Category:Wine news

Will the next great wine movie be about drink local?

drink local

Todd Kliman

Todd Kliman’s “The Wild Vine,” a story about regional wine and drink local, could become a Netflix–style series

Could the first truly interesting wine movie be about – gasp – drink local? We can only hope.

That’s because Todd Kliman’s terrific 2010 book, “The Wild Vine” (Clarkson Potter), may have a decent chance of becoming a film. The production company that bought the rights to the book has even hired a publicist, which doesn’t happen unless the producers are convinced something will come of their efforts.

“The Wild Vine” tells the history of the norton grape and Daniel Norton, the man who accidentally created it, Virginia winemaker Jenni McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards and her fascination with norton, and the role regional wine has played in U.S. wine history. As I wrote in my review: “It’s a perspective that says, ‘Look, pay attention. Long before Robert Parker and scores and California, there was a U.S. wine industry. And if a few things had happened differently. …’ ”

So what about the movie’s chances of actually being made?

“When people say they’re going to option a book for a movie, traditionally nothing happens,” says Kliman, a D.C.-area freelancer and author who has been down the book option road enough times to know how the system works. “So when a book is optioned, there’s no reason to get giddy. But this time, the producer has real enthusiasm for the book and the story, so there may be a better chance than usual that something happens.”

The producer is Dax Phelan, who not only has Hollywood credibility, but grew up near St. Louis and was fascinated by the idea of norton, a red grape that thrives in Missouri and whose norton wineries produced some of the best wine in the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Kliman says the film future of “The Wild Vine” could be a Netflix-style series, where Phelan has contacts, a traditional film, or a documentary. Much depends, of course, on who will pay for production, and that will ultimately decide if anything gets done. No studio, no film – unless there’s a drink local aficionado reading this who has very deep pockets and wants to bankroll the project. My hope is the Netflix option, which would be better suited to the book’s depth and complexity. There’s too much in the book to cram into a 100 minute movie.

And before I get nasty emails and comments, know that there haven’t been truly interesting wine movies. “Bottle Shock” turned the legendary Judgment of Paris into a snoozefest, and “Sideways” – despite Paul Giamatti’s incredible effort – was mostly two guys whining and trying to pick up chicks.

Winebits 593: Sommelier scandal, wine scores, sparkling wine glasses

This week’s wine news: Ron Washam puts the sommelier scandal in focus, plus more on why wine scores don’t work and yet another examination of sparkling wine glasses

• “Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business:” Ron Washam, writing on Tim Atkin’s website, offers some much needed perspective on last fall’s sommelier scandal, in which a then-sommelier apparently gave a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the master sommelier exam to one of the candidates. “The wine world moves on,” he writes, “unconcerned with ethics and truth, as well it should. Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business. You don’t want to use them liberally, or at all, they pretty much destroy the ecosystem.” As Washam notes, the Court of Master Sommeliers has brushed the scandal under the rug, and sommeliers remain wine royalty. Is it any wonder that I worry about the future of the wine business?

No more scores: Ian Cauble, writing in the Robb Report, hits scores firmly up the side of the head: “A high score doesn’t always mean the wine is excellent. …” he says, and then explains why. In this, his is one more voice trying to free us from the tyranny of 92 points. “Don’t assume the score tacked onto a shelf is Holy Writ,” he writes. “Drink and acquire what you like. Above all, remember that wine is about the land, the people who make it, and the friends with whom you enjoy it. A single score never defines the full story.” I could not have said that better myself, and I have been trying for almost 20 years.

Put it in the glass: Christopher Walkey, writing for Glass of Bubbly, dissects sparkling wine glasses in all their shapes and sizes. In fact, there’s even a photo of seven kinds of glasses – just looking at it made my head hurt. The reason for the article is the past several years worth of carping about which glass best serves sparkling wine and Champagne. Which, to Ron Washam’s point, says a lot about what the wine business considers to be important.

Photo: “Sommelier” by Antonio Calero Garcia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Winebits 592: Wine thefts, direct to consumer shipping, truth in wine advertising

wine thefsThis week’s wine news: An airline investigates wine thefts, plus the growth of direct to consumer wine shipping and a plea for more truthful wine advertising

Missing airline wine: Employees of Cathay Pacific airlines are being investigated for stealing sparkling wine, as well as ice cream and cutlery. The story is vague about what was actually stolen, and this may be more about a labor dispute than theft, but the point is well taken. As we’ve seen on the blog many times, if you’re going to commit a crime with wine, steal the good stuff. What’s the point of swiping the wretched plonk that those of us in economy have to drink?

Direct to consumers: Tom Mullen, writing on Forbes.com, gives a level-headed account of the history of direct-to-consumer wine sales in the U.S. – how it became possible for most of us to buy wine directly from a winery, bypassing retailers and distributors. The piece is a bit long, but any mainstream article that calls U.S. wine laws “sometimes archaic” and spends time discussing the history of Missouri wine is well worth reading.

More truth, less artisan: “I see far too many industrial brands calling themselves ‘artisanal,’ ‘family-owned’ or claiming their wines are ‘hand-crafted’ when they are anything but.” No, that’s not the WC ranting, but Dwight Furrow in Edible Arts. His argument is passionate but logical: The “issue isn’t whether there is an exact cut off point for what counts as artisanal. What is obvious is that wineries with annual case production levels over 50,000—enough to supply large retail stores—are unlikely to use artisanal methods. To claim they do is just false advertising.” His point matters more than ever as younger people, who are more sophisticated about advertising than their parents and grandparents, may be turning away from wine because they see those claims as hooey.

Top U.S. wine executive: Let’s make wine so expensive no one will be able to afford it

tax wine

“Buy California wine — or else!”

No, that’s not a Wine Curmudgeon joke – it’s a proposal by the man whose company makes Kendall Jackson chardonnay

No, this isn’t a Wine Curmudgeon April Fool’s post. It’s as true as it is unbelievable: A top U.S. wine executive wants to tax wine so that most of us can’t afford to buy it.

Rick Tigner, the CEO of Jackson Family Wines (home to  the legendary Kendall Jackson chardonnay), told a wine industry meeting last week that California can no longer afford to produce cheap wine. Hence, the federal government should tax wine imports because “we need a better, higher pricing structure.” In other words, $10 European, Australian, New Zealand, and South American wine should cost as much as California wine — because, of course, California wine.

Yes, that was my reaction, too. Wine consumption is flat and young people don’t seem particularly interested in it. So the man who runs one of the most important wine companies in the country wants to make wine even more expensive? That makes tremendous economic sense, doesn’t it? Let’s price wine out of the reach of most consumers, and our business will be even more successful.

The story was so incredulous that I almost called the reporter who wrote it to ask him if something had happened during Tigner’s speech. Was Tigner struck by a bolt of lighting? Was there an invasion of body snatchers? Does he have one of those evil soap opera twins?

I wasn’t the only one who was dumbfounded. A European wine analyst told me she was surprised a leading wine company official would say something like that. A Napa wine marketer said it was just one more example of California arrogance — because, of course, California.

Tigner overlooked two things (besides the most basic laws of supply and demand):

First, 95 percent of U.S. consumers won’t pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine – perhaps my favorite wine statistic, courtesy of the Wine Market Council. So who is going to buy all the expensive wine that tariffs will give us?

Second, Tigner can complain that other countries tax California wine unfairly as much as he wants, but that’s irrelevant. U.S. wine exports measured by cases (mostly from California) are insignificant – barely more than 10 percent of what we produce each year. That’s because we drink almost all the wine made here, so there isn’t much left to sell to the French (assuming they would want it). In fact, U.S. wine exports are so trivial that two of our biggest markets are Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, countries not usually associated with wine culture.

So, no, taxing my $10 Gascon white blends, Spanish cava, and Italian red blends won’t save the California wine industry from itself. The only ones who can do that are part of the California wine industry, which tells us everything we need to know about how that will turn out.

Winebits 591: The booze business is trying to wreak havoc with our beloved rose edition

booze businessThis week’s wine news: All the ways the booze business is taking rose and trying to turn it into something else, in its attempt to ruin it for the rest of us

Make everything rose! Rebecca Jennings, writing on Vox, explains why we must suffer through rose vodka, rose mustard and all the rest: “Why would an alcoholic drink want to taste like a wholly different alcoholic drink? … It’s because rosé is no longer a drink but a way of life, so much so that it’s almost a cliché to even point this out.” I don’t know that she has the rose timeline exactly correct (there’s more to the trend than a Whole Foods in southern California), but it’s an otherwise fine analysis about why the booze world is trying to ruin rose.

Expensive rose forever! The Wine Curmudgeon is not trying to be snarky, but I honestly can’t figure out what this story from the Wine Enthusiast is trying to say. Is expensive rose worth the hundreds of dollars it costs? Or not? If anyone can tell, please let me know. Having said that, I thought this bit was a tremendous example of winespeak – almost poetic, and almost devoid of any meaning: “To James, just like well-crafted reds and whites, rosés crafted soulfully from grower-producers justify the price tag.” Crafted soulfully, indeed.

Bring on the NBA! And how about this ultra-hipster trend – pro basketball stars drinking wine with rose? Get ready for some breathless prose: “It’s no secret that the NBA loves wine. With the multi-million dollar contracts and luxury lifestyles, it seems safe to assume the league’s favorite bottles would be well out of reach for the average wine drinker. But it turns out that former Miami Heat superstar Dwayne Wade’s choice of rosé is just $20 a bottle.” Wow! Just $20 a bottle. Who knew rose was so cheap?

Cheap wine fans rejoice: Domaine Tariquet returns to the U.S.

domaine tariquet

Who cares about the missing “du?” We’re just glad the Domaine Tariquet is back.

Top importer Wildman picks up Domaine Tariquet, and it should be available in most of the country

Our too long cheap wine nightmare is over: Domaine Tariquet, one of the best cheap wine producers ever, has a new U.S. importer and its products could be on store shelves by late spring or early summer. Even better, the importer, Frederick Wildman & Sons, is big enough so that it works with the largest distributors in the country. Hence, the wines should be available almost everywhere in the U.S.

Tariquet, located in Gascony in France, disappeared last July, when its then importer dropped the brand. No one was talking about what happened, even off the record, but the result was that we’ve gone without the label’s flagship Tariquet Classic for almost a year – a painful loss at any time, but especially painful in these days of overpriced and underperforming cheap wine.

The Tariquet Classic, a white blend made with ugni blanc and colombard, is everything great cheap wine should be – fresh, fruity, dry, crisp, and low in alcohol. Its success here paved the way for a host of Gascon wines to shine in the U.S. The Classic, plus four other Tariquet wines (including a very nice rose) is in the Wildman warehouse in New York and listed on the Wildman website. Wildman’s John Little said orders are already coming in from across the country.

Even better news: There won’t be a price increase, which had been talked about last summer if and when the wine returned. That means the Classic should still cost $10 to $12.

Finally, the Grassa family, which owns Tariquet, shortened the brand’s name. This version is Domaine Tariquet; it was Domaine du Tariquet under the previous importer.

Is “pay to play” wrecking wine criticism?

pay to play

Teeter: Pay to play is the scourge of beverage journalism.

VinePair podcast says wine criticism, as well as beer and spirits, needs more transparency and fewer free trips

We need more transparency among wine writers and wine critics – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“It’s something we’ve always been talking about, among the staff,” says Adam Teeter, the co-founder of the on-line wine, beer, and spirits magazine VinePair. “And we thought it was time to start talking about it again.”

Hence a recent VinePair podcast discussing what Teeter calls “pay to play journalism,” where wine, beer, and spirits and writers take samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else – and then write exactly what will make the producer happy. Because they want to keep getting the free samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else.

“We call it book report journalism,” says Teeter, who also teaches at Columbia University’s prestigious journalism school. “It’s like when you wrote a book report as a kid, and you just rewrote what was in the book. The writers just rewrite what they’re told on the trip.”

I called Teeter to talk about this because transparency has always been a problem in the wine writing business. Yes, there has been progress, like most sites and reviewers acknowledging when they’re reviewing samples. That’s something that didn’t happen when I started the blog. But as technology has evolved, so has marketing, and the problem may be worse than ever. On one of the last trips I took, I was told what I could write – something no one had ever done before (and which I ignored). But many others are happy to write what they’re told, and that’s probably why I don’t get invited on trips any more.

As Teeter noted on the VinePair site: “Well, there’s a scourge in the beverage journalism world, and it’s called ‘pay to play.’ Whether it’s brands getting guaranteed coverage or even inflated scores by taking wine critics on elaborate trips, or just a spot on someone’s [Instagram] story through sending them some sample bottles, it’s an ugly side to this industry that rarely gets talked about.”

So the podcast talks about it, in detail. “The amount of free stuff out there is insane,” Teeter told me, and he used the word insane three times during our brief conversation to describe a world where producers see an Instagram post as marketing nirvana. It costs nothing, save for the sample, and it makes the person posting the Instagram feel like a big deal. In other words, it’s infinitely more brand friendly than dealing with a cranky ex-newspaperman like me.

The good news for wine drinkers is that beer, which has almost no history of criticism, is probably the worst for pay to play. We may harp on the biases of the Wine Magazines, but it’s not like beer, where a beer company subsidiary owns a leading beer ratings website.

So the next time you see a surprisingly favorable wine review, don’t be surprised – it may have been pay to play.

Photo courtesy of VinePair, using a Creative Commons license