by Don Franks
According to Benjamin Franklin, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance”.
Ben never drove through Marlborough – New Zealand’s largest wine region has hard work, high risk and tense competition written all over it.
Mile after mile the land is pinned by hard-treated posts, in dead straight rows. Countless workers have implanted the structures and cropped to uniform size the little emerging buds on which everything depends.
On frosty nights thousands are spent to save millions as helicopters beat their blades above the vines.
Marlborough’s 24,000 hectares of vineyard is set to be boosted by a further 6800 hectares by 2019/20.
When capitalism sees a potential profit there is no hesitation and no half measures. So the profitable commodity of wine is growing, in several directions.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption.
A typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today’s smallest “official” measure of 125ml.
Along with glass sizes, wine’s alcohol percentage has grown over recent years – from 8 or 9 percent to a more robust and addictive 12 or 13. Uncomfortably for producers and drinkers, the medical science case against wine has been growing too.
In 1987 the Royal College of Physicians, concerned about reports of alcohol related ill-health, put together a working committee, of epidemiologists, cardiologists, neurologists and endocrinologists.
This group created science-based guidelines for alcohol consumption. It advised that men could drink 21 units a week with little risk of harm, while women could drink 14 a week.
Their unit then was a glass of wine, at the then standard eight to 10 per cent alcohol.
Medical consensus today has reduced the “safe limit” to 14 weekly units for men and half of that for women and the elderly.
It gets worse.
Some experts now believe there is no safe level of drinking: Sir Ian Gilmore, a liver specialist and former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and a key adviser for the UK’s most recent guidelines, believes it’s misleading to tell people that there is any quantity of alcohol that would do no harm.
“Alcohol is classified by the World Health Organisation as a class 1 carcinogen,” Gilmore has said. “You can’t say it is safe.”
One more time, capitalism and health are on collision course.
The stakes are high. Alcohol is a huge source of capitalist government revenue. Alcohol is also a long-entrenched part of western culture. So many occasions large and small are presently unthinkable without it.
Tonight I enjoyed a Chardonnay with dinner. It was nice, but I can’t quite say that it came delivering “fewer tensions’.