The farmyard fraud

Embed from Getty Images

So here I am, hauling myself out of semi-retirement because someone has tried to sell me wine in a way I find so infuriating and deceitful that I simply must publicly rant about it.

A letter dropped through my door the other day from Laithwaites, offering me £70 off a case of wine (and some free crystal wine glasses). Here are some quotes from the accompanying letter:

“Enjoy boutique quality wine – for much less than you’d expect! Did you know Laithwaite’s has an ‘inner circle’ of wine lovers who are regularly rewarded with lower prices simply for helping smaller wineries compete with ‘the big boys’?

The letter also features “six rules for enjoying great wine”. Rule number three is “think small: whenever possible, seek out wine from small, family-run vineyards”. Rule five is “Be an explorer: sometimes, the most exciting wines can be found off the beaten path”.

An accompanying leaflet introduces me to their selection of “boutique wines at everyday prices”. These “exciting wines” from “off the beaten path” include a Rioja, an Australian shiraz, a pinot grigio and a sauvignon blanc. So let’s take a look at these “smaller wineries”, shall we?

  • The sauvignon blanc is made by Viña Tarapacá, part of the VSPT Wine Group, who in 2016 produced 15.24 million cases, or nearly 183 million bottles, of wine.
  • The malbec is made by Andean Vineyards, which exports to over 50 countries and is owned by Grupo Peñaflor, itself owned by DLJ Merchant Banking Partners L.P. They are the world’s biggest producer of malbec, and export wine worth $180m a year.
  • The Rioja is made by Bodegas Muriel. I can’t find actual statistics, but in an interview earlier this year Javier Murua of Bodegas Muriel estimated their annual production at “about one million cases a year between all our brands”, making them very much the baby of this bunch. Still, they make Sainsbury’s own-brand Rioja Crianza, a Gran Riserva for Asda and three wines for Morrisons, the most expensive being the Duke Big Red at £6.75. It is, to be fair, owned by the same family that started it in 1926. Laithwaite’s selection also includes Lime Leaf Verdejo, which is made by Real Compañia De Vinos, a subsidiary of Bodegas Muriel.
  • The Australian shiraz is made by Idyll Wine Co, which according to its local newpaper, the Geelong Advertiser, produces 20 million bottles of wine a year. Their owners went into receivership in 2015 and they were saved by the Costa Group, one of Australia’s largest farming companies. The Chilean malbec is made by Luis Felipe Edwards, annual production 2.5 million cases.

And so it goes on. I’m not criticising these wines. I’ve never tried any of them, and certainly am not going to spend £70 rewarding this kind of fraudulent marketing to do so. Some or all of them might be excellent. This is not about taste or value, it is about honesty.

Embed from Getty Images

The wine industry likes to sell a fiction that all wine is made by a genial, sun-wizened old chap in a beret, who hauls in the harvest each year with the help of his frolicking grandchildren and his trusty donkey Emile. Laithwaite’s aren’t alone in this. But this really is another level.

To suggest to a customer that a wine comes from a “smaller winery” that needs their help to “compete with the big boys”, and that by buying it they will have successfully “sought out wine from small, family-run vineyards” when in fact it comes from the world’s biggest producer of malbec, or a machine that churns out Hungarian sauvignon at the rate of 5.8 bottles per second, day and night, 365 days a year, is appallingly and horribly dishonest. It is pure shitbaggery of the most unnecessary and unjustifiable sort, and Laithwaite’s should be embarrassed to be responsible for it.

Number six on their short list of “rules for enjoying great wine”? “Find a guide you can trust: Tony Laithwaite has spent the last 50 years roaming the world’s vineyards, cultivating relationships with small-estate winemakers.”

Now he spends his time conning the gullible with pure, vinified bullshit. Nice one, Tony.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s