Ep. 136: Righted Wrongs and French Families

A cultural wrong just got righted in California bars and restaurants. Argentine wine faces the choppy waters of hyperinflation and devaluation. You can get paid for that strip of vineyard land you're not using. One very rich French family sells an old faithful standby of a wine to another very rich French family. These are the stories we’re following this week.

[00:00:00] Katherine Cole: So, Ruby, um, I feel like January is practically over now, but I never asked you what you did for New Year’s. How was your New Year’s Eve? 


[00:00:09] Ruby Welk:  Um, I’m scared that you’re saying that January is almost over because it’s not, but, um, my New Year’s Eve was really great, thanks for asking. I went to my friend’s house on the Upper West Side, and we made homemade pizzas, drank a lot of champagne, and played board games through midnight. It was a good time. How was yours?


[00:00:28] Katherine Cole: Um, mine was good. I went to a friend’s party and she happened to have a karaoke machine, so I said to everyone, “I am going to leave before the karaoke starts.” And then I had too much champagne and I sang some karaoke.


[00:00:43] Ruby Welk:  That’s how it always goes. Well, funny that you should bring that up, because as we were researching the wine news this week, this story kept popping up, and I really don’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t help but click the link and read in horror.


[00:00:55] Katherine Cole: Oh, dear. I think I know which one you’re talking about. This, this story. Some bloke in Ireland went on a crazy Guinness binge on New Year’s.


[00:01:05] Ruby Welk:  He sure did. He drank 81 pints of Guinness between December 29th and 31st.


[00:01:11] Katherine Cole: Ugh. I mean, the alcohol aside, Guinness is so filling. Like, how did his stomach not explode? I’m thinking of like Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Probably too young to have seen that. But there’s this scene in a restaurant where this waiter goes, and finally, Monsieur, a wafer, thin mint, just a wafer, thin mint. And then the guy explodes because it’s, he can’t, he can’t take anymore.


[00:01:36] Ruby Welk:  I have not seen it, unfortunately, but, um, I will check it out. They do say that Guinness is one of the most nutritious beers out there with a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, it’s supposed to be a good source of iron, so maybe he just didn’t eat for those two days? I mean he did consume 17, 000 calories, so maybe a bit too much nutrition, I don’t know.


[00:01:55] Katherine Cole: You know, they used to recommend that nursing mothers drink Guinness. And I think my mother actually drank Guinness while she was nursing. Interesting side note. All this Guinness drinking has me thinking of the Guinness Book of World Records. And I’m sorry if you hear my dog in the background. But I just popped up the Guinness Book of World Records website and I am not seeing any record listed for the most beers consumed in a two day period. So I think this guy has a lock on this. He’s, he’s a shoe in for the Guinness of all Guinnesses.


[00:02:26] Ruby Welk:  Well, I’ll tell you one record this guy is not going to break. World’s oldest and healthiest person.


[00:02:32] Katherine Cole: Now, of course, if he’d drunk 81 pints of wine, different story.


[00:02:36] Ruby Welk:  Ah.


[00:02:37] Katherine Cole: Well, folks, we will not be drinking 81 pints of beer or wine during this episode, but we will be talking about a cultural wrong that just got righted in California bars and restaurants. We will also dip our toes in the chilly Argentine waters of hyperinflation and devaluation. We will tell you how you can get paid for that strip of vineyard land that you’re not using. And we will talk about two very rich French families and one old faithful standby of a wine. This is The Four Top. I am your host, Katherine Cole, joined by Ruby Welkovich. We are technically a two top today, but we’ve got four piping hot news stories for you.


[00:03:25] Ruby Welk:  All right, Katherine. Our top story is one of, and I quote, “bizarre and blatant cultural insensitivity.” But first, let’s start with a beverage quiz, since Nick isn’t here. Katherine, have you heard of soju and shōchū?


[00:03:43] Katherine Cole: Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you ask this, Ruby, because we were talking about lower alcohol spirits just last week in episode 135, and if I remember correctly from my days writing about spirits, which was gosh, more than two decades ago, soju, is actually low enough in alcohol to qualify as a fortified wine, essentially. So kind of interesting loophole. Restaurants that don’t want to pay for a hard liquor license can serve cocktails made from soju with their beer and wine license.


[00:04:13] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, I actually had a soju cocktail this weekend, kind of randomly, I wasn’t expecting it. and it was really delicious. So, what’s the difference between soju and shōchū?


[00:04:23] Katherine Cole: Okay. Racking my brains again here. Uh, soju is Korean, as I remember, and shōchū is Japanese and the alcohol content in soju tends to be lower. And again, it’s been two decades since I wrote about spirits, so that’s about all I can remember.


[00:04:40] Ruby Welk:  Well, okay, thank you to the internet, I can tell you a little bit more. So yes, both indeed are lower alcohol than the distilled spirits that we’re used to. Soju from Korea is typically 20 to 25 percent ABV, and shōchū tends to be in the 25 to 35 percent range. 


[00:04:57] Katherine Cole: And so to compare that, your standard vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, yada yada, that’s typically 40, 45 percent ABV, so definitely those spirits are lower in alcohol.


[00:05:09] Ruby Welk: So soju and shōchū can both be distilled from a variety of base ingredients including rice, barley, and sweet potato. Maybe this is the new sweet potato fries. I don’t know.


[00:05:19] Katherine Cole: Mmm, distilled sweet potato fries. I’m in. All right, I’m catching up with you here. I’ve pulled up some information on shōchū and soju, and I am remembering now, yes, they can be distilled from a variety of base ingredients that are similar, but the two use different types of yeasts. Japanese shōchū producers rely on a specific rice mold called koji. And if you are a sake fan, you know that term, while the better soju is from Korea, get their fermentation started off with the ambient yeast found on this grain cake called nuruk


[00:05:53] Ruby Welk:  Okay, so they’re similar spirits, but they’re not identical, cousins, not twins, kind of like eyebrows.


[00:06:00] Katherine Cole: Totally. So, uh, Ruby, we pulled up an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Maybe you can read a little bit from it.


[00:06:09] Ruby Welk:  For sure, this piece is by Esther Mobley, former Four Top guest from episode 94. She writes, “For the past 25 years, many bottles of shōchū, a Japanese liquor, had to be incorrectly labeled as soju, a Korean liquor, in order to be sold in restaurants with a beer and wine license.” That’s right, Japanese products were required to be labeled as a completely different product from a completely different country.


[00:06:34] Katherine Cole: Okay. So this is what I alluded to earlier. When California restaurateurs figured out that they can make cocktails out of these low alcohol by volume spirits and thus avoid paying for a liquor license because they could make cocktails just using their wine and beer license, this opportunity opened up to import more sojus and shōchūs, but whatever lazy knucklehead bureaucrat, sorry if you’re listening, bureaucrat, um, wrote up the laws, they only used It’s the Korean term soju in writing up the California law. So the Japanese producers all had to change their labels in order to comply. And as a result, we all lost the distinction and the nuances between two completely different classes of beverages from two completely different nations.


[00:07:18] Ruby Welk:  All right, team. I think our homework for this week is to taste a soju and a shōchū. Maybe side by side.


[00:07:25] Katherine Cole: Yes. I love that assignment. I’m super in. And now for a lesson in economics. Argentina has the second largest economy in South America, but its currency has been super volatile for some seven decades with periods of severe inflation and hyperinflation. So, As much as we all love Argentinian wine, this has made international trade tricky.


[00:07:54] Ruby Welk:  That’s right. So Argentina voted in its first libertarian president, Javier Milei, in December, and funny thing given that he’s a libertarian, he got right to work doing some regulating.


[00:08:05] Katherine Cole: Yeah, he’s been regulating away, and thanks to a recent piece by Amanda Barnes in Drinks Business, we know all about it. Amanda is a fantastic writer about South American wines. And she points out that when Milei took office, he immediately devalued the Argentine peso by 50%, wow, which made any Argentinian exporting products like wine happy because, of course, if you devalue your currency against other currencies, it makes your exports more competitive in the global market.


[00:08:38] Ruby Welk:  So, Milei devalued the Argentine peso in part to shrink the Argentine trade deficit. is, increase exports and decrease imports. But then, sounds like the Milei government caught on to just how delicious Argentine wine is, because he’s just announced a new export duty of 8%. Or is it 15%? I’m seeing two articles with two different export duties.


[00:09:00] Katherine Cole: Well, that’s the problem with these stories about the Argentine economy. I mean, it’s so all over the place that I lost the plot a long time ago. I feel like I just read in September that Argentina had removed its wine export duties back then, but now it seems to have added export duties back onto wine.


[00:09:18] Ruby Welk:  Interesting. Well, Katherine, are Argentinian wines any good?


[00:09:21] Katherine Cole: Heck yeah, they’re delicious. I mean, at least the ones I have tried. And as of now, generally speaking, they are a screaming deal for the quality. So, I guess I see what Milei is doing. Argentine wine is actually very well priced right now. So if he devalues the peso and makes it weaker against other currencies to encourage exports, that will make Argentinian wine even cheaper for us. Like, crazy cheap.


[00:09:48] Ruby Welk:  So that export duty will maybe balance things out. I guess just if you’re a winemaker in Argentina, I’m really sorry that you have to deal with this.


[00:09:55] Katherine Cole: Yeah, I’m sorry to all of our friends in Argentina who are making delicious high elevation wines, sorry that you have to deal with this crazy economy.  I guess our friends, our listeners who are wine buyers, keep, keep buying Argentinian wines, support our compadres down south and let’s keep that wine economy going.


[00:10:13] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, I’m definitely gonna get a bottle this week. Okay, this is a public service announcement to our vineyard owner friends, and thanks to WineBusiness.com for alerting us to this key January 11th announcement from the USDA.


[00:10:30] Katherine Cole: Yeah, it’s, it’s not often that I get excited about an official press release from a US government agency, but this was a good one. It seems that the USDA has reopened signups for its continuous conservation reserve program. So basically what we’re saying here is that the Biden administration will pay you bank, vineyard owners, for just not farming or developing your buffer zones.


[00:10:55] Ruby Welk:  Okay, so according to USDA.gov and the Farm Service Agency, in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agriculture production for 10 to 15 years. The long term goal of this program is to reestablish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.


[00:11:19] Katherine Cole: Yeah. And so if you have riparian buffers, prairie strips, grassed waterways and wetlands, any of those things, you can actually receive an additional 20 percent incentive. Wow. So, you know, the alcohol industry may not be so hot right now, but the not-planting-things-on-your-property-industry is as good as it’s ever been.


[00:11:42] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, this kind of reminds me of an article I read like two years ago, maybe two or three years ago, that NASA was looking for people for like this study…they just wanted you to sleep in a bed. And, I don’t know, it sounds like a good deal and I would take it.


[00:11:57] Katherine Cole: Yeah, I mean, yeah, I’m in. All right. For our last story, Ruby, you know those brands that just kind of make you breathe a sigh of relief when you see them? Like, okay, this is going to make me sound like a bit of a food snob, but like if I’m on a road trip and I’m in some random place, and I see that they have a Whole Foods, I’m like, oh, thank goodness. I can get my organic vegetables.


[00:12:24] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, I’m the same way with Trader Joe’s. I know what I like there. It’s a sigh of relief. And the occasional, don’t judge me, uh, Taco Bell.


[00:12:33] Katherine Cole: Ah, Taco Hell. But it could be, it could be Taco Heaven, depending on where you are in the United States.


[00:12:40] Ruby Welk:  With a Crunchwrap Supreme, anything is possible.


[00:12:42] Katherine Cole: Mmm. Well, okay, so for me, as a wine person, if I’m in some random, you know, restaurant, and I’m looking at the wine list, I feel like William Favre Chablis, that’s F E V R E, Chablis is one of those, because it’s pretty widely distributed throughout the United States. And it’s just one of those, what you see is what you get kind of wines. Wizzy wig, as we would say in the, in the design world. You just, it will not surprise you. It will just consistently deliver stone cold, minerally acidic, racy textbook Chardonnay from Burgundy’s coldest, uh, village or village, I should say. Now it’s not cheap, but you know, a basic William Favre is usually maybe 30 to 40 retail. And it’s just really quite good.


[00:13:28] Ruby Welk:  Sorry if you hear my heat clicking on in the background, um, just putting it out there. Okay, so our final wine news story of this week is that one ridiculously rich French family just sold William Fevre to another absurdly rich French family. This was reported in a number of wine news outlets this week.


[00:13:46] Katherine Cole: Right. Ruby. So if we see a story reported in numerous outlets. We just assume it must be news.


[00:13:52] Ruby Welk:  Mmhm.


[00:13:53] Katherine Cole: And so, yeah, that previous owner was the Pinault family whose investment firm group Artemis. I’m going to try and do terrible French accents for this whole news story.


[00:14:05] Ruby Welk: Mmhm. Love it.


[00:14:05] Katherine Cole: They, they own Chateau Latour in Bordeaux, Chateau-Grillet in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône. They own Araujo in the Napa Valley, and a number of other high profile estates in addition to other businesses. Oh, and side note, they also control Christie’s, the auction house, which is interesting because Christie’s sells a lot of Chateau Latour. Anyway, I digress.


[00:14:30] Ruby Welk:  Yes, the new owners are the Rothschilds. Now, this family has been wealthy and powerful for so long that I’m sure we all know the name. But within the wine world, it’s important to know that there are two branches of the family, both of which started with famous Bordeaux estates. The Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s brand owns Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, as well as a number of other wine estates, including 50 percent of Opus One in the Napa Valley.


[00:14:57] Katherine Cole: That’s right. But it’s a different branch, the Chateau Lafitte Rothschild. See, I’m going to try, or actually, Rothschild in my terrible French accent. It’s that side of the family we’re talking about here. And the actual name of the company is domaine Baron de Rothschild Lafitte. Or just DBR Lafitte. At any rate, these reshufflings of wineries between rich families are just fun to observe.


[00:15:22] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, it looks like the Artemis group has been jumping around a bit lately. They acquired Champagne Henriot in October of 2022. They turned around and sold it in October 2023. So it sounds like the Pinault family is a little hot and cold on wine in general as an investment. So is this sale good or bad for fans of William Fevre?


[00:15:43] Katherine Cole: You know, I think I’m going to say it’s a good thing, because Artemis Group is this holding company. You know, I mentioned they own the Christie’s Auction House, or they control the Christie’s Auction House. And they’re also invested in a number of other different industries that are not wine.


[00:15:56] Ruby Welk:  Yeah, it looks like they own tech companies, a French football club, Puma, the sporting goods company, art galleries.


[00:16:04] Katherine Cole: Yeah. And I’m sure the “Rootshields” or Rothschilds, however you want to say it, are invested in a lot of other things as well, but DBR Lafitte’s portfolio consists entirely of wineries and they are focused on wine and Saskia de Rothschild, who runs it, is very much focused on organic farming and sustainable practices. So I’m, I’m feeling positive for my, for my William Fevre Chablis.


[00:16:26] Ruby Welk:  Alright, Saskia, keep bringing us that dependable William Fevre Chablis, please.


[00:16:31] Katherine Cole: Yes, and I have not seen it in Trader Joe’s, so sorry to say. 


[00:16:36] Ruby Welk:  It’s alright.


[00:16:37] Katherine Cole: To thread that needle. Um, and actually, sorry, because I’m a language nerd, random aside, fèvre, uh, translates from the French as fever. So the next time you have a fever, just run to your nearest French restaurant, grab that bottle of William Fèvre from the nearest ice bucket, and put it on your forehead.


[00:16:55] Ruby Welk:  Reliable in more ways than one.


[00:16:58] Katherine Cole: Totally. And now it is time for our dessert course. What do you have for us for dessert, Ruby?


[00:17:07] Ruby Welk:  Well, I like to think I’m a bit of a trendsetter and I’ve noticed this now on TikTok and Instagram a bit, but I do have to say I’ve been doing it for over a year now, these, uh, jam jar cocktails, are you familiar with this idea?


[00:17:18] Katherine Cole: No, but I’m intrigued. Tell me more.


[00:17:21] Ruby Welk:  It’s a little bit of a spirit, so I like gin, and a little scoop of jam with some ice, and you shake it, and then you add it into a glass with some seltzer, maybe. It’s a nice, easy cocktail.


[00:17:32] Katherine Cole: Oh my gosh, that sounds delicious and so smart. What’s your gin of choice?

[00:17:38] Ruby Welk: My gin of choice, that’s what I was just going to tell you about, is, this really amazing gin. It’s called Empress Gin. I will, I will make sure to add a picture to our Instagram this week, so you can see because it’s a beautiful indigo violet purple color in the bottle, and it’s really beautiful for cocktails, and what’s really fun is that when you add an acid to the alcohol, so a squeeze of lemon or whatever, the drink turns hot pink, and, uh, it’s a really fun little party trick when you’re home making cocktails.


[00:18:09] Katherine Cole: Ooh, I love that. Nice.


[00:18:12] Ruby Welk:  Yeah.


[00:18:13] Katherine Cole: I think you need to make, uh, an Instagram reel or something for us, Ruby, because I got to see this.


[00:18:17] Ruby Welk:  A little jam jar cocktail reel. I can do that.


[00:18:23] Katherine Cole: Well, that is it for today’s podcast. I am your executive producer, Katherine Cole.


[00:18:29] Ruby Welk:  And I’m media and design manager Ruby Welkovich.


[00:18:32] Katherine Cole: And Nick Toole is our producer. He is not with us today. Keilen 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 and listen to back episodes.


[00:18:49] Ruby Welk:  And if you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes or Spotify, please do so, and importantly, please leave us a rating.


[00:18:57] Katherine Cole: Five, five stars.


[00:18:59] Ruby Welk:  Exactly.


[00:19:00] Katherine Cole: Five stars.


[00:19:01] Ruby Welk:  Every, every rating feeds the algorithm and it helps new listeners find The Four Top.


[00:19:06] Katherine Cole: That’s right. signing out from the ice cold city of Portland, Oregon in the Willamette Valley, this is Katherine Cole.


[00:19:13] Ruby Welk:  And from breezy Brooklyn, this is Ruby Welkovich signing out, stay safe out there and thanks for listening.


[00:19:19] Katherine Cole: Bye bye. 



Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:00:59] The Drinks Business: Guinness drinker who sank 81 pints was ‘quite tired’ after session

[00:06:11] The San Francisco Chronicle: This spirit was mislabeled for years — by law. That’s finally changing

[00:08:08] The Drinks Business: Argentine wineries up in arms against 8% export duties

[00:10:26] USDA Farm Service Agency: USDA to Reopen Signup for Continuous Conservation Reserve Program

[00:13:36] Le Figaro: La famille Pinault se sépare du domaine William Fèvre

[00:13:37] Wine Spectator: Château Lafite Rothschild Owners Buy Domaine William Fèvre in Chablis