The industry

My answer to the question posed in the title of this post would be “No,” but who am I to contradict the research, development and marketing arms of such companies as W.J. Deutsch & Sons and Treasury Wine Estates? (Treasury Wine Estates is the former wine division of the Fosters Group, which underwent a “demerger” of wine from the brewing business in 2011.)

One of Treasury’s numerous brands, labels and wineries is the venerable Beringer, which is launching a brand called Be. — the period is part of the name — aiming at “sophisticated women who seek a more chic, stylish yet casual approach to wine,” according to Stephen Brauer, managing director of Beringer, quoted in Shanken News Daily. Be., which rolls out in April, will feature a Chardonnay and Riesling and, inevitably, a Pink Moscato and Pinot Grigio; the price will be about $13. Does Be. capture the essence of “woman” and all for which she stands? Perhaps someone at Beringer or Treasury has been reading Robert Graves, one of whose later poetry collections was titled Man Does, Woman Is. Another Treasury brand, by the way, is Emma Pearl — how many hours and meetings went into that name? — whose target audience is women 30 and over. The price of the Emma Pearl Chardonnay and Merlot is $16, indicating that women who buy Emma Pearl are better off financially that the target audience for Be., i.e, they’re older and have jobs.

Coincidentally, W. J. Deutsch, the importer based in Harrison, N.Y., is introducing a label called Flirt, aimed at “female consumers” — age and demographic not specified — that will cost about $11. First to be released is a blend of syrah, zinfandel and tempranillo from 2010.

We have seen this phenomenon before, in products such as Brown-Forman’s Little Black Dress label and the Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio, imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines; perhaps women flock to them like passenger pigeons darkening the skies of 19th Century America. One imagines the meeting rooms of adult beverage conglomerates filled with junior-grade executives pondering Freud’s infamous question: “What does a woman want?”

The women I know who love wine would gag rather than drink something patronizingly called Flirt or Little Black Dress, because what they want from a bottle of wine is a well-made, authentic product whose price reflects its quality. And isn’t that what we all want from a bottle of wine? I realize that we live in a contemporary cosmos of niche marketing; even so-called Millennials are, for marketing purposes, now divided into two groups, those ages 18 to 25 and those 25 to 32. We also live in an age governed by the Tyranny of Choice, so we can go into a grocery store and stand bewildered before a dozen varieties of Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers (a trademark of Kellog) or Pringles (a trademark of Procter & Gamble). Indeed, the range of wines foreign and domestic in large stores is daunting, and consumers need help in choosing the right bottle for their purposes.

Still, do women really want wines that are “cute” or “fun” or “stylish” or “chic”? Are those truly the criteria women would use in selecting a bottle of wine? Or do they not mind being condescended to by the cynical machinations of corporate marketing divisions and their PR agencies and advertising minions? Where will this trend stop? Surely coming soon will be wines labeled “Dumb Blond,” “Barefoot and Pregnant” and “Can’t Live with ‘Em, Can’t Live without ‘Em.”

Images from;;

The “pinotgate” scandal is old news, but the settlement in the class-action suit occurred a few days ago.

Wine industry giants E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands agreed to a $2.1 million payout to consumers who purchased bottles of their inexpensive California wines filled with merlot and syrah passed off as pinot noir by a wily French entrepreneur. That’s right, whoever bought bulk wine for Gallo and Constellation between 2006 and 2008 was fooled by the plonk that would be pinot — 20 million bottles-worth — and approved it for sale under several labels selling to American wine-drinkers for $5 to $8. The Gallo labels were Red Bicyclette, Redwood Creek and Turning Leaf; the Constellation brands were Farallon, Rex Goliath, Talus and Robert Mondavi Woodbridge. (Constellation acquired Robert Mondavi in December 2004.) The fake pinot noir, from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, was shipped to our shores by a firm called Sieur d’Arques, who had purchased the bulk wine from the culprits in the deal, Ducasse Wine Merchants. A dozen Frenchmen were convicted of the fraud last year but got off (seems to me) with slaps on their manly French wrists. You can practically hear the argument: “Zut alors, it’s just a bunch of Americains. What do ze know about le vin anyway?”

Consumers may receive up to $21 even if they do not have receipts from purchasing the wines mentioned above. I know that I certainly saved my receipt from the bottle of Red Bicyclette I bought in 2007. For details of the settlement — and to see if you are entitled to a few bucks — visit frenchpinotnoirsettlement.

What tickles my admittedly perverse funny-bone is the idea that the buyers at Sieur d’Arques, Gallo and Constellation had no idea that they were purchasing bottles of merlot and syrah with perhaps a bit of pinot noir blended in. Perhaps they should have followed the advice on how to tell if a wine is pinot noir from the folks on the website of Sunset magazine, quoted by Jill Krasny writing for Business Insider:

Check the color. Pinot grapes should be nearly transparent.

Break down the flavor. “Sniff for cloves and cinnamon, violets and mint, mushrooms and loam under the fruit. And taste for licorice, olives, espresso?…”

Scrutinize the weight. Pinot should be delicate and silky, not full-bodied and “dramatic.”

(Olives and espresso? Those qualities seem rather anomalous for pinot noir.)

‘Scuse me while I fall off my chair laughing. When was the last time you tried a pinot noir wine whose color was “nearly transparent”? (I assume that the intention was to say “wine” rather than “grapes.”) When was the last time you tasted a pinot noir that was “delicate and silky”? I’m talking particularly about pinots from California and Oregon, where alcohol levels of 15 percent or more are common, where the wines are deeply extracted for opaque, brooding color and super-ripe, syrah-like flavors, where “full-bodied and dramatic” pinot noirs are as reckless as deductions on Mitt Romney’s tax return. Every week I taste purported pinot noirs that display all the character of a syrah or zinfandel in their darkness, richness, extreme spicy qualities, extravagant textures and burdensome tannins. I recently came across a producer of limited edition, high-end pinots whose motto is “Bold Decadent Daring.” Whatever happened to “Reticent Elegant Balanced”?

No wonder the noses and palates at Gallo and Constellation couldn’t tell that the “pinot” they were buying was actually mostly merlot and syrah. (We have to assume, of course, that they cared. Would I be cynical enough to suggest that the big deal for Gallo and Constellation was not that they bought fake pinot but that they were bamboozled by the French?) What’s a nose and palate to do when so many pinot noir wines, even made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, carry all the effects of merlot or syrah or zinfandel? And if the result of farming the vineyard and tinkering with the wine is a pinot noir that resembles syrah, why bother with making pinot noir in the first place? Just make freakin’ syrah and be done with it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it today and probably in the future too. Winemakers who do not try to bring out the best qualities of their grapes, that is the character inherent in the grapes grown in the most sympathetic and advantageous soil and climate, are making wine in bad faith. A high-alcohol, deeply extracted, super-ripe, excessively spicy pinot noir of which one is compelled to say, “That certainly is a syrah-like [or zinfandel-like] pinot noir,” does not have the right to the name pinot noir. I’m not saying the all pinots not made in Burgundy must slavishly follow the Burgundian model; obviously geography, latitude, elevation, climate and soil will impose their subtle or not-so-subtle influences. The pinot noir grape, however, performs at its best when it is allowed to assume its gratifying and paradoxical blending of elegance and power, of delicacy and sinew, nuance and structure, transparency and luster. Winemakers should pay heed to what grapes know best about themselves and want to express most eloquently; everything else is an exercise in ego.

By the way, the composition of the Red Bicylette Pinot Noir 2009? 86 percent pinot noir, 7 percent syrah, 7 percent merlot.

This little item in The New York Times caught my eye, and that is, the official wine of Lincoln Center, the great performing arts complex in Manhattan, is supplied by William Hill Estate Winery, in California’s Napa Valley. Wonder how many beautifully dressed and bejeweled patrons of the arts know that the wine they’re sipping at the center’s receptions and galas is made by a winery owned by E.&J. Gallo. That’s right, Gallo, the world’s second largest wine company, purchased the William Hill facility and vineyards in July 2007, another in a series of sales and acquisitions that the producer had undergone since 1992. And in other wine-related news, the booth that Lincoln Center maintained at this year’s Fashion Week in New York — begging the question of why Lincoln Center needs a booth at Fashion Week — featured a Kim Crawford wine bar. Kim Crawford is a winery in New Zealand, specializing in sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, that since 2006 has been owned by Constellation Brands, the world’s first largest wine company.

Who chose these wines for Lincoln Center to celebrate? What kinds of deals were made? Why does Lincoln Center align itself with giant global corporations when New York City is a vibrant hub of the wine world where every style and type and price of wine is available? Most important, why is the Official Wine of Lincoln Center not a product of New York state? What a boon it would be for the state’s neglected wine industry if the planners and PR people at Lincoln Center positioned the might of their attention and money behind Long Island and the Finger Lakes, where a multitude of excellent, delicious and accessible wines are made. On the other hand, what a boost it would be if the restaurants of New York would do more than pay lip-service to New York state’s wines by including the safe and obligatory two bottles on their wine lists, if even that many. Eat local? New York restaurants are all about that concept. Drink local? Never.

Anyway, as far as Lincoln Center is concerned, faced with the marketing power of Gallo and Constellation, the wineries of New York don’t stand a chance.

Image of Lincoln Center from

The image of the wine life that magazines, television and film offers is beautiful, leisurely, well-mannered and expensive. Whether the winery setting is a gauzy little chateau in the Loire Valley, an ancient villa in Provence, a fairy tale castle in Rheingau or Mosel, an 18th Century farmstead in Tuscany, a venerable hacienda in Argentina, a sleek contemporary (self-sustaining) structure in the Napa Valley, the narrative devolves on family history, endless afternoons of fine old wines and meals served al fresco overlooking green and golden acres of rolling vineyards, of rows of barrels resting majestically and mystically in dim cellars amid the pungency of young wine and wood, of horses and rose gardens, art collections and hunting trophies, all embraced by the traditional diurnal round of farming, growing, harvesting and winemaking that results in the essence of earth and grape translated into a few rare and costly bottles.

As you’re sipping your wine today, however, be it something fresh and frothy or something aged and hallowed, be it on the patio or porch, at a picnic or gathered round the dinner table, don’t forget, this Labor Day holiday, the day-laborers, the migrant workers, the men and women (and in some countries the children) who actually dig and fence and erect the poles and wires and trellises for the vineyards, who prune and trim, who pick the grapes, passing through the rows of vines under the sun, sometimes on slopes so steep that neither tractors nor horses can manage the grade. Harvest is commencing in many wine regions of the Northern Hemisphere, so, for example, in Germany the Polish laborers are out in force, just as thousands of Mexicans will be filling their baskets and bins with California’s bounty.

Without the immense physical efforts of these minimum-wage workers, who do not inhabit the glamorous realms of their employers nor drink their storied products, you would not be enjoying a glass of wine today.

I have been fascinated by the print-media ads for Fragoli and Passionné since they began appearing in food and wine publications about a year and a half ago, or at least I started noticing them early in 2010. Fragoli is a liqueur made from “wild strawberries,” whatever “wild” means in the context of international marketing; the bottle is actually filled with fruit. Passionné is a Prosecco Spumante. These products are made by the Toschi firm in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.

The picture is always the same: five gorgeous young Latina or Hispanic women engaged in a sort of cluster mind-fuck of hugging, fondling, kissing, smoldering glances, seductive smiles, whispering — notice that the structure of the image is almost a perfect right triangle; could Caravaggio have planned it any better? — while three hold flutes of “Fragoli Passion,” a cocktail composed of Fragoli and Passionné in a 1 to 4 proportion. The motto is also consistent: “Forbidden Fruit.”

What in the name of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is going on here?

I wonder every time I see this ad who the target audience is. Latina lesbians would be a pretty small demographic niche (unless I am ill-informed), and the portion of citizens of the United States who wish they were Latina lesbians, media cool and sexy as that category may be — and si, amigos, these babes are hot — must also be pretty darned narrow. There’s always the group of men who are turned on by the idea or implication of lesbian romance, but these products are relentlessly girly, though you gotta watch that 24 percent alcohol in Fragoli, not that these women don’t know how to hold their liquor, I’m not saying that.

It seems odd, however, in a culture where old-fashioned, hostile and morally judgmental attitudes about same-sex love and marriage are changing, ever so gradually to be sure, to base a long-running marketing campaign on the notion that lesbian relationships are titillating and “forbidden.” Most lesbian women and gay men are like most heterosexual men and women in that they all share a desire for love and commitment, for legal recognition and security. I mean, are the white middle-class foodie-types who read Food & Wine or Bon Appetit going to look at this ad and say, “Whoa, honey, this Fragoli stuff could change our lives!”

The concept of decadence projected by the image in the Fragoli and Passionné ads is hopelessly out of date, except in the minds and stunted imaginations of 15-year-old boys — meaning 98 percent of all male human beings — who read too much H. Rider Haggard and William S. Burroughs. (That’s a literary joke, of course; no 15-year-old boys read H. Rider Haggard or William S. Burroughs nowadays; perhaps if someone made a video game of Naked Lunch …) A YouTube segment devoted to Fragoli is titled “Sexy New Yorkers Taste Forbidden Fruit,” about as pathetic an appeal to provincial yearnings as could be made; I mean, don’t we all want to be sexy New Yorkers?

Oddly enough, passionné is the masculine form of the adjective in French that means “passionate” or “impassioned” (and a noun that denotes “devotee” or “fanatic”). Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to use the feminine passionnée?

Vine Connections of Sausalito, Ca., well-known importer of wines from Argentina, just announced that the name of one of its labels, Budini, will be changed to Bodini. Bodini, which produced its first vintage in 2002 (as Budini), produces highly-regarded wines made from chardonnay and malbec grapes. The change comes because of a threatened lawsuit from Budweiser, the ubiquitous beer manufacturer, whose cadre of attorneys apparently interpreted Budini as an Italian rip-off meaning “little Bud” or “Buddy.”

Budweiser, launched in 1876, is made by Anheuser-Busch (now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev), founded by German immigrant Adolphus Busch and his father-in-law. The company had revenue of $16.7 billion in 2007 and accounts for a 48.9 percent market share of the American beer business, producing some 11 billion cans and bottles annually. In 2008, after hostile approaches, the Brazilian-Belgian beverage giant InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion, creating the world’s largest brewer.

Bodini makes about 20,800 cases of wine each year. Current releases sell for about $13 a bottle.

In a related development, Universal Studios, owner of the rights to the ever-popular slap-stick Abbott and Costello films, announced that the first name of famed comedian Bud Abbott was being changed to “Steve.”

I attended a wine tasting in a retail store — Great Wines and Spirits — in Memphis two nights ago, and while that event may not seem worth celebrating in some other states and cities across The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, it marked a significant change hereabouts. The state legislature recently passed a bill that permitted, for the first time, retail stores to offer customers samples of wine inside the establishments, beginning in July. Yes, friends, Tennessee grew up a little bit today. Now if we could catch up to some other parts of the country where Higher Civilization is represented by the fact that wine and liquor stores can also sell corkscrews and glasses and selections of appropriate food items. That may take a while though. Even longer to accomplish will be grocery-store wine sales. Year after year polls reveal that a majority of Tennesseans desire wine in grocery stores, but the legislature will not be persuaded; too many special interests are arrayed against the notion.
Anyway, this was a great way to begin wine-store tasting in Memphis because the featured wines at this event were four pinot noirs and two chardonnays from the Domaine de la Vougeraie. What was extraordinary, aside from the high quality of the wines, was the fact that four of them were from the 2006 vintage and two from 2003; current releases on the market are the 2009s and ’08s. (Domaine image, much cropped, from

Jean-Claude Boisset founded his negociant firm in Burgundy in 1961, at the advanced age of 18. He and his wife Claudine purchased their first vineyard, Les Evocelles in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1964, and from that point there was, apparently, no going back. In 1980, the family launched Boisset Family Estates, now the third largest supplier of wine in France. Run by Jean-Claude and Claudine’s son, Jean-Charles Boisset, the company has seen huge expansion over the past 20 years, including in California, where it owns DeLoach, Raymond and Lyeth, among other properties. The most recent acquisition, in April 2011, was Buena Vista Carneros, a descendent of California’s oldest winery, founded in 1857.

Our concern, however, is Domaine de la Vougeraie, founded in 1999 by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie (pictured here); founded in the sense of producing a first vintage of wines. Actually the brother and sister had spent a decade consolidating all the family’s superb vineyards or parcels of vineyards in Burgundy — about 86 hectares or 221 acres — under the name and operation of one domaine named for their parents’ home. The vineyards, many of which harbor very old vines, are farmed organically or increasingly along biodynamic principles. For the Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines, indigenous yeast is allowed to start fermentation. New oak is employed judiciously or not at all. Winemaker is Pierre Vincent, who in 2006 replaced Pascal Marchand, so it was Marchard’s wines we tasted.

If you’re used to drinking pinot noirs from California and Oregon — and yes many of those wines are fine indeed — these four pinots from Burgundy may seem alien to you. Whereas many West Coast pinots are often made from very ripe grapes, are deeply extracted for dark colors, heavy fruit flavors and tannins and see a lot of oak, these Burgundian models are delicate, cleanly layered, finely chiseled, elegant and yet intensely varietal. Of course one could cite differences in climate, geography and philosophy for such discrepancies, yet a pinot noir that looks, smells, tastes and feels like a syrah is a betrayal of the character of the grape.

The domaine’s website, by the way, is the best winery site I have ever seen in its thoroughness and attention to detail in describing its wines and how they are made.

Friends, I am but an ink-stain’d wretch and proud to be counted amongst that company, though the financial rewards are not great, especially in the freelance cadre. I do not, as you can imagine, actually buy wine often, but, yes, I dipped into the credit card zone and bought three bottles of these Domaine de la Vougeraie wines, one each of the Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006, the Beaune Blanc 2006 and Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. Here follow reviews of all six wines.
Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006. The chardonnay grapes for this wine derive from vines planted in 1989 and 1990, among the youngest in the domaine. The wine aged 10 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Lovely, lively; spiced pear and quince, touch of ginger and cloves, honeysuckle, acacia and — how to say this? — old-fashioned face powder. Smooth, supple, subtly earthy over a mantle of scintillating limestone; squinching acidity cuts a swath on the palate; citrus and pear flavors; gets deeper, spicier. A few minutes in the glass bring in lilac and a hint of mango and yellow plum. Incredibly fresh and inviting but with a slight tinge of smoky maturity. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Production was 457 cases. Excellent. About $50.

Beaune Blanc 2006. Just under two acres (.74 hectares) includes vines planted in 1973 and ’74 and vines planted in 1994 and ’95. The wine aged 14 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Wow, what a chardonnay, and what a great price (relatively speaking, n’est-ce pas?). Gorgeous pineapple-grapefruit strung across serious depths of stones and bones; cool and clean, yet seductively spicy, seemingly infused with Parmesan rind and bacon fat, cloves, quince marmalade and ginger scones, Bit O’ Honey; yet very dry, austere even, with swingeing acidity and a huge component of river rock and limestone; gets increasingly spicy and savory and floral; thoroughly compelling but a little daunting. Drink through 2015 or ’16 (well-stored, I mean). 13 percent alcohol. 290 cases. Excellent. About $50
Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. The vineyard is a hair under nine acres (3.46 hectares); the pinot noir grapes for this wine are drawn from several small parcels planted in 1964 and ’65 and 1985 and ’86. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. Here’s what we want from classic pinot noir: a pale but radiant ruby-brick red color with a hint of garnet at the rim; a delicate and impeccably knit congeries of dried red currants and plums, cloves and a touch of cola with a slight earthy/mossy/mushroomy cast; a supple, suave and satiny texture that entices the tongue while plangent acidity plows the palate; this is quite dry, a little brambly, slightly austere and woody on the finish, nothing that a roasted chicken wouldn’t cure. Drink through 2014 to ’15. 13 percent alcohol. 270 cases. Very Good+. About $50.
Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Corvée Paget Premier Cru 2006. From vines planted in 1987/’88, so fewer than 20 years old at harvest; the parcel is miniscule, about .85 acres (not much larger than my backyard). The wine aged 15 months in oak barrels, 50 percent new, though, interestingly, after 2006 this wine sees no new oak. Light ruby-mulberry color, faint blush of garnet; beautiful aromas of slightly spiced and macerated red cherries, red currants, mulberries and cloves, just a hint of smoke and cola; a few minutes swirling and sniffing unfold delicate tissues of plum pudding, fruitcake and roses; supple and satiny in the mouth, impeccable layering of red fruit flavors (including dried currants), vibrant acidity, a burgeoning spicy element and just a touch of briery, tannic austerity on the finish. Just freakin’ pretty. Drink through 2015 or ’16. 13 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Excellent. About $85.

Savigny-lès-Beaune Les Marconnets Premier Cru 2003. The name “Marconnets” is found on documents going back to the 13th Century. The vineyard parcel is about 4.7 acres and has been farmed on biodynamic principles since 2001. The wine aged 12 months in oak barrels, 45 percent new, but after 2006 will see no new oak. A beautiful but vivid faded ruby-garnet color, almost transparent at the rim; spiced and macerated plums and red cherries, touch of fruitcake, hints of roots, moss and leather; light, elegant, wonderfully knit, spare, tends toward dryness and austerity, especially on the slightly earthy, slightly woody finish; a diminishing beauty though still with power to provoke. Drink through 2013. Alcohol is 13 percent. 564 cases. Very Good+. About $50.

Vougeot Le Clos du Prieuré Rouge Monopole 2003. A monopole, a vineyard owned solely by one person, family or house, is rare in Burgundy, where vineyards tend to have been fragmented by marriage and inheritance over two centuries. Le Clos du Prieuré — the wall of the priory — is a small vineyard, a whisper over one hectare, meaning that it’s close to 2.57 acres. The vineyard has been carefully maintained — now on biodynamic principles — with plantings that go back to 1901/’02; the last planting was in 1982 and ’83. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. The color is a gently faded ruby-garnet with a flush of ruddy brick-red; the aromas are smoky, a little roasted and fleshy, spicy and macerated, with hints of plum pudding and fruitcake; it’s a grand wine, dignified, supple and subtle, seductively satiny in texture yet spare, graceful, polished; a few minutes in the glass bring out notes of smoldering potpourri and sandalwood, incense, forest floor, mildly woody tannins. What a beauty! Drink through 2015. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 261 cases. Excellent. About $75.

Congratulations to these blogs and their authors in winning the following awards, announced last night at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. Writing about wine online is hard work, requiring discipline, objectivity, a palate that’s both sensitive and iron-like (sort of like syrah) and technical skills. This roster of winners reflects the growing influence of wine blogging in the industry, the beginning of blogging’s absorption into the mainstream (while retaining the essential role as outsider) and a lot of dedication, knowledge, experience and social media savvy. Again, congratulations!

Best Overall Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best New Wine Blog – Terroirist
Best Writing on a Wine Blog – Vinography
Best Winery Blog – Tablas Creek
Best Single Subject Wine Blog – New York Cork Report
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog – Enobytes
Best Industry/Business Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation – Vino Freakism

So it’s harmless, right, to label a wine Bitch. Or Sexy Bitch or Sweet Bitch or Royal Bitch or Crazy Bitch or any other of the 48 “bitch” names for which producers or marketers have applied to the TTB (common shorthand for the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) that oversees and approves labels for alcoholic beverages in the U.S.

I mean this is all just a joke, right, and if I am increasingly bothered by the proliferation of such “humorous” bitch labels then I must be a prude or completely lacking in sense of humor or just plain old, because the bitch labels, the critter labels, the goofy labels, the surreal labels, the double ententre labels — Pinot Evil, Herding Cats, Plungerhead, Screw Kappa Napa, Rude Boy and Rude Girl, Hair of the Dingo, Full Montepulciano, Smoking Parrot, Arrogant Frog and on and on — are intended, we are told, to draw the attention of young people who (quoting a press release) “are intrigued by fun wines freed of the burden of snobbery and geeky Old School connoisseurship.”

Actually, I’m not a prude, and I have a pretty active and slightly bent sense of humor — I won’t comment on the age issue — but words have meanings and consequences, and I think that the “bitch” label phenomenon — apparently launched by the R Winery in Australia, a collaboration between winemaker Chris Ringland and American importer Dan Philips that ran into serious financial trouble last year — offers a serious critique on attitudes toward women in America.

What is a bitch? A female dog, to be sure. Also a complaining woman; a competitive woman; a woman with a superior attitude; a demanding or assertive woman; a woman who denies a man sex; in short — women, because to many segments of American culture, all women are competitive, demanding, assertive, balls-breaking bitches. Unless, of course, they manifest the other side of femininity, promulgated in mainstream Hollywood movies and television sit-coms, as the sweet, non-threatening girls you would be proud to take home to meet Mom and Dad. (Maybe not Dad.) Hiphop, one of the dominant if not the dominant form of pop music in America (and an incredible influence on world culture), is defined by its deeply misogynist stance on women. Who hasn’t stopped at a red light next to a thunderously booming sound system that you feel in the marrow of your defenseless bones that churns out the refrains of “Slap the bitch,” “Fuck the bitch” and “Kill the bitch”?

Whatever advances were attained by women and their male supporters in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, popular culture has succeeded in dumbing down or, at least in the collective imagination, turning into a charade, a caricature of progress. Look at the two women involved in the latest public displays of unhinged male prowess, the still-unnamed chambermaid assaulted in a New York hotel — excuse me, allegedly assaulted — by IMF director Dominque Strass-Kahn, and Mildred Patricia Baena, the housekeeper who worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for 20 years and who after an affair with Schwarzenegger gave birth to his child in 1997. Both women are being demonized on websites and blogs all over the world, the maid for daring to accuse a man far her superior in wealth, status and importance, and Baena for not being hot enough. Like, who do these gold-digging bitches think they are?

There’s nothing wrong with humor and irreverence in the naming of wines and the design of their labels; if irreverence and creativity bring more people into the wine-drinking fold, I’m all for it. Do we, however, have to continue to demean women in such automatic, casual, degrading manner? Let’s have a moratorium on “bitch”‘ labels. Let’s be better than that.

Bitch Grenache image, slightly altered, from

Take a look at this label. Look at the name, Adolfo Hurtado. That’s the winemaker for Cono Sur, actually given credit for his work on the front label of a wine he made. We expect books to carry their authors’ names prominently; we assume that movies will list their writers and directors. Would you download a song that didn’t indicate who wrote the piece and performed it? Would you attend a concert of classical music advertised as “Music Played by Some Guys in Tuxedos” without the names of the composers and musicians?

Yet it’s surprising how often winemakers are not named on the labels of the wines they devoted their lives to, often in an accumulation of knowledge and experience that goes beyond the ordinary. Labels often carry the names of the winery’s founders, owners or proprietors or even the name of the artist who designed the label; far more seldom is the winemaker named, yet he or she was responsible for the wine that’s in the bottle.

I’m speaking primarily of “New World” wines: the United States, Chile, Argentina, Australia and so forth. Matters are regarded differently in Europe. No one expects a winemaker’s name to be displayed on a label from Bordeaux because all elements are subsumed under the rubric of the chateau and its estate; winemakers come and go, is the implication, but Chateau Lafite Rothschild remains. In Burgundy what matters is the vineyard, the village and the producer, and the same is true in Germany.

California, however, gave birth to the chatty back-label, to descriptions, paeans, poems, diatribes, marketing, self-aggrandizement, and many, if not most, New World producers follow suit. Rarely, though, in the verbiage, is the winemaker given credit. How rarely? I made an informal survey of 65 bottles in my reviewing rack and refrigerator, looking mainly at California wines but also some from Oregon, Washington, Argentina, Chile and Australia. The division was 48 with no winemaker indicated and 17 that named the winemaker; that’s 74 percent of the labels without the winemaker’s name.

I think that’s a shame, and I promise that from now on, whenever possible, I will include — for good or ill — the name of a winemaker with my reviews.

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