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Malcolm Jolley: When it comes to making wine, people matter just as much as place

Commentary

Walter Speller is the Italian wine correspondent for jancisrobinson.com and wrote a poignant eulogy for Luciano Sandrone, the Barolo winemaker who died on January 5th. Speller’s piece is mostly personal and is written in gratitude for the hospitality and generosity Sandrone and his family extended to the writer when he was an unknown young man.

Speller’s piece is also a professional obituary in the sense that he identifies Sandrone’s accomplishments, not just as the maker of renowned and sought-after wines but as a winemaker whose work made a difference to the way wine is made in the Langhe, the part of Piedmont surrounding the town of Alba that includes the famous Barolo and Barbaresco appellations.

Speller identifies Sandrone as “the link between what was once dubbed the modernists and the traditionalists, the former firmly in favour of modern technology and short maceration times and new oak, the latter continuing age-old methods of prolonged maceration and ageing in large oak casks.”

The conflict that raged between the Langhe modernists and traditionalists, largely in the 1990s, is the subject of the 2014 documentary Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution. The split has since largely subsided into a consensus due to the leadership of producers like Sandrone as elements were borrowed from both camps.

Speller also points out that Luciano Sandrone was the cellarmaster at the established and historically significant Marchesi di Barolo. Before he built up his own label to the top levels of Italian wine, he had acquired technique and expertise. And he made all the difference by applying it.

The Langhe is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, adherents to which can sometimes get caught up in a kind of post-industrial reverie when it comes to wine. Natural wine and “non-interventionist” wine are terms of art, rather than science, which generally mean wines made with as few additives as possible, if any at all.

As interest in natural, organic, biodynamic, and non-interventionist wines grows and solidifies, it is tempting to believe that wine makes itself, that the job of the winemaker is to simply get out of the way. But wine does not make itself, and the story of Luciano Sandrone is just one of so many about the importance of the people who do the work to make it.

Nicolas Joly is considered to be a pioneer in the bio-dynamic and natural wine scene. He described himself as a “minimal-intervention” winemaker when I visited the Coullée de Serrant vineyards in the Loire Valley a few years ago. And yet still, Joly is happy to use new technology, and study old. Joly and his family make the wines, and for all the attention that gets paid to terroir, it’s the people that are of primary importance.

Back in the Langhe, the Barbaresco winemaker Marina Marcarino inherited the Punset winery as a young woman when her father died. When she decided to stop spraying her vines with chemicals and go organic, she was known as the “crazy lady of Neive”—until more and more of her neighbours began to come to her for advice.

Marcarino is now recognized as a pioneer and leader in the region, and she is an impassioned proponent of ultra-organic bio-dynamic viticulture. Still, she drew a big laugh at a tasting she led a few years ago in Toronto. When asked about the extent of her commitment to non-interventionist winemaking, she said, “I do my best, but I am not the Taliban.”

Phillipe Cambie was a renowned winemaker and consultant who died at just age 59 in December of 2021. Cambie is considered a key figure in the modernization and repetitional rehabilitation of the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Southern Rhône Valley.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is currently selling its allotment of the 2020 Halos de Jupiter Côtes-du-Rhone, the label Cambie created in collaboration with Michel Gassier from Château de Nages. Gassier is a force to be reckoned in and of himself and is credited with elevating the reputation of neighbouring Costières de Nîmes.

The top-tier wines of the Halos de Jupiter series are not cheap, but Cambie and Gassier’s Côtes-du-Rhone, which is driven by juicy, black-fruited Grenache, is a fantastic value for $20. I have stocked up before it runs out. 2020 would have been the last vintage Cambie saw bottled.

I never met Luciano Sandrone, though I have met, interviewed, and enjoyed the company of his daughter Barbara several times. Over nearly 20 years of covering the wine scene, I have met many of the people who make the wines I love and respect. Walking through the aisles of the liquor store, reading through a wine list, or browsing through an importer’s website I am reminded of those meetings.

A natural reaction to the industrialization of wine was a focus on “terroir”, the “taste of place”, which emphasized the importance of the geography of where a wine came from. This was not a new idea. Wines have always been described by the name of the place of their origin.

The concept of terroir has also always been a favourite marketing strategy since it can’t be replicated. The Bordelais understood this when they came up with their classification hierarchy in 1855. Wine marketing communication seeks to promote the connection the wine makes between its consumer and the place.

The consortia that are established to protect the reputation of the wines from a recognized region will often have a strict “discipline”; tight rules about how a wine with a geographic designation can be grown and made. The idea is that wines that come from a specific place, like Barolo or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, should share some kind of typicity. This way a consumer may be assured a minimum level of quality and have a general expectation of what the wine will taste like simply by reading the label. At least in theory.

Low-intervention wines, the understanding and promotion of terroir, and the appellation system that governs how wines are made are all fine ideas and have their place in a healthy wine ecosystem. But like any good thing, too much of it can be had. Let’s not forget that wine is made by people and is the product of their work and the choices they make while doing it.

The real connection made possible by a glass of wine is human. I will remember that and Monsieur Cambie when pouring myself one of his tonight at dinner.

Benjamin Lamb: Politicians can no longer ignore Canada’s porn problem

Commentary

The past several years have witnessed growing policy and political attention on the economic, social, and moral costs of pervasive pornography in our societies. The 2015 British Conservative Party platform, for instance, committed to new age verification requirements for people to access websites with pornographic material. Last year, the European Union passed an omnibus Digital Services Act to regulate social media platforms’ content including removing child pornography.  

These developments have, in general terms, not yet found expression in Canadian political and policy debates. Canada ranks seventh in the world for daily porn consumption on PornHub, one of the largest and most significant pornographic websites in the world—and one which is actually owned and operated in Canada. We’re not just consumers, in other words. We’re effectively exporting pornography to the rest of the world.

This ought to cause some reflection on the part of Canadian policymakers and the broader public. There’s a large body of evidence that pervasive pornography comes with various detrimental effects —ranging from its normative consequences for our conception of human dignity to its neurological imprint on its consumers. This point cannot be overstated: research tells us that porn consumption is associated with a raft of negative individual and collective consequences that warrant greater attention in Canada. 

Start with the neurological research. Human minds are influenced by what they consume online and pornography is no exception. According to a 2014 study by German-based scholars, Jürgen Gallinat and Simone Kühn, continued consumption of pornography effectively rewires the brain to perceive pornography as a reward. As the brain’s neural pathways get “bored” with certain content over time, there’s a need for ”novel” pornographic experiences to better activate its cranial reward system (otherwise known as the “Coolidge Effect”).

It prompts the question: if porn consumption, has such a profound impact on the brain, what does that impact imply on human behaviour and relationships?  

The list is quite long. Just consider the following: 

  • Porn consumption is consistently associated with social challenges with loneliness and poorer mental health
  • It’s also found that those interested in graphic and abusive pornography are more likely to reenact it with their partner during sex. 
  • Research by Alberta-based scholar Kyler Rasmussen finds a relationship between porn consumption and dissatisfaction with romantic or marital relationships. 
  • A separate study correlates increased porn consumption and sexual violence, and the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States reports that pornography is the third most common form of sex trafficking. 

These examples are hardly exhaustive. They’re merely a sample of a growing body of scholarship that documents the harms associated with porn consumption. 

Canadians are not immune to these risks. According to PornHub’s 2022 Annual Report, for instance, Canadians averaged 10 minutes of daily porn consumption on the site, which is more than an hour per week on that platform alone. Three-quarters of this porn traffic consumption was done on smartphones. The risk of course is that the ever-present combination of online pornography and smartphone technology grants Canadian teenagers an unprecedented ability to access pornography including depictions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. 

This ought to be a concern for Canadian policymakers in light of the research that proves the effects of porn consumption are not just internalized by individuals but can spill out into the broader society. Canadians are not exempt from the mental and social ills that stem from pornography. 

What options are available to policymakers? 

It starts with investigating the effects that increased porn usage in Canada will have on the mental and sexual health of Canadians. This isn’t about moral judgement or shaming. It’s about trying to understand how to mitigate the negative effects of pornography in our society. Critics will say it is an unsolvable problem. They are wrong. We have what it takes to maturely talk about increased pornography use in Canada. We also have what it takes to deploy solutions. Drawing attention to the size, scope, and nature of the problem, though, is a necessary start. 

As for broader solutions, there is a range of other steps that federal and provincial policymakers could consider. At the level of education, for instance, provinces could update curricula for students, especially in elementary school, so as to educate their awareness about the consequences of consuming pornography.  

Outside of the classroom, society should exact greater transparency out of Canada’s domestic porn industry cabal, as they meticulously endeavour to ensnare more users, regardless of the moral and health consequences. This industry should not get away with attaching more and more people to porn addiction. Their business models should be subject to the highest scrutiny and toughest regulations including going so far as to try and make their for-profit scheme untenable.

There are practical ways to gradually reduce the porn industry’s operations in Canada. Legislators should make porn producers criminally responsible if they fail to verify the age of consent when they produce content for profit. Part of this offence should entail a complete and permanent shutdown order of operations if they do not verify the age of consent. The porn industry is not just another private business; they are producing content capable of wreaking serious damage to our children’s mental health. 

On the public health side, officials could recognize pornography consumption as an official mental health addiction. This gesture would draw much-needed attention to increased pornography consumption. Community leaders should prioritize and promote recovery programs that normalize healing from pornography addiction, such as Fortify, Conversation BluePrint, and Bark. 

The good news is that all of these policy responses, aside perhaps from regulating internet content, can be implemented relatively quickly. Addressing pornography in our society may be an uncomfortable subject. But we cannot afford to neglect it any longer.

There will no doubt be arguments against these types of policies including appeals to freedom and individual choice, but these considerations needed to be weighed against the economic, social and moral costs—particularly for young people—of today’s culture of pervasive pornography. The case for action seems increasingly self-evident.

Yet notwithstanding the odd murmur or acknowledgement in parliamentary debates, Canada’s political class has been largely silent on pornography. That silence should end now. For the sake of Canadians’ dignity and well-being, implementing porn-reduction strategies is not something we should scroll away from.