Ambiguously Gay Marketing, French Bocce, & a CA 2nd Label (Sampling Pétanque)

Vinted on June 18, 2009 binned in wine review

I liked Mike Brunson almost immediately.

When I met the Michel-Schlumberger winemaker, it was a brilliantly sunny and warm October day in Sonoma, and the Michel-Schlumberger estate was certainly living up to its reputation in terms of gorgeous places to visit in Dry Creek Valley.

Mike seemed pretty down to earth for someone who was making a go at creating ‘prestige cuvee’ style wines that retail for $50+ a bottle.  He certainly knew the estate property like the back of his hand, and was clearly committed to understanding every aspect of biodynamic wine grape cultivation.

What sealed the deal for me, though, was when we started chatting about the winery’s dog.

“You can learn a lot about somebody from how they treat dogs,” he said.  “That and whether or not they like Reggae.”

As far as I was concerned, truer words have rarely been spoken.

Of course, it helps that Michel-Schlumberger pumps out some really tasty (though pricey) wine, and that my visit will forever be etched into the ‘happy-place’ recesses of my memory, not because of the beauty of the grounds (which were stunning), but because lunch consisted of the tastiest portion of pork shoulder that has ever crossed my lips.  It was the kind of pork that I imagine would be served to carnivores in heaven.

So what does this have to do with French Bocce, or ambiguously gay marketing?

A lot, actually….

I recently received samples of a new line of wines from Michel-Schlumberger, named Pétanque after the French lawn game of the same name (which is sort of like bocce, but with metal balls).  Seems that the Michel-Schlumberger folks were so enamored with their wine estate’s Pétanque court that they decided to make the game a cornerstone of the branding and marketing efforts for their new line of ‘second label’ wines, which in the French winemaking tradition are usually made as lower-cost wines for everyday enjoyment.

Mike is also the winemaker for the Pétanque wines brand, and he offers this bit of helpful advice for distinguishing Pétanque (the game) from Bocce:

“If you mix up Pétanque and Bocce, just remember that Pétanque has metal boules and Bocce has wooden balls. If you were to try and mix the two sports, you won’t end up with a new game, you’ll just end up with a bunch of broken wooden Bocce balls.”

So that covers the French bocce part.

Which brings us to the ambiguously gay marketing part…

First, I should say that I tasted the Pétanque protfolio (Syrah, Cab, Chardonnay, and Sauv Blanc) and I was impressed – the wines are approachable, and very California (a.k.a., fruit-forward) but with decent acidity making the wines fairly food-friendly.  Busting out the Syrah at a BBQ is bound to make you some new friends whether you’re playing Pétanque, Bocce, horseshoes, or just trying to hit on your neighbors sexy cousin from out of town.  The only slightly disappointing number was the Sauvignon Blanc, which is tasty on day one, but flabbed out quite a bit on day two.  None of the wines are blow-yer-mind revelations, but they hit the mark squarely head-on for the price-point (around $20).

One thing I’m not so sure I understand is the graphic that forms the basis of the Pétanque press materials and labels.  It features a very effeminate guy with balls in his hand, apparently French and apparently playing Pétanque.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Anyway, Pétanque is certainly worth a look.  I recommended pairing them with the heavenly pork shoulder of the gods, if that’s available in your neck of the woods.


images: (1winedude,





  • Ryan

    This is great – my French group has actually made a habit of getting out to play pétanque this summer, so I'll be sure to share this with them. I'll also have to see if I can find a couple bottles for our next outing. The only thing better than tossing metal balls at things is doing so after a couple glasses of wine!

    • 1WineDude

      I've not tried it, but would love to, especially if it's anything like Bocce. Of course, at this point drinking beforehand is a requirement…

  • Mark Koppen

    Thanks for the post, Dude – we like to think of Pierre Petanque (the guy on the label) as a good friend of the Dos Equis guy, who BTW loves our wine as he doesn't often drink beer…

    • 1WineDude

      Hey – it's all good.. nothing wrong with those guys being close friends, or even "close friends"…

  • Kelly

    Reminds me of the old SNL Schmitts Gay ad… .. Petanque guy seems tame compared! I've also enjoyed visiting the amazing M-S estate, and look forward to trying this new bunch.

    • 1WineDude

      "If you like wine… and you're gay…"


  • couplay

    Petanque (the game) is played with "boules", not balls… so what's this gay spin about? But at $20 a bottle, I doubt the Petanque wines really grasp the "spirt" of the game.

    • 1WineDude

      Oh, it's just a bit of fun, really. I thought that the guy on the label looked a little efféminé and he was EVERYWHERE in he marketing material… Anyway, my gay friends thought it was funny so I went with it…

      Just curious, what's the disconnect between the price point and the spirit of the game (I'm not well-versed in that ways of petanque)? Cheers!

      • couplay

        Well, I'm not homophobic either… and if your gay friends think it's funny so be it.

        The disconnect price-wise is that most people don't really need the help of a $20 wine called "Petanque" just to find out about the fun of playing petanque. It might help… but so could any drink, even a can of beer…

        • 1WineDude

          Well, there's no angst against beer here at! :-)

  • Ken Payton

    Their web site sucks. Their labels, too. My daughter would run away from such a crouching figure should she spy him in dug in on a sandy playground.

    Not sure it reads gay, not by Cali standards, anyway. I know you were just having fun, Joe, but my money is on child molester.

    About the winery's dog. John Locke, (1632-1704) wrote the same thing. To introduce children into the adult world of compassion and empathetic reciprocity, animals must be kept. Indeed, even now children who throttle chickens, cats, and the smaller, defenseless creatures of this world, are marked with an anticipatory social pathology. Just ask FBI profilers.

    Bottom line, another lousy ad campaign. Who approves this nonsense?

    • 1WineDude

      Part of the marketing is centering around the game itself, which I think is a good idea – and the on-line flash petanque game on their website is part of that, which I found fun (despite the fact that I am horrible at it).

  • Dan

    I don't know, I think the guy in the graphic simply looks like a typical young french fashion conscious sort of guy. In the U.S. that might be taken as "effeminate", but doesn't come across that way to me.

    • 1WineDude

      Ok… so, let's all just agree that I screwed this one up… :)

  • Dennis Eagles Nest

    Joe: Thanks for the Michel-Schlumberger memories of the vineyards, Mike Brunson, and that incredible Tuscan feast. Incredible!

    • 1winedude5036

      Yeah… still drooling over that one…

  • Mark Koppen

    Quick update on pricing – SRP and website pricing on Petanque Cab/Chard is $16.99, Sauv Blanc/Syrah $12.99.

    • 1winedude5036

      Thanks for the update, bro!

  • DancesWithWines

    Don't you love Mike?! He's such a cool guy! I spent 3 days last week hanging out with the awesome people over at Michel-Schlumberger. My friend, Jim Morris was just hired there and decided to show me around. I fell in love with the place, went for their weekly Friday music and just ended up hanging out with the staff. Long story short, I went back two more days while visiting dry creek, and even helped them re-vamp their wine club flyers! Perfect end to my vacation. Now I'm back in Ohio.

    It looks like we just missed each other! Would have been fun to meet. I was there the 19-21

    • 1WineDude

      Well – just come on out to the Wine Bloggers Conf. next month and do the M-S vineyard walk… I'll be there again hoping for more pork shoulder!

      • DancesWithWines

        haha I'd love to, but I JUST started my blog. don't know if I would be able to attend…we shall see. I'll keep you updated.

  • Freddy Friedly

    Dont forget that you should also have your email marketing system in place, you should have a lead capture or autoresponder on your site.If you dont have a site you can get a wordpress site done and hosted for very little money

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