He came in about seven-thirty. A regular customer, 60ish maybe, with the vibe of a geography teacher and a shy, gruffish character.
Fino sherry was his thing, a few half botles a week.
This evening was different though, he’d clearly been drinking heavily and swimming deep in what could have been a Mike Leigh film or a night reading about all the sorrow and inequality in the world. He was eyeing up our expensive wines, of which we had a lot in our Kensington shop. He was angry, very angry indeed. “How can you sell a wine for £1,000?” he said, “you must be ashamed of yourselves”.
Not particularly I said, but as I mentioned it was late and I didn’t particularly want to be pulled into a conversation about the morality of expensive wine when there are people dying of hunger etc. He took an interesting tack and one I wasn’t expecting. I want to buy one he said. Go-on then, sell me one…I want this one!
I thought there was a roughly equal chance he would smash the bottle on the floor once I gave it to him, or smash it over my head.
So, I declined to sell him anything, or get out anything from the locked case, and said I thought he’d been drinking and not thinking clearly – if he wanted something, to come back tomorrow and I would gladly sell him something. He grumbled, swore a bit and shuffled out.
This was brought to mind by an article I read the other week about the ethics of consuming expensive wine from the surprising source of Wine Searcher. https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2020/11/the-morality-of-buying-expensive-wine
It meanders all over the place and ends up with floppy conclusion:
“So is it immoral to charge more than £20 for a bottle of wine? Morality’s too loose a phenomenon to evoke, I think, but certainly anything over £50 is, I think, hard to justify. No-one buys CDs anymore but it was almost as if there was a maximum price on them. It’s not an identical issue but I think we can do the same with wine. Furthermore, I think it’s imperative to do it if we argue wine has some cultural value.”
So, let me get this right – a max price for wine of £50? Hmm.
Another story. About 10 years ago, Mark Andrew and I were in Banyuls visiting a producer called Vinyer de la Ruca, with a loose thought to importing the wines. We sat down with this inspirational / crazy young producer who told us his philosophy. No plastic anywhere in contact with the wine, no machinery. Only a horse in the vineyards. Stienerism turned up to 11. He even told us how he was planning to distribute his wine to Paris by travelling up on horse and cart. It all sounded totally incredible until Mark started doing the maths. Hang on mate, he started in his direct Mancunan style… you’re making 800 bottles a year selling them at 40 euros a bottle but your costs are enormous, the hand-blown glass and the rest – how do you survive? He said he made about 20,000 euros a year and had to live in if not poverty, a very simple and threadbare material existence. He was happy and proud to do so – and you’d be hard-headed and hearted to deny the beauty of his quest.
This is the sort of wine that my first guy wanted to smash up for being immoral as it would be a pretty penny by the time it ended up on shelves.
My feeling has always been that there has never been more great wine in the world then now, if someone wants to spend big bucks on a bottle of Petrus, good luck to them. I hope they enjoy it. A more meaningful conversation on inequality might start with the structural reasons why so much wealth can be accrued by so few, rather than focussing on the end product. After all, the people the wine industry supports, like Manuel (above) in Banyuls, are by and large, not very wealthy and their stories are usually lost as they are rather more complex then rich bankers chugging overpriced Pomerol.