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« Biggio Hamina 2008 Pinot Noir: Ana, Deux Vert and Zenith Vineyards | Main | Crowley 2007 La Colina Vineyard Pinot Noir WV »

Hand-washed dishes vs. machine-picked grapes

Our dishwasher broke down yesterday, therefore I have spent the last two nights hand-washing more dishes and glasses than I care to count, let alone remember. Hopefully, our dishwasher will be repaired tomorrow afternoon, whereupon I will be relieved of this manual, time-consuming task. In the meantime, I have a newfound appreciation for the benefits this machine has brought to our lives, let alone millions of other households around the world. This appliance has reduced what was once hours of manual scrubbing into a quick load of mechanized cleaning.

The dishwasher, and other appliances like it, are truly beneficial machines. Even still, not all tasks need to succumb to mechanization.

While scrubbing the umpteenth fork tonight, I recalled recent commentaries from Scott Wright and Vincent Fritzsche bemoaning the introduction of machine harvested Pinot noir in the eastern Willamette Valley. I share in Scott and Vincent's concerns here, which focus on the consequences of tender, thin-skinned Pinot noir grapes being aggressively handled by a machine versus the standard approach of picking by hand. Oregon is defined by producing high quality, hand-picked Pinot noir, which could easily be threatened by some pursuing a lower cost, mechanized model within the state.

That's the crux of this issue to me, which is the tendency of a business or industry to favor a low cost path while sacrificing quality in order to achieve certain economic gains. Here's how the machine harvested approach was characterized in The Oregonian's article:

His business model relies on efficiencies of scale to help keep long-term costs and consumer prices down.

I read that and was immediately reminded of the film, "Food, Inc.", where representatives from various large, agricultural companies touted the same "efficiencies of scale" about their approach, while turning a blind eye to the consequences of their actions. Beef, pork and poultry used to be of a higher quality and more expensive until the production of these food products was industrialized. If you have yet to understand the consequences of "long-term costs" being kept to a minimum, then please watch this film.

And lest we forget the downside of keeping "consumer prices down" such as those available with fast food. Sure, many Americans today can eat a cheaper breakfast, lunch or dinner, but there is a much larger price to be paid as a result of offering the lowest cost approach to consumers. If you're left wondering what the implications are from this industry sector, then please read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" for insights on the social consequences this industry has generated for all of us.

Where was it mandated that certain wines become inexpensive enough for all consumers to afford? At what point do we just accept the fact that it's okay for some wines to remain expensive because of the quality provided?

I support capitalist enterprises, but I have a hard time embracing the notion of industrializing and mechanizing the cultivation of Pinot noir in Oregon. Will putting Pinot noir in a "feedlot" to minimize costs succeed? Probably so, but an effective cost model is meaningless unless large numbers of consumers buy these wines. Will this approach have a positive impact on Oregon's reputation for crafting high quality Pinot noir? Definitely not, as the evidence is clear that this grape cannot tolerate machine harvesting.

Where does that evidence exist? In every glass of high-priced (relatively speaking), hand-picked Oregon pinot noir I enjoy at my table.


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