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:




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.

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.

This video is not on my Youtube channel, but subscribe to my channel anyway, it's free! You can also follow me on Twitter @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

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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