Wednesday, September 2, 2020

National Black Farmers Association asks for a court injunction ending Roundup sales

 Two weeks after spraying with Roundup. Courtesy UC
Roundup may be the most widely used and thus financially successful herbicide in history. But brand owner Bayer is already facing a reckoning after agreeing to pay $10.9 billion to settle claims that the weedkiller causes cancer.

The National Black Farmers Association wants more than just money: it wants Roundup rounded up and taken out of the pasture, for good.

I'm a little surprised the NBFA's lawsuit, filed last week in Missouri federal district court against Bayer subsidiary Monsanto, hasn't attracted more attention. If successful, it could have an enormous impact on farming nationwide, with worldwide repercussions. And given the successes that lawsuits alleging that Roundup causes cancer have had in court, it would be short-sighted to say the NBFA doesn't have a chance of winning.

Bayer's corporate statement characterized the NBFA as a lawsuit by two legal firms that refused to join the $10.9 billion settlement. According to one of NBFA's attorneys, more than 25,000 cancer victims have not settled with Bayer.

Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, thus acquiring Roundup and its financial successes and legal liabilities. You have to wonder at what point Bayer will decide the latter outweigh the former, especially as countries all over the world are taking various steps to ban Roundup.

What the NBFA is arguing is that black farmers were uniquely vulnerable to Monsanto.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Guest post: Don't write off the 2020 vintage, says Sonoma vintner Jake Bilbro

Jake Bilbro, author of this guest post and owner of Limerick Lane
I got a call last week from Limerick Lane winery owner Jake Bilbro, who is concerned that media coverage (including mine) about smoke is going to unfairly taint the reputation of the 2020 vintage. I offered Jake an opportunity to write a guest post. These are his words, lightly edited.

"2020 has been an unparalleled year in regards to challenges. We can relegate that to wine, the greater business world outside of wine, civil rights issues, Covid-19 pandemic, California wildfires, or just life in general.

In this environment there is, in my opinion, a stress level that doesn't seem to go away. Fuses slowly and subtly shorten and our communal irrational behavior intensifies. Some could argue that it evolves to the situation but I would say it augments because the evolution in question isn't a move in a positive direction. 

We jump to conclusions, our responses are heightened, things seem scarier. It is a natural reaction to accumulated prolonged stress.

Over the last couple of weeks, the unbelievable has happened... another fire and more crazy weather has hit our state. I have no interest in discussing the causes of this fire at the moment. My concern is how we react to it as a community. 


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Quiz: Guess which very popular wine has more residual sugar?


What's in the wines America is really drinking? I can't tell you about additives -- those aren't listed on the label, as the wine industry as a whole prefers secrecy, even as young consumers keep saying they want to know what's going in their bodies.

What I can tell you, thanks to the labs at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, is how much residual sugar is in some of the most popular wines in the United States.

To be clear, "residual sugar" isn't "added sugar." What it means is that the winery -- all of these are large commercial wine factories -- picks the grapes riper than they need to be, and then stops the fermentation before all of the sugar in these overripe grapes becomes alcohol. They leave in that sugar to please the sweet tooth of consumers, who often think they are buying "dry wine" because, unlike the EU, where wines must have under 9 g/l of RS to be considered "dry,"* the US has no standard for what "dry wine" actually is. Some of our "dry wines" are loaded with sugar, and not by accident, as sweetness sells.

* Europe has an exception for wines over 7 g/l Total Acidity, which isn't something you see often in US wines, and never in supermarket wines like these.

The winery then must add higher amounts of sulfites or other preservatives to the wine than would be needed if it were dry, in order to prevent the sugar in the wine from re-fermenting in the bottle. So wherever you find a high amount of RS, you will also find other things you might not want to drink.

I looked up the top 15 selling wine brands in the US in 2018, according to Wine Handbook 2019, and the top wines from the Wine & Spirits Restaurant poll, on the website of the LCBO, which tests all the wines sold in that Canadian province for a number of things, including residual sugar. Ontario doesn't carry all of these wines, notably excluding Franzia and Sutter Home, the No. 1 and No. 4 selling wines in the U.S. by volume.

I could just post the results, but let's have a little more fun. See if you can guess which wine has the most residual sugar (RS). Note that I didn't even use the big sugar bombs. If you want to avoid lots of RS, stay away from cheap Moscatos and cheap rosés.

Which brings me to wine Twitter's current fixation, "clean wine." People on Twitter keep whining about how their handpicked estate vineyard biodynamic native-yeast Counoise is a way more natural product than "clean wine." Stipulated. But what do you think people who might be interested in "clean wine" have been drinking to this point? Take the quiz -- the answer to that question is all over it like marshmallows on sweet potatoes.





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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Introducing the "Mood: What Will We Drink on Nov. 3?" series

We'll all need a drink on Nov. 3, Election Night. It's the night the United States chooses between democracy and fascism. And to paraphrase Michael Jordan, fascists drink wine too.

The only question is what will we drink. Will it be the most delicious wine in the cellar -- or perhaps hemlock?

I'm going to run a regular series of Mood graphics to try to capture the shifting election dynamics. Because why not: this is the most terrifying summer of my lifetime, so we might as well try to capture the mood and amuse ourselves as we teeter on the brink.

Most of these I will just post on Twitter so you might want to follow me there if you aren't already.

If I get re-interested in Instagram (I do not trust its owner Facebook, so I took it off my phone), I might post some there as well.

Let's start off today with a few possible Nov. 3 beverage selections, based on polls of states that are at least somewhat purple:

HOT:



COULD BE OK:




GULP:




Forget the usual stuff I put here to boost my social-media presence.
Do this: REGISTER TO VOTE! Do it now because the GOP will try to stop you.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Does what's on the label matter? One obstinate consumer (me) goes to great lengths to find out

Me as a sake judge, with a pre-pandemic haircut
What's in a classification? Does it matter what a wine or spirit actually is, rather than what it's called?

Does what's on the label matter?

I think it does matter, which is how I fell into a two-month-long rabbit hole regarding a sake for which I paid less than $20 and immediately demanded a refund (which I got) -- without even opening it.

This is the tale of Ban Ryu sake, made by 242-year-old Eiko Fuji Brewery in Yamagata, Japan and imported to the US by Joto Sake. But really it's the tale of me: not as a writer and journalist, but as a demanding and obstinate consumer.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

In defense of "clean wine": Wake up, wine industry

Cameron Diaz is pissing off wine snobs
The wine Internet is furious about actress Cameron Diaz's foray into the wine business. Diaz is calling her new Avaline brand "clean wine" even though, as Alder Yarrow points out, it's bulk wine from Spain that's full of unnecessary (but not harmful) chemicals.

I could jump on the bandwagon of wine snobs bashing Diaz in public. I'm not going to spend my own money on a bottle of Spanish bulk wine that touts its imaginary virtue while hiding its origins.

But I won't, because the wine industry is missing the point.

The point is not that Avaline wine is a scam. It might be.

The point is that there is a market for a wine like Avaline, and the wine industry on the whole is not filling it, so Cameron Diaz can step right in. And in that, I say, bully for her.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Four Black Gallo Employees Talk About Racism and Progress in the Wine Industry

Last week I had a conversation with four black Gallo employees. It's remarkable that it happened.

First, as I say during the conversation, Gallo is extremely media-shy. I have been not working with them on stories for years. It usually goes like this: I send them questions, and their PR staff very politely declines to answer. They have lightened up some in the last decade, but I have asked for certain interviews for years (Hi, Gina Gallo, my phone line is always open) and always been rebuffed.

Second, the way that it happened. Gallo put out a statement about Black Lives Matter. I thought it was just another feel-good statement like other big companies were making, so I wrote this on Twitter:



I  followed up with an email to an unnamed Gallo PR rep so that he knew I was serious. It was a public call-out, but I was serious, and the rep -- I have to refer to him in the transcript, and he wouldn't let me give him a nickname even though I offered Mr. Big, Tiger Shark and Señor Sensational, so let's just use the acronym UGPR -- also took it seriously. He asked for volunteers within the company, and he came up with four. He sent me their CVs so I knew who I would be talking to.

UGPR sat in on and recorded the 5-way conversation, which I am grateful for because I learned I don't type fast enough. I promised not to publish the video, and I don't regret this because people speak differently when they know they might be seen later. I wanted something more casual, where everyone could express whatever they wanted to.

We spoke for 54 minutes. I debated on how to edit the transcript and then just decided to run the whole thing. There's a fair amount of pro-Gallo PR, but maybe Gallo deserves it. I talk to a lot of people in the wine industry and I hear a lot of things I never dream of publishing. What I don't hear is people who worked for Gallo, complaining about Gallo. People at wineries that Gallo has bought generally seem happy with how they have been treated. And specifically in the case of creating the Gallo African American Network (GAAN), which you will read a lot about in the transcript, Gallo does deserve praise.

One thing that occurred to me when we talked about Gallo's marketing outreach is this: Maybe Gallo is taking these marketing initiatives simply because it's a good way to sell more wine. Because reaching out to black consumers is simply good practice to make money.

And then I thought, well, if it's simply good marketing practice, why don't all companies do more of it? Businesses can learn a lot from Gallo.

That, in fact, has probably been a factor behind Gallo's decades-long avoidance of the press. They don't want to share their secrets for success. And Gallo has always been successful: it's the world's largest wine company, and has successfully moved from the bottom shelf to the top, with purchases such as Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa and Talbott Vineyards on the Central Coast. Gallo dominates the U.S. Prosecco market with La Marca. They turned Barefoot into the biggest brand in the world. It's a big company and they're doing a lot of things right that they don't want to tell you about.

But they decided they do want to tell you about GAAN and their other diversity programs, and moreover they decided to let four of their employees (not Modesto-based executives) and myself -- wild cards all, really -- tell the story rather than telling it themselves. I tip my hat to Gallo for this.

Rather than write a story about our conversation, thus putting my voice foremost, I'm just going to run the transcript, very lightly edited. Let me introduce the speakers with a select portion of their CVs.