Chateau StrawMan

Jennifer Rosen of Scripps and the Rocky Mountain News has an interesting column today in which she comes to the defense of "corporate wine":

"I’ve had it up to here with complaints about faceless corporate wines. It’s about time someone stood up for them."

I want aware that corporate wine needed defending, but she does it well.

Her point is that if wine is going to hit the mass market and become as ubiquitous as Coke then it needs to be "cheap, unintimidating and reliable."

And that is something we have a bunch of these days. There is more cheap, reliably average wine with inviting labels than ever in the history of America. In the end, Jennifer wants us to "stop picking on "Wallgreens Wine!"

Ok, I can take that pledge. What I can’t do is go out on the same ledge she is treading when she leaps a tad bit too far in claiming, "While the wines that convulse us in religious ecstasy tend to come from
small, quirky producers, we forget how much independent wine is
perfectly dreadful."

How much of that wine is dreadful? Which ones are dreadful? Even those wines I find over oaked, over extracted and pathetically high in pH tend to be better than Yellowtail and the other…corporate wines that I see I’ve now pledged not to pick on.

So, honor of my pledge to celebrate, rather than pick on corporate wines, I am seriously considering starting my own corporate wine. I’m going to call it CHATEAU STRAW MAN.

15 Responses

  1. wineguy - March 13, 2006

    Where can I get some of that? Sounds pretty good — maybe a bit grassy in the finish, but hey…

  2. Justin - March 13, 2006

    Chotzi does make a compelling case. For those who were not raised on wine, a love for wine is something that develops over time. It is sometimes only after substantial amounts of simple, perhaps bland wine that one’s palate can slowly metamorphose into an appreciation and eventually a genuine affection for the more complex of the breed. Wine drinkers who take to the grape must crawl before they can walk. They must develop a sense of adventure and some self-confidence (particularly if they lack a wine mentor of sorts) before they can stride with great purpose to the deeper, darker, more intimidating sections of the local WineMart, away from the friendly mass market displays in front of the register, and snag a bottle off the shelf. Some will never take the Yellow Tail training wheels off, some will.
    One wouldn’t expect a beer neophyte to jump straight into cream stout and actually enjoy what they were drinking. Wine is no different. If Alice White Lexia is what kicks off a lifelong journey into wine, so be it.
    Frankly, a lot of “artisan” wine is indeed crap. The very nature of wine makes it easier for crap to sell. An “artisan” carpenter wouldn’t last long at all making crooked, wobbly tables with legs of four different lengths but a comparable winemaker can get away with it on image alone. Sure, the more educated wine consumer would avoid such a wine after seeing several reviews with the word “excrement” in them, but that doesn’t help the poor schmo who gets lured by the fancy label, a well-written shelf talker and the sophisticated pricetag. Enough experiences like this is enough to send a would-be sophisticate scurrying back to the Yellow Tail.

  3. - March 13, 2006

    BlogWatch: Chateau Strawman

    Jennifer Rosens latest article entitled Raise a Glass to Corporate Wine makes a compelling argument for the benefits provided to the wine world as a hole by the much-maligned corporate wine. Tom Wark has posted a response to the…

  4. Alder - March 13, 2006

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “a lot” of independent wine is downright awful, there’s certainly some of it that is NOT as good as Yellow Tail or say, the mass produced wines of Beringer or Kendall Jackson. Include the wines of France, Italy, and Spain, and frankly, Rosen has a very good point. I for one am just as tired as she is of the polemics of corporate bashing that Mondivino seemed to legitimize. The wine might not be what most of us choose to drink, but Rosen is 100% right when she says that it is the ONLY hope for increasing wine consumption in the masses, frankly because it is all they can afford.

  5. tom - March 14, 2006

    I guess just don’t see all that much corporate bashing going on, at least not enough to be “sick and tired of it”.
    And keep in mind, nobody took Mondovino to task more than I. But if you look around outside the wine magazines you see an awful lot of editorial space given to “corporate wines”.
    I might agree with Jennifer if there were a real movement afoot to bash corporate wine.

  6. St.Vini - March 14, 2006

    Alder and Justin made the points I was looking to make, so I won’t rehash them….
    Tom, I think part of the issue is more that wine lovers, reviewers, bloggers, etc. love the hard-to-find offerings and spurn the everyday. Thumb through Wine Spectator and note how many 200 case lots they review. Same with the blogs, most look to find something new or obscure. Reviewing the latest vintage of Meridian Chardonnay doesn’t appeal/sell/inspire. It might “not be a wine to write about”, but its something we can look to for a reliable taste profile and is quite successful.
    As for the outright corporate bashing, I, for one, notice a fair bit of it. Bash yellow tail, 2-buck-chuck, Sutter Home, Beringer, etc. for making “mass-produced”, “soulless”, “industrial” wines that “lack terroir” and you’ve got the makings of a wine article.

  7. tom - March 14, 2006

    I’d point you to the vast majority of wine reviews in daily papers and general interest magazines where most of the wines reviewed are the common, multi-thousand case brands. And they aren’t being bashed in those reviews. They are being offered as solid, reliable wines.
    On the other hand, when you have a publication like the Wine Spectator or even the blogs, I think it’s understandable that they would forgo focus on the mass produced brands. The people reading these publications are far more interested in something more than “reliable”.
    The idea that Fosters, Diageo and the others are unfairly being maligned just isn’t the case.

  8. caveman - March 14, 2006

    Compelling argument? Her defence of corporate wine is based on it being consistently bland and that she has tasted ‘perfectly dreadful’ artisinal wines in her life. Either she is a poor shopper or needs to find a better store to buy from. In opening a bottle of wine, I am not looking for any vision of god, at a bare minimun I want something that goes beyond ‘Bland and consistent.’ And you don’t have to drink bland wine for years before your palette is refined enough to appreciate better wine. That was a crap article by Rosen….and C’mon guys, Tom is right, the big corps don’t need any defending…UNTIL NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. St.Vini - March 14, 2006

    I’m not referring to “multi-thousand case brands” (which would include the Sausal that she suggests at the end of the article), but the truly corporate ones referred to in the article.
    Do you really believe that wine writers treat a wine from Beringer in the same way that they treat a wine from an independent, boutique winery?

  10. tom - March 14, 2006

    “Do you really believe that wine writers treat a wine from Beringer in the same way that they treat a wine from an independent, boutique winery?
    Outside the wine magazines, Yes.

  11. St.Vini - March 14, 2006

    This is interesting. The qualification of “outside the wine magazines” probably does make a difference, but a quick look at the SF Chronicle’s top 100 of 2005 shows 8 whites and just 3 reds from Corporate producers, by my count. Also, look at Rosen’s article – she makes several recommendations at the bottom and none of them are from Corporates. Ironic, no?

  12. tom - March 14, 2006

    “This is interesting. The qualification of “outside the wine magazines” probably does make a difference, but a quick look at the SF Chronicle’s top 100 of 2005 shows 8 whites and just 3 reds from Corporate producers, by my count. Also, look at Rosen’s article – she makes several recommendations at the bottom and none of them are from Corporates. Ironic, no?
    Yea, a little. 🙂

  13. Adam Mahler - March 15, 2006

    Jennifer Rosen has defended corporate wines with a tirade about how we need to make wine more inviting. I agree wholeheartedly, although, she oversimplifies the argument. I am afraid that the evil nameless, faceless lifestyle sellers have failed to ensure that the wine that they have produced will result in turning consumers onto wine. If the welcome gates of the wine world have Blackstone Merlot waiting for me, I’d probably go to the next house, where the bad cold beer goes pretty well with wings and mowing the lawn. I appreciate her idealism, but I feel as if the “corporate” wineries are selling out their own quality in favor of profit, not being inoffensive. As witnessed by a recent blind tasting of more than a dozen inexpensive California Cabernets, I was shocked at the median quality level of these wines. You could almost draw a perfect corollary between marketing dollars spent and size of the winery in direct contrast with quality. My complaint is not only the quality of the wine, but also they way they are marketed and sold. Everyone in this business, is well, in business, but these corporate producers have been undermined by p&l statements and marketing people (no offense marketing people). As a salesman, I know that these wines don’t compete favorably against their less famous rivals, but the corporate producers get the wine list placements and floor stacks, and the small, family-owned producers get the shaft in favor of recognition over quality. This of course, in endemic of the entire world of wine, where we get so burned out by consumer’s buying habits and tendency to recede into a safe place, that we cease to be educators, and we let the novice tell us what we will serve, and quality and expertise be damned. Until corporate wineries actually produce great cheap table wine, I will always consider them lifestyle brokers, and they will always be the Cosmopolitans in the World of Gin Martinis, they just share the same stemware. Oh and by the way, the wine Rosen lists as recommended do not fall in the category of Corporate Wines.

  14. Basic Juice - the wine blog for my generation - March 15, 2006

    Not All Corporate Wine Is Equal

    The Caveman, riffing on Jennifer Rosen’s article, Raise a glass to corporate wine, makes a very interesting point:The reality of the modern wine industry is that there exist fewer and fewer independent winemakers. Cheval Blanc, Etude, Ornellaia, Yquem…

  15. Fredric Koeppel - March 15, 2006

    Actually, Nobilo, formally owned by BRL Hardy, is handled by Pacific Wine Partners, a division of Constellation Brands, now the world’s biggest wine producer. I would say that makes it a corporate wine, designed to fit within a specific portfolio at a particular consumer niche. Rosen fails in her polemic (a mode at which she excels) by not defining more clearly what she means by corporate wine. If Bronco can turn out terrific $6-a-bottle wines like Crane Lake Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, then we should celebrate large companies that turn out well-made inexpensive wine in vast quantities. However (and Tom, we’ve talked about this before), in California especially, the quality of cheap wine lags behind similar products from Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere. The point is that we don’t want bland soulless wines, whatever the price.

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