in bottles over the years.
Today, winemakers can use 60 different products to make their wine. A part from sulphites, they don’t have to mention anything on the bottle label…
The president of the Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux Wine, which is the Bordeaux wine lobby, refused to meet with the journalist.
After this refusal, he journalist is making an appointment with the National Institute for Origin and Quality, the regulator of the taste of wines in France. He is going there with about twenty products most frequently added in the French wines. He is explaining that he worked in a château for a month and he is showing the video of what it is really done on site.
After showing him all the products and telling him that five to 10 of them are used for each vintage;
Question: “Is it also this way that we are making wine today?
Answer: “Do you have other questions?”
Question: “Nowadays, are all these products French terroir wines?”
Answer: “Generally, a product is like a technique, it‘s not good or bad per se. It whatever use is made of it., the amount you use. Or else it is a case of deciding that wines with an appellation of origin are those historical wines. I’m not sure you would find the wines drunk during the reign of Louis XIV enjoyable.”
In France, one winegrowing region has pushed the concept of industrially producing the taste of its wine to its very limit – it has even become its hallmark: ‘Beaujolais’.
Everything started in 1987, The aromas of the new Beaujolais have become a little strange… “banana aroma”. Over the years, journalist’s reports are always the same with the interviewees saying: “new Beaujolais has a banana aroma this year!”
This taste is not a miracle, but has a name: the 71B (Industrial yeast – the aroma developer). Used up until the mid-1990s, until the banana flavor went out of fashion. Today, the trend is for “red fruit aromas”.
The journalist went to Beaujolais, a few weeks before the launch of the new Beaujolais. A winegrower will soon reveal another secret to change the taste of wine.
The miracle machine is called a “boiler”, which is used to heat the grapes and to define the aromas once the grapes cool down. It is a very simple technical process called thermovinification. According to the temperature, you get different tastes. At 60 degrees, there is a kind of aggregation of red fruits and, the higher you go, the more it will tend towards a definite blackcurrant flavor.
The journalist went to the CEO of the largest Beaujolais merchant in France (4 million bottles sold per year), announcing that he would bet his bottom dollar that the new Beaujolais, this year, would have a blackcurrant flavor.
Would the CEO admit that the taste of his favorite wine is often modified?
At the meeting, they tasted the new “cuvée”, with the CEO praising his wine – “A ruby red color, very aromatic, black fruit flavors, blackcurrant, blueberries, especially blackcurrant”. Saying that this taste comes from the grape variety, and especially the “millésime stamp” – its vintage – since there can be years where it has red fruits and others with black fruits. The black fruits years are great vintages.
If he recognizes the fact of the technique of thermovinification, he dismisses the fact that a blackcurrant flavor comes at 70 degrees… and also denies the fact that yeast gives off aromas, giving the wine its taste, like the 71B from his vintage wines with a banana aroma…
Over 30 million bottles have been sold worldwide.
5. How can good bottles of wine be found in a sea of increasingly industrial wines?
The wine retailers. The most famous in France is Nicolas. According to their marketing, their strength lies in the advice given. Together with the welcoming atmosphere, the advice to customers, a respectful approach to sales, and the selling of pleasure. Is this true to life?
The vendors are all coming from Nicolas training course. The brand is selling the same vines roughly in 500 shops. This means that wines are coming from suppliers that can produce large amount. Are there only good wines in this large amount?
When being able to have a one-to-one with the vendors in their Nicolas store, the suppliers let slip some extremely unnerving secrets about the mediocrity of certain wines such as Saint-mont, Buzet, Cahors, Madiran, ending on a climactic note with the Jaja de Jau qualified as a drama, from start to finish.
Far from his picture of wine retailers and terroir wines, would Nicolas have become a wine retailer today?
After having been contacted, the company accepts the journalist’s request to film. He is met by the CEO. Behind the door sits the communications manager. After watching videos of his vendors who don’t think very highly of his wines, the CEO is surprised and saddened to hear these comments. He denies that his wines are of poor quality, fit for the supermarket.
After conducting the interview, the journalist goes to the wine section of a supermarket. There are hundreds of different varieties, thousands of bottles.
To figure it out, there are medals on the bottles. Over 25 different medals in this supermarket.
There are more than 100 competitions per year in France to award these medals world record), so do they differentiate the excellent wines from the others?
The journalist then infiltrated a great sommelier into a jury. The tastings are done behind closed doors. 100 wines have been preselected, with 20 medals to be awarded. The sommelier is part of a jury of 4 people who are all from within the trade. There are blind tastings of 15 wines, with one wine quickly standing out from the crowd, BUT it will be pushed aside, with preference given to two other wines that are more of a “catch-all”, that will SELL MORE EASELY. Selling and driving up the prices of the wines is the only objective… No wine has any genuine quality, but the medals are there, as they drive sales. They – the medals – are a tool to be used for industrial ends, just like dressing up the taste as well as the pesticides.
For this investigation, the journalist went to the biggest French wine fair with an expert, got himself hired on a farm and then by a retailer, and even participated in a jury that awards medals which are supposed to recognize quality.
He went from one surprise to the next – wines made in a production chain, chemical treatments between April and September, one after the other at a breakneck pace in order to get big returns. Pesticides are sometimes found in our glasses even, with prohibited substances used surreptitiously. In the cellars, the wine-producers rely on technology and additives to modify the taste of the wine. The bottom line is that wine retailers sell wine that they no longer believe in.
A fatal blow? It’s not certain.
Dear healthy friends and lovers of GOOD WINE, don’t lose hope. I kept the last 4-minute report of: “French wine, the hangover: Investigation on the well-kept secrets of the French vineyard” for my next article, we will see that, despite it all, it is possible to find and support great winemakers who cherish handmade, authentic tastes and who respect the environment 🙂
Follow me in our next article!
Let’s grow old together 🙂
In the comments below, tell me what your daily and weekly consumption of wine is?
Wishing you a long and healthy life 😊