With the news today regarding Viña Errázuriz, a new front has been opened in the war on cellar contamination. South American wineries join California and France in having to deal with a problem that nobody wants.
This could be a crossroads for both Chile and Argentina, particularly if the problem is as widespread as the winemakers I've spoken with feel it is.
Both countries have come on strong wine-wise in recent years: Chile with Cabernet first and foremost, along with improving Syrah, Pinot Noir and whites; Argentina with Malbec, its star variety. The wines are better than they have ever been, and prices for the most part remain low, compared to the glamour regions of Napa, Bordeaux and beyond. What a time for something like TBA to rear its ugly head.
It’s an expensive thing to deal with—throwing away barrels and wine, while replacing wood, hoses, bungs. It adds up. A big winery would take a serious hit dealing with it. A small winery could really get creamed.
For all its romanticism, wine is still a business. When it comes to expensive problems, business people can deal with them in two ways. One way is head on—in a get-your-hands-dirty way—which is how you make wine. The other is a more corporate approach, trying to work around it—but that's not how you make good wine.
When it broke that Beaulieu Vineyards was dealing with TCA, they basically said, "It’s a problem, but not one that most folks would ever pick up on, so …" The result? Bad wines in the marketplace, and a tarnished image that may take years to repair—if ever.
When Hanzell had to face the TCA music, they got out in front of it. They fully admitted the problem, pulled back the wine and cleaned up the cellar. It wasn’t easy. The result? Their loyal customers stayed loyal, and now Hanzell is back and as good as ever according to my colleague James Laube.
While the problem that Chilean and Argentinean wineries now have to deal with is technically different (TBA) than those California wineries had to deal with (TCA), the choices are the same.
They can both deal with it—and take some short-term pain for long-term health. Or they can try and sweep it under the rug, and risk long-term damage to their collective image.
There are many responsible and upstanding leaders in the South American wine community, people like Aurelio Montes, who has dealt with TBA in his own cellar.
“There can be no half-measures,” he told me when I spoke to him last week about TBA. Folks should listen.
I hope the problem isn't as bad as it looks. But if it is, I hope that those wineries that do have the problem also have the stomach for the cure.
David Starrs — Minneapolis, MN — February 9, 2007 2:38pm ET
James Molesworth — February 9, 2007 2:47pm ET
Nick & Margaret Noecker — February 9, 2007 7:40pm ET
James Molesworth — February 10, 2007 9:58am ET
Nick & Margaret Noecker — February 11, 2007 11:21pm ET
Pascal Valadier — Portland, Oregon — February 12, 2007 12:40pm ET
Dave Weeks — Lahaina, Hi. — February 14, 2007 5:32pm ET
James Molesworth — February 20, 2007 9:43am ET
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