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.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

New video: Chris Howell of Cain and I talk about the meaning of wine

I've had this very interesting conversation sitting in my computer, aging for a few weeks, but now I believe it's ready for release.

There are three reasons I sat on this for so long, and none have anything to do with the quality of the conversation. Even in a thoughtful profession, Cain Vineyard and Winery winemaker Chris Howell is one of the more philosophical people you'll meet, and I always enjoy talking with him.

Chris puts me on the spot a couple times, making me define "red wine." He also asks for my wine origin story, which isn't a sexy one about some tiny Paris bistro. In fact I think the sommelier crowd will think less of me after hearing it. But that's still not why I held this video so long.

There are three reasons, in ascending order of importance, that this video got almost two extra months of computer aging:

3) My connection is excellent but Chris' sounds a little metallic at the beginning. It gets better, but I (still) fear people won't stay with it long enough to see that.

2) Levi Dalton did an excellent podcast with Chris while I was still worrying about point #1 below. "Well, I'll have to revisit this in a few weeks," I thought.

1) Most of my Intoxicating Conversations with W. Blake Gray are about the guest. This is the only one so far in which I did as much talking as the guest, and I was a little sheepish about it. People click to watch Chris Howell, not me! But since I just talked for an hour on the Real Biz Wine show (wearing the same shirt, even -- I do have more than one shirt), I got over that fear.

Now I need an agent! In the meantime, check out this conversation on the meaning of wine:




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Monday, May 18, 2020

An entire HOUR of W. Blake Gray talking on the Real Biz Wine videocast!

This is how I look with a haircut
Polly Hammond and Robert Joseph had me as their guest on their Real Biz Wine videocast on Friday. I have been doing some wine video chats of my own lately, and -- humblebrag -- I've been on TV in Japan a number of times, and not in my first language. But until last week I had not been the guest of honor for an entire hour.

We talked about a lot of issues. My recent Wine-Searcher column that the wine intelligentsia are almost always wrong was the starting point.

But we went deeper than that. We talked about what the wine media should do, regarding the balance between writing about wines we love versus wines the readers love (i.e., buttery Chardonnay.) And about whether the goodies wine writers get influence what we write.

Sonoma State wine business professor Damien Wilson called in to discuss how his students don't come to school prepared for the business realities of wine.

How big is the market for lower-alcohol wines? And how profitable is it? We talked about it.

I'm always the interviewer, rarely the interviewee, so this was an interesting change of pace for me. I hope you'll excuse the fact that I haven't had a haircut since early December. I also discovered I must have a little Italian in me because I like speaking with my hands.

I've had some nice emails from people since this ran, with one person telling me it was his favorite episode of the show so far. I don't know; when I watched it I saw a guy with an awful lot of hair gesturing a lot. But Robert and Polly brought some interesting questions, and it seems like a worthy conversation. You be the judge.




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Friday, May 15, 2020

An actual conversation I had with a wine critic who judges on the 100-point-scale

I won't identify the wine critic in this conversation. I had this conversation a while ago; rediscovered it while cleaning out some old notebooks. I wrote it down but never had a place to put it in an article. So, here you go.

I'll call this professional 100-Point Critic "C100." To be clear, this person reviews wine (not sake) for a major publication, on the 100-point scale.

Here's the setting: We're blind-tasting sakes, not wines, so neither of us is rating them. We're just tasting, and talking after the reveal. C100 says they prefer more traditional styles of sake (yamahai or kimoto). I generally do too, but in this particular company's lineup, I most liked the sokujo (in which lactic acid is added rather than developed naturally.) I wasn't talking about preferring the sokujo method: I just liked this company's sokujo sake better than its kimoto. That's where we start.

Me: I like the sokujo best.

C100: They're different. You can't compare them. It depends on what you're eating or what the circumstances are. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Me: People do that. Oranges are more acidic.

C100: You can't. It's like comparing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to Savennières. You can't. They're different. You can compare a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to other New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but you can't compare it to Savennières.

Me: But you can. And you do. Your publication exists to do that. That's what the 100-point scale does. You say this one's a 92, and that one's an 89.

C100: I can't have this discussion anymore.

And C100 stormed away from me.

And of course C100 won the argument, because C100 is still rating this one a 92, and that one an 89. But not comparing them. No, never, because YOU CAN'T.


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Monday, May 11, 2020

New video every wine retailer should see: Wine shop owner Frank Pagliaro

With my Intoxicating Conversation series I'm trying to cover all aspects of the wine industry, and right now arguably no one is more important than retailers. With restaurants closed, retail shops are your primary source of good wine and liquor, and they are busier than ever.

But that doesn't mean they don't have time for innovation. I'm impressed by some of the things Frank Pagliaro is doing, both to help his customers and to support restaurant workers.

Pagliaro is the owner of Franks Wine in Wilmington, Delaware, a fine shop that sells wine at all price levels. Frank is busier than ever right now, but he gave me 25 minutes of his time to talk about what's going on at his store.

One thing Frank is doing that other shops could consider: He is offering out-of-work bartenders, restaurant servers and others the chance to work as greeters at his store for tips. Doesn't cost him anything, and it seems to be working out for the greeters as well, as you'll hear in the video.


Wineries will want to hear what's selling, and the good news is: almost everything! Maybe it's temporary, but I think you'll want to hear Frank talking about how high-end wines are moving -- and low-end wines as well.

We don't talk about it in the video, but Frank has a second life. Sssh -- don't tell anyone: Frank Pagliaro, occasionally, is Batman.

But there is no butt-kicking in this video, though it might get a PG-13 for saucy language on promotional items. Look away, Aunt Harriet. The rest of you, check it out:




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Monday, May 4, 2020

New video: Badia a Coltibuono owner/winemaker Roberto Stucchi


I drank Chianti Classico at 9 a.m. because I had work to do. What's your excuse? There's a pandemic? Good excuse! Mine is that I had work to do ...

My Intoxicating Conversations series goes international today, as Roberto Stucchi joins me from Italy to talk about all things Chianti Classico.

We cover a number of the issues in the conversation, including the impact of global warming on Tuscany, and how he believes massal selection -- instead of trying to pick one perfect clone -- has allowed him to deal with it.

Roberto used 3 terms together that I did not believe could be used in the same sentence
We also talk about the ongoing push from some vignerons in the region toward labeling wines with subregions. I am, perhaps surprisingly, not really a fan, and I explain why in the video. Roberto counters with what he's not a fan of: the Gran Selezione category of Chianti Classicos, which was created to give the region a high end to compete with Brunello. (I used to be ambivalent about Gran Seleziones but I just reviewed them last month and they've come a long way.)

If you like this conversation, you might enjoy a tangential story Wine Searcher published over the weekend, in which I explain the nearby region of Terre di Pisa, which is on the other side of the city of Florence from Chianti Classico.

My wife and I ended up having the Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico shown in the video with rotisserie chicken and fried rice, and it was excellent. I confess it was also pretty good by itself at 9 a.m.

Check out the conversation below:




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Friday, May 1, 2020

Serendipity: Sauvignon Blanc day leads to a good kale recipe

Today is International Sauvignon Blanc day. Normally I ignore all these bogus holidays: I'm not going to let a marketer tell me I can't have a Manhattan on National Whiskey Sour Day. May 7 is apparently both National Homebrew Day AND National Cosmopolitan Day, and I'm not going to drink either (although if you want to have a Cosmo made with vodka from your home still, knock yourself out. Literally.)

But, like 15 other media people in the San Francisco Bay Area, I got a home delivery on Wednesday from New Zealand Winegrowers of a nice three-course seafood meal and four bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. I said I could tweet about it; nothing more. I will tweet for food -- but I'm not gonna give away a blog post THAT easily.

However. The NZ care package was the second food pickup I had on Wednesday. The first was a box of organic produce I ordered from Watsonville's Tomatero Farm. It's a good deal: $20, but you have to buy the box in advance and can't list likes or dislikes. We got some very nice strawberries, butter lettuce, baby broccoli, and other goodies. But we also got kale.

I hate kale.

Kale is like eating nutritional guilt. It's what your parents try to sneak into recipes to add vitamins to foods that would be tastier without kale. It has no redeeming virtues except that it's really good for you.