Sunday, March 15, 2009

And They Call Wine Bloggers Irresponsible?

Am I opposed to mainstream journalism? Of course not. Some of my best friends are underpaid journalists just looking for a way to make a living. And they have a certain standard, a code of ethics that I find admirable and worthy of emulating. So when I saw the front of last week’s Weekend Journal (Wall Street Journal) with a section front promo at the top shouting “Never order the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio,” I turned Refosco red.

Disclosure: I do not sell Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. In the past I worked on the floor of restaurants, as a server and as a wine director, and during those times I have sold the wine. I remember when it was not a brand and no one had ever hear of Santa Margherita, let alone Pinot Grigio. That was back when everyone, including Saddam Hussein, was drinking Lancers Rose. During a stretch between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, I worked for a wine distributor selling the wine. But at this time I have no interest and make no money selling or promoting the brand. Neither Santa Margherita nor Terlato Wines International asked me to write this nor was I ever approached to do this piece by anyone. I recently met Tony Terlato at a cocktail party, and we posed for a picture together. In fact I compete, hard, to sell Pinot Grigios other than Santa Margherita.

That said, I was pissed. Let me tell you why.

Putting the section-front promo line at the top with the line “Never order the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio” might have been the work of the section editor. If it was meant to get someone’s attention to turn to page W3, it did so in a style that I find shoddy and sensational. We are reading the Wall Street Journal, not tuning in to the car chases at Fox News. I don’t know whose decision it was, and would like to think the authors of the piece most likely had little of nothing to do with it. So we either have an editor who is looking to give us a jolt, or someone who is very insensitive or just plain ignorant about wine. Would they run a promo that said “Never order Nathan’s hot dogs”? Or, “Never order Budweiser beer”? This is irresponsible and reprehensible. Doesn’t mainstream dead-tree journalism have enough problems?

As to the authors, I can understand their frustration with seeing the wine offered on wine lists at a larger than normal mark up. But why stop at Santa Margherita? Are the authors anti-Santites? And to offer up a Gruner Veltliner, as they do, because it is a better value might be a really cool way to snowboard off the avalanche they just found themselves on. But it was a cheap shot. How many Italian restaurants have Gruner on their wine list? And Italian restaurants are where you will find most of the Santa Margherita being sold these days.

And so you say, they found it on a non-Italian restaurant and give John and Dorothy a break for Crissakes? Look, there are reasons for both wines. And if someone wants a familiar, comfortable wine, and they are willing to pay the premium for it, God Bless ‘em. Isn’t that more fiscally responsible than running up their charge cards with therapy?

But my complaint isn’t with John and Dorothy trying to get folks to spend down in a restaurant. My larger gripe is that these folks work for a financial journal. And Santa Margherita is an economic success story for Italy and America. Why single it out so cavalierly when the consequences for such advice will fall on the Italian farmers and American wine salesmen?

Why would a journalist or an editor want to punish them with promo lines and assertions of outrageous pricing, when it is the restaurants that are setting the pricing? Most likely some back-of-the-house bean counter looking at COGS, thinking they can get away with it. Or, maybe nobody thought this through? And the MSM calls us wine bloggers irresponsible. Yeah, right.

"If you stick within your comfort zone, the wines that you already know and you already like, you will be punished, pricewise. Get away from Chardonnay. Get away from Pinot Grigio." - John Brecher

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