Far East First-Growth Fortunes

Plus, high-tech wine labels, and wine retailers ask for an audience with the U.S. Supreme Court
Dec 2, 2010

• Château Mouton-Rothschild announced this week that its 2008 label has been designed by Chinese painter Xu Lei, 47, artistic director at Beijing’s contemporary art museum Today Art. Hervé Berland, Mouton's executive director, said it was above all else a personal rather than commercial choice by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. Xu drew a ram (a common image used by the Bordeaux first-growth—mouton translates to “sheep” in English) perched on a rock, set against the planet Earth and a blue background, which symbolizes “the role of a great wine as a link between people and cultures, from one hemisphere to the other of planet wine,” Berland said. “As a Chinese, I am very proud because someone in my country is designing the label for one of the best wines in the world,” said Hong Kong collector George Tong. Rumors of a Chinese artist had circulated for months but no one grasped the importance of the selection until late October, when Mouton's neighbor and fellow first-growth Château Lafite unveiled its 2008 bottle. Just above the 2008 Lafite label is a red Chinese character for the number eight, and the year 2008 is embossed above it on the bottle. “The pronunciation of ‘eight’ in Chinese rhymes with that of the word ‘fortune,’” explained Tong. But Lafite is often given as a gift in China, and many Chinese believe that an “eight engraved on the bottle will bring [good] fortune,” Tong said.

Chinese consumers have certainly brought good fortune to Lafite investors. Prices of the 2008, already far higher than other first-growths (due in large part to the affinity for Lafite in the Hong Kong wine market) have jumped 15 percent to 20 percent since the Chinese packaging was revealed. Now that good fortune has spread to Mouton. In anticipation of the “Chinese label,” prices of Mouton 2008 increased 60 percent in the past month, according to Nick Pegna, managing director of Berry Bros. & Rudd in Hong Kong, and Gary Boom, managing director and founder of Bordeaux Index in London. While mountains of Mouton and Lafite 2008 are clearly destined for Asian cellars, a few retailers are resisting the call of the yuan. “I am more interested in selling to customers than speculators,” wrote Chris Adams, CEO of Manhattan retailer Sherry Lehmann. “I am far more interested in cultivating my market than I am in selling pallets of these wines to unknown brokers in other parts of the world.”

• You may have seen 2D barcodes on magazine ads for Glee, on movie posters on bus stops, or maybe even at McDonald’s (instant nutrition information on that McRib). But the Tetris-like square codes aren’t reserved for Hollywood and fast food—wineries from Oregon to New Zealand are employing the technology to help consumers learn about their products. Cellar Key has helped streamline the process for wineries such as Argyle, in Willamette Valley, by hosting a website full of statistics on the wine (alcohol percentage, grape varieties, etc.), wine-and-food pairing suggestions and promotional videos from the winemakers. Consumers can use any of a number of 2D barcode-scanning applications to scan the code attached to the neck of the bottle and source more information, including wine ratings. But Cellar Key is hardly alone. Paso Robles’ Justin Vineyards recently partnered with Qr4Wine to place barcodes that not only give the wine details but also direct customers to the winery’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. And Sonoma’s Kendall-Jackson placed a 2D barcode on its Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, which links to a video of the winery’s executive chef Justin Wangler explaining how to pair the wine with food. Perhaps best of all, barcode scanners work on most smartphones—iPhones, Blackberries and Androids alike.

• Lastly, Unfiltered brings you yet another installment of the shipping news: Wine retailers may soon be getting their day in front of the Supreme Court (if enough of them can band together). Attorneys Tracy Genesen and Ken Starr—who have represented wineries and wine consumers in the courts from the landmark 2005 Granholm decision in the Supreme Court to the recent Congressional hearings on House Resolution 5034, the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectivenes Act—filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, or request for an official review by a higher court, of Wine Country Baskets vs. Steen. That case pertained to the controversial rulings that the state of Texas’ laws discriminating between in-state and out-of-state wineries were not in violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits discrimination in interstate commerce. Wine retailers want to know why wineries are protected by the Commerce Clause while wine retailers are seemingly left out in the cold. “Both wineries and retailers are engaged in an identical retail transaction when they sell wine remotely and ship it to the consumer,” read a statement issued Monday by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association. “I want what’s fair for wine consumers. They should have the option to purchase wine wherever they choose,” Daniel Posner, owner of Grapes the Wine Company, a White Plains, N.Y.-based retailer, told Unfiltered today. “Wineries are generally allowed to sell wherever they want at this point—and that’s great; we’re happy for them. As retailers, we feel we should be afforded the same rights.” Posner admitted, however, that the retailers have an uphill battle if they aren’t able to organize the way winery owners have. “We need more support from retailers and consumers, financially,” Posner said. “You’d be surprised—retailers who could be making a lot of money in the shipping business seem to be content to sit on the sidelines. It’s really pissing me off. Retailers 10 times the size of [Grapes] are saying they can’t afford to contribute anything right now. Well, can you afford to go out of business in two years? Because that’s what’s going to happen if H.R. 5034 passes.”

Labels Legal and Legislative Issues France Bordeaux Bordeaux's Left Bank 2008 Unfiltered

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