There’s a news story on Decanter at the moment concerning plans by the EU to lift the ban on new planting of vineyards.
Wine regions throughout Europe are opposing plans for what they see as a ‘catastrophic expansion’.
But I think that this liberaliazation of planting rights is largely a good thing for wine.
At the moment, there is a ban on planting new vineyards. If you find a potentially great terroir, you can only plant it if you get planting rights, which means that you have to jump through several official hoops in order to plant your new vineyard (either by buying a vineyard and grubbing up the vines, or by buying someone else’s planting rights), with a significant added expense.
The logic is that the world currently has an oversupply of wine. Therefore it makes sense to restrict the planting of new vineyards, and in an effort to redress the supply/demand imbalance, provide incentives for removing existing vineyards.
But this is the wrong way to think. Currently, a lot of cheap wine is made that has no home. Most of it is filthy stuff. Even if the planting rights were to remain, this would still be filthy stuff, made by people with little talent for winemaking from terroirs with little talent for making good wine.
Protectionist policies such as the EU restriction on new vineyard plantings might sound fine in theory, but in practice they are always a mistake. We should allow anyone who wants to a chance to plant terroirs they think have potential for making good wine. After all, planting a new vineyard incurs significant expense. People won’t do it on a whim. It’s a long-term commitment.
If they should succeed in making great wine, and (more challenging) finding a market for it, that has to be a good thing. If the existing growers who struggle to sell their wine (most of which is filthy) go out of business, that is sad for them, but good for the image of European wine.
EU protectionism sucks, to be honest. It does no one any good, in the long term, propping up producers who make wine that no one wants. After all, the Chileans and South Africans and Australians and Californians are busy taking European market share, and they are largely free of this sort of official burden that European winegrowers struggle with. The European wine producers need to improve the quality of their wines or get out of the business, not try to protect their untenable position through legal means.
Europe needs to set its winegrowers free to make better and more competitive wines by easing the legislative load on them and encouraging them to be more entrepreneurial.
Let’s make an analogy with wine writing. Currently, we are told, there are too many wine writers and not enough work to go round them all. What should be done about it? The EU-style solution would be a ban new wine writers (we already have enough), and perhaps some system of allocating work to existing writers. Those who failed to get enough commissions would be allowed to apply for subsidies to pay their rent and heating bills. Would this improve the quality of wine writing? Of course not. We should do nothing, and we should welcome the newcomers, because competition is good for all of us.