After sending this article to the Gik team, I’m thrilled and surprised that they would respond. In short, they seem like great people. Spoiler: I’m apparently a bit of a dick.
It was brought to my attention recently that a rogue band of crafty Spaniards has unleashed something unexpected. Of course, it’s probably not as surprising as that last thing that nobody expected from the Spanish, but it is still strange, unnecessary, and may result in a similar amount of questions. (Side note: did you click that link? Was it what you thought it would be? Damn, that joke has layers.) This time around, the surprise is just as baffling and useless as the Inquisition: this time, it’s blue wine.
According to the six-person team that created Gik Live, they spent two years in collaboration with the University of the Basque Country to find a way to blend together wines from a handful of Spanish and French vineyards and then, through a “revolutionary” process, they dyed it blue. In short, they spent two years to learn how to blend together wines that they didn’t have to make themselves and then they added food coloring. That took two years. To make blue wine.
As this Forbes article notes, and as their own press release states, the Gik team are pretty straight-forward about how they see themselves:
“We are not vintners. We are creators. So we sought the most traditional and closed-minded industry out there.”
There are a few issues here:
First. . .
. . . is wine really the most “closed-minded industry out there” compared to say, firearms manufacturers, or the health insurance industry, or the taxi companies, or whoever keeps printing up protest signs for the Westboro Baptist Church? And why is blue wine something that we need to break that reputation?
Second. . .
. . . are you really a “creator” when the Italian Futurists conceived of blue wine a century ago (also, Italian Futurist cocktails sound amazing, and the drinking philosophy behind them is even greater), or when it was suggested about twenty years ago by an under-appreciated Canadian author in a distopian fantasy novel? Or when it was already a real product from Fratelli Saraceni? Not only has the idea been around for about a century (if not longer), it’s already a real product made by someone who actually makes wine for a living.
And third. . .
. . . when you start by saying that “we are not vintners,” that does not exactly inspire confidence. Take these examples, for instance: “I’m not a doctor–I’m a creator and I have a new way of removing that cyst on your lung. I want to change how you perceive what ‘healthcare’ is. Now if you could just hand me that badger, we can get started.” Or perhaps “I’m not a mechanic, but I can fix your car in a way that the closed-minded auto-repair industry wouldn’t dare attempt. We’ll fill all of your car’s fluid lines with Pepto Bismol to help it feel better.” Using your lack of qualifications as an asset to push what you’re selling is ridiculous, narcissistic, and apparently good enough to be the GOP’s presumptive nominee.
The mindset that the Gik team has is odd, to say the least. They wanted to force their way into an industry with a history that predates the Agricultural Revolution, even the invention of writing, and which played a part in the start of civilization as we know it (here’s a quick peak at how true that is). And they wanted to do that not by making a truly revolutionary wine in a truly revolutionary way–they just wanted to make blue wine. And not even blue wine from a new kind of blue fruit . . . just wine that was blue.
They were not satisfied with how the wine world worked, or maybe they just saw an opportunity to grab a piece of the Millenial drinking market for themselves. Part of me thinks that they are just money-grubbing opportunists out to see what happens when they watch an ancient and respectable industry burn. This photo–which is part of their press release package, by the way–kind of sums it up perfectly:
So, a mushroom cloud in the shape of a laughing clown face? That seems appropriate, actually. Blue wine can have no better spokesman.
The most basic question is this: how did they make it blue wine? The question of “why” is answered easily enough–they knew they could do it and that people would jump on the new fad like it was the last chopper out of Saigon. And the answer to “how” is a little interesting.
When you get down to it, the juice of nearly all grape varietals is colorless. The red color in red wines comes from the juice having contact with the grape skins during fermentation (a process called masceration, which you really don’t want to mispronounce at your next party, lest everyone think that autoeroticism had a hand in the making of their wine. Pun intended because I’m a professional at this shitty comedy thing). When they say in the “Learn More” section of their website that they use wine made from both white and red grapes, that makes sense. In fact, if you’ve ever had true champagne, there’s a good chance that you’ve had a “white” wine from a red-colored grape.
Broadly speaking, a wine that is white or mostly colorless that comes from a red-skinned grape is called a “blanc de noir,” or “white from black.” White wines from white-skinned grapes can be called “blanc de blanc,” or “white from white.” Chardonnay (a so-called white grape) and pinot noir (a so-called black grape) are the two most common grape varietals used to make champagne, and this is a good resource to understand that part of the wine world. Of course, champagne is grossly overrated, as fellow Hammer and my part-time spirit animal Sarah Szabo has put into beautiful and 100-proof words before.
So blending wines from white and red grapes is the same as saying that you’ve blended white wines.
There are, however, a few kinds of red grapes that have red pulp and red juice–they’re called Teinturier grapes. Those same grapes are often concentrated and used to bolster wines with some added color, texture, and sweetness. This is more common than you think, and you have definitely had a wine with this concentrate before.
When Gik says this about their blue wine:
Gïk is produced through a pigmentation process. Firstly a base is created from a mixture of red and white grapes, which is then added to two organic pigments; indigo and anthocyanin – which comes from the very skin of the grapes used to make wine.
they are saying that they blended unaged and unmascerated wines, then they used anthocyanin (a compound naturally found in the skins of black grapes and which gives red wine its color) and indigo, which is basically a high-end way of making organic blue food coloring. All they did was make a cheap blanc de noir and add color. A simple understanding of the wine-making process and a dash of basic science help put their process into focus.
In the end, I kind of hate their attitude of being revolutionary when all they’re doing is rehashing an old idea and an existing blue wine product under the guise of being new, and they do seem like smug, uneducated business people who are only out for a buck. When someone says “we’re not vintners, so drink our wine,” I am reminded of the people who said “we’re data scientists, so drink our beer.” It’s soulless, hollow, unenthusiastic, empty. It’s another cheap product that has to be sold on image and can’t be sold on heart. It is a slap in the face of every honest man and woman who wants to get into the market based on their passion for the product and a knowledge of how to actually make it, start-to-finish.
On the other hand, it is going to be a fad and it will die off like any other fad. But it is hard to hate them when they include a suggested playlist in their (admittedly annoying and pretentious) antitechnical sheet:
SynesthesiaAlt J – Left Hand Free (Lido Remix)Hayden James – There’s Something About YouMinus the Bear – Pachuca SunriseRL Grime, What So Not – Tell MeJames Blake – Stop What You’re DoingFryars – Cool Like Me
In my day job, I see maybe a dozen technical sheets on wines every week. They all pile on details about the varietals, the terroir and elevation, the aging process, and some truly over-wrought tasting notes. Those sheets are a special kind of ridiculous, so it is kind of refreshing to see a tech sheet that pokes fun at that mentality and suggests some music to go along with the wine instead. That is pretty damn cool of them, and I’m glad they are doing it.
In the end, this wine is a useless fad addition to the market (and it hasn’t even hit America’s shelves yet), and it does seem like a cheap ploy to make money, but there is a certain joie de vivre about Gik Live that is hard to resist. Their product might be daft and pointless, and it will be a great way of spotting people at the bar who are best avoided, but goddamn do I love their insouciance towards some of the stuffier and more elitist aspects of the wine business. I’d shed a tear if I weren’t so dehydrated.
If you’re up for it, check them out. I don’t know if they ship outside of the EU, but we’ll probably see them state-side soon enough. Maybe it’s delicious. Maybe it’ll get a party started and you”ll have a great time with it. Maybe it will ruin your, and Spain’s, credibility from now until the foreseeable future. Who knows. Booze is always a gamble, and that’s part of why we love it so.
On that note, cheers to Gik Live and cheers to all of you. Keep up the. . . good?. . . work.
After posting this article, I linked to it in an e-mail to the creators and, to their eternal credit, they replied. Granted, I didn’t send it in Spanish, but they replied like the apparently classy bastards that they are. Perhaps I was too brash in calling them greedy opportunists–they seem to have put a lot of time and effort into this, and that’s a laudable spirit they have. Cheers to them and their weird, freakishly blue wine. I am sure that they know more about that process than I ever will, and that is to be commended.
Here are those e-mails:
Cheers and hello!
Thanks for your email and the article you wrote about us.
Even if it may seem simple, it is not an easy process at all. We are not winemakers or experienced ecologists, so we needed lots of help, mainly from various leading technological companies within the food industry and from a team of chemical engineers, that helped us develop a process that improves both the taste and the color.
And thank you for your feedback and for your kind words 😉