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The State Department's New Custom Stemware

Plus, three Finger Lakes winemakers invade Europe, and 1 in 4 Londoners are knowingly drinking fake booze

Posted: October 10, 2013

• While the government might not have much to cheer about these days, what with shut downs and debt ceilings, the State Department appears to be eternally optimistic about the need for quality stemware for future celebrations. A $5 million contract was awarded on the eve of the government shutdown to Simon Pearce, a Vermont-based producer of high-end hand-blown crystal and pottery. In truth though, the contract started some two years ago, when Simon Pearce was allowed to re-compete against the prior contract holder, a U.S.-based company that was going to outsource production to Europe. With the glassware destined for the tables of U.S. embassies across the globe, some thought (namely Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who lobbied hard for this contract on behalf of Simon Pearce) an American product would send a better overall message to other countries and their wine-quaffing dignitaries. In Simon Pearce, the State Department found a classic American success story: Having opened his first glass shop in 1971 in Kilkenny, Ireland, Pearce moved his business to Vermont in 1981 in pursuit of a more business-friendly economy; Simon Pearce now operates two glass-blowing facilities in Vermont and Maryland. The $5 million will be used to hire additional glass blowers over the course of the four-year project that will yield an initial order of 12,000 pieces of custom stemware in 20 different designs next year. While Unfiltered desperately wanted to see what the new government-contracted stemware will look like, we were politely told that the designs have not yet been approved for release.

• "When somebody says to you, 'Oh your Cabernet Franc is great,' and you stand there all day and hear it once or twice, you go, 'Oh OK,' but when you hear it 50 times a day, it sort of wakes you up and you say, 'Well maybe there's more to this.'" Scott Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes was telling Unfiltered about his experience over the past few years at the Megavino trade show in Belgium, where attendees certainly have their pick of Cabernet Francs to sample from much nearer by than Seneca Lake. So, Osborn decided to deliver the goods: He got two upstate partners—John Martini of Anthony Road and Chris Missick of Villa Bellangelo—onboard, and they put together a 1,000-case container to ship through their new import company, run out of Luxembourg by Christian Claessens. After a recent Megavino showing Osborn and Claessens got to talking and decided that starting their own company would be the best way to enter the market. And thus, New York Wines SaRL was born, with the official launch set for this year's Megavino a few weeks from now. New York itself is a brutal market for even New York wines to compete in, but Europe will have its own challenges, and perks. "I've seen these €1 wines over there and I go, how do they do it?" said Osborn. But the lack of a three-tier system means that he and his partners can ship direct to retailers and consumers; across the Atlantic, Osborn may be able to deliver even a better deal than he can in some U.S. markets. Though he's focusing on Belgium and Luxembourg for now, Osborn hopes to expand, bringing on other New York wineries and delivering several containers a year annually within a few years. And the Empire State of mind may just be the ticket. "We are going to focus on New York. Everybody in the world knows New York City, and it's going to be our job to show that wine comes from New York. A lot of people just think of Manhattan; that's all that is New York. We continue to run into, 'Oh you guys grow grapes? Where? In Central Park?'"

New York Wines SaRL will become but a drop of the total American wine export business, which in 2012 sent $1.43 billion worth of wine abroad, accounting for 47.2 million cases, of which $485 million worth went to the European Union. Ninety percent of all exported American wine came from California.

• Unfiltered remembers well the novelty of visiting New York's Times Square in the 1980s and buying a fake Rolex out of a mysteriously trenchcoated man's briefcase, and the knock-off designer purse trade seems to be alive and well in Chinatown, but we draw the line at counterfeit ingestables. We're pretty sure we stand with the majority on that front, but a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey in the U.K. indicates that more consumers are willing to cross that line than you might think. With more than 1,000 consumers polled, the Counterfeit Goods in the U.K. Consumer Survey, published this month, found that 18 percent of U.K. consumers had knowingly purchased fake wine or spirits, and 25 percent of those in London owned up to imbibing imitations. According to the survey, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs has seized more than 15 million liters of counterfeit alcohol in the U.K. since 2005. "Commonly used substitutes for ethanol [in counterfeit wine and spirits] include chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and automobile screen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol, which are used in antifreeze,” said Prof. Paul Wallace, chief medical adviser for Drinkaware, a U.K. organization that promotes responsible alcohol consumption. People under the age of 35 were more likely to buy fake alcohol, with 28 percent of the 18- to 34-year-old age group having made such purchases.

Erik Forgaard
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA —  October 14, 2013 10:46pm ET
The ruling class never suffers.

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