“We can win that moonshine thing easy.”
This week, more legal foolishness from the world of alcohol and wine lawsuits. Because, of course, even those of us who didn’t write “Bleak House” and “The Pickwick Papers” see the humor in lawsuits:
• More Champagne foolishness: Our friends at the Champagne trade association have been at it again – what the post calls their “protectionist racket” – in a lawsuit to stop an English brewer from marketing a beer called “Champale” that is made with “Champagne-style” yeast and sold in “Champagne-stye bottles.” Yes, somewhere Dickens is laughing and reaching for his quill, though the report on the TechDirt website notes the brewery won the suit and will be allowed to use the name Champale. No doubt the Champagne bully boys will come up with another plan.
• Moonshine foolishness: This news has been around for a while, but it gives me the chance to comment on another of my favorite subjects, the corruption of college athletics. How else to explain the lawsuit filed against a craft distiller, who makes a product called Kentucky Mist Moonshine, by those guardians of higher learning at the University of Kentucky? Who, believe it or not, say they are the only ones legally allowed to use the word “Kentucky” for business purposes. Let me just say this, which should give you an idea how morally bankrupt I consider the university’s position to be: “Kentucky!” “Kentucky!” “Kentucky!” I will also note that the school’s basketball coach and his two assistants earn almost $10 million a year combined – a total that would pay the in-state tuition and room and board for almost 350 students. But we have to have our priorities, don’t we?
• Big Beer foolishness: Diageo, one of the three or four biggest drinks companies on the planet, has won a significant lawsuit because a judge said any reasonable consumer should know that Red Stripe beer is not made in Jamaica and doesn’t use any Jamaican ingredients. This ruling comes despite the beer’s label, which says “Jamaican Style Lager” and “The Taste of Jamaica” and uses the same logo the beer uses when it is made in Jamaica and not made in Pennsylvania (in tiny letters elsewhere on the label). It’s good to know the justice system is hard at work protecting massive multi-nationals; maybe the Champagne people should have tried their case in front of this judge.
Because what fun would writing about wine be if we couldn’t write about lawsuits and other various legal affairs?
? Aldi brings in the lawyers: It’s difficult for those of us in the U.S. to understand how touchy the British are about price comparison advertising and marketing for booze; hopefully, this bit about Aldi suing a retailer over price comparison will help explain. The discount retailer wants competitor Bargain Booze to stop the ads, which compare its products to Aldi’s with the tagline that they you can buy a brand name for the same price as Aldi’s private label. Plus, Aldi wants damages. I’d love to watch a bunch of barristers in wigs argue about this, but as much fun as it would be, the suit would have little chance of success in the U.S. That’s ironic, too, given that our booze laws, thanks to three-tier, are so much stricter than those in Britain.
? Messing with Putin: Who knew that a geopolitical event like the Russian annexation of the Crimea would turn into a wine legal tussle? But it has, with Ukrainian prosecutors charging that the director of a winery in Russian-occupied Crimea opened a 240-year-old bottle for Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. The Associated Press says that the two men illegally drank rare vintages from the Massandra winery, some worth tens of thousands of dollars, and that the winery director committed a crime by serving them the wine. Obviously, since the Russians control Crimea, nothing much will happen, but it’s another example of the power wine has over people. I wonder: did Putin and Berlusconi give the wines 95 points?
? Only in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s state store system has come in for its fair share of criticism, here and elsewhere, but this one is the best yet. A state resident illegally brought wine into the state, which means he likely bought it in New Jersey and drove it over the William Penn bridge, committing a crime in the process. As part of his settlement with the state, he had to forfeit about half of the 2,447 illegal bottles. Silly enough? It gets worse. As Bloomberg News Service’s Noah Feldman writes, the state will destroy the wine because a judge has ruled that it can’t be given to a hospital for fund-raising, since hospitals don’t use wine for medicinal purposes. Don’t worry if you’re confused here, since the entire episode — in keeping with Pennsylvania’s warped state store system — makes no sense. Just read the link and wonder at how this happens in the 21st century.
? Only seven percent: Regular visitors here know the Wine Curmudgeon’s passion for odd grapes, and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one. By one estimate, eight grapes account for 93 percent of the annual harvest in California — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet franc. A group of winemakers, reports Marcy Gordon at Come for the Wine, wants to focus on the other seven percent, and is holding a couple of tastings this week to show off those grapes. This is most welcome news for those of us who care about diversity and variety in wine, as well as style and taste. That someone who makes wine isn’t intimidated by chenin blanc is some of the best news that wine drinkers can have.
? The right way: Sommelier Stephanie Miskew writes about how to hold a wine glass correctly, which always makes me smile It’s about the only thing in wine that I’m a snob about; I can’t stand to see a wine glass held by the bowl, and when I see it in TV shows and movies I want to throw something at the screen. Miskew’s piece hits all the highlights, and it also gives me a chance to link to this: Wine Curmudgeon video, in which I demonstrate how to hold a wine glass.
? Calling all lawyers: Wine’s legal experts are at it again, with a Champagne house suing a top California producer over the name of a wine. Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight has all of the wonderfully silly details about this wine lawsuit, including that the side are fighting over the name “Delice.” Imagine all of the time and money being spent on what seems to be a very ordinary, if not lousy, name for a wine. At least the Cristalino lawsuit was over a name that mattered.
David K. TeStelle may be a terrific trial attorney, a tremendous human being, and a snappy dresser. But he apparently knows little about logic and even less about wine.
“The lower the price of wine, the more arsenic you are getting,” said TeStelle, one of the lawyers suing Big Wine for knowingly selling arsenic-laced wine in the class action lawsuit that has the wine business all atwitter (pun fully intended).
The Wine Curmudgeon will assume that TeStelle was misquoted or taken out of context, since to assume that all cheap wine is stuffed full of arsenic and that all expensive wine is pure and virginal is silly. Logical fallacies, anyone? Did we stop driving cheap cars because the Yugo was a piece of junk? My Honda Fit certainly isn’t. Are Mercedes and BMW models never recalled?
The testing behind the lawsuit apparently didn’t check the arsenic level in any expensive wine, which takes the rest of the logic out of TeStelle’s argument. Maybe BeverageGrades, the lab that did the testing, didn’t want to to spend the extra money, and it was easier to buy Two-buck Chuck since there are three Trader Joe’s in Denver. Or that the Big Wine companies that make most of the cheap wine in the lawsuit have deeper pockets than a $40 brand that makes 25,000 cases. One can’t get damages out of a company that doesn’t have money to pay for damages.
Besides, and I can’t emphasize this enough, none of my wines — the three dozen or so in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame — are on the arsenic list. This speaks volumes about the difference in quality in wine, cheap or otherwise, and something that I have repeated and repeated and repeated throughout my wine writing career. It’s not the price that matters — it’s the honesty of the wine. Does the producer care about quality and value, or is it just making wine to make wine? Which is just as true for $100 wine as it is for $10 wine.
That’s something that everyone who is being snarky about the quality of cheap wine in the wake of the lawsuit (including people I like and whose opinions I respect) should remember. Quality, as well as safety, isn’t something that can be measured by price. It’s something that depends on integrity, and no amount of money can guarantee that.
Yes, “Will cheap wine kill you?” is a great search engine headline. And no, it’s not a plot by the the Winestream Media to return us to the good old days before the recession, when they thought cheap wine was so bad that anyone who drank it deserved what they got.
Rather, it was the big wine news last week, based on testing by a Denver lab and carried on the CBS News website: Cheap California wine has lots and lots of arsenic, more than we should ingest. And it might kill you.
A few thoughts about the story after the jump, and why it reflects so badly — again — on the Fourth Estate: Continue reading
? Almost correct: The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to see other wine sites hop on the cheap wine bandwagon, and this recent piece from Wine Folly. a qualiity site, offers several fine pointers: Beware the back label, watch out for private label brands, and double check pricing. My concern is its passive-aggressive style, which comes out in the headline. “Good cheap wine is lying to you.” The piece makes it seem as if only cheap wine does these things, when the entire wine business is full of half-truths, misconceptions, and obfuscations. Which is my reason for being, after all. I was also confused by the post’s fixation on U.S. wine — what’s wrong with buying cheap wine from Spain, France, and Italy?
? Bring on the sweet stuff: You know sweet red wine is firmly established in the market when one of the wine trade newsletters talks about its popularity without one nasty comment. “While ‘sweet’ drinkers may be gravitating toward certain blends and varietals, and ‘dry’ drinkers supporting others, consumers clearly are exploring a variety of options.” That’s quite shocking, that Shanken News Daily (owned by the same company that owns the Wine Spectator), suggests that wine drinkers have minds of their own. But the numbers make believers: sweet red wine is growing at 4 1/2 percent a year, ahead of wine’s overall growth, says the report. And this is where I mention that I was writing about this stuff when the Winestream Media was dismissing it.
? One more lawsuit: Regular visitors know that the Wine Curmudgeon loves lawsuits, when wine companies throw money at their attorneys for no other reason than they can. Though, this suit, about two wines with the same name, does seem to have some merit (with the caveat that I’m not a lawyer and could be completely wrong). I also thought I’d throw this in, two companies named Cipriani suing each other. I mention it for two reasons — first, that it shows wine doesn’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing, and second, that the smaller company, based ion a Chicago suburb, makes some of the best noodles I’ve ever had, and I hope it wins. Update: The two wineries settled out of court a couple of days after this posted. Chalk it up to common sense
? Saving us from ourselves: The Centers of Disease Control is at it again, reassuring those of us who drink too much that there is hope. Says the head of the health agency’s alcohol program: ?Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence. We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol. ? This strikes me like being sort of pregnant, but what really matters is that the CDC’s definition of excessive drinking is wine with dinner, and this fact doesn’t appear in the story. For which the Wine Curmudgeon must call out Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times for repeating that assertion. Which, as near as I can tell after doing the reporting, is scientifically unfounded.
? When is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s the name of a wine writer, reports Decanter, the British wine magazine. Hence the lawsuit filed by France ?s Champagne trade association against Australian Rachel Jayne Powell, who goes by Champagne Jayne. Since Powell also writes about other sparkling wine, the Champagne group says her name violates European Union rules. Their logic? That Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, so a writer who uses Champagne as a name can only write about Champagne. The case is scheduled to go to trial next week in Melbourne, believe it or not, and Decanter reports that it could set precedents. The Wine Curmudgeon, whose aversion to silly lawsuits like this is well known, has a suggestion: Settle by letting Powell call herself champagne Jayne with a small C, since every wine geek knows Champagne only comes from Champagne with a capital C.
? Yet another million case producer: One of my goals with the blog is to help consumers understand that most of the wine we drink doesn’t come from artisanal producers, but from Big Wine — the multi-million case producers who dominate the business. That’s why this two-part interview with someone I’ve barely heard of is worthwhile. In it, Vintage Point’s David Biggar talks about his company’s 17 brands, the best known of which is Layer Cake. In this, what the wines taste like barely comes up, though there is plenty of discussion about pricing, distribution and the three-tier system, and margins. Which is what the wine business really is, and not all that foolishness that the Winestream Media would have you believe.