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by Fred McMillin
for March 8, 2000

 

It Was Quite a Fight


Prologue

Tessera  
Jug wines, whether gallon or half-gallon, are characterized by a single finger handle for carrying and to facilitate pouring.

In 1985, 81% of California wines were shipped in jugs.
In 1990, 48% of California wines were shipped in jugs.

What had happened? The jugs got into a fight and lost.

Sources: 11/27/9l New York Times & C. Sullivan's Wine Companion)


The Rest of the Story

The victors in the scrap were called "fighting varietals." The name was created in 1983 by marketing consultant Ed Everett for low-priced wines that a) were sealed with a cork instead of a metal screw-on cap, and b) were named after the dominant grape in the wine like much more expensive bottles. For $5 you could take home a prestigious Chardonnay rather than a jug of common Chablis.

Now, Sam Bronfman II, President of the Seagram Classics Wine Co., knows a good market when he sees it. Thus, he created his own fighter, the Tessera brand. To produce it, he didn't need to hire new talent. He already had all the necessary skills at hand, running individual wineries owned by Seagram. So he molded them into a Tessera team, which we described this way in our Feb. 26, 1997 WineDay.

Grape Selection—Gary Gott operated both coastal and inland wineries, so he was put in charge of selecting the grapes.

Phil Franscioni knew how to do large-volume winemaking at Monterey Vineyards, so he was put in charge of fermenting the juice at that location.

Greg Fowler, Mumm Napa Valley winemaker, was put in charge of blending Phil's batches. Was the team successful? The last annual sales figures I saw for Tessara were over 200,000 cases!


Our Fighter of the Day

1997 Tessera 100% Chardonnay
Appellation—California
My Panel's Comments—Citrus, full bodied, lemon, more expressive than the higher-priced bottles.
Rating—In its price range, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Contact—Office of Joe Gargiolo (800) 709-7667, FAX (707) 255-1119
Price—$10 range


Postscript

I like Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's name for California jug wine: Plonk!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created March 2000

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