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The bungster gets serious

The bungster gets serious – wine industry news

Billy Wayne Bung

You know that from time to time the Bungster likes to raise a serious issue. It riles up the readers, gives gainful employment to the publisher’s attorneys and keeps my outstanding editor, Mr. Herring, on his toes. Last year my favorite issue was the anti-immigrant vote in California. At the time, I wondered where all the vineyard workers were going to be found if the laws were fully enforced.

Now, it seems I’m not the only one wondering. In the past few weeks, several large California farm organizations have come out in favor of a “guest worker” law, which would allow them to round up workers in Mexico and bring them to the fields on an as-needed basis, then ship them back when they were finished with them. That’s a mighty fine concept, for sure.

These “guest workers” would be mostly men, of course, who would be living without their wives and families, thousands of miles from home.

There was a very good story a few weeks ago in the San Francisco Chronicle by Glen Martin, who has been cited before by the Bungster, one way or another. Mr. Martin was writing about the community of Healdsburg in Sonoma County and how it had become a model for integrating the anglo and hispanic cultures. One big reason is that the hispanics have very strong family values and a great capacity for hard work, according to Healdsburg officials.

He also quoted a top Healdsburg cop who said that it wasn’t always so. Years ago, when most vineyard workers were migratory, they had plenty of trouble in Healdsburg when male workers, far from home, got lonely, drunk and angry. Maybe even got in fights. You don’t mean it?

But now I have a new issue. Only this time, I’ve got the Australians behind me, so watch it!

It seems those pesky French have a plan to drop a dozen or so nuclear bombs on some little islands in the South Pacific. Talk about a time warp! (Just as an aside, who do the French plan to use the nukes on if the test goes OK? Maybe California Cabernet producers?)

Anyway, since several million Australians live downwind from the French testing area, they are a little, well, testy about the French plan. I understand that a full-fledged boycott of French wines was proposed by some Australians at VINEXPO in June. A special VINEXPO edition of Wine & Spirit International said that a huge anti-French wine backlash was developing in Australia. David Woods, BRL Hardy wine company director of Australian sales said, “The backlash in Australia will have repercussions on distribution and retailing, and the volume of French wine consumed in Australia will reflect this.”

Woods added that he expected Hardy will take a major hit because it imports wine in bulk from Languedoc Roussillon producer Val d’Orbieu and packages it in four-liter casks for national distribution.

Robert Hill Smith, managing director of S. Smith & Sons, Cliquot’s distributor in Australia, said the Champagne houses are very concerned about the budding Aussie boycott. He was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying there would be an impact on all French wine exports to Australia. On the other hand, Australian bubbly producers are expecting a jump in sales.

(Foubert, W&SI’s ubiquitous columnist, reports a perhaps tongue-in-cheek rumor that the nuclear testing plan was urged on the new French government by French wine producers to provide them with the grounds for claiming that Australian wines are radioactive.)

Chaps on the street in London tell me that a “South African-style boycott” of French wines is being talked up there. If you recall, it was the British wine press and trade that largely led the way to the successful boycott of South African wines during the days of apartheid. That never meant much in the U.S. because South Africa was not a big player in the local market, but imagine what it could do to the French. That great Burgundy vintage of ’93? Hey, forget it.

And I wouldn’t want anyone to think my stance is purely selfish, but a sale lost to a French producer could be a sale gained for a U.S. producer.

Anyone care to send the French a message? Contact the Bungster.

Why did Christian Moueix take his face off the Dominus label? Why doesn’t Fess Parker put his picture on his Fess Parker label? Why doesn’t Fess Parker produce a budget line of Coonskin Red and White table wines? Did the person who designed the Wine Spectator cover for the July 31 issue ever look at the March, 1994 cover of Wines & Vines? At least Jess Jackson changed shirts. Why doesn’t Madonna market a line of virgin olive oils? Why doesn’t Madonna get in the wine business and put her, uh, face on the label?

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