Sunday, September 9, 2007

Credibility

~A long time ago, longer than I care to remember, or admit, I drank Gallo products. Not that I don’t think Gallo products are worth drinking; in fact, many of them are superior wines, as the Gallo company is one of the most sophisticated wine producers on earth, and it has spawned some fantastic winemakers as well as wine marketers.
~The Gallo products I drank those many years ago had names like Thunderbird, Twister, and Boone’s Farm. Hey, I was young!
~In any event, the story goes that the Gallo formula for Thunderbird came about after company sales reps noticed a store in Oakland selling cheap wine with packets of lemonade. The point being, Gallo saw an opportunity and seized it.
~Back then the domestic wine scene was woefully deficient. Some marvelous wines were being produced in California, but not many Americans were drinking them. United States citizens only recently started to take to table wine on a large scale, finally surpassing beer consumption in 2005 and in 2006.
~Today, with mass products like Yellow Tail and Charles Shaw wines, the latter known as Two Buck Chuck (TBC), the price of some table wines make it unreasonable for even the most novice of novices to resort to drinking T’bird and its ilk, unless of course the idea is alcohol rather than taste (T’bird comes in at 20 percent by volume).
~While the cheap table wines with mass appeal may not offer the excitement or even the adventure that vintage premium wines offer, those among us who want to get started with wine or who simply can’t afford a so-called great bottle each day at least have better options than we had 40 years ago.
~The Gallo brothers were known as ruthless, tireless, aggressive, and shrewd. They certainly were smart. They knew the domestic market and they knew how to profit from it.
~The same can arguably be said about one particular man whose family owns the Charles Shaw Brand, among many other brands.
~Fred Franzia makes himself known. He has been in trouble with the law, he was on the outs with his father after dad sold the original Franzia wine and name to corporate interests, he fights with grape growers, he petitions the Supreme Court; in other words, he may be in the Gallo mold.
~Where Franzia differs is that the Gallo family did not blatantly court the press. Franzia seems to glow in the press’ limelight, spewing as much crudeness as print will allow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was using the press...
~Recently, an article about Fred Franzia showed up on CNNmoney.com, under Business 2.0 Magazine (which I have heard has since been discontinued, but I don’t know for sure).
~The article rehashed much of the stuff about the rise of TBC and its parent company, Bronco, plus the many outrageous things that Franzia has said and done and continues to do and say. For that, it is just an article about seeming ongoing news.
~My problem with the article is neither the subject matter nor the fact that it is old news, but what I read in the first paragraph and then subsesquent to the paragraph.
~One of the things I learned about writing as a journalist is that you need to grab the reader in the first paragraph. You can’t do that effectively with a glaring mistake such as placing Haut-Brion in Burgundy, which is what the article does.
~After encountering that glaring error, instead of reading the article, I was looking for more problems—that’s not how you want to grab the reader. The writer lost credibility.
~As the profile proceeded, the interviewer interjected himself into the interview, a style of writing that makes me feel as if there is an agenda behind the article, and that makes me feel manipulated.
~By interjecting his views or opinions into the profile, the author takes on an added responsibility to know the subject. When this particular author treated with derision the fact that after decades in the wine business Franzia refers to grapes as “varieties” instead of “varietals,” he tipped his hand.

Grapes are classified first as within a species and then as varieties within the species; wines named after grapes or showing a particular grape’s characteristics are called varietal wines or varietals for short; varieties is a noun; varietals, used to describe a wine, is an adjective.

Franzia’s reference of grapes as varieties was correct.

The writer either did not know his subject or his grammar.

Halfway through the article, I stopped reading.

~I am not against writing opinions, I’m engaging in the practice right now. But I am not crazy about interjecting opinions inside a seemingly fact-based personality profile, and I certainly am against erroneous facts.
~Fred Franzia may be all the things that people say he is and he may be half of the things he says he is. He may also be a media hound who keeps his name out there as a means of free promotion. I don’t know any of this to be or not to be true.
~I do know that the possibility existed that I might have learned something about the wine industry or at least about a particular wine company had the writer not sabotaged his own effort.

Where were the editors at money.com?

~Finally, it bothers me that the article was not written to a wine drinking audience but as a news item, which means there may be some unknowing consumers traveling Burgundy right now looking to visit Haut-Brion and to find out which grape varietals they use for their wines!


The article

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
September, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

4 comments:

Jay said...

Tom -- As we often encounter from people outside or ITB, obtaining accurate information amid the barrage of accidental or intentional misinformation is no small feat. Many ITB including several authors are still erroneously referring to Syrah as possibly originating in Iran. Not to mention widespread misapprehensions about the basis of the1855 Classification of Bordeaux wines. Many prestigious newspapers are no less guilty of bias and disseminating erroneous information. This is not to excuse such acts, only indicate how widespread misinformation is. :-(

Thomas Pellechia said...

Jay,

There was a a time when journalists were subject not only to editors but also to fact checkers. Those days seem to be slipping away, or already have.

What's the latest news you have on Syrah=Persia/Iran?

Having lived in Iran for two years back in the 70s, I know that some red wine I tasted there that was being produced in the South reminded me a lot of Syrah.

Of course, I know that history--and science--are always in a state of flux. Yet, I have a suspicion that, while the grape is known to have originated in southern France, it may still have derived from the East.

Greeks planted grapes at Marseilles about 600 years before Christ. Wine production then spread north into Gaul.

The Greeks got their wine knowledge--and grapes--from Phoenicians about 1200 years before Christ. The Phoenicians traded as far West as Iberia and as far East as Persia--maybe China.

With all that traffic back and forth, it is possible that the Greeks brought Syrah or its parent to Marseilles and then plantings spread north through the Rhone.

I remain of an open mind on the matter.

As to the Bordeaux classification: I believe that any true student of history and of wine history will know that the motivation for the system was to please the Emperor and to reward those with the right connections and money in Bordeaux. Wine quality seemed a secondary consideration...

The fact the the system was altered only once, almost proves that wine quality really isn't the issue.

Again, I am of an open mind, and perhaps I can proved too cynical on this issue as I may be on many others. ;)

Jay said...

From Tom Stevenson's Wine Report 2005 (p348): "Syrah's origins finally revealed as the result of two minor French varieties -- Mondeuse Blanche from Savoie and Dureza from Ardeche -- putting an end to the more romantic theories of Iranian or Palestinian origin. ... Petit Sirah (also known as Durif) was shown to originate from a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, both French varities."

R.I.P. Shiraz

Thomas Pellechia said...

Jay,

I found a Web reference that claims Pinot Noir is an older relative to Syrah.
http://www.nature.com/hdy/journal/v97/n2/full/6800842a.html

That would make Syrah a lot younger than the stories from Iran imply.

Of course, with most grapes, the crosses are so extensive taking them back to their beginnings isn't even an option--yet.

The fact remains that wine production seems to have begun around the Black Sea and spread from there both east and west. What that means to the genetic make-up of today's approximate 10,000 wine grape varieties is anyone's guess, even the scientists. But it does seem that today's Syrah is not directly from the Near East--but its ancient ancestors still could have been.