Spectator on San Pellegrino

I guess you were as surprised as I was that Alan Greenspan finally came out and admitted that the war in Iraq was not about weapons of mass destruction. Not about building democracy in the Middle East. Not about ridding the world of a merciless tyrant. That it was always and only (Lord have mercy) about mineral water.

Of course, we knew it all the time, but George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown all said that they knew things that we did not know. That they had dossiers and scientific analysis and experts, and all we had was a hunch, what cognitive psychologists in the book Blink call ‘intuitive repulsion’. We didn’t have dossiers, but we had strong suspicions that the war was really about Perrier. And San Pellegrino, Evian and Badoit. Even (I hate to say it) Hildon and Highland Spring. To put it bluntly: it was about Sparkling or Still.

As usual, Mr Greenspan didn’t go in to details. He’s a busy man with a book to sell, so he kept it brief: he said the war was about oil. But what he meant was: every bottle of water we buy is actually a quarter full of oil, because that is the average cost in energy in crude oil to make the plastic, in energy to fill it, transport it to market and deal with the waste. That supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil.

Although my intuitive repulsion told me that the war was a bad idea, that it was about oil, I confess: I kept drinking bottled water. It’s a habit that goes back a long way. I never really fell for Perrier which gave me hiccups, but Badoit was perfect: just slightly sparkling, it was the water that the French drank with their food.

When we began producing wine, I felt it was hypocritical to urge folks to drink English wine but serve French water, so I switched to Hildon. I then drank a Hildon cocktail: half Still, half Gently Sparkling. I persevered despite ridicule from my family. But I am a great believer in the ability to See the Light. To be Born Again. And I have entered into the Age of Tap. I haven’t gone cold turkey: I have Brita filters and jugs with lids that I keep in the fridge (note: once water is in the fridge for an hour it all tastes like Hildon).

And, as do all converts, I have the zeal that leads to zealotry. Now I want to ban mineral water in our vineyard restaurant and install a filter system that makes tap water taste better (the commercial version of the kitchen Brita) and can also make sparkling water. Naturally, I believe that this water should be free to the customer. Our accountant rolls his eyes and tells me that our mineral water is the only truly profitable item on our local/organic/diver-caught menu. My husband, ever the democrat, hedges by saying customers should have choice. I tell them that restaurants in Tuscany have all stopped offering bottled water and serve (and charge) Still and Sparkling in nice carafes, fresh from filter machines plumbed in

to their taps.

The truth is, once you know the facts, bottled water is hard to swallow. It’s not our carbon footprint we’re talking about: it’s our moral footprint. Meanwhile, I’ve got the man from the filtration company coming out on Friday. When the system’s installed, I’ll explain the lack of choice on the menu. It will just say: Stop the War, Drink the Tap.