Thursday, December 13, 2012
How I almost sold out
I had an interview with a guy who really got under my skin. Longtime readers know that I'm a proud American. Don't let flag-waving Tea Party types tell you conservatives have a monopoly on patriotism. If you're not an American and you want to point out areas where the US is wrong, it's like some outsider pointing out my sister's flaws. When you're right, I'll acknowledge the point, but can we talk about something else now? And when you're not right, I can feel the anger building up in my spine.
Do you invite somebody to your home and then start insulting his sister? Not if you're a cultured French bon vivant and businessman. So I don't know why people think it's OK to insult a guest's country.
And you better be right. Yes, George Bush shouldn't have started the Iraq War. Stipulated. We have a lot of poor people we don't take care of. We don't care enough about other countries to learn their languages. Our inability to connect the dots between the number of guns we have and the number of murders we have is terrible. Stipulated.
But we do NOT mix Champagne and Coca-Cola on a regular basis. We don't. We may not have your sophisticated French palate, but we're not that wasteful.
I can't say it's never done anywhere because in college a friend of mine once decided to try putting Baco-Bits on a marshmallow and setting it on fire with a Bic lighter. (His excuse: "I was stoned.") So that was eaten in America.
With a population as large as ours and Champagne and Coca-Cola on the same dinner tables, I'm sure somebody, stoned or not, has poured them into a glass together. Who knows, maybe it's good. But even those of us who aren't horrified by the concept don't do it because there are cheaper, more effective ways to spike Coke.
So I have this Champagne producer telling me this about America, and a lot of other insulting things about my country -- and it's interesting. I mean, Champagne and Coke? He believes that? I think he's a pompous ass. But pompous asses make good copy; this is why baseball writers still love Pete Rose.
He can't claim he didn't know I was a reporter because this was a press visit. (I wasn't the only one to hear his rant but none of the other writers have used it.) I'm standing there with a notebook writing down what he's saying. An aggressive PR person would have grabbed his elbow and taken him away before he did more damage, but for whatever reason, he just ranted on and on, even after I started calling him on his bullshit.
If he was a politician, the rant would have been on Youtube by the end of the day. But people don't cover wine that way. The wine world is more genteel. Some of that is tradition, and some of that is self-interest. I got flown over to Champagne for free. I want to get invited back. If I run this interview and it makes this guy look bad, maybe he deserves it, but maybe I'll never go to Champagne again. And maybe people in Germany and Italy and Chile will quiver in fear of what I might write and my gravy train will derail. People think that, believe me; I know because I talked about this interview with other writers.
Here was my problem: I wanted to write about Champagne, and I couldn't do it. I kept thinking about that interview. I'd start writing some happy talk about how I love Champagne -- I do -- and that disdainful rant would pop back into my head. I didn't want to report it, but I didn't feel honest writing about his winery for sure, and to some extent all of Champagne, if I didn't report it. It was noteworthy; it was what an industry leader believes about American consumers.
And it does have something to do with the wines. The winery in question created a new wine, Nocturne, with a beautiful bottle and a sweeter taste specifically for US nightclubs. That's what they think we want. It's still Champagne: Nocturne isn't syrupy, and it's not as sweet as the sparkling Muscats that are actually selling rapidly all over the US. It's not at all like Champagne and Coca-Cola together. It's far less disdainful of us than the opinions of the guy who conceived it. But he did say it's what Americans want. By itself, that's not insulting, that's marketing. But it feels different in context of the rant.
Well, December rolled around and I want to write about Champagne. And I felt dishonest. I knew that this rant happened. If I ignored it and just wrote about the good wines I tasted, I really had sold out.
So I wrote up some of the rant and put it on Wine Review Online. Maybe I'll never be invited back to Champagne.
But it's like extracting a splinter: this interview has been bugging me since I had it and didn't immediately report it. I feel better now. I have another article about Champagne scheduled to run next week on Palate Press, and I don't feel conflicted about it at all. My conscience is finally clear. I think I'll celebrate with a nice Champagne cocktail.
Pass the Coca-Cola.
Read the rant, and how I handled it, here. Wine Review Online doesn't accept comments, so after reading it, please come back and tell me what you think. Did I do the right thing?
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 5:30 AM