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Talk about wine like it's a drink, not a hair-care product


Whitey has a spray about the nonsense of marketing wine like it is soft drink or shampoo.

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If you’re in the drinks business, or even faintly interested in it – which I presume you are, having got this far – it might pay to keep an eye on the drinks fridge at your regular petrol station as much as the contents of the local wine shop.

It’ll help you work out whether they’re getting you or not. Or more accurately, how successfully they’ve got you.

Back when they still had corner delis, the average non-alcoholic drinks fridge always contained a wider range of flavours than an entire wine store. It wasn’t a big fridge, usually not much bigger than the one at home in the kitchen. You knew things were rolling when the store owner accepted a new free fridge from Pepsi to go beside the Coke one, but this expansion never really seemed to come with a doubling of the range of flavours stashed within.

We’ll stick to white wine for this exercise in cartel conduct: As the delis got fewer and bigger, down the street the wine powers at the time got hard to work replacing the interesting white wine flavours – Riesling, Frontignac, Semillon and the like – with two flavours of Chardonnay: bad-to-awful Chardonnay with oak chips in it, or bad-to-awful Chardonnay without any oak chips in it.

Unwooded, those latter labels boasted, as if Chardonnay came already infested with the lumberjack dust … as if, at great expense, driven by some extreme pinnacle of gastronomic sensitivity, the genius vinetard had thoughtfully removed this contaminant, just for your health, well-being, and epicurean delight … and didn’t even put the price up!

Since then, the Chardonnay tsunami came, levelled everything off, including thousands of growers, and eventually subsided. Kiwi Sauvignon blanc replaced it and the deli disappeared. You could almost hear the oak forests of Old Yurp and Missouri breathing relief as the sawyers went back to their Monty Python re-runs ’round the old pot belly.

Now we buy our non-alc bevvies from the petrol station. Fill ‘er up. The lolly-water fridge is 30-metres long, ceiling-to-floor, and I doubt that it contains quite the expanse of flavours that old deli Frigidaire afforded the thirsty punter.

Basically it’ll offer white drinks, black drinks, yellow drinks, red drinks, uncoloured [filtered or bleached] drinks and blue ones, many of which contain obscene sugar bolstered with enough caffeine to wire the Russian Army.

Such shelves may appear impressive and shiny, from, say, outside on the apron, but the closer you get you realise how terrifyingly repetitive they are. They offer five or six versions – say a metre or two – of every flavour.

Except soda water. Go looking for the clean water with the simple little beads of CO2 in it and if you’re lucky it’ll be up the right hand end and down the bottom.

What they call mineral water is everywhere, mind you. That’s obviously got a better margin. I’m waiting for the slug Our water has 23% fewer cavities!

They’d say less cavities, probably.

In the wine shop, things are pretty much the same. What we lack in flavour range and recommended application we see rectified by bedazzlement. If you have, say, only about three flavours in your acre of floorspace of bottled white wine, what you do is hand the bottles to the arthouse skunkworks out the back of somewhere and they’ll make up some nice new labels. Like hundreds of them. Punk labels, dimestore labels, money labels, Coke labels, Pepsi labels, nice heritagey ones, labels jumping with nowness, labels feigning provenance; others decrying it … labels with stage names like the Flying Cronkwaller or Henry The Horse. Labels with friggin’ cats and dogs on ’em!

Every one of them skunkworks has a writing wing: a secret cadre of semi-literate sophists and hipstercrites armed with words like premium, unique, rare, oldest and geology. Since the supermakets really took control of your precious drink dollar they have picked up a wee lesson in polishing the rocket from the propagandists in this ethanol-cum-liquor-cum-wine-cum-beer racket: everything now has to have a back label like the bullshit that people seem to expect on wine bottles.

I reckon this fusion of methods first made the genetic jump from wine to what they call hair care. Suddenly you couldn’t buy schlurp or shooshterizer for your quiff unless it had a stage name and a back label guaranteeing to correct your dehydration; your lack.

Lemme grab one at random: What’s this cute little teardrop bottle? Stage name: Weightless Hydration. Variety: Coconut Water Conditioner. This means the product is a dessert item: you have it towards the end of the repast, er shower, hoping it polishes them locks so good it gets you laid straight away.

So how do they put that in the fine print? The back label:

Drench your dehydrated strands in this ultra-lightweight, hydrating blend with coconut water, electrolytes and coconut oil. This supercharged blend helps to transform dry, parched hair into silky, shiny perfection.


Tantalised by the notion of coconut water being the puddle you find at the foot of each palm, I find further interest due the fact that while they don’t claim it to be your actual coconut milk, this overwhelming coconut bouquet even smells a bit like American oak chips: Quercus alba: the cheapest in the woodlot.

This literary indulgence soon moved from the hair care section through the pasta and sauces, straight through the verjuice aisles and the oils to the lubricants and frangers. It even infested the cleaning section: I bought a new mop head a few years back and was utterly transfixed to read that it was a blend of specially-selected premium fibres that should not be used in water with electricity going through it.

So what’s my point? Beware good reader, more than ever before. Avoid those bleak acres in the middle. Go right down the end; look high and low. Find a winemaker or a merchant who can look you back in the eye while they pour you a taste, talking about the bloody wine like it was a drink, not bloody hair gunk or a premium mop or something from the skunkworks.

While you’re busy doing that, I’ll be deep in a fantasy about sending all those sophisticating scribes off to dust the Mallee or weed the Northern Territory or something useful while we assemble all the medical and lollywater scientists, the lumberjacks, horticulturers and expert ethanol distillers to start working together on a sensible middle ground.

Rather than squander lives, communities and water on bottom-shelf plonk that needs those dimestore images and nonsensical backlabels to attract the innocents, we should be working on a better level of drink with a wider range of flavours.

Where does the rain fall? The tropics. What does it grow? Lovely fruit and sugar cane. Use that for your ethanol, and replace that acre stacked with droll white plonk with healthy, delicious blends of fruits, minerals and vitamins, using natural plant terpenes to tweak the mood, purpose and demeanour of the drinker, whether they want soothing, stimulation or their peculiar dehydrated strand moisturised and supercharged into silky perfection.

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