Unfiltered

Free French wine, Louisiana producers in trouble, wine for cycling fans and a big bottle pile-up
Jul 20, 2005

• People will go to great lengths to get their hands on free wine. Well, now's the time to go to southern France's Languedoc region, where later this month winemakers will be standing alongside roads handing out 400,000 bottles to passing drivers. The vignerons hope to alert visitors to the economic crisis their wine industry is facing. Languedoc and neighboring Roussillon produce more wine than any other region in France and have been especially hard-hit by the current oversupply and shrinking demand. To help, the French government authorized an aid package, and the European Union is paying producers to distill 200 million bottles of wine into industrial-grade alcohol. But many Languedoc winemakers would rather hand out wine for free than see it distilled for subsidies they think are insufficient. Winemakers in other regions appear to agree. Bordeaux extended its deadline for distillation until the end of the month because producers had only submitted 13 million bottles--just 20 percent of what the government requested from Bordeaux. To make matters worse, another bumper crop is predicted for this year. As for the Languedoc winemakers on the side of the road, they'll be putting special labels on their wines and handing out pamphlets explaining the crisis. It beats a lemonade stand.

• On the other hand, Louisiana winemakers may want to consider the lemonade business, since they could soon be looking for other work. Last week, Gov. Kathleen Blanco (R) signed House Bill 338, which takes away the right of the state's wineries to distribute their products directly to retailers and restaurants--a practice they depend on since they're generally too small to attract the interest of wholesalers. Aware of the controversy (though perhaps ill-informed, since she issued a statement that she was acting in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on direct shipping, which certainly didn't say the state had to eliminate the wineries' ability to do business locally), Blanco has agreed to meet with the head of the state's Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control to help find a solution. "But I don't know what she's going to offer because the law is the law. She signed it," said Rep. Tom McVea (R), who pushed for a veto because he has three wineries in his district, north of Baton Rouge. If nothing comes of the meeting, McVea said the next step would be to file a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the bill. Though he wouldn't speculate what might come of either course of action, he was pretty sure of one thing: "Our little wineries feel like they're going to get the shaft."

Tour de France photos on California wine labels? Oui.
• Since American cyclist Lance Armstrong has dominated the Tour de France for six--and what's shaping up to be seven--straight years, why not put the French event front and center on an American wine? For the second year in a row, Northern California wine company Draper & Esquin has teamed with sports photographer Graham Watson to use his Tour de France pictures on the labels for its Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, Monterey County Merlot and Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines will be available exclusively online in 3- and 4-bottle sets, ranging in price from $60 to $105. Bike shops receive a 5 percent referral fee for passing on customers. But isn't it a little unusual to feature a French sporting tradition on an American wine? "One might think so," says marketing director John Anderson, "but we find the enthusiasm of cyclists in the U.S. justifies it." So far, France doesn't seem to be reciprocating the enthusiasm for American sports. Unfiltered could not locate a single French winery using photos from the Red Sox' World Series win on its labels.

• First the refusal to adopt the euro. Then the European Constitution. Now this: Thousands of empty green wine bottles are piling up around Britain since there isn't a high-enough demand for recycled green glass. According to EU law, the glass has to be recycled, meaning that if British recycling companies continue to hang on to the bottles without processing them, the issue could work its way to the European court. To make matters worse, it isn't economically viable to ship the glass back to France, where much of the wine was produced and bottled. Someone had better think of a solution quickly since the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is projecting that there will be 550,000 tons of green glass piled up in England by 2008. For now, though, the only obvious solution--other than getting more French wine producers to switch to the clear bottles that are easier to recycle and sell--is getting the British to stop drinking so much wine. Not an approach we'd endorse.

• What does Howell Mountain taste like? On a recent Saturday, it tasted like money. A mountain of it, you might say. The Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers raised $135,000 at the Taste of Howell Mountain auction held on June 25 to benefit the Howell Mountain Elementary School. The appellation's Cabernet cowboys, headed by Pat Stotesbery, president of the growers association and owner of Ladera Vineyards, roped in bids on lots from Howell Mountain's top wineries, as well as other Napa Valley stars. One of the top lots included a 20-year vertical of Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon magnums from 1983 through 2002. Maybe now the students at Howell Mountain Elementary will learn to appreciate the three Rs: reading, writing and Randy Dunn.

Unfiltered

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