20 January 2010
WINE EXPO'S WAR WITH GLOBALISED SWILL
COULD YOU BUY A GLOBAL WINE FROM THIS MAN? UH-HUH ... NONE IN THE SHOP. ROBERTO AT WINE EXPO IN SANTA MONICA
Barraged By Forces Of Evil Food, Drink, And Arsewipes Coles Duo Sees Light Down Under
by PHILIP WHITE
In the great Harry Dean Stanton movie, Repo Man, the punk Emilio Estevez works in a supermarket whose shelves are stacked with cans labeled only “FOOD” or DRINK”. I thought that was funny in 1984.
Unless you have been trapped in the yuppie ghetto of Port Willunga, where winemakers concentrate at times like this, to perve on each other’s partners and pass Burgundy and Ribero del Duero around the Star of Greece while their own vineyards roast, you’ve probably learned a lot about the blander corners of your Coles or Woolies grogfloggery. As the holiday moneys wane, the cleanskins and bladder packs look more savoury.
Until the winelake seeps through the community kidneys, we’ll see again how oversupply leads to a sickening slump in quality. The wine industry trains its customers to accept and expect plonk of ever-diminishing provenance. Soon, what we drank at the end of the holidays becomes acceptable day-to-day. We learn what our great wine industrialists expect the rest of the world to drink.
EMILIO DUMPS GENERIC BEER IN REPO MAN
Flick for an illo to Wine Expo, Santa Monica, California: a liquor store with sassitude, customers to match, and a battle royal against “globalised wine”.
“Once you guys succeed in making all wine taste the same, what will you do for a living?” Manager Roberto demanded in last week’s newsletter. He complains of being “absolutely barraged by the forces of evil (well, severely misguided, focus group driven winemaking and marketing at least) ... It seems the consensus ... is that Americans want wines from all over the world with fanciful names and long histories as long as they all taste the same and don't have any disconcerting ‘ethnic’ character.
“So, do we just give up and roll over? NO!!!!!!”, he concludes. “We continue to champion wines with true personality, regional style (or even outright idiosyncrasies) and a distinctive point of view while reminding those in the supply chain that those wines are huge crowd favorites at OUR ‘focus groups’ where we offer true diversity instead of merely different brands of the same old things.”
Australia’s two supermarketeers - count ’em, one, two - rank communities on their spending power, and stock the shelves accordingly. The McLaren Vale Coles is in the same district as the perverse villa rash of the down-at-heel coast, for example, so its shelves are stocked to suit the battered Datsun drivers, who outnumber the 4WD Benz and Bimmer blomos who get their fromage at Blessed Cheese, their fruitaveg at the Willunga Market, and their lovers next door. So stuff like my favourite biscuits, Vita Wheats – hardly a posh gastronomic investment, but mostly free of sugar and fat – gradually work their way to the bottom shelves as their space is taken by Coles crap, and eventually they disappear.
I learned this whilst editing Wine and Spirit Buying Guide in Sydney in the early ’eighties. Australia’s leading wine magazine, it had been bought by John David, so he could corner the Australia distribution of these new things that were called boutique wineries. John and his brother and sister owned David’s Holdings and Australian Liquor Marketers, huge, hyper-efficient trucking businesses that specialised in supplying supermarkets with food and booze. The three of them turned over a billion dollars the first year I worked there. This was partly due to their invention of the virtual Black and Gold brand. The staircase outside my office was always jammed with furtive lugubrious swarthies trying to sell shiploads of unlabelled canned beans, spaghetti, soup, lavatory paper and whatnot so Davids could wrap it in their handsome black and yellow livery and take up shelf space by undercutting hard-working Australian suppliers who branded their own products and tended not to leave too many band-aids in the beans.
While I was laughing at Estevez, this was happening under my nose.
There’s a bright duo at Coles who are bravely fighting to reverse this trend in their Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice stores. True wine lovers Jeremy Stockman and Grant Ramage scour the world – and, increasingly, Australia - for inexpensive wines with personality, regional style, outright idiosyncrasies and distinction. These offer a bright contrast to the endless shelves of crap which might just as well be labelled Dan Murphy’s DRINK or Black and Gold DRINK. Go, peruse.
This is not the time to sacrifice your last cubic centimetres of functioning liver drinking supermarket plonk for Australia. If you’re feeling nationalistic, take a drive to the Barossa, Clare or the Fleurieu and fill the boot with premium stuff from your favourite honest strugglers. These guys are doing it really tough. But shop for your daily drinkers in the imports section of VC and 1stC, and join my campaign to force, as part of the planning approval process, all new supermarkets make their roofspace available for free community vegetable and herb gardens. More of us may then tend to stray into their rotten cavernous rip-off acres of FOOD, DRINK, and arsewipes.
THE CONSTANT TEMPTATION FOR AUSTRALIA'S INDUSTRIALIST WINEMAKERS IS TO ATTEMPT TO EMULATE EVERYTHING EUROPE HAS TO OFFER. SOMEBODY SHOULD TELL THEM ABOUT THE DESERT.