Friday, 2 April 2010

Kim Jong-Il and Chateau Latour

Are you sitting comfortybold two-square on your botty? Then I'll begin. Decanter's April Fools story backfired massively yesterday when its website was forced to publish a retraction. Yes, (I think we can assume it is unlikely that Decanter planned the retraction as part of its day of fun) it was forced to publish a retraction of a joke.

Just take a minute to think about that.

Right. Let us continue. The original story went something along the lines of Kim Jong-Il buying up the entire 2009 allocation of Château Latour's second wine, Les Forts de Latour, after sending a crack team to Bordeaux to the En Primeur barrel tastings.

He was rumoured, the story went, to be enamoured of reports of the wine's balance and length, and had bought the wines at the same price as last year's first growths (around €100).

Now, it is obvious that someone didn't see the funny side. You could argue, like Tim Atkin did on Twitter, that the whole story wasn't very funny. To be fair to Tim, I can see his point. But it's worth remembering that Atkin won't need two excuses to stick a knife into Decanter's back (even a tiny one) considering they're rivals as far as wine competitions are concerned.

And not everyone laughs at April Fools jokes. Indeed, previous Decanter attempts were not, in themselves, overly amusing (one of the most popular - the naming of a sixth First Growth - is a case in point). Therefore it can't be retracted because it's not funny. So who asked them to pull the story?

Well, it could have been Kim Jong-Il. Assuming he turns a blind eye to his fleet of Mercedes cars, he might have seen an association with a product so deeply decadent and obviously capitalist as a Bordeaux First Growth as an insult. Yes, you might say that shows precious little sense of humour but one can, perhaps, quickly forgive our dear leader for such faults.

Or it could have been Château Latour.

The first possibility is that Latour were genuinely concerned that this 'story' would damage sales of Les Forts de Latour - or Latour itself. You might think this is a bit far-fetched but look at the language of Decanter's retraction: it says little of any offence caused but seeks to reassure people that 'Forts de Latour will be available as normal'.

Now I probably don't need to tell you that if an April Fools story has a First Growth Bordeaux château worried about the impact it might have on sales, Bordeaux is in a great deal more financial trouble than it is letting on. In fact, it's terrifying.

The second possibility is that Latour did not like the association with North Korea. This is, perhaps, fair enough. You certainly wouldn't want your customers (these days they're probably hedge-fund managers or Wall St bankers or Russian oligarchs) to think you'll be doing business with dangerous communists. Nor would they want your average person to think they were associated with such objects of anger/ridicule as the ruling party of North Korea.

But if that's true, we have to forget that Bordeaux has been positively stepping over itself to tell everyone how much interest it gets from that other commmunist power (and North Korean neighbour): China. Indeed, Latour's distant brother Lafite has even invested in that dubious country.

And what about the ethics Latour is trying to protect? If it doesn't want the bankers and the oligarchs to worry about it dealing with someone as unpopular as Kim Jong-Il, why is it not worried about how average people view its wines (as consumed by people as unpopular as bankers and oligarchs)?

In fact, top wine has a long history of pleasing despots (and some producers are even proud of the association): Cristal went to the Czars, Napoleon liked Chambertin and de Gaulle swore by Drappier.

Maybe it was the First Growths acting together to stop the story? But then I doubt that - from everything I hear, Latour doesn't exactly sit well at the table with the other four.

So you have to admit, whether or not the joke is funny, either Kim Jong-Il or Château Latour are pretty insecure to get upset about it. Unfortunately, they're also very damned angry. So from now on, there will be no laughing at North Korea or Frédéric Engerer, they will be taken seriously, there is nothing to laugh about in either of their cases, and no matter how bad the joke, they will not stand for it.

Scared? I'm terrified.

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