Pushing Wine

Consolidation madness—rampant in most every industry—is now chewing away at the U.S. wine business. So far the takeover of many small family firms by multinational conglomerates doesn't seem to have impacted the quality of the wines being made, but it's already affecting the way some of those wines are sold. Consider the case of Alice White. Alice, according to her Web site, is a "winemaker, writer, and an all-around independent woman" who lives in Australia on "Roo Ranch, where the kangaroos outnumber the people. So do the vineyards for that matter. It's beautiful down here in South Eastern Australia, where the summer days are long and warm—just perfect for producing great grapes for my wines!" Now, nobody expects strict adherence to facts in an ad campaign, but Alice White really pushes the envelope. Most Australian wine is mass-produced, designed to achieve "a certain minimum, perfectly acceptable level of quality" (per wine expert Jancis Robinson), in quantities sufficient, its manufacturers hope, to dominate the entire world wine market by the year 2025. The grapes for a bottle of Alice White are purchased from anonymous vineyards in South Australia, then vinified, blended, and shipped to the U.S. in specially designed tankers to be bottled in Los Gatos, Calif., and shipped nationwide. Roo Ranch, indeed. Alice White is no more likely to persuade a youthful demographic to drink wine instead of beer or beer-derived coolers than Aldo Cella was able to persuade a mass public to "Chill a Cella." But Alice's parent company, Canandaigua, is only expanding its wine-is-fun marketing efforts. If you attend the Bite of Seattle this weekend, you may be accosted by Murray and Maude, "the Covey Run quails"—yes, people dressed up in Disneyland-sized quail suits—promoting Canandaigua's midprice Washington wine line. The infection has spread to another brand close to home. Hogue Vineyards, acquired last year by Canadian wine giant Vincor, is being "rebranded": The Hogue name will still appear on limited production "reserve" wines, but mass-market bottlings will now appear under the singularly unappealing label "Fruit Forward by Hogue." Midprice bottles will bear the name Genesis and some very twee figures that "stand on the edge between land and sea or sky, not unlike the geography of the Pacific Northwest." Huh? Oh, never mind. Does all the laborious whimsy affect the taste of the wine inside the bottle? No—but it costs money. And it is evidence of the increasing distance between the people who make wine and people who are hired to sell it by yet other people who spend their time in boardrooms reading annual reports, not in cellars crushing grapes. Mass-produced, mass-marketed wines get you drunk just as well as Chⴥau Cheval Blanc; but if that's all we wanted from our wine, we'd still be drinking Gallo Hearty Burgundy. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

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