The Pinochio wine debacle seems to have hopped the border from Italy to France. INAO has proposed a ban on oak alternatives to barrels for wines of appellation.
The truth is that an air-dried, carefully toasted oak chip gives much more predictable flavor extraction than a barrel. Barrels suffer from the Forrest Gump Box-of-Chocolates Syndrome – you never know what you’re gonna get. Well-made chips give winemakers more control at a fraction of the cost to the consumer and to the environment. That is why even the greatest and most expensive wines in the world now use them. And that is why the industry moved on: better, cheaper, more control makes sense in any language.
Napoleon planted those forests for the French Navy of the future – a useable tree is 200 years old. Environmentalists take note: insisting on barrels extends the current practice of wasting 75% of the good, useable wood. So we cut down those forests at four times the needed rate in order to make poorer, more expensive wine to boot. Why?
To protect the image of French wine! Apparently INAO doesn’t want the consumer to be deceived into concluding by tasting the wine that it is “of higher quality than it really is.” Like “this music’s a lot worse than it sounds.” What on earth does that mean? Well, it means that by their definition, quality isn’t in the bottle at all – it’s in the origin. INAO’s cynical outlook limits the purchase of French wine to the worst kind of joyless snooty commodity. And these are the guys who are in charge of promoting the image of French wine?
What’s artificial about an oak chip? A better question: What’s traditional about a conventional French winery? Let’s see ‘em ban electricity, stainless steel, refrigeration and freeze-dried yeast. Doesn’t the consumer have a right to know about pesticides, enzymes, wine chemical additions, fining agents and inert gas? Oops! Wrong demons. Sorry.