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Wine drinkers respond to deceptive wine labeling charge

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  • I enjoy California wine and drink it often. I just want to know what I am drinking by the front of the label. I think I understand the differences between Lodi, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and Mendocino. When I read a non-deceptive wine label, I have a pretty good idea of how the wine will taste. I have been surprised at times on both sides of the quality issue, but I don’t feel duped when I make a choice based on honesty.


My recent commentary on wine labeling generated some interesting responses on the Western Farm Press blog.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is highly coveted. Especially from Marlborough.  It is considered the best appellation in New Zealand for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  Not sure how you wouldn't recognize it. It would be like not knowing Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa or Chianti. You must not really drink wine.

Response: I enjoy California wine and drink it often. I just want to know what I am drinking by the front of the label. I think I understand the differences between Lodi, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and Mendocino.

Cupcake Vineyards is known for creating high quality, affordable wines from the regions around the world that are best known for specific varietals — hence the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. They also have a Barossa, Australia Shiraz; Mendoza, Argentina Malbec; etc etc... However, in addition to making a number of wines in the international regions, Cupcake Vineyards also makes really great wines from the Central Coast of California. If you did indeed enjoy the Sauvignon Blanc but would prefer to drink only California wines, you could try the Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, or Red Velvet Red Blend which are all Central Coast appellated.

Response: I wanted to drink California Sauvignon Blanc.

Many companies are outsourcing certain varietals as California cannot keep up with the supply to meet the demand or the pricing dictates that in order to get that great priced SB into your hands, certain areas just couldn't support the price off of their price per ton. The great thing is that Marlborough arguably offers one of the best expressions of SB in the world. Marlborough has a definite sense of place in the glass, green notes and passion fruit, and it is beautiful.

Regarding the Gallo dig. No one is trying to dupe the wine drinker by saying bottled in Modesto. If you look at it from a practical standpoint of actually making wine and selling it, who would want all their wine called Gallo and just one style? What you obviously do not know about the Gallo winery is that many of the brands have a history behind them. How nice is it that they honor that history instead of slapping their name on everything?

Response: See Gallo comment later.

Using the same logic, I presume that there's a chance that you will not be driving your Dodge Ram pickup, as it may have been built in Saltillo, Mexico.

Response: I once drove a Chevrolet Suburban made in Mexico and it said so on the doorpost.

Cupcake is a pretty big name and so is Marlborough as a region — for someone who claims to know a lot about wine you were clearly duped on this for not having heard of it. And the rules are not really that "blendable" in California it is actually pretty straightforward: 75 percent for grape varietal and 85 percent for appellation are the minimums if you are putting those specifics on the label. You also just admitted you only drink wine based on the label not on the taste and if you hadn't seen the label you would have still enjoyed the wine. Your article says nothing about believing what is on the label because "Marlborough" was on the label.

Response: When I read a non-deceptive wine label, I have a pretty good idea of how the wine will taste. I have been surprised at times on both sides of the quality issue, but I don’t feel duped when I make a choice based on honesty.

Looking at the label of Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc, I can't see any reason that you would assume that it is from California. There are five words on the label: "Cupcake Vineyards", "Sauvignon Blanc", and "Marlborough.”

Response: I made the same incorrect assumption my host had when he told me he had a nice Sauvignon Blanc “from California” for me to enjoy.  He apparently had read about a California winery named Cupcake. He was a wine drinker and was duped just like I was.

The author's point is very simple. For the average consumer (not you precocious snobs who give wine a bad name by acting aghast when someone can't tell a California Sauvignon Blanc from a New Zealand; you're everything that's wrong with wine, but that's another story) let's be honest, SOME of Gallo's wines have a heritage and history behind them ... but the majority of their brands are commodity brands. There is absolutely no history behind past and present brands such as Apothic, Bear Flag, Bella Sera, Black Swan, Copper Ridge, Canyon Road, Crystal Lake, Dancing Bull, Ecco Domani, Ghost Pines, Las Rocas, Liberty Creek, Livingston Cellars, Maso Canali, Peter Vella, Rancho Zabaco, Red Bicyclette, Red Rock, Polka Dot, Redwood Creek, Naked Grape, Sebeka, Tisdale, Turning Leaf, Twin Valley and others. These are all bulk juice brands vinted in Modesto or Healdsburg. Heck, even Red Bicyclette has put out a wine labeled as Pinot Noir that was actually Syrah. Not telling the difference between those two would be like not being able to tell the difference between a California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Gallo knows that wines that bear the Gallo name, gives many consumers a perception of low-end cheapness. They cleverly rebrand their wines and market them as something more than they are. Let's not be apologetic of this on here. It's exactly what they do.

Heck, even some of their brands with a "history" are so far removed from that history other than by name that they may as well be rebranded. Frei Bros., MacMurray Ranch, Louis M. Martini and others have historical names, but very little if any fruit for these wines are coming off the historic vineyards. You can't quadruple production with outside fruit and tell me of the great heritage in the bottle.

My point is that labeling practices these days are extremely misleading. Part of the experience of wine is a sense of place, and when we find out that place isn't real, as in the Cupcake story above, then you've killed a part of the romance and mystery that is so important to wine.

I'm waiting for the day that a well-known journalist dives into the labeling topic, and exposes the industry. It's okay to be a big, mass-produced brand. Many of these wines can be quite nice. Just don't paint it as something else. As my friend said the other day ... he was out car shopping and he came across this great car that had all-leather interior, a souped-up V6 engine that got over 30 mpg, in-dash gps, an 8-speaker stereo with satellite and ipod connections, a sunroof and an unbeatable price. I asked him if he bought the car, and he said no. When I asked him why, he said because at the end of the day, it was still a Ford Escort.

Response: None necessary

It is unfortunate that this writer is so misled about the wine industry and in particular California wines. Every wine brand available is designed to offer a large portfolio of unique wines in order to market to different consumers. Cupcake is doing this by bringing the best varietals of different countries together into their line of wines. Not to mention they were awarded "Wine Brand of the Year" at Market Watch's annual Leaders Award Dinner in September.

Second, being bottled in Modesto does not indicate it is a Gallo brand. One of the largest bottling, labeling and cork companies in the U.S. bottles out of Modesto and distributors like Diagio, Wine Group, Constellation, etc outsource this company for bottling needs.

Lastly, those "clearly deceptive" labeling laws are actually pretty clear in California. USA AVA= 85 percent of the fruit from that particular AVA. To be labeled as a "California" wine, it must be 100 percent California fruit (which clearly the writer didn't realize is the only U.S. state to require all of the grapes to be coming from California).

If you're all for the California wine growers — next time do a little homework before attempting to write an article on California wine.

Response: I will drink to that research effort.

I keep hearing about "Cupcake" from Monterey County. I'm a little more particular than Harry,  pretty much only drinking Monterey County wines (I'm a big locavore). I've yet to see Cupcake at a local vintner's event/tasting room ... I might have to head to Costco.

Response: I am all for locavores.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Tom L (not verified)
on Oct 27, 2011

Harry - great article - forget the wine snob responses that you got - I am pretty conversant about wine and you are well within your bounds with your complaint about dishonest labeling. It shouldn't take an MBA in enology to be able to read a label and know what is in the bottle.

kevin2255 (not verified)
on Nov 1, 2013

It is interesting to know that many companies that are outsourcing certain varietals as California cannot keep up with the supply to meet the demand. Thanks for sharing. I do appreciate your efforts in keeping this blog alive and updated.
www.outlooksettings.com

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