Ep. 145: The Curse of the Blue Nun

A winery uses AI to sexy up its team, do backflips, and oh yeah, sell wine. Californians are scrambling for last resort fire insurance. We've definitely identified the economic sweet spots for the wine industry. The curse of the blue nun has been lifted. These are the wine news stories we're following this week. 

[00:00:00] Nick Toole: Guys, I don’t know if you know this, but I studied political science in college, so I’ve really got my finger on the political pulse, and Super Tuesday and the State of the Union were just a couple of weeks ago, and I just really feel like politics are in the air right now.

[00:00:16] Katherine Cole: Yeah, well, I’ve got some political news for you, Nick. Here in Portland, a cidermaker is running for city council. Here, I’ll put the link in the chat.

[00:00:27] Ruby Welkovich: Ooh, Reverend Nat for city council. Wait, is he a cidermaker or a minister?

[00:00:32] Katherine Cole: Well, Nat West is an ordained minister, but he and his eponymous cider brand got the title Reverend because he has been a real evangelist for fine American cidermaking.

[00:00:44] Nick Toole: Yeah, I actually, I read a piece about Nat West, that was written by former Four Top guest Jeff Allworth. And, from what I understand, he led what you might call the kind of first wave of cider experimentation. So, Reverend Nat was among the first to make things like fire cider and experiment with different yeast and bacteria, which I always think is pretty fun. And he messed around with a bunch of different types of barrels and fruits, and he kind of reminds me of craft brewing trailblazers like the folks at, uh, like Lost Abbey, Cascade, New Glarus, or my own Allagash. And for the record, I left a lot of names out, so do not come at me online, please.

[00:01:22] Katherine Cole: I’m sure no one will. You know, I think the good reverend actually has a good chance of winning that seat. After all, the wonderful winemaker, Remy Drabkin, is the mayor of McMinnville, Oregon, so there is precedent here.

[00:01:36] Ruby Welkovich: And you know, a lot of celebrities have run for office. Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan. I guess in Oregon, your idea of a celebrity is someone who knows their way around a fermentation tank.

[00:01:40] Nick Toole: Well, actually Donald Trump does have his own wine brand, so I can only assume he knows his way around a fermentation tank. 

[00:02:20] Katherine Cole:A winery uses AI to sexy up its team, do backflips, and oh yeah, sell wine. Californians are scrambling for last resort fire insurance. We’ve definitely identified the economic sweet spots for the wine industry. And the curse of the blue nun has been lifted. These are the four wine news stories at our table right now in episode 145 of The Four Top. I’m your host, Katherine Cole, joined by Ruby Welkovich and Nick Toole.

[00:02:32] Ruby Welkovich: Let’s kick things off with a story about marketing. I think we may soon need to do a weekly AI segment because brands have begun working AI into their marketing materials, and it’s pretty interesting.

[00:02:42] Katherine Cole: Oh, are we talking like deep fakes of Robert Parker endorsing wine coolers?

[00:02:47] Ruby Welkovich: No, no, nothing like that. Today’s story comes to us thanks to James Evison of The Drinks Business and is about Grandes Vinos and their El Circo brand. They’ve created a web app that uses AI to tell the El Circo story. It’s weird and cool at the same time.

[00:03:02] Katherine Cole: And can I add kind of sexy? I mean, at least on the El Circo feed, and Circo means circus, of course, AI has transformed their winemaker and other company managers into circus performers and they are looking hot. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:03:16] Nick Toole: Uh, okay. I had the chance to use the app and I think like Ruby said, weird and cool is absolutely the way to describe it. It made me think a little bit about actually episode 140 when we discussed micro-dosing. So if you like mushrooms with your vino, this AI experience might be the thing for you.

[00:03:35] Katherine Cole: Ooh, what does this app do? I’m intrigued

[00:03:38] Nick Toole: Well, at first, one of these Elco managers turned AI Circus performers greets you and tells you a little bit about the experience, and then you’re asked to select an element that influences wine like earth, water, or sun. Then you choose an El Circo wine variety, and then you choose a mood like cheerful or exciting. And the AI generates a short, very trippy circus inspired video based on your selections.

[00:04:02] Ruby Welkovich: I don’t know much about trippy, but that sounds like an accurate descriptor. It’s definitely cool. Honestly, you don’t learn a lot about the wine, but you know, that’s, it’s worth checking out the app. You don’t have to download it. It will load on your phone or computer browser, with a QR code. And just FYI, once you’re in it, you’ll see the options Nick described on these cards that you swipe left or right to select. Kind of like a dating app.

[00:04:23] Katherine Cole: Hmm interesting. Well listeners, we will make sure to throw this up on our social media feed for you to see. This reminds me also that just last week, the EU parliament passed the world’s first major regulations to govern how AI is used in media environments. Now, it sounds like the type of thing El Circo is doing would be absolutely fine, but you would get in trouble for making fake videos of, you know, Jancis Robinson pounding white claw.

[00:04:49] Ruby Welkovich: Oh well, I guess I have to delete my most recent project then. Alright, who wants to talk about insurance?

[00:04:58] Nick Toole: Ooh, pick me, pick me.

[00:05:00] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, Nick, take it away.

[00:05:01] Nick Toole: Yay. Insurance. No. Okay. So, uh, jokes aside, as climate change makes livable areas unlivable, we’re seeing property insurance companies deny and even cancel coverage in high risk areas at an alarming rate. And this is especially true in states like, I’ve heard about Florida and California. And we’ve heard from vineyard and winery owners that they’re having trouble obtaining and keeping insurance, which is scary. California actually sponsors a non-profit state affiliated insurer called the California Fair Plan to address this problem. And for better or worse, it is writing policies like crazy. So in February alone, just last month, this state insurer wrote up 15, 000 new policies.

[00:05:45] Katherine Cole: Yeah, Stephen Hobbs reported on this for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat just this past week. And FAIR, that’s F A I R, is supposed to be, quote, last resort insurance. But state regulators are concerned because between the threat of wildfires and record flooding, California property owners are rushing to sign up for FAIR as a first resort. Now, the problem is, if this system is used too much, the entire insurance system could collapse. As Hobbes explains it, one massive wildfire could wipe out the fair plan’s cash reserves, which would pull in the traditional insurance policies that it has taken out on its own services, which might in turn have a negative impact on the insurance system, and lead to a massive exodus of insurers from the state of California. If you follow me, basically what I’m saying there is we’re screwed.

[00:06:36] Ruby Welkovich: Yikes.

[00:06:37] Nick Toole: Yikes.

[00:06:41] Katherine Cole: And in economic news this week, the outlook is, well, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay for 2024. It’s meh, it’s come see, come saw,

[00:06:50] Nick Toole: It’s kind of like when you’re at the grocery store and you see that neighbor who you never really talk to and they’re all polite, you know, and they’re like, Hey, how are you?

And then you stop and you say, you know, I’m glad you asked because I was just talking to my therapist about this. And it’s like, how am I, who, who am I?

[00:07:08] Ruby Welkovich: Katherine, can we get back to the economic news?

[00:07:10] Katherine Cole: Right? Yeah. So, you know, Nick is onto something because everyone in the wine industry is basically having an existential crisis right now after a really, really challenging 2023. So, for 2024, it sounds like there’s good news and there’s bad news. In good news, at ProWein this week, Drinks Business caught up with Chris Indelicato. He’s the president of the U.S.’s fifth largest wine company, Delicato. Now, Indelicato predicted that the sluggish wine industry will see a turnaround in the middle of this year, followed by a slow recovery next year. Oh, and Nick, whatever joke you’re thinking about cracking about the fact that the family name is Indelicato and the brand Delicato, I assure you that joke has already been made.

[00:07:56] Nick Toole: Oh, damn it. All right. Then stifle me. All right. Looks like Indelicato attributes 2023’s abysmal sales numbers to stocks of wine that were amassed in COVID. So apparently there’s all this COVID-era wine inventory sitting in warehouses and people’s personal cellars. Last year, everyone pulled back on spending due to inflation and other factors, but those back inventories will run out soon, snd when that happens, consumers will be stocking back up, or at least we hope.

[00:08:25] Ruby Welkovich: But let’s be clear, folks. Delicato makes supermarket wines at supermarket prices. These are brands like Bota Box and Gnarlyhead. They are not luxury wine labels.

[00:08:34] Katherine Cole: You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned that, Ruby, because in Wine Industry Advisor recently, Jeff Siegel analyzed SIP Sources annual report on the wholesale wine and spirit sector, and while he notes that wholesale inventories quote, remain bloated, kind of love that wording, um, table wines in the 11 to 25 price range had the, well, the least horrible of a horrible year.

So, you know, supermarket wines seem to be doing well.

[00:09:02] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I found that interesting. A couple of other interesting observations were that younger consumers prefer lighter, more refreshing wines, and Prosecco sales are still going strong. I mean, why bother with all of this industry analysis? Just ask me, Ruby, your  Brooklyn based actress. I can tell you what the kids are drinking, it’s light, fizzy, quaffable, smashable.

[00:09:21] Katherine Cole: Oh my gosh, Ruby, you are the Nostradamus of the wine industry.

[00:09:26] Ruby Welkovich: You know it.

[00:09:30] Nick Toole: Our final story this week is about a Blue Nun.

[00:09:34] Ruby Welkovich: A what? Like from the sound of music?

[00:09:37] Katherine Cole: No guys, a blue nun. It’s like Mateus, or Lancers, or like, you know, Riunite, or…

[00:09:42] Nick Toole: I literally have no, no idea what you’re talking about. I know what red nuns are, like the coastal navigational buoys.

[00:09:50] Katherine Cole: Okay, that’s a Maine reference that no one’s going to get, but Blue Nun, guys, Blue Nun, iconic blue bottle, you know, Liebfraumilch.

[00:09:57] Ruby Welkovich: Uh, Katherine, I think you might be having a stroke. Are you feeling any numbness in your limbs?

[00:10:02] Katherine Cole: Guys, no, Liebfraumilch. It’s, it’s a traditional German white wine. It can be a blend of Riesling, Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau…Google it.

[00:10:12] Nick Toole: I did, I did. While you were explaining the inexplicable, I I did, and I Google translated it and it’s telling me that it means dear woman milk, which I don’t know if I’m comfortable saying that phrase, uh, and then Wikipedia says it’s our lady’s milk, another uncomfortable phrase, and some sort of reference to the Virgin Mary?

[00:10:33] Katherine Cole: Uh…

[00:10:34] Ruby Welkovich: Oh god, it looks like they don’t call it that anymore. Now they call it, quote, authentic white, whatever that means. But maybe the nun came from the Virgin Mary reference? Maybe we should ask Reverend Nat what he thinks about all of these religious references. They sound kind of demented to me.

[00:10:49] Katherine Cole: Oh yeah, Reverend Nat would be a good resource. Well guys, take my word for it, Blue Nun was the White Claw of the 1970s and 1980s. It was everywhere. It showed up in song lyrics and movies. It was this whole deal. It was kind of like, I don’t know if you remember 10 years ago when every single rap song seemed to reference Moscato. So Blue Nun, like Moscato, was this light semi-sweet wine, but it came in a blue bottle.

[00:11:14] Nick Toole: Okay, so, catching up here. According to Vitisphere, which we found via Wine-Searcher, Blue Nun’s German holding company has been acquired by a French company, Grands Chais de France, which is interesting, because this brand is carrying a lot of very German baggage,

[00:11:29] Katherine Cole: Yeah, so Blue Nun famously brought what is known as the curse of the Blue Nun down upon the German Riesling market. This was about, I would say, 20 to 30 years ago. The wine was so cheap and so sweet and banal that it was thought to have pretty much torpedoed quality Riesling sales because when people heard the word Riesling, all they could think of was Blue Nun, so they didn’t buy Riesling.

[00:11:51] Ruby Welkovich: So it sounds like it doesn’t matter all that much that this German brand is now owned by a French company. Except maybe the curse will be lifted.

[00:11:58] Nick Toole: Only to be replaced by the curse of the White Claw.

[00:12:02] Ruby Welkovich: Oh, that curse has already befallen us. It’s called White Claw Zero, which is White Claw with zero alcohol. I just saw an ad for it on Instagram and I honestly thought it was an April fool’s joke. Maybe it still is. I have no idea. But anyway, they’re billing it as premium seltzer.

[00:12:18] Katherine Cole: Like I would want to drink White Claw just for the flavor. Uh, anyway. Well, so, you know, maybe in a hundred years or so, a, uh, French, uh, seltzer conglomerate will acquire it and rename it

[00:12:30] Nick Toole: Oh. 

[00:12:35] Katherine Cole: So, listeners, if you follow us on social media, you know that we post a question each week, and we love reading your feedback. So please keep it coming. But this week, hey, you know what? I’m just going to talk about my own work. I’m just going to log roll for myself. Um, I got so much unsolicited response to a column I wrote for Decanter. I’ve just been loving it and I wanted to say, keep it coming folks. So check it out. It’s on decanter.com. The column is entitled: Yes, we are all doomed to die, but wine won’t do us in. This is kind of a followup to the wine and health coverage we’ve been doing on The Four Top. And I have been receiving just so many encouraging texts and emails from winemakers who really want to talk about this subject, and I would love to hear from more of you. So please hop on to whatever your favorite social media flavor is, and comment either on The Four Top feeds or, or any of my feeds and let us know what you thought about that article. Thanks. And now it is time for our dessert course, and I think Ruby is up to bat this week.

[00:13:39] Ruby Welkovich: Yes, I recently discovered a new hummus brand and I’m like, honestly, seriously addicted to it, which is funny because I’m not usually a big hummus person, but this brand, it’s called Little Sesame and specifically I, I’ve been trying their caramelized onion flavor. It’s really good. So if you like hummus or you need a snack with your wine and cheese, check it out. Little Sesame.

[00:14:02] Katherine Cole: I am definitely going to because I’m always looking for snacks to put out with wine. So thanks.

[00:14:08] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, you’re welcome.

[00:14:09] Nick Toole: Based on the branding that I’m seeing here, I’m guessing you buy your hummus the same way you buy your wine, which is based on branding.

[00:14:16] Katherine Cole: Very…

[00:14:17] Ruby Welkovich: That feels like an attack and it’s also absolutely true.

[00:14:23] Katherine Cole: All right. Well, this has been The Four Top podcast. I am our executive producer, Katherine Cole.

[00:14:28] Nick Toole: I’m our producer, Nick Toole.

[00:14:30] Ruby Welkovich: And I’m media and design manager Ruby Welkovich.

[00:14:32] Katherine Cole: Kielen King is our sound supervisor and the composer and performer of our wonderful theme music. Please visit our website, thefourtop.org to learn more about us, listen to back episodes, and learn how to sponsor our work.

[00:14:46] Ruby Welkovich: And if you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes or Spotify, please do so and please leave us a rating.

[00:14:52] Nick Toole: And we have an insider tip for you Spotify users. If you go to The Four Top’s landing page and click the bell icon, you’ll receive notifications every time we drop a new episode. So you do not miss one

[00:15:02] Katherine Cole: All right. Well, from the AI circus tent that is the city of Portland, Oregon, This is Katherine signing off.

[00:15:09] Nick Toole: From one of only two states that split its electoral votes, this is Nick signing off.

[00:15:14] Ruby Welkovich: And from light, fizzy, quaffable, smashable Brooklyn, New York, this is Ruby signing out. Stay safe out there and thanks for listening.



Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:02:50] The Drinks Business: ProWein: Spanish wine producer trials AI app

[00:04:38] CNBC: World’s first major act to regulate AI passed by European lawmakers

[00:05:27] The Press Democrat: California’s property insurer of last resort adds record number of policies in February

[00:07:29] The Drinks Business: Turnaround predicted for wine sales in the US in 2024

[00:08:36] More Bad News: SipSource Report Pulls No Punches

[00:11:16] Vitisphere: Les Grands Chais de France toujours plus Grands Chais d’Allemagne

[00:11:18] Wine-Searcher: Blue Nun Turns French