Musty Bunches - Tales from the Spit Bucket

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Summer. The silly season. The time when the world's press is filled with non-stories about skateboarding rabbits and where George W goes to work when he's not busy holidaying. A time, in other words, when nothing much happens.

So, despite being en vacances in the Dordogne, Musty has sat back with a traditional glass of Southern French 100% Cabernet, thrown another slice of horse on her barbecue, and come up with a few special silly season news stories of her own.

These, remember, are complete fabrication so no "Dear Editor" letters please, as I've promised the boss that I'd try not to upset anyone, at least until the end of his hols.

However just to make things interesting, one of these stories could, according to the rumour-mill, be true. Can you guess which one it is yet kids?

Allied Domecq Shares Soar

Allied Domecq's shareholders were cracking open the bottles of Mumm Champagne last night following yet another meteoric rise in stock value. This is the third time in six weeks that the shares have doubled in value and puts Allied's share price above Diageo's for the first time.

The City was reacting to recent sales figures, which show that sales of AD's core brands, Beefeater, Mumm, Ballantine's and Tia Maria have shown improvements of between 50 and 80% in the last 12 months. But even this impressive performance was dwarfed by Courvoisier. Sales of the much-loved Cognac were almost double those for the same period in 2000, as Generation Xers everywhere rejected the traditional club culture of Ecstasy and pre-mixers in favour of Mantovani, XO Cognac and ice.

"This just goes to show that you don't need to spend any money on marketing to create successful products," said Allied's CEO Philip Bowman. "Our ground-breaking policy of "positive inaction" will revolutionise the way that the world goes about its marketing in the future."

Over at Diageo, meanwhile, the announcement of Allied's stunning figures was further bad news for the drinks industry's one-time trailblazer, whose very existence is now under threat.

"This is just what we didn't want," said one UDV employee. "The guys at Allied are really stepping up the pressure on us. If it goes on much longer, I can't see there being a place for Diageo in the drinks industry at all."

For Diageo, the message is stark: adapt or face the consequences.

"Our management need to come up with a counter-strategy and fast," continued the UDV source. "I'm not saying that ignoring our brands completely is the only way we can compete with AD, but their strategy has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. I really think we can learn something from them."

Glassy-winged Sharpshooter 'Sent by God'

The glassy-winged sharpshooter, the insect that is threatening to bring such devastation to California's vineyards, is not a freak of nature, but a dramatic warning direct from God, according to an American religious cult.

"Och, it couldnae be clearer," said a spokesman for the Brothers and Sisters of Jesus against Wine. "First there was phylloxera, then there was white Zinfandel, now there's this sharpshooter thing. God disnae want California tae produce wine - or mankind to drink it. How else do you explain the success of Gallo?"

Surprisingly, the cult is not against alcohol per se - only wine. "There's nothing wrong wi' a wee drink," said the spokesman, though he did caution that their research had also conclusively proven that Cognac, Tequila, rum, vodka and gin were "the chosen nip of Beelzebub".

"Really, if ye want tae be safe, ye should stick to a good holy drink like Scotch," he concluded. "That's what our good lord drank after all. If everybody drank whisky, the world would be a better place."

'Six Pack' Montana Battle Finally Over

After months of boardroom wrangling, the way finally looks clear for Allied Domecq to conclude its purchase of New Zealand's wine industry. Early this morning, the Chairman of Lion Nathan contacted the drinks' giant to confirm that his company was pulling out of the bidding process once and for all.

"Seven months ago, me and some of the boys from the board were having a few drinks and they bet me first of all that I wouldn't dare put in a bid for Montana, then if I did that I couldn't keep the whole process going for six months. Well, I've always liked a challenge, so that was like a red rag to a bull. Even though it's cost both us and Allied a fortune, I've won my wager, and I'll be picking up that six-pack of beers from them in the morning."

While this might come as a shock to drinks industry analysts and editors of hard news web-sites, most of whom seem to have thought that the Lion Nathan bid was a sincere one, Allied Domecq appears to have had its suspicions all along.

"We thought it might all have been a big joke," said a spokesman at AD. "After all, what on earth would Lion Nathan want with a big wine brand? But we decided that it would be bad sport not to play along, and actually it's been rather fun."

"Merlot Murder" has police baffled

Police in France are treating as suspicious the death of a wine journalist, who was found floating face down in a fermenting vat full of Merlot at a Chateau in St Emilion at the weekend.

The dead man, Jean-Pierre Salopette, was an investigative journalist for the Revue des Vins and a man both feared and respected by the French wine establishment for his fearlessness and tenacity.

Five years ago, Salopette blew the whistle on a cartel of unscrupulous Chablis producers who were using trained monkeys to pick their grapes to save money. The ensuing furore saw a global boycott of Burgundy that drove many vignerons out of business.

Until his death, Monsieur Salopette had been engaged on an undercover operation that threatened to be even more controversial than the "picked by monkeys" scandal.

"In Bordeaux, they say every vintage is better than the last," he said in a television interview just days before he disappeared. "But this just isn't possible. Vintages everywhere go up and down, why should Bordeaux be any different?

"This is all just a big scam to charge more money, and I aim to expose the deception for the fraud that it is."

But some feel that Salopette's principled crusade made him an easy target for the mobsters who run Bordeaux, and for whom claret is a big-bucks operation.
"Merlot is money," said one of Salopette's colleagues. "You don't take these guys on in public without some sort of police protection, but Jean wouldn't listen."

Meanwhile, the signals coming out of the trade were unequivocal.

"I can't say I'm sorry to see him go," said one, who gave his profession as "chateau owner". "He was always coming round here with his fancy theories, stirring up trouble. Now he's yesterday's vintage. What can I say? Maybe it was an accident, maybe it wasn't. What I do know is that people will think twice before crossing the Bordeaux negotiants again."

Parker goes to Hollywood

Hollywood is abuzz with the news that Francis Ford Coppola, the film director known for such classic works as The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, is planning a new cinematic project based on the life of US wine critic Robert Parker.

Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and even Jodie Foster have all expressed an interest in playing the former lawyer, though Coppola is rumoured to prefer De Niro for the role. The movie, tentatively titled The Good, The Bad and The Ugni will show Parker as the one-time star taster from the LAPD (Los Angeles Palate Department).
Tough and straight-talking, the Man with the Golden Gums' uncompromising attitude and obsession with huge dark berry fruit soon bring him into conflict with his superiors, and after mistaking a 'dry' Californian Chardonnay for a dessert wine, Bob is relieved of his tastevin and made to leave the force.

"You can take away my spittoon, but you'll never stop me tasting," he tells his boss, before heading off to Bordeaux 'on a hunch'. "If you want to kill a snake, you strike for the head," he says.

There, his plain speaking and incomprehensible '50 out of 100' scoring system catches the attention of the local Merlot Mafia who do their best to ruin his reputation by sneaking Romanee Conti into flights of Claret to catch him out. And when Bob falls for the daughter of a local vigneron, grape skins start to fly…

Billed as an (extr)action movie, The Good The Bad and the Ugni is expected to open in the US early in 2003.

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