The Nation Magazine’s recent announcement that it had launched The Nation Wine Club wasn’t particularly surprising. Publishing companies such as The New York Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Rolling Stone long ago realized that their subscriber lists could be used for much more than sending newspapers, magazines and invoices.
The interesting twist to The Nation Wine Club is that “Included in each shipment will be two hand-selected wines with a progressive nature, such as an organic or sustainable wine, a wine produced at a winery that employs union workers or cooperative, wines produced with special effort to care for the environment or a wine from a developing nation.” The initial shipment contains twelve bottles, so for every bottle of progressive wine you drink, you’ll have to drink five bottles of, presumably, non-progressive wine.
The U.S. wines included in the first shipment are:
2012 3 Muses Cabernet Sauvignon $15
2012 Kensington Family Cellars Sonoma County Pinot Noir $14.49
2012 Quail Hollow Winery California Chardonnay $15
2012 Grassini Estate Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc (actual vineyard) $28
2012 Braxton Hall California Merlot $15
With approximately 600 wineries in the U.S. producing wines from organic grapes and another 600 or so with some form of sustainable certification, why would only two of the wines in each shipment represent the magazine’s values? Why not all twelve?
Enter the Negociant
The Nation doesn’t explicitly identify the source of their wines, but a Google search for the wines offered in the introductory shipment reveals that the club’s wines are distributed by Vinesse. Vinesse, owned by Adams Wine Group, is a powerhouse in the wine club business and manages wine clubs for American Airlines, US Airways, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Vinesse’s primary supplier of U.S. wines is another Adams Wine Group-owned business, Adler Fels Winery. Adler Fels primarily relies on the negociant model; it purchases bulk wine from various sources and then blends and bottles the wine under its own labels, i.e. don’t expect to drive by or visit the “wineries” listed on most of Vinesse’s labels.
“It’s time to explore wines that reflect your values- and The Nation Wine Club selects wines just for us.”
Values-based purchasing isn’t easy. It takes time and money, and all too often, green/natural/ progressive products are only minimally so, if at all. Educated wine purchasing isn’t easy either. Consumers have to deal with regions, vintages, varieties, styles and producers. A values-based wine club could, conceivably, provide a valuable service to wine drinkers by sorting through the millions of available wines to identify those produced by wineries that support particular values. For example, a “progressive” wine club might include wines from producers such as:
Benziger Family Winery: Benziger Family Winery in Glen Allen, California farms all of its vineyards using certified Biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming methods, and every wine in its portfolio carries a third party certification of green farming practices.
Emtu Wines: John and Chris Mason produce Emtu Estate wines from their dry-farmed, organic vineyard in Forestville, California and founded the Labyrinth Foundation for Disaster Relief. In addition to spending winters providing assistance around the globe, all profits from the sale of Emtu wines go to the Labyrinth Foundation.
Fetzer Vineyards: 100% of the energy used at Fetzer’s winery facility in Hopland, California is produced by renewable energy sources. The winery is also certified by California Certified Sustainable Winegrowing and uses wine bottles made from 35% post-consumer recycled glass.
Stein Family Wines: Stein Family Wines in San Francisco donates five percent of every sale to the children of vineyard workers in the form of college scholarships and support funding. Stein Family Wines also produces a wine called “Same Sex Meritage” and donates $1 for every bottle sold to the advocacy group Freedom to Marry.
Talley Vineyards: Talley Vineyards, located in Arroyo Grande, California, established The Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers in 2004 to provide grants to organizations that assist San Luis Obispo County agricultural workers and their families. Each year a wine called Mano Tinta is produced from grapes, materials and time donated from several regional wineries; all of the profits from Mano Tinta benefit the fund.
Trinity Oaks: Trinity Oaks, produced by Trinchero Family Estates, plants one tree for every bottle of wine sold. In collaboration with Trees for the Future, Trinity Oaks has planted over ten million trees since 2008.
COWHORN: Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, located in southern Oregon, is both organic and biodynamic certified. In addition to making award-winning wines, Cowhorn grows asparagus, cherries, artichokes and hazelnuts that it sells to local grocers and restaurants.
Harmony Vineyards: Harmony Vineyards in New York donates all net profits to hunger and education causes such as Island Harvest, City Harvest, the Stony Brook University Foundation, the East African Center for the Empowerment of Women and Children, and PinkRock.
Shelburne Vineyard: Shelburne Vineyard in Shelburne, Vermont was named the 2009 Sustainable Agricultural Farm of the Year by the University of Vermont and the winner of the 2010 Historic Preservation Award “Commercial Category by the Chittenden County Historical Society. The winery is energy efficient, uses lightweight glass bottles and practices sustainable vineyard practices. In addition, it is a member of Vermont Fresh Network, NOFA VT (Northeast Organic Farming Association), Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, the Vermont Gay Tourism Network and the Vermont and Lake Champlain Regional Chambers of Commerce.
The wineries listed above are just a few of the many wineries that could be considered “progressive,” especially if the thousands of wineries practicing sustainable vineyard and winery practices are considered progressive. With so many progressive wine producers, the The Nation could provide a 100% progressive lineup, but the cost would probably be significantly higher. Instead, The Nation’s Wine Club seems to use the veneer of progressivism to appeal to its subscribers while providing primarily bulk wine at low prices. Vinesse’s wines may actually have a “progressive nature” but it’s not readily apparent, and neither is The Nation’s respect for its progressive, wine-drinking subscribers.