Food, Wine and Branding

Rachel Ray of the Food ChannelIf there’s anyone out there who has never seen the Food Channel, this is the format: you sit on your couch and watch other people cook. The people you are watching are supposedly chefs. As an entertainment form, it’s somewhere between watching scientists conduct chemistry experiments and observing writers as they compose poetry.

Why do I say they are “supposedly” chefs? If you log on to the Food Channel website and read their bios, you’ll see that many of them have never cooked in restaurants. Even the Food Channel chefs who own restaurants are not vaguely close to the top of their profession, according to the usual standards. They do not hold Michelin stars or, for the most part, high ratings in Zagat, Gault-Millaut or the other conventional ways in which we evaluate restaurants. Rather, these folks are media personalities. They are brands, and the Food Channel describes them that way. They are chosen for their energy, enthusiasm, and ability to communicate with the audience.

Interestingly, one thing missing from The Food Channel is wine coverage. For all the popularity of wine and all the ballyhoo of the sommelier culture, food and wine pairing seems to be off limits on this station. If you do a search for wine on The Food Channel website, you’ll find recipe for wine spritzers, mulled wine and dishes with wine in the sauce, but that’s as far as it goes.

All that is about to change, as The Food Channel is partnering with California’s Wente Vineyards to bring out a line of varietals called “entwine,” designed to demonstrate the harmony between wine and food (and make some money, I suspect). Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Cabernet will be offered, and the suggested retail price will be $12.99, or roughly 20-30% more than the basic Wente releases. Wente says that Food Channel execs collaborated on the blends during an extended visit to the winery last year.

Entwine also happens to be the name of a wine bar in New York’s West Village as well as a gothic metal band that has been recording since 1995, so a trademark infringement battle may be looming. In the meantime, we can turn on the tube and watch chefs drinking it.

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