In Vino, Populism


The L.A. Times today has a meandering but interesting look at the Gallo winery's successful attempts at producing Galloized French (and Itailan) wine for American and even French consumers. The article references the fascinating wine documentary/polemic Mondovino, which I saw in France (it'll come to the U.S. in spring), and touches on a bit of what I found most interesting about that film: The sight of elite Americans treating their wine-biz success as a victory for democratic tastes against the snobby French.

"Too many Americans have been humiliated when they were ordering a bottle of French wine in a restaurant," continues [Gallo marketing chief Gerry] Glasgow. The difficult-to-pronounce names, the confusing labels—both remind Americans of their preconceived notion that the French are condescending and arrogant, he says. In late 2002, Gallo was trying to understand American attitudes toward all things French; the political climate between the two countries sank to new lows with France's opposition to America's invasion of Iraq. The project went forward when Gallo market-tested an image of French village life in the rural south, particularly Provence. Suddenly the scores shot up: These French people were OK, nothing like the awful Parisians.

You'll hear the same chip-on-the-shoulder populism from the moneybags Mondavi family and influential Wine Spectator Advocate critic Robert Parker, even while they fetishize Sideways-style wine rituals and contribute to the notion that $50 for a dinner bottle is sane. Meanwhile, back in the Land of Snob two weeks ago, I enjoyed several visits to unpretentious local growers, who (like any French supermarket) were happy to sell us delicious hooch for 6 Euros a pop. Of course, I didn't ask about ag subsidies….