Do Marthaâ€™s wines lack authenticity?
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 â€œMartha Stewart Vintage.â€ Check out these stories about this news: Tom Warkâ€™s Fermentation and the San Francisco Chronicle.
I am fascinated by this collaboration. This kind of practice in the wine world is nothing new â€” wine makers make wine for other peopleâ€™s labels all the time. The good folks at Trader Joeâ€™s are making a mint off the enormous volume of sales of itâ€™s Charles Shaw wines (aka â€œTwo Buck Chuckâ€) â€” 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 â€œCharles Shaw,â€ not Bronco Wines. And it would be misleading to assume this only affects â€œlow endâ€ 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 â€” 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 makingâ€¦ Martha Stewart Vineyard versus Two Buck Chuck. Iâ€™d watch just to see the divas actually drink whatâ€™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 â€œMartha Stewart Vineyardâ€ will NOT be from Marthaâ€™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. Itâ€™s plagiarism â€” the signature on the artistâ€™s canvas had nothing to do with the creation of the art (even if the art, as in this case, is like mass-produced â€œVelvet Elvisâ€ prints that can be purchased at any flea market). But itâ€™s intentional â€” 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 â€œcheers!â€ with those who will drink her (er, I mean Galloâ€™s) wine. But then I myself would be inauthentic.