pfalz pretenses?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Go to and you are instantly tossed into a marketing promotion with the tagline “How Do You Breathe?” You know you’re breathing corporate air when you have to “prove” that you’re 21 before proceeding – though why you must be of legal drinking age to visit a G-rated website has never been clear to me. Anyway, soldiering on, you find yourself being saluted by a white-toothed model holding up a glass of white wine and surrounded by more “How Do You Breathe” and “Just Breathe” links.

Apparently, this is Turning Leaf’s new campaign, clearly aimed at women, and just getting under way. I tried to learn more, but was shuttled to the website, where progress ended with a cheery note reading “Wine needs time to breathe. People do too. 
In the coming weeks, you'll be able to connect with women across the country who are passionate about this idea.”

While I am certainly happy to connect with passionate women, I was really in search of more mundane pleasures, namely, information about Turning Leaf wines. A sample mailing of eight new releases left more questions unanswered than otherwise. Included in the collection are a chardonnay, a pinot grigio, a sauvignon blanc, a riesling, a pinot noir, a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon, and a white zinfandel. All are line-priced at $8.

These popular supermarket wines are sometimes good fodder for newspaper columns, and I have no problem with them, if they are well-made and they are what they say they are. But it’s not always easy to tell. Turning Leaf is a Gallo brand, and Gallo has recently run into a bit of trouble with its French-sourced pinot noir, so I was curious to see what was actually in the bottles, in terms of blend and source.

The first impression was that all eight were California wines, but upon closer – much closer – inspection, I found that there was an outlier. In tiny type almost masked by the front label graphics, the riesling read “Pfalz.” The back label confirmed that this wine was a German import. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it was the best wine of the eight. But the riesling's PR sheet failed to note that it was German. In fact, it printed the exact same Harvest Notes as the sauvignon blanc and the white zin – neither of which came from the Pfalz. The blend was listed as 86% riesling, 4% gewürztraminer, and 10% other. Not much help there either.

Other wines in the lineup were also haphazardly identified. Titratable acidity was listed, but not residual sugar or brix. Blends were incompletely identified. The pinot grigio is identified as 75% pinot grigio, the rest of the blend is left a mystery. The pinot noir listed no varietal breakdown at all, just a percentage (78%). Of what? Given the recent dust-up over non-pinot pinot, and based on the look and flavor of the wine, I couldn’t begin to guess what it was, but it didn’t seem very pinot-like. Some of the other wines listed a single grape, but no percentages. Is anyone reading these things before they get sent out?

The bottom line is, if you are a major winery sending out samples and technical information to bloggers and press, get it right. Be accurate and complete. Especially if your website is more concerned with asking me how I breathe than telling me anything about your wines.


Ron Washam said...

It's Gallo, Paul! At least twenty people read those tech sheets before they were sent out and nothing about them is haphazard or accidental. These are not "serious" wines, they're carefully packaged and marketed generic crap. What would be the point of Gallo handing you ammunition? Coca-Cola doesn't give you their recipe either, and Turning Leaf is the wine version of Coke.

And they're $8 wines, the people who buy them (for around $6 once they're discounted) don't care about varietal breakdown! They're marketed to women pushing shopping carts. Even I don't care what's in them. I already know what they taste like. They taste like senility.

Stephanie LaMonica said...

it is rather surprising that you are even wasting your own breath on this. weird, in fact, based on your other postings. deep breath in, two, three, four, exhale, two, three, four, on to new topic, two three four. exhale...

PaulG said...

Now, now, now... I think this is a fine topic for discussion, my friends. Major winery, major marketing campaign. In fact, as a line-priced group, the TL's were in the middle of the pack, certainly not the worst. The riesling, as I mentioned, is quite respectable. And since this blog is read by other bloggers, some of whom might not have the experience to see past the smoke and mirrors, I thought it worthwhile to unpeel a few layers of corporate gobbledegook. Keep breathing, Stephanie!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, let's say the tech sheets were complete, the Pinot Noir is 78% Pinot Noir, 12% Syrah, 5% Valdiguie, and 5% Valvoline. How does that change anything? Sure, it might make your review more interesting, or a few words longer, but it doesn't change the quality or rating of the wine. It doesn't taste like Pinot Noir is the point. Why it doesn't is fairly self-evident. It's 22% filler. Sometimes you don't want to know what went into your cheapass hot dog.

It is admirable that you're trying to alert bloggers to corporate marketing baloney. It's ubiquitous. One day wine bloggers will wake up and see what patsies they are for the wine industry, giving out endless positive reviews for crappy wine and promoting anyone who sends them free bottles of plonk. OK, maybe they won't wake up. But I'll have fun throwing rocks at them until they do.

Anonymous said...

As someone who worked for a very large, very well known California wine company during the '80's and '90's I can tell you that when the company was small, we hired passionate wine people to work in the marketing department. As the company grew into multi millions of cases, our marketing group was replaced by BMA's that got a year or two in from P&G, or Gatorade, or other large consumer products. Their passion was climbing the corporate ladder, and another good notch for their resume. While the amount of money spent climbed, the passion and vision of the company was lost. In the end things became rubber stamped, direction and innovation was stymied, and the company eventually was sold to a larger conglomerate, and now wallows in mediocraty.

Anonymous said...

I've got to go with Ron on this one. As long as the wines meet the gov't standard to be called a specific variety, what difference does it really make what other varieties are blended in? If you think the wine is decent, you should just say so. If it's decent but doesn't conform to your flavor parameters for a varity, just say so. I've had plenty of plonk that was 100% of a variety, so that is certainly no guarantee of quality.

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