Notes from the Cellar: Euphemisms, tall tales and outright lies

by Gofreddo Gallo (a.k.a. PCC’s wine guy)

This article was originally published in July 2009

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Thus spake Mom. And Dad, Grandma, Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Words to Live By. But …

“Marketplace is supported by Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture …” So begins Monsanto’s 12-second ad on NPR. Now, you can exaggerate, euphemize, take liberties with the truth and even reach “reasonable” conclusions based on faulty premises.

But a lie is a lie (or in this case, a big, fat, bald-faced lie*), no matter how much money you spend to buy a forum for your falsehoods or change the definition of the premises upon which your propaganda is constructed.

Meanwhile, the California Water Board has fined the World’s Largest Winery for illegally diverting water from the Russian River to an eight-acre reservoir near Healdsburg.

Gallo has used the reservoir for at least three years for irrigation and frost protection of a 395-acre vineyard, reducing water availability to legitimate downstream water rights holders, as well as potentially damaging steelhead trout habitat. Which is not unlike Bill Gates poaching his neighbor’s wireless connection. Go figure.

Elsewhere, noted wine writer Robert Parker Jr. has responded belatedly to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article taking to task two of Parker’s wine reviewers. On repeated occasions, they apparently had travel and lodging expenses paid for by various wine industry entities.

Parker has long maintained that his publication, The Wine Advocate, was founded upon a strict code of ethics, with Parker insisting upon paying all his own expenses and refusing any type of gratuity from wineries or the wine industry.

While I am certainly no fan of The Wine Advocate and find its 100-point rating system to be especially odious, I have no reason to doubt Parker’s integrity or sterling intentions. Interestingly, the twisted rhetoric of Parker’s response to the WSJ makes us think that chucking his legal career in favor of wine reviewing probably was a sage move.

So? Ratings in The Wine Advocate are gospel to an astounding number of wine drinkers (such that for many, Parker is their palate) and the fortunes of a small winery can turn on a favorable (or unfavorable) review in its pages.

Similarly, NPR’s imprimatur suggests impartiality, with no political or commercial axes to grind. Who would expect a corporate giant to “misappropriate” a few lousy thousands of dollars worth of water? I guess that things aren’t always what they seem or claim to be, are they?

The point? Ask questions. Question answers — and trust your palate.

*The correct term is bald-faced and refers to a face without whiskers. Beards commonly were worn by businessmen in the 18th and 19th centuries as an attempt to mask facial expressions when making business deals. Thus a bald-faced liar was a very good liar, indeed, and was able to lie without the guilt showing on his face. (Wikipedia)

Next month: We find something nice to say!

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