Decanter’s Curious Tale of Obama’s Inauguration Wines

Ξ January 22nd, 2009 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

A seemingly harmless news article appeared in my inbox January 21st. * reported that Virginia’s own **Barboursville Vineyards had been selected to provide their wines at one of the many inaugural dinners in honor of President Obama. Not only were they selected but, as the piece breathlessly began,
“President Barack Obama celebrated his inauguration with Virginia wine – and Prosecco.”
Intrigued, I read on, knowing how important an official Presidential wine to be for the fortunes of a winery, especially an American winery. But after noting something odd in the narrative, the contrast between specific detail and the omission of the name of the Inauguration venue where the wines were served, I began to examine all the specifics of the story and discovered quite a few curious details included and others left out of the Decanter piece.
The Decanter article, reported as news, was written by Michele Shah who says of herself on her own website,
“I am a freelance wine, food and travel writer based in Italy for over 30 years. Since 2002 I have started consulting to the Italian wine trade, organizing tasting events and workshops held at Italian trade events[....]“
So, when I learned that Barboursville Vineyards is Italian owned, and has been since 1976 when it was acquired by Giannini Zonin, I decided to take an even closer look.
Although, indeed, the Decanter article omits the actual name of the Inaugural Event where Barboursville wines were served, it was, in fact, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF), and proper mention of this can be found on Barboursville’s own website. The event took place January 19th.
In addition to strongly implying Barack Obama sipped at the gala, the Decanter article goes on to tell us it was also
“…attended by outgoing president George W Bush and former president Bill Clinton”.
And it then closes with two quotes from Franco Adami, president of the Consorzio Conegliano Valdobbiadene
‘We are honored that our Prosecco, a symbol of the Italian lifestyle, from the foothills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, has been selected to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration.’
‘[Thomas] Jefferson would have been delighted to see three presidents enjoying these bold red Virginian wines.’
Now, however, it appears President-elect Obama did not celebrate his inauguration with Virginia wine or Prosecco, at least not at the ICCF event. He does not seem even to have attended. And neither does George W Bush or Bill Clinton. According to the coverage of the ICCF gala by the New York-based metroGreen+Business the attendees included
“foreign heads of state, members of the U.S. Cabinet, Members of Congress, world business leaders, American celebrities, and leaders from the international NGO community. [...] Celebrity guests included Bo Derek, Robert Duvall, Cheryl Hines, Dennis Hopper, Kelly Ann Hu, Gale Anne Hurd, Ashley Judd, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, Edward Norton, Tracee Ellis Ross, Rick Schroder, and Joe Theismann to name a few. Wildlife also attended including a wallaby and sloth as a reminder of the importance that wildlife has on the environment.”
No mention of Barack Obama. And of the former Presidents?
“[...] Former Presidents William Jefferson Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush provided video messages.” [!]
What are we to make of this? Why would the Decanter editorial staff run such a story without proper vetting? Were they perhaps too grateful just to have exclusive, fresh information? How could Ms. Shah, a professional wine writer and Italian wine trade consultant, have made so many errors of substance? And what are we to make of Franco Adami’s remarks? Readers may draw their own conclusions.
To end on a positive note, I recently enjoyed a delightful conversation with Barboursville Vineyards’ passionate winemaker, Luca Paschina. The interview will be posted here next week. Ciao!
*It has just come to my attention (1/23) that has removed the curious tale from their website. The original page has been preserved and may be read here.
**I have been informed by Barboursville Vineyards that they played no part in the promotion of the details appearing in the Decanter piece.


5 Responses to ' Decanter’s Curious Tale of Obama’s Inauguration Wines '

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  1. Alfonso said,

    on January 22nd, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Bravo…I too thought something was not quite right. Surprised that Ms. Shah ( or her editor) didn’t vet the claims.

    Good work!

  2. on January 23rd, 2009 at 4:13 am

    In all likelihood, Ms. Shaw culled her report from a press release circulated on January 19 (the day before the inauguration) by is a PR firm based in Montalcino. It generates advertorial for a number of commercial wineries, including Zonin, one of its biggest clients.

    In Italy, it is common for winemakers to send their products to government and pseudo-government events and functions. The first line of the “article” was as follows:

    I love wine “made in Usa” … Il presidente
    Obama brinda con i vini degli States di
    Gianni Zonin (Barboursville Vineyards)

    I love wine “made in the USA.” President Obama toasts with wines made in the States by Gianni Zonin (Barboursville Vineyards).

    Because of the often misleading nature of stories in (and the nature of Italian advertorial in general), it’s easy to understand how an unwitting would-be journalist would copy and paste the news into her report.

  3. Tannat said,

    on January 23rd, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Good Job.

    Get ‘em.

    This kind of stuff stinks… pseudo PR that plays on ignorance for the sake of some sales fictitiously attributed to an event that barely even happened, and certainly didn’t happen as it was purported by decanter. They are better than this.

  4. Administrator said,

    on January 23rd, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Please note that took down the curious tale today. Be that as it may, I’ve linked a screen shot of the page at the end of my post. I believe the link is necessary to maintain the transparency of my story.

  5. Peter Brooke said,

    on January 27th, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Disgusting to see such an unfair behavior in such an important moment. I would like to see an official note by the Zonin group on this.

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