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A Tale of Two Downton Abbey Wines

Plus, PaperBoy delivers wine in … paper, a Hungarian vintner may face charges for poisoning his wine, and Gallo gives $100,000 to Typhoon Haiyan relief

Posted: November 14, 2013

• Unfiltered readers who count themselves among the many fans of the Dowager Countess have been no doubt anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Downton Abbey wine lineup. Crawley family devotees in China (of which there are a few), however, may want to temper expectations: Before the "real" producers—Wines That Rock—of Downton Abbey wine had put together a plan to sell the brand in China, a businessman there applied for and was granted the right to produce and distribute a wine to be sold under the Downton Abbey name. Of course, he isn’t the holder of that intellectual property, but fortunately for him, the laws in China are written in a first-come, first-served mentality, independent of whether or not you might hold the rights elsewhere to whatever it is you are proposing. We know what you’re thinking: What trademarks can I register in China, like right now? And while the wine might not be destined for greatness (no word yet on where the Chinese version of Downton Abbey wine will be sourced from; the “real” Downton Abbey label features a red and a white Bordeaux), the cash implications are substantial: China has a huge fascination with both wine and the PBS series, with a reported 160 million viewers—that's fully half the population of the U.S. Hopefully Wines That Rock won't have too much trouble coming up with a suitable label alternative. Unfiltered suggests following the Chinese tradition of subtle alterations to an existing trademark, a la the cursive, italic Benfolds (not Penfolds) label and just call it Downtown Abbey Claret. Our dad already calls it that anyway.

• The natural evolution from glass bottles to alternative packaging has seen some interesting things along the way. The box. The bladder. The keg. Even the plastic pouch, not unlike something you’d stab with a straw and hand to your kid. This past week has introduced us to two new players. First off, Union Wine Co. in Oregon has skipped all the usual suspects and gone straight for the beer can. Not some classed-up trying-to-hide-what-you-are can, but a standard 12-ounce lined aluminum pull-tab can. All environmental factors aside, you can see how ironically appealing this packaging will be to the hipster wine crowd.

The other exciting new development is a paper bottle. Yes, we said it: A bottle in shape, also lined, but made entirely of paper. Truett-Hurst, of Healdsburg, Calif., in partnership with U.K.-based Green Bottle, has given us PaperBoy, a Mendocino Chardonnay ($14) and a red blend from Paso Robles ($15) that come in a familiar shape, but the "bottle" is made from recycled cardboard, weighs 85 percent less (think of the emissions saved in shipping), is completely recyclable itself, actually insulates better than glass, and can even survive in a bucket of ice water for up to three hours. And it’s topped with a screw cap. All those outdoor venues that say “no glass”? No problem. And back to those saved emissions: A pallet of 56 cases of Paperboy weighs 700 pounds less than a typical pallet of traditional glass-bottled wine. That’s about 7 tons of weight saved per truckload.

• Many U.S. states have "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" laws that may grant lethal defense against an intruder on your property, but last month, one Hungarian winemaker put a deadly new spin on "standing your wine" (alternatively, "château doctrine") when he grew tired of a gang of thieves repeatedly breaking in and pilfering wine from his barrels. To welcome their next foray, the winemaker created a special "cuvée antifreeze." According to Hungarian press reports, after denying it to police, the winemaker confessed that he "really wanted to teach a lesson to the rogues," according to Hungary's Dunakanyar news organization. A lesson one of them would not soon forget, on account of being dead, from drinking a lot of antifreeze. The five thieves who were hospitalized also probably will not forget the lesson. Further investigation indicated it an "open secret" that "no lone thief, but a small [gang was] preying systematically on the Vácszentlászló [village] houses." (The gang is now slightly smaller.) As for the winemaker, the legality of his actions is still being debated, but Unfiltered knows that if this happened in America, he'd definitely be running afoul of some pretty serious regulations against on-premise distribution without a license.

• California and Washington wine goliath E&J Gallo is using its considerable resources to extend a hand to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan's devastation in the Philippines. The winery announced on Tuesday that it has donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross in aid of the Philippine Typhoon Relief Fund. Haiyan, which struck the island as a category 5 this past Friday, left thousands dead and impacted millions more. It is a cause close to the company’s heart, explained CEO and president Joseph Gallo: “This disaster strikes close to home, as we have valued relationships with distributors, retailers and consumers who live in the Philippines and have suffered losses.” The donation will provide material assistance and humanitarian support throughout the country.

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