There has been an announcement in the wine world that Martha Stewart has entered into an agreement with E&J Gallo to bottle wine for her under the label “Martha Stewart Vintage.” Check out these stories about this news: Tom Wark’s Fermentation and the San Francisco Chronicle.
I am fascinated by this collaboration. This kind of practice in the wine world is nothing new — wine makers make wine for other people’s labels all the time. The good folks at Trader Joe’s are making a mint off the enormous volume of sales of it’s Charles Shaw wines (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) — wine that is made by the Bronco Wine Company. The Charles Shaw wines purport to be from Napa (check out the label sometime), but the grapes are actually grown in the much-less-desirable Central Valley of California. Think Bakersfield. And the bottle says “Charles Shaw,” not Bronco Wines. And it would be misleading to assume this only affects “low end” wine and wineries. Even the biggest name wineries engage in this lucrative practice. It happens throughout the wine world.
The Martha Stewart announcement provides a helpful lens, though, for some reflection on this practice and its implications beyond the world of wine. This is rich ground for musing — I love this! Wine as a commodity. Wine as a product. Wine as a pawn in the world of commerce. The art of winemaking reduced to signatures on a contract. I can see a new reality TV show in the making… Martha Stewart Vineyard versus Two Buck Chuck. I’d watch just to see the divas actually drink what’s in the bottles that bear their names!
But there is more to this story than just the raw commerce of it all. There is something about character and the character of wine. The wines labeled “Martha Stewart Vineyard” will NOT be from Martha’s Vineyard (so to speak). The illusion is that they will bear the sophistication of the cashmere sweater and pressed linen napkins of a Martha Stewart afternoon tea. But there is no authenticity. It is a fraud. It lacks integrity. It’s plagiarism — the signature on the artist’s canvas had nothing to do with the creation of the art (even if the art, as in this case, is like mass-produced “Velvet Elvis” prints that can be purchased at any flea market). But it’s intentional — Martha (rather, the Martha Industry) will want her consumers to assume the wine is of her own making.
Perhaps the charitable thing to do would be to wish Martha well, and to join in a chorus of “cheers!” with those who will drink her (er, I mean Gallo’s) wine. But then I myself would be inauthentic.
More thoughts about this later…