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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Exhortations and Admonitions Edition

Odds and ends from a life lived through the prism of the wine glass…

H.R. 1161

Now that the din of the debt ceiling debate is quieting down to a dull roar, it’s timely for wine consumers to direct their attention back to other matters of great political import – like, say, wine shipping rights.

Last month, two excellent white papers were published that provide enlightened reading for the wine lover.  Related to the influence wholesale lobbyist dollars have on Washington and the reckless piece of potential legislation that is currently looking for sponsors (H.R. 1161), both papers are pragmatic, fact-based, bi-partisan looks at how special interests are served in the halls of Congress.

While the phraseology, “white paper” alone is enough to make most readers tuck tail and run in the opposite direction, you shouldn’t let that particular bit of verbiage dissuade you from making an investment in understanding the issue(s). Toward Liquor Domination (links open a PDF) by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association and A CARE-less Rush to Regulate Alcohol by the Competitive Enterprise Institute both, in different ways, illuminate the corners of politics that deserve the bright glare of sunlight.


And, make no mistake, the issue here isn’t with wholesalers; it’s clearly at the feet of our elected politicians who allow lobbyist money to influence their actions under the guise of serving, “Their constituency.”

As consumers, being able to stay abreast of the issues and affect political outcomes is the underpinning through which our freedom is founded.  Being able to make our voice heard is a privilege.  Making that voice heard in matters that relate to our personal interests makes it all the more meaningful.  I urge all readers to read, understand and let your voice be heard with your Congressman. 

The first step is to know more than the Congressman’s intern that will answer your email.  Both of the linked white papers will help you do so.

Summer of Riesling

“Summer of Riesling” is a marketing and promotional umbrella started by New York restaurateur Paul Grieco.  Branching out from what was a heretofore a New York-based restaurant promotion, Summer of Riesling (June 21st to September 22nd) has gone nationwide this year and purports to quash the notion that all Riesling is sweet. 

By having restaurants from coast-to-coast promote Riesling by the glass, Grieco hopes to build mindshare that Riesling is the perfect summer wine with a lilt of acidity to refresh and cleanse the palate, not the duotone plonk that’s a remnant of the 70s.

I give Grieco an “A” for effort, but in reality this campaign sucks with a capital “S.”

First, it seems terribly self-motivated, what with trademarks, t-shirts and a figurehead who cribs from a certain former Santa Cruz Rhone Ranger’s book of self-aware, literate, philosophical name-checking with neurotic, pop culture, existential faux-intelligentsia brain droppings, while craning to find a microphone in a diffident way shtick.  Granted, this figurehead does so with a certain bespoke sartorial splendor not matched by his spiritual forebear, but just the same, this campaign speaks of a cloaked grab for national limelight in the wine conversation akin to holding a funeral for corks.  Licensing and events and such can’t be too far behind, nor the public mea culpa and repentance.  And, as a sidebar query, who said that prevailing wisdom holds that Riesling is all sweet, all the time anyways?  Susie the server at P.F. Chang’s?

Second, and more importantly, nothing good and pure has ever happened by creating widespread popularity for a wine varietal, by mindshare or sales volume. 

Mr. Merlot, your table is ready.  Mrs. Oaked Chardonnay we’ll be with you in a few moments.  Ms. Pinot Grigio your party is already seated.

To say the least, the tumble down is terrible.  To say even less, these sorts of things need to happen organically.

Mr. Pinot Noir under $20, I hate to hold you up as an example.

The absolute last thing that needs to happen is to create broad consumer interest in Riesling, one of the last bastions of unspoofulated wine you can find in the world.

Forgive me if I seem a little unforgiving.  But, to co-opt and adapt Michael Pollan and his food rule on eating:  “Marketing.  Not a lot.  Mostly for the good.”

Summer of Riesling isn’t for the good.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (4) |


On 08/03, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Now you’ve gone and done it, Jeff. You’ve made me superfluous to the ongoing debates about wine and wine marketing.

I am particularly impressed by your personal revelation: “...nothing good and pure has ever happened by creating widespread popularity for a wine varietal, by mindshare or sales volume.”

Of course, nothing is 100%. I quibble with your feeling that widespread popularity has had no effect on sales volume. That’s generally its main effect, and that’s what usually does in the varietal.

So I join Jeff in begging that all who hear about this Riesling summer thing please ignore it. Let’s not ruin a good thing.

On 08/04, Josh wrote:

Jeff and Thomas,

I locked into the same quote and had an exactly opposite reaction.

“nothing good and pure has ever happened by creating widespread popularity for a wine varietal, by mindshare or sales volume.”

What does this say about the wine industry? Nothing good, in my opinion. What this implies is that any marketing, any attempt to scale mindshare, will always and ever meet with diminished quality.

What if Apple had to play by these rules? If suppliers can’t scale mindshare for goodness sake, this industry really is screwed.

Of course this isn’t the case. You can become a larger brand and maintain quality at high levels. It’s just rare. Rare because its hard, not because it’s impossible.

On 08/04, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


In theory, you are correct, but in practice the large-scale consumption market demands things of the producer that small scale production does not—those demands have an effect on the financial equation from the vineyard to the distribution of finished wine.

For instance, the demand of product consistency, which is not reliant on the vintage from year to year, will alter the perception of quality.

One thing that we need to remember is that many of us try to opine quickly over matters that the wine industry has faced and wrestled with for generations.

On 08/04, Tom Wark wrote:

“What this implies is that any marketing, any attempt to scale mindshare, will always and ever meet with diminished quality.”

But not diminished quality across the board. Scaling up the popularity of a varietal might mean more entries into the marketplace, many of which are lower quality than the high quality examples that motivated the scaling, but the original, and likely additional, high quality wines will remain.


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