I remember an article in Punch, probably forty years ago now, in which the late Alan Coren imagined a London which had been taken over by estate agents. Anything south of the river was re-classified as ‘Surrey’; anything north, ‘Hampstead’.
We’re going to get something like this if the new EU proposal to liberalise vineyard planting rights goes through: west will be a huge Bordeaux appellation, east a smaller but no less dominant Burgundy, with a patch of Champagne and a strip of Rhone. In theory, by the end of 2016, Bordeaux could increase from 120,000 ha to 220,000; Burgundy could double from 28,000 ha to 59,000. The Iberian peninsula will basically become Rioja on the east and Douro on the west, because the vineyard areas of Rioja in Spain and Douro in Portugal could increase in size by factors of six and five respectively.
The objective, apparently, is “to boost the wine sector’s competitiveness by reducing production costs”, which is free-market bollocks-speak for making cheaper wine to sell in the supermarkets.
Let’s for the moment put aside the experience of Australia and New Zealand, where unrestricted planting has produced massive over-supply, falling prices and bankruptcies, and concentrate on Europe.
Even without this new proposal, we still produce 175m hl of wine each year and consume only 130m hl. In other words, supply is once again exceeding demand by a comfortable margin.
It’s a wine lake. And the last time there was a wine lake of this magnitude, the EU introduced a planting ban, as a result of which we achieved some kind of balance between supply and demand.
We managed to create a market in which the good producers could flourish, an environment in which good wine could stand out rather than be drowned in a tsunami of mediocrity. That policy will be reversed if the current proposals are implemented.
Not Dark Yet does not react in Daily Mail knee-jerk fashion to every idea that comes out of Brussels. I actually approve of many. But this is insane.
It's insane because there is already too much wine being produced. It's insane because too much of it is the lowest common denominator stuff which this proposal will encourage. It's insane because the whole concept of terroir will be undermined. It's insane because historic names and great sites will be tarnished.
We are still, just about, members of the European Union. Thirteen countries have already registered their opposition to these “catastrophic” plans. If Britain joined them, there would be a majority against.
Wouldn’t it be great to be part of the majority in Europe? And in such a good cause?
Today's listening: The Coull Quartet, our local band, playing Haydn. Exquisite.