My introduction to pay to play occurred after I’d just published
a book on rosé. I was approached by one of the top three rosé
brands. They were looking to partner with me and Piora, the
since-closed Michelin-starred restaurant where I was the wine
director. A few emails were sent before the in-person shakedown.
At the tiny restaurant, I was bombarded with drop-ins from these
reps trying to strong-arm me into representing their brand. The
deal was that they would give me a couple thousand in cash to be
an ambassador, and I would have to buy their rosé to pour by the
glass for the summer. If I needed to make better margins, like
making $10 off a glass of rosé versus making $5 off a glass of
rosé, they also offered to drive by and drop off a couple of cases
of free product. Horrified, I turned down the deal.
Sommeliers around New York have told me they’ve been offered
incentives from big brands too. Wineries will come into the
restaurant and swipe their credit cards, theoretically expensing
a meal. In reality, the swipe is a bonus, with no meal actually
taking place. Other sommeliers mentioned that brands will drop
off a free case of wine or offer to supplement the somm’s income
with funds from their bosses. Someone even called it
I had no idea until a few weeks ago just how popular rosé has become. What a racket — and unsurprising that the stuff the big brands are pushing is mediocre at best.