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Vin de Napkin - Defying the Law of Description

I’ve seen a lot of things, I’ve heard a lot of things and I’ve scratched my head at a lot of things.  Yet, today, truly, I’ve heard it all.  And, when I say “all.”  I mean I have now heard everything.  Definitively.

Korbel is suing anonymous posters on Craigslist for damages for potenially libelous statements ... from this article.


Two things come to mind:

1)  If you want to protect your reputation, don’t sue for patently absurd things that make the newspaper
2)  Korbel must not pay attention to the eBob board where general libel and defamation of character is a blood sport

Were this April 1, instead of September 30th, I would be amused.  Were it Saturday Night, and the Weekend Update on SNL, I would be similarly amused.  Not so much.  I stand in awe at a lawsuit that defies my capacity to stand in judgement of reasonable things reasonably.

Only in America.

Cheap Korbel champagne isn’t the only thing that gives me a headache.  Oops.  Wait.  Did I say that?



My Wish for the Next Cool Thing

So much of our life and experience is based on outside influence – marketing, prevailing wisdom and the times.

I’m almost self-conscious to this, wondering if the financial crisis is going to imprint an indelible “Greatest Generation” thriftiness upon me, eschewing credit of any sort.

Yet, I know that the greatest gifts come from inside, my own understanding and principal. 

From a wine perspective, case in point of influence based on the times is clearly Pinot Noir and its incredible rise in the last 5 – 7 years, influenced in part by a certain movie.  Riesling is right around the bend, as well, this time from a grassroots movement from Sommeliers and wine professionals.

Another movement that we’ve seen in the media over the last two years is being green, eating local, a focus on heirloom vegetables, and the like.  Yet, the translation point of this “localization” hasn’t quite manifested itself the wine world.

However, as I spend a weekend at my family’s lake house, enjoying an Indian summer weekend, Notre Dame Football on the television, rustling leaves in the background, quietude on the lake paces from me, wine glass beckoning, I have one wish for the next new thing. 

I wish hybrid wines from LOCAL wineries across the country would become in vogue.

The fact is many of these wines are the showcase wines from wineries across the country – wineries that are not in California, Oregon or Washington.  And, typically, these are estate wines, the wines a winery hangs its hat on made from their grapes from their vineyard; not the Cab and Chardonnay from grapes bought elsewhere.

I’m talking about Norton, Chambourcin, Chardonel, Seyval Blanc – grapes capable of making excellent wine.

This thought came to mind on two different levels.  First, as I made the 2.5 hr. drive up to our cottage last night, sans iPod, I was relegated to winding roads through small towns and local am radio featuring country music stations and high school football games.  This is America for most of the country, not the idealized European fantasy.  Second, the thought came to mind weeks ago as I toured Creekbend vineyard, the estate vineyard of Oliver Winery in Bloomington, IN.

Viewing the vineyard, and then tasting the Chambourcin and the Traminette, these are good wines—not good wines for what they are, but good wines, period. 
And, they are interesting, conversational wines, as well. 

Sadly, this shift in mindset takes influence from the highest levels.  AppellationAmerica does this, but it will have to come from elsewhere, as well.  Popular wine media will have to get on the bandwagon, a notion they haven’t demonstrated much interest in aside from the occasional curiosity piece on New York or Texas wines.

That said, however, indicative of the times, though, is the fact that media is becoming fragmented and we are becoming our own change agents.

My wish is that local wines will grow in mindshare and awareness nationally.  When you’re out shopping, California mass market wine in hand, set it down and grab something unknown, nestle it next to the locally grown produce and the heirloom tomato and celebrate the local bounty.  If nothing else, forsake the outside influence and start it from within.


I Am the Charlie Brown of Wine Allocations

It’s September—you know what that means—if you’re Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” then you must be going back to school, for most of us it means football and wine allocation season.

Sure, sure.  I’ve made my way onto a couple of lists ... but, I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football for the one list that I would like to get onto.  My foil, my Lucy, is Kosta Browne.

Yesterday, I didn’t make my way up the list for Kosta Browne.  I feel like the lovable loser of the wine world.  Nice enough, but just not quite good enough.  Gracious as they are, Kosta Browne sent me a note to let me know that there was no wine for me.

I beg of you Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, give a brother a chance at some of your pinot.



Quick as a Hiccup

In the blink of an eye, quick as a hiccup, Wine 2.0’s newly released social network is up to 790 members.

Back in April I wrote a post about merging Wine 2.0 and the Open Wine Consortium, also with a social network.

That suggestion went over like a a helium balloon in Anarctica.

One commenter on the post had the insight (temerity?) to suggest that OWC was a network and Wine 2.0 was an event.  This was, of course, before the Wine Blogger Conference was announced, which is, well, an event.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I do know Wine 2.0 has something interesting going on.  Aside from their social network, which is well and good and interesting,  the more interesting aspect is their consumer events which are pulling a lot of people in.

1000 + folks at their event in New York last week.

To put that in perspective, consider that hundreds if not thousands of non profits put on wine-oriented events ever year in every city in America.  Every single one of them would kill to have a 1000 paying people in attendance. 

That is something. 

Even if it was 800 paying people and 200+ hangers on, it’s still impressive.

The shift that I came around to that helps me really get behind Wine 2.0 is I see it as an expansion of the now defunct Wine Brats from the 1990’s (good ideas, but no full lift) and I see it as a legitimately more urbane, updated and interesting version of the Wine Tasters Guild.

Net-net, people in the wine business may bemoan the three tier system, but in this regard, wine marketing, a brokering device to create a winery - consumer push / pull mechanism is very much needed.

Since I’m wont to wax hyperbolic, I’ll continue down the path; the vision of growth that I would have for the organization is probably not a big enough vision for the potential that exists for a business like Wine 2.0 to aggregate and engage members from the trade and consumers.

The Open Wine Consortium may be a network, but methinks Wine 2.0 is going to turn into a business.


And My B.S. Detector Goes Berserk

beep, beep, beEP, bEEP, BEEP, BEEP.  My B.S. detector has officially been tripped and is going crazy making mental racket.

With arched eyebrow and cynicism in my voice I say, “Really?”  “No, seriously.  Really?

That’s what I think when I read press releases like the one appended below for the movie Bottle Shock.  I think this pr flak should get a job writing for The Onion.

Ahem ...

Indie Film Hit ‘BOTTLE SHOCK’ Defies Industry Expectations and Means Good Business for Wine Country
Last update: 5:52 p.m. EDT Sept. 17, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Sept 17, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/—BOTTLE SHOCK, the independently produced and released movie about the infamous 1976 Paris Tasting where the California wines beat the French, steams into its second month of independent distribution playing in hundreds of theaters across the U.S. and Canada, and racking up over $3.6 million dollars in box office receipts to date. While BOTTLE SHOCK is connecting with enthusiastic audiences fueled by strong word of mouth, the film is also creating a noticeable “BOTTLE SHOCK” effect in terms of increased tourism and wine sales in Napa Valley where the film was shot last summer.

Ed Note:  I think “Bat Man” opened on 2400 theatres.  Hundreds of theatres and $3.6M dollars seems, well, pretty pathetic for a commercial movie release.  Hardly justification for “racking up.”  In fact, it’s #143 on the list of 2008 moneymakers, just ahead of “Cruising Bar 2” a French-Canadian sequel to a 1989 movie.  530,230 people have seen “Bottle Shock.” 

Just as underdog California wines stunned the world by triumphing at the legendary Paris tasting, BOTTLE SHOCK’S robust ticket sales have surprised most film industry experts. Despite being self-distributed by the filmmakers on a shoestring budget through Los Angeles-based Freestyle Releasing, the film has significantly outperformed virtually every film that was purchased at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. That includes high-profile movies that were snapped up by Hollywood studios and independent distributors such as THE WACKNESS (Sony Pictures Classics), AMERICAN TEEN (Paramount Vantage), FROZEN RIVER (Sony Pictures Classics), TRANSIBERIAN (First Look) and HENRY POOLE IS HERE (Overture).

Ed Note: Yeah, this is probably legit and a little bit of a slap at the distributors who did not pick it up, but robust ticket sales is a bit of a stretch.

“BOTTLE SHOCK has turned into kind of a cultural phenomenon, both tapping into and fueling the current fascination with fine wine and food,” said film marketing veteran Dennis O’Connor, who oversaw the film’s release. “It has an amazing cast, a rousing underdog story, a breathtaking setting and a great soundtrack. Plus, I think Americans secretly love to watch their fellow countrymen beat the French at anything.”

Ed Note:  Okay, here’s where the muck gets really, really deep.  “Cultural phenomenon?”  You mean like “Sideways?”  Not so much.  530,230 people have seen the movie.  Let me put it to you this way, if 530,230 people seeing this movie is a cultural phenomenon, then blogging has reached it’s cultural nadir in terms of impact.

Director Randall Miller and his wife Jody Savin, who co-wrote and produced BOTTLE SHOCK, believed strongly in the film’s potential, even after it failed to land a favorable distribution deal at Sundance. “We knew it was a fun, upbeat film that audiences really enjoyed,” says Miller. “So we decided to take a chance on self-distributing. The response has been overwhelming.”

Ed Note:  Kudos to Miller and Savin for making the movie and then having the fortitude to see their investment through. 

BOTTLE SHOCK focuses on the cast of characters at Chateau Montelena which had the winning white wine at the Paris Tasting. Visits to the winery and wine sales are up significantly. While winery representatives would not provide specific data, they did acknowledge the film is good for business. “The movie BOTTLE SHOCK, and all the buzz and news about the film, has certainly increased our brand exposure,” said Greg Ralston, Managing Director of Chateau Montelena. “We’ve seen an increase in visitors this summer who have seen the movie and who want to taste our wines. We’re delighted with the goodwill and consumer interest the movie is bringing to Napa Valley.”

Ed Note: No specific data means anecdotal feedback which means the Tasting Room Manager talked to one couple who saw the movie.  I’m not saying, I’m just saying …

Gustavo Brambila, played by talented actor Freddy Rodriguez in the film, was one of the first Mexican Americans to earn a wine degree from U.C. Davis. His first job was serving as assistant winemaker to winemaker Mike Grgich at Chateau Montelena in 1976. When Grgich left to start Grgich Hills, Brambila went with him, working at Grgich Hills until 1999 when he started his own winery GustavoThrace with partner Thrace Bromberger.

Bromberger reports increases in wine sales, increases in tourism to the Wine Country, and significant interest from the Latino community in the many accomplishments Gustavo’s story represents: “GustavoThrace had its best sales month ever in August [2008], up 43% over August 2007, and September is already up 39% over the same period a year ago. We’ve had a huge influx of customers coming to find us after seeing the film, and a tremendous number of new distributors inquiring about picking up our line of wines for distribution around the country. We are seeing visitors in our tasting room from the Bay Area who’ve seen the film and say they haven’t been to Napa in years; as well as visitors from all over the country flying out because the film showed them just how beautiful this area is. And we’ve had many calls of congratulations and requests from Latino organizations about Gustavo doing appearances and pouring wine at special events.”

Ed Note:  There’s a phrase for this paragraph, what is it, ah, yes, I think it goes, “If bullshit was music, that fellow would be a brass band.”

Unlike Santa Barbara County wineries which were little known prior to the film SIDEWAYS, wineries in Napa Valley have been major tourist destinations for years. That said, with all of the new wine areas around the world drawing growing numbers of wine-tourists, including strong competition from neighboring Sonoma where nearly 80% of the filming actually took place, Napa has been working on repositioning itself as the world’s original and leading wine country destination. Even though it’s very early in the game, evidence abounds that BOTTLE SHOCK is already helping.

Calistoga Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Rex Albright says, “We’ve seen an unprecedented level of excitement in visitors from all over the country who like the film and want to see Chateau Montelena, Calistoga and other Napa Valley landmarks for themselves. Since the movie opened, we’ve had more people each week asking about the winery; I think people respond to the underdog quality of the real story behind the film.”

Ed Note:  You can almost hear the conversation, “Hey Rex, here’s a draft of the press release, I need a quote right here, can you say something like ‘unprecedented?’”

It’s not just tourists who are more interested than ever in Napa. Last summer as BOTTLE SHOCK was set to begin principal photography, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (which had the winning red wine at the Paris Tasting) was purchased by a partnership between Italy’s Villa Banfi and Washington State’s Chateau St. Michelle. And this summer, just prior to BOTTLE SHOCK’s theatrical release, an announcement was made that France’s Cos d’Estournel would be purchasing Chateau Montelena, establishing the quip “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em”.

Ed Note: A quip is something that somebody says over dinner that may or may not register when the bread basket is being passed and a dining companion is looking for a pat of butter.  This hardly qualifies as a quip that has been established.  Though, a lazy headline writer might pick it up from a lazy journalist working on deadline for the lifestyle section in Saturday’s paper.

BOTTLE SHOCK is directed by Randall Miller and stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Dennis Farina, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Chris Pine and Eliza Dushku. BOTTLE SHOCK was filmed entirely on location in Napa and Sonoma. BOTTLE SHOCK was screened at Sundance to five enthusiastic audiences, and also played the Maui Film Festival (Best Ensemble Cast Award and Heineken Red Star Award for Innovation, Originality, and Vision in Filmmaking) and the Seattle International Film Festival (Best Actor Award to Alan Rickman). Los Angeles-based Freestyle Releasing is handling the U.S. theatrical release.

SOURCE Freestyle Releasing

Ed Note: In general, and again, I say, “Really?”  “No, seriously.  Really?


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