If I came to you with a business plan—say, I wanted you to invest in a wine label, then explained that my marketing hook was to name it in after a vicious double murderer—a man first convicted of killing a bartender (come on: your boss, maybe; your spouse, potentially; but who in the world would kill their bartender?) then of stabbing to death a prison guard (a crime for which he was sentenced to hang)—I’d say ‘genius!??’ and you’d tell me to go pound sand. Or break rocks; better idiom.
Ah, but those clever strategists at Big House Wine Co. know better than you. Like me, they see the ka-ching in dark humor.
Big House Wine, as has been reported previously by this otherwise law-abiding hack, has seen fit to get mileage from their home base in Soledad, which the public’s mind (they surmise) instantly free-associates with Soledad Correctional Facility—even though it hasn’t been in operation for a decade. Thus, their wine portfolio contains wines with names linked to all things prison. Not only that, but they call their winemaker, Georgetta Dane, ‘Warden’, refer to her technique as ‘surveillance’, her wine specs as a ‘rap sheet’ and call the results ‘criminally delicious’.
These folks are seriously over the top.
I Am Not A Ghetto Hustler.
If you can believe it, despite my obvious wealth of ‘street smarts’ and even for Detroit, my nearly breathtaking grasp of gangsta dogma, I’m really less a hardened thug and more a literary weenie with mommy issues. Rather than exploit society’s most bloodthirsty and unreformable delinquents, if it were me I would have drawn attention to the fact that Soledad was also the backdrop for Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men—thus, I’d offer wines like Lennie Small Clusters Zinfandel, Curley Cab and Aunt Claret Meritage.
Instead, you have Big House’s endless paean to incarcerated and insane losers: ‘Unchained Chardonnay’, ‘The Usual Suspect Cabernet’, ‘Cardinal Zin Zinfandel’ and ‘Constitutionally Forbidden Torture, But Heck, We All Know It Goes On Anyway Thanks To DICK FRIGGIN’ CHENEY Merlot’.
OK, maybe not the last one, but the others, absolutely.
I recently received a couple of new releases from Big House, both maintaining the statesville motif. First, Slammer Syrah, which is a peppery, ten-dollar mouthful of cedar, blackberry and blueberry with a dusting of cocoa at the finish. California syrah country is mostly south of the Bay, and these grapes are sourced from the Central Coast—an expansive region contains nearly 30 smaller AVAs and a remarkable diversity of soils and microclimates.
But, on to the homicide hootch. The Birdman Pinot Grigio is a nod to Robert Stroud, among the most violent jailbirds ever to land in the American penal system—a morphine addict routinely segregated from the general population because of his relentlessly psychopathic shenanigans. 1962’s The Birdman of Alcatraz is misnamed, of course: Alcatraz did not allow Stroud to keep birds, and he did all his ornithologicalizing at Leavenworth. He didn’t look much like Burt Lancaster either.
And, as another point of fact, he never served time in Soledad.
But, listen up, Big House: For future vintages, there are a number of notorious goons who did. How about ‘Eldridge Cleaver Cinsault’, ‘Juan Corona Corona’ (that’s beer, but why step on a joke?) and my personal high-water mark of an idea: ‘Donald DeFreeze Ice Wine’.
As for Birdman, it is a predictable $10 California pinot grigio; aromatic with citrus and melon, soft and not too acidic. It’s a style which has caught fire in the state, and acreage planted to pinot grigio (especially in San Joaquin and Monterey) has grown more than five-fold in the past decade.
Both the Birdman and Slammer are solid bargains. I’m not sure if I’d bust out of prison to seek them out, but they do well as accompaniments to most meals—even your last one.
Big House, ‘The Slammer’ Syrah, Central Coast, 2009, about $10
Big House, ‘The Birdman’ Pinot Grigio, California, 2010, about $10