Vulgar Wine and the Bandwagon of Debasement

Bitbub The coarsening of American culture appears to be proceeding on schedule and the wine industry has, in at least one instance, grabbed the reins and is helping drive the bandwagon of debasement.

I'm happy to report that the good folks over Grateful Palate have begun importing "Bitch Bubbly", a cheap sparkling wine from Australia. This is the second in the "Bitch" line from winemaker Chris Ringland. It began with "Bitch Grenache". I would not have known about this line extension had Lew Perdue of the Wine Industry Insight not Tweeted out his response: "Bitch wine: the coarsening of America".

In an email I asked Lew to clarify his tweet. Being one who can't mince words, Lew wrote me saying:

"I believe that the impact of a profanity is in obverse proportion to its frequency of use. I also think that people with limited vocabularies resort to crude cliches when they can't come up with something original and more interesting. It's just a general devaluing of perfectly good profanity and an indication of the dumbing down of verbal skills. And when your wine can't be distinguished by virtue of its quality, then I suppose relying on shock value can make a few bucks."

Lew is correct, in every respect.

When did "Bitch", "Bastard", "Fuck", "Asshole", etc all become just another set of words to use freely, rather than remain the obscenities they are and used well and sparingly and in the company of those you know well enough to say these words and not completely undermine your own reputation?

I could ask the same thing about a number of other subjects. For example, when did graphic displays of vomiting become regular fare in movies, when before all that was shown was the character gagging, his head go out of frame, then hear the splash of liquid projectiles?

And when did wine companies decide to take advantage of the coarsening of American society by introducing wines with names like "Bitch"?

I suspect Lew is probably right: "when your wine can't be distinguished by virtue of its quality, then I suppose relying on shock value can make a few bucks."

Of course none of this means that Bitch Bubbly will languish on the shelves. I've learned for example that the wine is popular in sororities. And why wouldn't it be. And why wouldn't any parent be pleased to know their daughter is swilling something called "Bitch". Let's just hope we can find a vintner somewhere to shove some juice in a bottle and call it "WHORE!". And while they are at it, why not bottle up some easy juice and label it "IMADICK"? What red blooded American girls and boys could resist debasing themselves with such tastefully named wines?

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate a profanity properly uttered and proficiently used. There is not a person on earth who knows me that wouldn't laugh at the idea that I'm a prude of any sort. I am however offended by unthinking, money-grubbing efforts that popularize profanity, coarsen dialog and expose us all to vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


31 Responses

  1. Randy Watson - December 3, 2009

    I know this doesn’t pertain directly to wine but after starting my wine blog aptly titled, The Wine Whore, I’ve been met with interesting views on profanity. Some people think it’s funny and catchy, others say they would never want to have anything to do with a site bearing such a profane name. Surprisingly enough, more people seem to like and accept the name. Only in more conservative regions (i.e. some parts of Oregon, etc) am I greeted with hissing and booing. My favorite moment as a “Wine Whore” was hearing the name carefully spoken by a somewhat prude local newscaster when they aired a piece about my site… it was also funny to read it in the local newspaper. Honestly, if people can say “ho” or “pimp”, what’s wrong with “whore”?
    On the other hand, my wife ordered a cake for my birthday a month ago and the bakery would NOT write Happy Birthday Wine Whore on the cake?!? What gives?

  2. jackslife - December 3, 2009

    Great Post! I think that you are exactly right about the use of shock value as a replacement for quality. I’m no prude either, but I think this is just tacky marketing and my assumption about products with these types of names will probably always be that they suck.
    Also, I want to second your thoughts on movie vomiting. You can ask my wife, this is my ultimate movie pet peeve. Is it really necessary for us to SEE the projectile vomit? I think not.

  3. Josh - December 3, 2009

    Great post Tom.
    You and Lew make great points.
    Strangely I’m much more free with expletives in person than I am in my writing. . Perhaps that’s just part being in my early 30s, riding the tip of the Millennial spear.
    But in my writing I hardly ever swear. It just seems completely unimaginative and out of context usually reflects horribly on the writer.
    I think the same is true here. I would never buy this wine. Even as a gag. It lacks wit and charm.
    The most interesting people I know dance along the line of propriety, playfully but benignly undermining social norms.
    This thing crosses that line in one clumsy, lumbering footstep.

  4. Teri - December 3, 2009

    I’m a lover of the F-bomb, but I’m onboard with your comments. Language has gone to hell in a handbasket, and we often look up and ask where are we going and why are we in a handbasket? Problem is consumers seem to love it – and it makes gift giving that much easier for those certain someones in our lives
    Subtlety is so much sexier.

  5. @nectarwine - December 3, 2009

    I think the marketing of this wine is exactly what they want. SHOCK They are in business, just like you and me. They bought or made some cheep a$$ stuff, and need to be creative in how they distribute it. Would I ever drink this wine? NO! Do they claim to be something they are not? NO! Would I ever even review this wine? NO! Is America heading down the road of Roman Ruins? You don’t have to look far beyond the Bitch bottle to see the answer to that – BUT, they have a business model and this is what it includes. More power to them and us for being able to have our own opinions and pursue our own business models.
    P.S. Tom, you have a extensive blog roll on the right there – whose bitch do I have to be to get on it 😉
    Great article.
    Josh @nectarwine

  6. ian - December 3, 2009

    Wonder how they got it past the TTB?

  7. Thomas Pellechia - December 3, 2009

    I wonder the same goddam, fucking thing about those assholes!!!
    How’s that, Tom?

  8. ian - December 3, 2009

    maybe they explained to the shiny ass clerk at the TTB that they were referring to a female dog.. like a critter label

  9. Austin James Carson - December 3, 2009

    I am admittedly new here, but I was just curious if anyone has actually tasted the wine? And if you have not, I would be curious to know whether you indeed have not as a result of some sort of moral stand against the bastardization of the American culture or if it’s more an issue of this being cheap, purported swill?

  10. Tom Wark - December 3, 2009

    It’s about culture, not swill.

  11. Marcia - December 3, 2009

    Go, Thomas and Ian! My sentiments as well.
    Mr. Carson – I agree with Tom’s reply. (But I’m waiting for Ms. Dugan to say her peace here, as I suspect she will have a unique spin on it.) But whether or not the contents of the bottle are yummy or undrinkable, I am offended by (anyone’s) lowest-common denominator marketing/branding strategy – especially profanity as a provocation. It’s just a stupid, one-note gimmick.
    This is in stark contrast to my opinion of the branding strategy for Cleavage Creek or Marilyn Merlot (Marilyn Wines). These other labels use far more finesse – without offending women, with tongue-firmly-inserted-in-cheek strategies. They do not pander to those with vocabularies maxed out at 50 words. Is that Bitch’s target market? Sorority sisters?
    Cleavage Creek, Marilyn Wines and others with adept wordplay use the English language as a clever – not insulting – tool to reach their target market. That earns my appreciation regardless of the quality of the juice. (And I hope it’s not limited to American culture but simply to humanity as a whole!)

  12. Jeff - December 3, 2009

    I’ll sign you up as not a fan of the movies “Something about Mary” and “American Pie.”
    I actually glanced at this topic in a post I wrote last week. According to a trendspotting company called Trendwatching risque is a trend for 2010:

  13. Ryan - December 3, 2009

    When I first saw this label in the shop, I thought, `Oh God, what a cheap marketing ploy – I hope this isn’t the next critter label trend,’ yet the shop owner I trust said it’s outstanding wine, and for $11 I picked up a bottle (a 2007 Grenache, not the bubbly)….and it’s actually quite good. It’s made from vines 20-80 years old in Eastwood, Australia, and doesn’t see any oak. The wine was light bodied, and tasted like cranberries and cherries. A good, cheap quaffer, perfect slightly chilled during the summer. Here’s my review:

  14. Phil - December 3, 2009

    I have had the Grenache a few times though never the Sp. Version. Generally speaking it is solid wine although I was not much of a fan in 06. I never did like selling this wine as a wholesaler and I can say I never showed it. Supposedly the name came from some statement of “wow that’s a bitch” when they realized how good the wine was, however I think that too is a bunch of marketing BS. They also produce a wine called Suxx and I believe they were producing another label along that trend. If I thought the statement had anything to do with wine I would not mind as much but it may as well be a nude woman or a racial slur as the only reason it is on the package it shock value. 1. not funny, 2. Stupid and pointless. But I guess that the Aussie wine market continues its free fall producers are going to have to work a lot harder to find buyers of the wines.

  15. Brooks - December 3, 2009

    So, if I’m understanding this, the argument is:
    1) Overuse of profanity reduces the impact of the words in question, and
    2) America is getting coarser because we use these shocking words more.
    Are the two points really compatible? Are we trying to protect profanity from being watered down, or our culture from the impact of un-watered-down profanity?
    Besides, the history of language is fraught with words that were once shocking and are now commonplace (“bloody”, “hell”, and even “sex” were all once fairly strong taboo words).
    Me, I think this falls into the “damn kids are on my lawn again” zone. Culture evolves, language evolves, and the older generations are always shocked and outraged by what the kids are getting up to.

  16. Charlie Olken - December 3, 2009

    It is my understanding that this wine is a dog.

  17. Austin James Carson - December 3, 2009

    Tom, I would suggest that it is neither exclusively about the culture, nor is it so about the wine (swill). To try and seperate the two is to decontexualize the article. While I am entirely on board with the premise, I agree with Brooks in that it’s an overreaction. Furthermore, if this was killer juice that had wine bloggers atwitter do you really believe that it’s reception by sophicticant’s would be the same?
    Marcia, I do think that your splitting hairs between “Bitch” and Cleavage Creek from a feminist/conceptual perspective.
    I feel the same way about reality television, but I do watch on occasion.

  18. El Jefe - December 3, 2009

    It was only last night that I watched Animal House for the umpteenth time, in which the vomit scene (Flounder v. Wormer) was handled by John Landis with directorial finesse. I heartily agree that I do not need to see the projectile to comprehend the enormity of its effect.
    Also… In limited situations “Bitch” can be a term of endearment, like when I wonder where my girl puppy Garnacha Blanca has gotten off to this time (of course, in this case it’s also a technical term.)
    And… It may be that, several years ago, when we locked up the use of *%#&@! as the name of our red Rhone style blend, we left other wineries without the tools to deal thoughtfully with profanity. Shrug.

  19. Austin James Carson - December 3, 2009

    The less is more theory in film making certainly holds merit but you can’t argue that the emotion engendered is the same. Not showing the vomit leaves more to the imagination, showing the vomit creates a visceral response. Both of which have a place in film making (and marketing).
    Being my first time to dabble in this particular blog, I do realize how bizarre that last paragraph was 🙂

  20. Tom - December 4, 2009

    The wine is not half bad. They also have “Ballbuster” (shiraz, I think)and “Evil” cabernet

  21. Samantha - December 4, 2009

    Okay, seeing as I am one of those potty mouth chicks I’m going to chime in here…well, that and Marcia asked. As a wine buyer, I think the wine is vile, stupid, sweet, watermelon Jolly Rancher tasting fizz, so personally I’m more offended by what’s in the bottle than what is on the label. As a person that buys wine for the public I can tell you this shit sells all day long, 99% of the buyers are women, not my regular customers, mostly first timers…people that seem slightly uncomfortable being in a wine shop, for some reason, (I’m guessing knocking some of the perceived “snooty” off the wine shopping thing) they love it, stand there, giggle wildly and grab a few bottles. Have I ever had anyone come back for more, not a once.
    As for naughty words becoming okay, well that one is too personal, I can’t answer for anyone else…I have the mouth of a sailor, always have so those words were never saved for a special occasion, therefore not at all shocking. Sure they lose some power when they are used all the time but that just forces me to focus on the content of my message more…save the “shit” for seasoning. There you go Marcia, ask and you shall receive.

  22. John Dorminey - December 4, 2009

    Dan Philips has an amazing command of the English language and is a very talented wordsmith. He also has a sense of humor while never taking himself too seriously.
    I think this Bitch session suffers from a lack of perspective.
    To someone not familiar with Dan Philips and The Grateful Palate, this looks like an inappropriate and desperate grab for attention and dollars. TGP has always been more of a “club” of wine drinkers who like a super-jam style of wine. When Bitch was first released, production was small and it was almost like an insider joke and not meant to offend. There was not enough to make it to the sorority houses unless Sis was sneaking into Daddy’s cellar. I assume demand from the public is the reason production has increased instead of the juice going to another label.
    The success of the wine is what has driven into the chain stores and introduced it to folks outside the TGP enthusiasts. It was not created to compete on the shelf with “Old Fart.”
    If you can even find a bottle of TGP’s “FU Ebeneezer” don’t miss the chance to try it!

  23. Blake Gray - December 4, 2009

    Tom, I’m sorry but you’re showing your age.
    Lighten up.

  24. Tom Wark - December 4, 2009

    That one hurt! 🙂

  25. mydailywine - December 4, 2009

    I had two immediate reactions to this post. First was questioning the idea that America is just now becoming coarse? Look at the sitcom shows and fast food most of this country consumes…the picture is not one of sophistication.
    Second was, having lived in Australia for many years, be glad that importer Dan Phillips chose the name and not the Aussies. The name would have been far more unpalatable, because the Aussies use the C*** word like their lives depend on it. Bitch is for sissies:)

  26. Marcia - December 4, 2009

    Samantha, thanks for putting in your two cents. From a packaging point of view, it even looks like it tastes like the Jolly Ranchers! Your points are informative about your shoppers’ buying habits on this product. As for the use of the sailor’s vocabulary, I can appreciate “Bitch” from a marketing strategy perspective. But personally, it turns me off from a buying perspective…but it may have the opposite effect with someone else. …Certainly you do not use your sailor’s mouth excessively on your blog!
    Mr. Carson – Splitting hairs? Maybe… Not worth the effort though to argue the nuances on such a silly subject as “Bitch” wine! So I shall leave it. It may be more splitting hairs on the degrees of “culture” vs. “swill.” In any event, the brand has been successful in getting folks all atwitter’ (GROAN!) as evidenced by the comments volume here. 🙂

  27. Joe - December 4, 2009

    “I appreciate a profanity properly uttered and proficiently used”
    Well said. A strategically placed expletive can make a great comedic device or express serious emotion (and sometimes, it’s just needed). Furthermore, “blue” comedy and physical humor are also great (you need something uncomplicated to laugh at sometimes). I certainly think the packaging of this product (which I’m sure packaging alone drives huge amounts of wine sales, especially to novice drinkers) is edgy and stands out on shelves, thus increasing sales. But, I do agree that it’s a cop-out on creativity. I can get your attention by writing and performing a song on guitar or by crapping on your head. One is certainly easier, but totally uncultured. What gets more attention in the popular media? The intricacies of healthcare reform, or Britney Spear’s latest meltdown? I think the quality of the product in the bottle and the marketing on the label are geared at the same demographic.

  28. bob - December 4, 2009

    I agree with your comments/concern.. but I think that the word “inverse” is the correct term, not “obverse” when he says: impact of a profanity is in obverse proportion to its frequency of use. it’s a mathematical term; might as well be consistent when complaining about people’s language.

  29. Austin James Carson - December 4, 2009

    If nothing else it made for lively banter. It certainly doesn’t have a spot on my (nearly empty) wine shelf.

  30. Richard - December 4, 2009

    Tom, et. al.,
    I too, do not see how the TTB approved this. As a sort of winemaker/producer, the TTB wouldn’t even approve “Magically” on the back of my label – they did for 2006, but in 2007, they made me change it to “Exquisitely.” They said “magically” implied the wine was magic. When I logically pointed out that they had approved it in 2006, their response was akin to “so?” Oh, wait! I think I just answered my question!.
    Next, yes, Mr. Gray may be correct, perhaps you are getting old – but think I’m older than you and this rubs me the wrong way too. If the TTB approved “Bitch” then what next. I’ve become semi-creative in my old age (well, at least in my own mind) and bet I could come up with some creative wine names utilizing profanity, but I’ll refrain because I don’t want to drive your dear readers insane with laughter…
    But, where do we draw the line? Would “K-cuf” wine be approved by the TTB? How about “I’d like to F**k you!” wine? or “Dog Sh*t?”
    Thanks Tom – another perspicacious article!

  31. Scott - December 17, 2009

    I concur, in fact the do make a wine called suxx and fu, rounded out by Evil and Pure Evil.

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