The best thing since sliced bread?

by David Perry


THE  other day I had to stand up and talk about what we sell. It was impromptu so I didn’t have time to think about it much at the time so I used the theme of making informed choices about food but washing it down with an uninformed choice of wine.

With the benefit of a bit of thinking time and a stroll in the fresh air, I started working through the analogy and bread looked like a good place to start.

Here’s how it goes:

If you buy wine from a good independent it is like buying bread from an artisan baker. The bread is hand-made with care. It is long-fermented in small batches and contains just the basic ingredients of good quality grain, water and baker’s yeast with maybe a pinch of salt. It is healthy and nutritious and doesn’t upset your stomach (well, that’s what I find anyway). OK, it may be a bit more expensive but it really is worth it. Just eat less.

Real wine is made by small, often family owned, vineyards. The wine is made from fresh, selected grapes with minimal interference and has no additives other than a minimal amount of sulphur to prevent oxidation. It is rested in stainless steel or aged in wooden barrels. It reflects the local conditions and is recognisable from its heritage. Production is small and it is generally bottled on the estate. It is pure and lovely and unlikely to give you a headache.

If you buy wine from a big chain or a big on-line operation it is like buying bread from a big chain of bakers or some smaller, local chains. The bread looks and to some extent tastes like real bread. It is presented in a specialist environment. It is crafted to look wholesome but you know it is made in a big factory.

It is made using Activated Dough Development (ADD) and will contain preservatives and stabilisers and engineered enzymes like transglutaminase to speed up the raising and make it stretchier – even though it makes the wheat gluten toxic to some people. Still, it looks like real bread and it doesn’t cost as much as the real stuff. Unless you are intolerant, it does the job of real bread most of the time.

High production wine is made with one eye on the cost. Grapes are bought in from contracted growers and made to a style which is perceived to be fashionable. Much is from the New World where regulations are less demanding. Consultant winemakers adjust the style to suit the market and iron out any pesky nuances caused by the weather that year. Charred oak chips replace the cost of ageing in barrels. Production is scaleable and bottling is often done somewhere else, sometimes in another country.

If you buy branded wine from the supermarket it is like buying pre-sliced packaged bread. This, sadly, is 80 per cent of the wine we drink and 80 per cent of the bread we eat. This is the bread we have been eating since 1961 when the British Baking Industries Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, devised a bread-making method using lower-protein wheat, an assortment of additives and high-speed mixing. Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) bread is a long way from real bread. It sticks to your pallet in soggy pap and what it does to your gizzards is something you don’t want to think about – well, actually you should be thinking about it!

In addition to the four basic ingredients this bread contains: hydrogenated fats, L-ascorbic acid (E300), Chlorine dioxide (bleach), L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920), soya flour, emulsifiers and preservatives. It gives us just what we want – long-lasting, bouncy white bread at a ridiculously cheap price. What we probably also get but don’t want is a very uncomfortable gut.

Mass-produced branded wine is made from grape pulp bought from contracted vineyards or on the spot markets. It is transported hundreds of miles in tankers so has to be sterilised with massive doses of sulphur. The juice is stored in giant silos before cultured yeasts are used to ferment it. The style is adjusted with added acidity, added grape juice and sugar, added water, added oak, added powdered tannins.

If too much copper has been used in the vineyard, Potassium Ferro Cyanide can be used to strip it out. Other chemical treatments include Dimethyl Dicarbonate (DMDC), used to sterilize and to stabilise the wine – although initially poisonous, it breaks down quickly.

The vineyards are managed by machine and sprayed with insecticides and herbicides and the list of additives which may be used in the winery runs into a few pages. It is made in mind-boggling quantities; Gallo, for example, produces more than 382,000,000 bottles a year and Hardy’s Stamp bottles 48,000 bottle an hour in Avonmouth Docks, Bristol. Millions are spent on advertising and price-promotions to drive global sales. It is as far from real wine as CBP bread is from an artisan loaf.

Sulphites are naturally occurring on the grape skin and added sulphur has been used since Roman times as a disinfectant. They are certified for organic production and are a necessary part of the process. In real wines use of sulphur is kept to a minimum. The laws on allergens mean it has to be notified on the bottle. There is no legislation to list the other ingredients.  Real wines would just say grapes  Branded wine would need a bigger label.

If you are shocked by what you have been eating, be shocked by what you have been drinking too! If you make an informed choice about what you eat, shouldn’t you make an informed choice about what washes it down?

David Perry and his daughter Alice run the Campaign For Real Wine Ltd, trading as Shaftesbury Wines, which celebrates its 20th anniversary on Bastille Day, 14th July.