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The Hosemaster of Wine, Riedel, and the new censorship

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Hosemaster of Wine Riedel

Aug. 10, 2015 update: Riedel and the publisher of the British wine website that ran Washam’s post have come to a compromise, reports the drinks business trade magazine. No details were announced, but the publisher, Tim Atkin, and Riedel announced “the matter was settled.” The report also includes a ringing endorsement of free speech by Georg Riedel: “I am a true advocate of free speech and that is something I would never try to suppress.” I assume this was not sarcasm given the nature of the dispute.

Earlier this year, the Champagne trade group sued the Australian wine writer Champagne Jayne because the trade group said she wasn’t entitled to use the word Champagne. The wine business, and especially my writing colleagues, could have cared less. Maybe it was because it was in Australia. Maybe it was because they didn’t understand the danger. Or maybe they just didn’t care, because they were too busy doing business with the wine business.

This week, though, they should be paying attention. That’s when attorneys for Riedel, the wine glass company, sent a cease and desist letter to Ron Washam, who writes the Hosemaster of Wine blog. Washam, a former sommelier, writes wine-based satire that makes my rants look like a Sunday school Bible class. A recent target was Riedel, in which he called its glasses a fraud and its patriarch, Georg Riedel, a sexist flim flam man. The lawyer letter, claiming the piece wasn’t satire, that Washam had defamed Riedel, and that a retraction was required, quickly followed.

That Riedel would threaten to sue over something so silly speaks to how the wine business thinks it can control what goes on as wine writing leaves the print world. If Eric Asimov had written this in the New York Times, Riedel, company and man, would have blustered and foamed and forgotten about it. They certainly weren’t going to sue the Times, which actually has a landmark libel case named after it.

But Washam? He, like Champagne Jayne, is a different story. Asimov and most print writers are seen as separate and distinct by the wine business, because it understands print and it knows better than to mess with it. That’s not the case with Washam and those of us who aren’t print. We’re considered part of the wine business, and I get reminded of this every day. We who write about wine on the Internet don’t exist for consumers; we exist to sell product, and we’d better damn not forget it. Otherwise, lawyers send letters.

That Washam, Champagne Jayne, and everyone else who writes about wine are part of the media and deserve the same protections as “real” journalists is inconceivable to the wine business. Much of this is our own fault, given how so many of us are happy and fat shilling for wine companies. The last thing these wine writers want is to be tarred with the journalist brush and to be forced to offer honest evaluations about the products they tout. But that doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility to their readers or to their consciences. 

I wrote this in February, and I’ll write it again. Big Business, under the guise of intellectual property law, sees an opportunity to silence its critics and censor what is written about its products. The first step in stopping this from continuing in wine is for everyone — from the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate on down — to denounce the practice and to refuse to be part of it. Otherwise, the lawyers will send more letters, and eventually we’ll end up with wine writing where all the wines get 92 points and where we’re told we need to buy every wine accessory that’s advertised.

That will be a lot of fun, won’t it?

Monday Birthday Week giveaway: 4 Riedel glasses

VinGarde Valise

riedel glasses
111714randomnumberAnd the winner is: B. Doppelt, who selected 934; the winning number was 928 (screenshot to the left). Thanks to everyone who participated. Tomorrow’s prize is a wine book package: Buy the Right Wine Every Time,” “Provence Food and Wine,” and Lisa Mattson’s “The Exes in my iPod.”


Today, to celebrate the blog’s seventh anniversary, we’re giving away a set of Riedel wine glasses — two reds and two whites, courtesy of Banfi Vintners. This is the first of five daily giveaways; check out this post to see the prizes for the rest of the week.

Complete contest rules are here. Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post. You can’t pick a number someone else has picked, and you need to leave your guess in the comments section of this post — no email entries or entries on other posts. Unless the number is in the comments section of this post, the entry won’t count.

If you get the blog via email or RSS, you need to go to this post on the website to enter (click the link to get there). At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the gift pack.

Winebits 318: Wine glasses edition

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Winebits 318: Wine glasses editionBecause, frankly, who knew there would be so much news about wine glasses?

Smaller glasses: Scotland’s government, as part of its campaign to urge what it calls more responsible drinking, wants the country’s bars and pubs to promote the sale of smaller measures of wine, including 125-milliliter servings. That’s about one-sixth of a bottle, or only twice as much as a tasting pour. The BBC, in its wonderfully BBC way, reports that the Scottish health minister said that “tackling Scotland’s difficult relationship with alcohol was one of the government’s key priorities.” Difficult relationship with alcohol, indeed. Isn’t that like being only a little pregnant? Either you drink too much or you don’t. In this country, the NeoDrys don’t hem and haw like that.

Riedel and Coke: Yes, the world’s premier wine glass manufacturer has devised a glass for the most insidious of beverages, Coca-Cola — at $20 each, no less. This raises all sorts of questions, starting with why: There is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever drink Coke, which has no nutritional value, no health value, rots your teeth, and is too sweet. Or not sweet enough, depending on your point of view. I write this as someone who gave up soft drinks when he started drinking wine, and I don’t miss the former at all.

No more glasses? A government in a leading New Zealand wine region wants to ban glassware from winery concerts and tasting events. Not surprisingly, this has the wineries furious. Producers in the Hawke’s Bay say using plastic cups instead of glasses would diminish the experience, and that wine in wine glasses makes wine more enjoyable. The ban is apparently part of a wider proposal to limit drinking in Hawke’s Bay that includes closing bars an hour earlier, from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m., and reducing the hours retailers can sell booze from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. to 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

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