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Tag Archives: wine rants

Champagne Jayne and the new censorship

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Champagne JayneCensorship used to be easy to understand. The secret police came to the door in the dark of night and you were never heard from again. Which is what makes the Champagne Jayne case so terrifying — the secret police have been replaced by lawyers working within the legal system of a Western constitutional democracy, and what they’re doing is as legal as it is morally reprehensible.

The French Champagne trade group, CIVC, is suing Jayne Powell, an Australian wine writer whose specialty is Champagne and sparkling wine and who calls herself Champagne Jayne. The trade group claims that Powell’s name, because she writes and teaches about other sparkling wine, violates the European Union’s trade agreement with Australia that defines what can be called Champagne. CIVC wants an Australian court to make Powell stop using the name and anything associated with it, like email addresses, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and domain names. In this, they would force her out of business.

And, in a touch I love, Powell would have to “destroy all material marked with the name ‘Champagne Jayne’, including brochures, pamphlets, and other goods.” In other words, burning books.

This must seem bizarre to Americans, given our right to free speech under the First Amendment. But it shouldn’t. Even though Australia’s free speech protections aren’t as strong as those here, this case is not about free speech as we understand it. It’s about intellectual property, and how post-modern business is using that concept to carve out an exception to our traditional free speech protections. First Amendment law in the U.S. focuses on preventing the government from censoring speech, but says little about groups that aren’t the government from doing it.

Case in point: The Cristal-Cristalino lawsuit, in which the luxury French Champagne won a judgment against the cheap Spanish cava and forced Cristalino to change its name. The federal judge who decided in favor of Cristal said the case seemed silly on the surface, but that she had to go by the law, and the law said any confusion about the name, no matter how small, must be decided in Cristal’s favor. Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from Cristalino telling me I had to obey the judgment by never referring to Cristalino as Cristalino and by replacing any reference to the old name on the blog.

In other words, I am being censored by a French wine company, regardless of the First Amendment.

This is why I have written this post, contributed to Powell’s defense fund, and urge everyone to join me in boycotting Champagne. Powell can’t speak for herself — she is under a court-mandated gag order. And if the CIVC gets away with this, and it seems like it will, then it sets a precedent for any business that doesn’t approve of what someone writes, wine or otherwise. Don’t like what I say about your wine? Then sue, claiming I used your brand name incorrectly. Don’t like what the New York Times’ Mark Bittman says about your fast food? Then sue, claiming Bittman infringed on your intellectual property. (Which is my hint to the Times — this affects all of us who practice journalism, just like Times v. Sullivan.)

Also depressing: The lack of outrage from the Winestream Media, few of whom have come to Powell’s defense. In one respect, this isn’t surprising, given that its business model is based on sucking up to the wine business. But one would think that someone would remember Martin Niemoller.

Why the Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like the Super Bowl

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super bowl

Am I the only one who thinks this pairing looks silly?

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like the Super Bowl. This is not just because I was once a sportswriter and soon tired of sports’ hypocrisy, and especially the NFL’s obsession with money. And more money. And even more money.

Or that, living in Dallas, more people attend Cowboys games than usually vote in mayoral elections. Which always seems to annoy them when I bring it up.

Or that I get pathetic pitches from hard-up marketing and public relations types, desperate to turn the Super Bowl into a wine event. This week, someone wanted me to write about the Sea Hawks, which is an Errol Flynn movie and not a football team. The Super Bowl is a beer event. And a pizza event. But it’s as much about wine as St. Patrick’s Day is, and who ever heard of green-colored wine?

But mostly I don’t like the Super Bowl because no one reads the blog over Super Bowl weekend. I get more visitors on Christmas Day than I do during the Super Bowl, which shocked me the first time it happened and still makes me pause. What this says about the United States in the 21st century is something that I will leave to others more versed in the study of that sort of thing.

So enjoy the Super Bowl, and I’ll see you next week. I will spend Sunday messing around the house — maybe baking some bread, trying to get a few posts ahead on the blog, or working on my notes for my next wine class at El Centro. But I won’t watch the game, which I haven’t done since 1986. And somehow, my life has gone on.

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t hate expensive wine

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wine curmudgeon expensive wine“So, Jeff,” the conversation begins, “Why don’t you like expensive wine?”

This isn’t the most common question I’ve been asked over the past eight years, but it’s common enough. These days, unfortunately, it’s not only more common, but there’s often an edge in the voice of the person asking it. As in, “So you’d rather drink crappy wine just to prove a point?”

Of course not. I love wine; why would I want to deprive myself of the pleasure it brings, regardless of price? How many times have I bored the cyber-ether with my odes to white Burgundy or Oregon pinot noir?

Because I don’t dislike expensive wine. I dislike poorly-made wine and overpriced wine, where profit is all that matters and quality is barely a consideration. I dislike dishonest wine from producers who use winemaking tricks or marketing sleight of hand to fool the consumer. I dislike pretentious wine, which we’re supposed to like because our betters tell us we should.

Cheap wine can be any of those things just as easily as expensive wine can, and I call out that kind of cheap wine all the time. Hasn’t anyone read my Cupcake reviews?

The difference, wine being wine, is that too many still assume that those qualities can’t possibly apply to the wine they bought for $24.99. After all, it came from a retailer who winked and nodded with them as if they were pals in on a big secret, and didn’t the wine get 93 points from this really smart guy who has the best palate in the world, and which we know because he tells us so?

So when I write something about their wine that they don’t like, as I am wont to do, they assume it’s because I don’t like expensive wine. Otherwise, they’d have to acknowledge that they’ve been suckered by a system as unwinnable as any three-card monte.

Allow me to quote my friend Dave McIntyre, who has said many nice things about me over the years: “Siegel doesn’t equate cheap with bad, like so many others do. He sniffs out inexpensive wines that are well made and provide exceptional value, and his passion is sharing them with the world.”

How can anyone object to that?

More about cheap wine:
Can cheap wine do this?
Cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply
The backlash against cheap wine
Wine I like

 

 

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