Keeping the 'bs' in PBS

The Public Broadcasting System, seeing the money rolling into network and cable stations from cashing in on the insatiable public demand for reality shows, has decided to get in on the act.

PBS' "Wine Makers," a reality competition set for 2007, will pit 12 contestants vying for the chance to launch their own label.

The twist is that financing the series requires a new sponsorship model, rather than the method PBS has long used to keep its pristine character from being besmirched by godless commercialism,

Instead of quick, nearly-generic tag lines presented along with the PBS underwriters' logos, the new show will provide what PBS calls "top-tier sponsors" a five- to 15-second spot before and after the half-hour show.

Let's review. Sponsors will give PBS money to give them air time for 5- to 15-second spots about their products and services. Funny, in the real world they refer to those as, how you say, commercials !

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the former Paso Robles Vintners & Growers Association which promotes wines from California's central coast, is the first to sign up.

Plans call for the eight-episode series to employ the usual toss-'em-out-weekly model, with the original field of 12 contestants pared by half in the first two episodes. The contestants will live together like other reality series, and a rotating group of judges will decide on their skills in various aspects of winemaking.

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Jacob's Creek popping its corks

It's about time to retire all those old jokes about bad wines and screw caps.

Jacob's Creek (the namesake stream is seen here), a respectable name on the Australian wine scene, is getting rid of corks on all its wines and using twist-off caps to, as a company announcement put it, safeguard the "quality and consistency" of its wines.

All of the winery's lower-priced wines will convert in the next few months, to be followed by the same move for its premium Heritage Range wines by late in 2007.

Adrian Atkinson, development director at parent company Pernod Ricard, said in a statement, "'Responding to the demands of retailers, consumers and our wine-making team, the decision has been taken to put the entire Jacob's Creek range under screw cap in order to preserve fruit flavours and guarantee consistently high quality."

The matter of screwtops vs. corks has been heatedly debated for several years. Proponents of the change say screwtops prevent contamination of wines. Those in favor of corks say the small amount of oxygen they allow into the wine helps the aging process.

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Putting all their wines in one state basket

New York wines have a continually growing reputation, particularly in the realm of rieslings and red blends. But trying to find a source offering a wide range of what the state's 240 wineries produce is next to impossible.

People living in or near the state capital, however, will be finding their search a lot easier if a new wine shop in the old mill city of Cohoes, just outside Albany, takes hold.

The Harmony House Marketplace, located in a 175-year-old building on Remsen Street, opened this week selling only New York brand wines. The owners are Diane Conroy-LaCivita and Jane LaCivita Clemente.

Conroy-LaCivita, a former municipal clerk and high school social studies teacher, said she and her partner will carry about 138 brands from 40-50 wineries in their 700-square-foot shop. Their goal is to raise that to 90 to 100 wineries.

The city of Cohoes helped the entrepreneurs with grants and other incentives. Conroy-LaCivita said the upfront investment for renovations and other expenses was more than $300,000.

One of the major marketing problems New York wineries traditionally have faced is that few but the very largest companies -- Dr. Konstantin Frank, Herman Weimer and the like -- have enough customers outside their immediate neighborhoods. Most are small-scale producers whose output is snapped up by visitors to the wineries and by nearby stores and restaurants.

The new partners latched on to the New York-only concept after taking several classes at Schenectady County Community College, then embarking on some self-education in the wine world.

"We realized New York had a wide range of very good wines,'' Conroy-LaCivita told me. "We like the idea of supporting state businesses, the ecology, sustainable agriculture, and all those things can work together.''

The shop owners also like the idea of building relationships directly with the winemakers and wineries, something they wouldn't be doing if they handled imported wines.

"We've already visited many of the wineries in the state and started developing close relationships with some of them,'' Conroy-LaCivita says, although she concedes there sometimes is a problem with availability of small-batch wines and
wholesale pricing to vendors.

Harmony House Marketplace (238-2233), 184 Remsen St., is open every day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tastings are scheduled each Friday.

For a video, created by Kathleen Lisson, with the entrepreneurs click here.

Just what wine would a wine buyer buy if a ...

If the buyer for the largest wine superstore in the United States were asked to select a mixed case of wines from the 15,000 his store stocks, what would he choose?

If you guessed a propensity for California labels, you'd be correct. Three of Shawn Lightfoot's picks from among 12 in the case were from California, with threee others also coming from the West Coast, two from Washington and one from Oregon.

The selection was done at the behest of U.S. News & World Report. The magazine contacted Lightfoot at Applejack Wine & Spirits in Denver and asked him to select a case using any vintage or variety, but limited to a total price of $250.

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