Look out for the label!

Vigneron IndépendantLook out for this logo on wine bottles in France. It shows that the wine producer belongs to the syndicate of ‘Vignerons Indépendants’ (independent wine producers) and has grown, harvested and produced all their own wine. We found out more from Mike Spring, a VI member from the Lot, who also helped me understand more about the addition of sulphites to wine…

What is the Vignerons Indépendent label?

It’s an association which does a lot to encourage best practice in wine production, and people can be sure that bottles with its logo really come from individual producers who control all aspects of their production.

In France, as in most wine producing countries, there are independent producers, often fairly small, but also the
négociants, who buy young wine and/or grapes from growers, and (especially
in France), the cooperatives, who take the grapes grown by their members and
carry out the winemaking and the marketing. The négociants and the
cooperatives represent a large part of the French wine industry and the best
of them produce some excellent wines, and are often leaders in improving
techniques. On the other hand, the independent winemakers, many of whom are
members of the Vignerons Indépendants, offer a vast choice of individual
wines, and the attraction of buying from a small producer whom you can meet
and ask about any aspect of the wine you are buying.

The main purpose of the VI is to represent and lobby for us independent winegrowers.  The logo on the bottles, labels or capsules identifies wine made by an independent, but I think that we need more publicity to make the consumer more aware of what it means.  Depending on the region, they also provide useful services for us such as wine tasting events and competitions, representation at salons, training courses, providing publicity material and capsules for bottles, and office services for things like for mailshots.  And of course they help to get people together to share experience.

I previously reported that one bonus of the VI lable was that many of the wines endorsed by it don’t contain sulphites. This isn’t exactly the case…

Please can you tell me more about sulphites, and about these chemicals in relation to Vignerons Indépendent?

I shouldn’t worry too much about suphites – they’ve been using it for centuries in wine!  But I certainly share your concern generally about food additives – some of which I think are truly pernicious – but others like sulphites and a number of others are very useful and not really a health hazard, used in the proper quantities.  It’s worth reflecting that wine also contains another chemical which is proven to cause headaches – it’s called alcohol!!

The reality is that virtually all wine from whatever source contains
sulphites, because otherwise it does not keep reliably, except at
impractically low storage temperatures. Even for organic wine, the vast
majority is sulphited, although some organic producers do make small
unsulphited lots for those who can store it at low temperatures. It is
the case that the levels of sulphite in wine nowadays are much lower than
even 20 years ago, reflecting better understanding of its action, better
measuring techniques and better hygiene in production.

You can knock sulphites as ‘chemicals’, but they are used for a very
positive purpose – I doubt if many customers would like the kind of wine
they would get without them, which, if not oxidised when they bought it,
would often become so after a few months of storage. I would be very
interested to know the source of the comment that ‘(sulphites) really
shouldn’t be necessary to stop wine from going off’ – someone appears to
have discovered some very valuable information that has somehow escaped the
notice of wine producers the world over!!

Sulphites are blamed for headaches, and when the wine contains too high a
quantity, I think that may well be true – but I read a report of a trial
done a few years ago using people who believed that sulphites gave them
headaches. They were given three samples of wine – one with no sulphite,
one with a normal level, and one with an exceptionally high level. The
results were very inconclusive – some claimed to get headaches from the
unsulphited wines, and others (although considering themselves to be
sensitive) had no problems with the over-sulphited samples! The purpose of
the official labelling is to alert the very small number of people who are
abnormally sensitive to sulphites (although since all wine you will find in
the shops contains sulphites, it seems a bit of a waste of time!).

Wine producers are allowed to use up existing stocks of bottles already
labelled before the requirement for the ‘contient sulfites’ notice came in,
so you will see bottles without the warning for some time to come – this
does not mean that these wines do not contain sulphites.

The Vignerons Indépendants quite certainly makes no stipulations about
sulphites in its members’ wines, and like virtually all other wine, theirs
will contain an appropriate level of sulphites. As with competent producers
everywhere, the levels will be carefully checked to ensure that the minimum
amount is used to ensure safe keeping for the wine.

Mike & Sue Spring produce Domaine du Garinet wines.

For further information, visit www.vigneron-independant.com. (But note that the site is currently only in French.)

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