Ep. 131: An AI Version of Taylor Swift Drinking Natural Wine

Admittedly, that title is misleading, but we do talk AI, T. Swift, AND natural wine in Ep. 131. The Queen Bee of Burgundy has stinging words for natural wine. AI tech authenticates terroir. Are California wineries ready for the CRV fee? And the W.H.O. thinks it can fight death with taxes. These are the four wine news stories we're following this week.

[00:00:00] Nick Toole: Okay, so before we get into the quote, unquote real news, I wanted to bounce some more celebrity news off you two. Katherine, are you a Swifty, a Taylor Swift fan? 


[00:00:14] Katherine Cole: No, I, I’m, well, I support Taylor Swift, I think she’s great, but I don’t know that I could name a song she performs. I’m embarrassed to say that. I like her music.


[00:00:26] Nick Toole: Yeah, I personally wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I’m impressed by what she’s accomplished. Ruby, are you a, are you a Swifty? 


[00:00:35] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I’m, I’m like a, a real full blown Swifty. I’ve been since I was 14 years old, so yes.


[00:00:45] Nick Toole: Oh so, you might know what I’m about to talk about. I hope my cousin hears this episode too, because she’s a full blown Swifty. Uh, so Taylor Swift kind of made some waves or some crossover waves into the wine world recently because her producer, Jack Antonoff, who I think she dated at one point if I’m correct.


[00:01:10] Ruby Welkovich: No, definitely not. She never dated Jack Antonoff. They’ve just been working together.


[00:01:17] Nick Toole: Alright. Okay I’m losing swifty points..


[00:01:19] Ruby Welkovich: I give you the real, real news over here.


[00:01:23] Nick Toole: Did not date Jack Antonoff. Anyway, he posted a photo a couple weeks ago of her from I believe last year after she released a new single And uh, it was a picture of her eating raisins, which are, like, cousins of wine? Uh, but it looked like she was also drinking a bottle of wine. Of course, the Swifties did their work, and they had to identify what bottle of wine it was. And, it was none other than Gaslighter Rosé by The Chicks, formerly known as The Dixie Chicks. I am a Chicks fan and Gaslighter is a wonderful song, but this, I guess, caused quite a fracas, Katherine.


[00:02:07] Katherine Cole: Yes, indeed.


[00:02:07] Nick Toole: Because people started, I guess, I don’t know, do you know the rest of this Ruby?


[00:02:13] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, let me, let me explain this. So Taylor Swift just released a song from the vault called You’re Losing Me. And everybody is up in a tizzy about when this song was written. Is it about Joe Alwyn? Is it like, recently? Did she write it a few years ago? And so it’s a great song. I really recommend it. And, so when Jack Antonoff posted this, he put the date of when the song was written, which was in December of 2021, which means that she and Joe Alwyn have had relationship issues since that time so even though they broke up only six months ago, they’ve been apart for much longer. So that’s the, that’s the tea. 


[00:02:55] Katherine Cole: I’m so confused. How does this relate back to the wine? You guys lost me after you said wine.


[00:03:01] Ruby Welkovich: Oh, this isn’t a Taylor Swift podcast? I’m so sorry


[00:03:05] Nick Toole: I think it’s cause the wine is called Gaslighter. And so there’s like…


[00:03:09] Ruby Welkovich: Yes, sorry. Sorry. Yes. Yes. Okay. Yeah. Sorry. I got carried away with Taylor Swift. So the wine is called gaslighter and a lot of Taylor Swift fans are thinking that this might be an easter egg. As you might know she leaves easter eggs. This might be an easter egg for some of the issues that her and Joe were having. Now it’s tied nicely in a chick’s bow.


[00:03:30] Katherine Cole: I love it. Say it with wine, folks. 


The Queen Bee of Burgundy has stinging words for natural wine. Tech authenticates terroir. Are California wineries ready for the CRV fee? And the WHO thinks it can fight death with taxes. These are the four wine news stories we’re following this week, and this is The Four Top. And now, a word from our sponsor.


Well, let’s start with a juicy Le Figaro interview that ran December 5th with the headline “Exclusive meeting with Lalou Bize-Leroy, legend and doyen of Burgundy wines. Quote, natural wine is bullshit.” Now listeners, if you are not familiar with Madame Bize-Leroy, it is time to get up to speed because she is one of the most powerful, not just women in wine, but human beings in the wine industry.


[00:05:04] Ruby Welkovich: You might say she’s the Taylor Swift of wine.


[00:05:08] Katherine Cole: Totally. Except she’s 91 years old. She’s a 91 year old trailblazer. Famously, she co-managed what is arguably the world’s greatest winery, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, DRC. Then she split off and went her own way. Her Domaine Leroy wines are considered to rival DRC’s. She also runs Maison Leroy. Oh, my pronunciation is terrible. I’m sorry, folks. And her family’s Domaine d’Auvenay.


[00:05:32] Nick Toole: So she was apparently a leader in bringing biodynamic viticulture to Burgundy, but she says in the interview that biodynamics don’t mean anything, which is, that’s, that’s a big statement and, for example, on the subject of hedging, which I understand from past conversations on this podcast is a pretty standard viticulture practice. It’s basically just pruning the shoots. And she declares that hedging is a massacre and abominable. Shout out to Oliver Styles, by the way, for highlighting this fantastic interview in his weekly news roundup for Wine-Searcher, which was just purchased. There’s a little bit of extra bit of news for you guys.


[00:06:09] Katherine Cole: Oh yeah, breaking news. I saw that was imminent. Well, congratulations, Wine-Searcher.


[00:06:14] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, so I didn’t know what hedging was until now, but I do live in Brooklyn, and even I can tell that it’s pretty explosive for her to say that natural wine is bullshit.


[00:06:23] Katherine Cole: Yeah, those are fighting words, Madame Leroy. Uh, the funny thing is, she basically makes natural wines. I mean, she farms biodynamically, even though she says biodynamics are BS. She doesn’t use a lot of technologically advanced equipment or artificial cooling, that kind of thing. You know, she talks to her wines. She tells them they’re beautiful.


[00:06:43] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, so her problem is not with natural winemaking or natural wines, but the term natural wines.


[00:06:48] Katherine Cole: Yeah, uh, if I understand the interview correctly, and I will admit it was in French, I’m reading between the lines, I’m interpreting this my own way, but my understanding is that her problem is with winemakers who think they can just do absolutely nothing in the cellar and then bottle subpar wine and then sell it under the moniker natural.


And you know, this is a complaint I hear a lot from what I would call the old guard. I’m personally kind of neutral on the subject. If the cool kids want to drink vinous kombucha, as I call it, and use terms like natural, who am I to judge? I’m just happy when people are drinking wine, but I am curious to hear what our listeners think of this. Is natural wine bullshit? Is it cool when a 91 year old Grande dame mouths off? If you’re a natural wine lover, you must revere Madame Leroy. So where do her comments leave you? Let us know, listeners.


[00:07:38] Ruby Welkovich: Hey! So here’s a headline from the New York Times this week that has been generating a lot of buzz. “Bordeaux wine snobs have a point, according to this computer model.”


[00:07:50] Katherine Cole: Yeah, this is really exciting. A team of scientists from France, Switzerland, the U.S., and Portugal have published a paper in the journal Communications Chemistry that describes how a computer model is able to basically blind taste and identify wines. Now, it’s not actually tasting the wines, it’s a chemical analysis situation, but it is able to identify a wine’s origin by microclimate location and even vintage. Now, this is huge because basically this computer model is confirming that the concept of terroir is a real thing.


[00:08:25] Ruby Welkovich: Terroir? Considering that these scientists were French, Portuguese, and English speakers, are we settling on terroir or terroir?


[00:08:33] Katherine Cole: Well, I will leave that up to you. Since the wines they used in the study were from France, Bordeaux specifically, it might be appropriate to say terroir, but, you know, here in the U.S. wine industry, we basically speak Franglish, case in point, Pinot Noir. So we say terroir.


[00:08:49] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, so terroir. Google says it’s the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. 


[00:09:02] Katherine Cole: Terroir is this idea that a wine can speak of the place where the grapes were grown. And it’s long been a subject of debate because many geologists have claimed that there’s really no way scientifically that the particular soil type of a vineyard should express itself in the aromatics or the flavor of a wine.


Well, maybe, maybe it’s not a soil type thing, maybe it’s a microclimate thing, but the point remains that scientists have always been a little skeptical about this idea. At the same time, wine professionals can smell or taste a wine blind and identify it right away, where it’s coming from. And I’m not just talking wines from a particular winery, but often from a particular vineyard as interpreted by different winemakers.


So, it’s been sort of this argument, this debate, where folks in the wine industry have said terroir is a real thing. And, this idea of terroir is basically saying that nature trumps nurture. This is about the place, it’s not about the winemaker’s stamp.


[00:09:55] Nick Toole: I love these science-focused stories because science is cool, and wine involves a lot of cool science, and because you get to say fun phrases like gas chromatography. And so, here I go, uh, using a method called gas chromatography, a team in Bordeaux created a database of the molecular makeup of 80 different wines from 7 chateaus over a range of vintages, and then the group of researchers created an algorithm They analyzed the data, and guess what? This computer model was able to identify and classify the wines according to where the grapes were grown. So, place matters. Terroir is, really is, a thing.


[00:10:35] Katherine Cole: This is so exciting. I am thinking also that this has applications in combating wine fraud. I mean, all of the big auction houses have got to be salivating over this software. You know, you say you have a pristine case of 1982 Chateau Latour. Okay, well, let’s do some gas chromatography and see if this wine really did come from southeastern Pauillac. I mean, it’s funny because today’s science is confirming what we have all kind of known for millennia, all of us in the wine industry. And you know, AI is actually now able to identify and classify aromas as well.

So It’s pretty cool. Pretty soon computers are going to be doing what master somms do. I do hope that instead of replacing them, that these computer models will just confirm what wine lovers and wine insiders have always, always believed. I mean, this is basically, to me, this is like science confirming the existence of God.


[00:11:26] Nick Toole: Or, the Loch Ness Monster.


[00:11:30] Ruby Welkovich: I’d be interested in using AI to prove that New York bagels have terroir and are superior to bagels made everywhere else.


[00:11:36] Nick Toole: Oh, I like that. In that vein, I think it’d be interesting to use the same approach in beer because breweries that make spontaneously fermented beer, which is just the kind of PC way of referring to beer that is made in the Lambic tradition, often claim terroir. They’re usually referring to flavor profiles created by local yeast that can only be found in X location. It’d be cool to see if it has any truth to it. Not so long ago, it was even widely believed that you could only make Lambic style beers in the Pajottenland of Belgium due to their quote unquote special yeast. But that has been proven untrue, and in retrospect, kind of silly to believe that. And as a side note, I’ve said a few heretical things about Lambic beer in the past minute, so apologies to anyone that was hurt by what I’ve said.


[00:12:20] Katherine Cole: You’re in a safe space. It’s only us and a few thousand other people listening. 


[00:12:29] Nick Toole: Alright, California. It’s almost 2024, which means that the bottle bill is coming at ya. Starting January 1st, 2024, Californians will be able to recycle wine, liquor, and large juice bottles for cold, hard cash. Or, one tenth of a dollar. And we are not just talking about glass bottles here. You can also recycle boxed wine for a nice little 25 cent refund per container, which is awesome.


 We have a similar bill here in Maine, and it really did boost recycling. Maine boasts one of the highest beverage container recycling rates in the country because of our bottle bill. Plus it’s like a tiny little payday every time you redeem your bottles.


[00:13:05] Ruby Welkovich: That sounds great. I’m all in favor of incentivizing recycling. 


[00:13:08] Katherine Cole: Yeah, I think this is exciting. But let’s think about what this means for wine producers. So starting now, wineries can begin to phase in wording like “California refund value, 10 cents,” adding that, that wording to their labels, and this type of labeling will be mandatory as of July 1st, 2025.


If you produce canned wines, the redemption value must be etched into the top of that can. And wineries, if you haven’t heard from your sales, CRM platform, your commerce provider and/or your accountant, you should probably reach out to them now because you’ll be wanting to automatically collect that California redemption value fee, the CRV fee when you make wine sales. 


[00:13:48] Nick Toole: If we rewind to episode 129, just a couple of weeks ago, we learned that the EU has caused some major headaches by clarifying how ingredient labeling should look just two weeks before that labeling was required to be rolled out. So we should take note that this California bottle bill requires that the redemption value be, and I quote, for clarity, clear, prominent, and indelibly marked on the beverage container.


[00:14:13] Katherine Cole: All right, so listeners, if you plan to sell your wine in California anytime soon, we here at The Four Top recommend that you use, let’s say, Helvetica, triple bold font, 60 pixels, font weight 1000. Ruby’s laughing because she knows exactly what I’m talking about. Uh, to print that bottle or box or can redemption value on there.


Don’t mess it up, because you don’t want to have to redo it.


[00:14:34] Ruby Welkovich: Just forget about your label design and add that redemption value with a sharpie or tattoo it on your face. That might be the safest option.


[00:14:42] Nick Toole: Ugh, disclaimer, disclaimer, the information provided on The Four Top does not constitute legal or graphic advice.


[00:14:49] Katherine Cole: Graphic design, that would be.


[00:14:56] Ruby Welkovich: According to Benjamin Franklin, in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. And according to the World Health Organization, taxes will fend off death. Because the WHO is calling for nations around the world to raise excise taxes, that is taxes targeted at particular products, on alcohol and sugary beverages. I’m getting Boston Tea Party vibes. 


[00:15:17] Nick Toole: Yeah, so, last week, the WHO came out with a pretty strongly worded statement. And I quote, “Globally, 2.6 million people die from drinking alcohol every year, and over 8 million from an unhealthy diet. Implementing tax on alcohol and SSBs will reduce these deaths.” 


[00:15:36] Katherine Cole: Oh boy, slow down there folks. So, 8 million people are dying because they’re eating terrible food, and 2.6 million are dying because they’re drinking too much alcohol. That’s definitely 10.6 million too many deaths. But I am very curious because this report does not provide a lot of detailed information. Like, I don’t know, maybe a lot of these people who have terrible diets are also drinking too much? Are they also smoking? I kind of need to know more.


[00:16:03] Nick Toole: Yeah, the WHO does not provide much information in this.


[00:16:08] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, so according to this report, excise taxes represent just 6.6 percent of the price of sugary sodas worldwide, while the average worldwide excise tax on beer and spirits ranges from 17.2 to 26. So alcohol is already being taxed a lot more heavily than sugary sodas.


[00:16:27] Katherine Cole: Mm hmm. Oh, and also, I just feel like I need to jump in here and say my people are from Montana, and there actually is a more efficient way to say sugary sodas, and that is pop. 


[00:16:37] Ruby Welkovich: Whatever you want to call it, looks like it could stand to be taxed a bit more.


[00:16:41] Nick Toole: Yeah, but these guidelines also cite a 2017 study that shows that taxes that increase alcohol prices by 50 percent would help avert over 21 million deaths over 50 years and generate nearly 17 trillion dollars in additional revenues.


[00:16:57] Katherine Cole: Oh my goodness, I find this irritating for so many reasons. Uh, I am going to wait before ranting too much, because Martín Reyes and I are going to dig into this topic in depth very soon on this very podcast feed, but let me just give you a little teaser, guys. Uh, imagine going to a blue zone, one of those places around the globe where life expectancy is way longer and people are just way healthier than they are in the rest of the world. Imagine going to a blue zone place like in Sardinia or Greece where people regularly live to be a hundred and then imagine jacking the price on their locally grown and produced wines by 50%. I am willing to bet if you did that, life expectancy would decrease. So, I’m sorry, WHO, but what? Increase alcohol taxes by 50%? I just don’t think that with wine, that’s going to save lives. I think it’s going to make people’s lives more miserable. I’m a little biased, though.


[00:17:52] Nick Toole: So, so what you’re saying is like wine’s not the same thing as a Red Bull and vodka?


[00:17:57] Katherine Cole: Hell no. Well, now it is time for our dessert course. Ruby, I think you’re up for sharing some dessert.


[00:18:07] Ruby Welkovich: Great. Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of Taylor Swift, and when I’m not listening to Taylor Swift, I’ve been recently  really into the new Hozier album, Unreal Unearthed. He also sings Cherry Wine, which you might know, but my favorite song on this album is Eat Your Young. I think it’s really fun. It’s a kind of a graphic title, but it’s a really great song and I’ve been listening to it while drinking wine, while cooking in the kitchen, and yeah, it’s just a good time.


[00:18:35] Katherine Cole: I think I’ll stick with Cherry Wine, but that sounds good. Well, this has been The Four Top podcast. I am our executive producer, Katherine Cole.


[00:18:42] Nick Toole: I’m our producer Nick Toole.

[00:18:44] Ruby Welkovich: I’m media and design manager and resident Swifty, Ruby Welkovich.

[00:18:48] Katherine Cole: Kielan King is our sound supervisor and the composer and performer of our fantastic theme music. Please visit our website, thefourtop.org to learn more about us, listen to back episodes and purchase books written by our amazing panelists. If you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes, Spotify, or whatever your favorite podcast platform is, please do so and leave us a rating.


[00:19:11] Nick Toole: Y’all, this part is important because every rating feeds the algorithm and helps new listeners find The Four Top. 


[00:19:18] Katherine Cole: Well, this week I am signing out from sunny California and it is so much nicer than rainy Portland. I’m gloating a little bit, but this is Katherine Cole signing out.


[00:19:28] Ruby Welkovich: And from rainy Brooklyn, this is Ruby signing out.


[00:19:31] Nick Toole: From the perpetually slushy city of Portland, Maine, this is Nick Toole signing out. Stay safe out there, and thanks for listening.


[00:19:39] Katherine Cole: Yeah, that’s right folks. Stay safe at those holiday parties and just say no to Red Bull and vodka.


[00:19:45] Nick Toole: I had my first red bull and vodka like three months ago.


[00:19:48] Katherine Cole: Oh, really?


[00:19:48] Ruby Welkovich: I have never had a Red Bull and vodka. Ew. 


Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:00:45] Wine Spectator: New Photo Shows Taylor Swift Drinking Gaslighter Rosé—Sparking a Fan Frenzy

[00:03:30] Le Figaro: Rencontre exclusive avec Lalou Bize-Leroy, légende et doyenne des vins de Bourgogne : «Le vin nature, c’est une connerie»

[00:07:38] The New York Times: Bordeaux Wine Snobs Have a Point, According to This Computer Model

[00:12:29] SFGate: Starting next year, you can get cash for alcohol bottles in California

[00:14:56] WHO: WHO calls on countries to increase taxes on alcohol and sugary sweetened beverages