Thu 27 Sep 2007
… I don’t pick up a bottle of wine, but so many labels nowadays carry elaborate narratives and back-stories that are supposed to make the wine more “interesting” or “enticing” or “hip” (especially hip) that buying wine is like reading the back of the cereal box at breakfast. I mean, isn’t the idea of marketing the quick sale, rather than bogging down a potential consumer with a chapter of War and Peace (or War + Peace, as it would be today) printed in teeny-weeny type. In the time it takes to read a narrative back-label — and they mainly come from Australia and California — you could pick up three other bottles from the shelf, go to the counter, pay for the wine and be on your merry way. If one of the wines is closed with a screw-cap, you can be standing on the sidewalk outside the store slurping the juice while the poor schmuck inside is still reading the label.
We get something like this, say from the back label of what we’ll call “Capt Jack Mulligan’s Left-Handed Shiraz,” a $16 quaffer from, oh, Barossa Valley. There are a million of these wines, right, inky as midnight, 15.5 percent alcohol, and The Grateful Palate imports most of them.
“Twas a great shark took Capt Jack Mulligan’s right hand in a dawn-to-dusk struggle by the Barrier Reef. Left him with eternal pain and endless thirst, which he slaked with pitchers of red rotgut in North Coast taverns, brought him by the red-lipped wenches who shivered with fear and delight when he ran that wicked hook along their lace bodices. We know these tales because our grandfather sailed with Jack Mulligan when still a lad, and at Capt Jack’s strong left hand the boy learned the lessons of courage and endurance, and our grandfather passed those lesson on to us. We make this wine to honor the tradition of Capt Jack Mulligan and the men like him who look danger in the eye and never flinch. Braving the charge of a Great White Shark? Burying a cow’s horn filled with shit in the vineyard on a scary moonless night when the creepy-crawlies bite? Never fear, Capt Jack is here. Capt Jack Mulligan’s Left-Handed Shiraz. You don’t need two hands to drink it.”
The people who write this kind of copy are wild about tradition and heritage and ancestral pride in the land, the vineyards, the grapes, the mystique, the romance and on and on. Hence — and let’s call this one “Sonoma Vespers Cuvee Orlando Furioso” —
“Three generations ago our grandfather arrived in these rolling verdant hills, unpacked a wad of dollars from his sock, and purchased three rows of vines. By the time our father came along, the name Sonoma Vespers Cuvee Orlando Furioso was synonymous with the forces that have driven our family to the extremities of our questing craft and intelligence: Passion. Precision. Power. That’s what we’re all about. Passion, precision and power give my brothers and me, and our wives and children, and a few cousins and poor Uncle Andy and a lot of Mexicans that come in to pick the grapes, our sense of life and being, and we feed passion, precision and power into our vineyards, our grapes and, above all, our rare, perfectly crafted wines. If you don’t obsess about passion, precision and power as much as we do, if you think anything less than perfection will amount to a hill of beans, then the hell with you. You may be rich enough to buy our wine, but are you good enough to drink it?”