By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
Over the past week or so, Lieb Family Cellars has come under fire -- from all directions -- over two recently released wines meant to commemorate 9/11 and the opening of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
I'm not going to link to any of the coverage in this post. It's easy to find and most of it is simply repeats the somewhat sensationalized discourse on the part of journalists, politicians and citizens swollen with words like "exploitative" and "offensive," despite the fact that the wines, which cost $19.11 a bottle, have been approved by the September 11 Memorial and Museum Board and that up to 10% from each sale will be donated to the memorial.
With about 500 cases total of wine under these labels total, the roughly $11,000 is probably not situation-changing money, but it is far from the full story.
Back in 2004 the winery released a 2002 merlot under the label "September Mission." The wine -- now up to the 2008 vintage -- retails for $9.11 and for each bottle purchased the winery donates 91.1 cents to the September's Mission Foundation, which provides educational and cultural programs to remember the victims of 9/11 and to fund the 9/11 Living Memorial Project. That wine has raised more than $25,000.
The winery also makes a syrah from which 20% of the proceeds are donated to the non-profit Animal Medical Center in New York City for research and treatment of kidney disease in animals. In 2009, Lieb Family Cellars also made a white merlot to help raise money for the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.
Philanthropy is part of what Lieb Family Cellars does and is. These newly released 9/11 wines are only a part of the overall picture.
With their history of giving, I think Lieb Family Cellars deserves the benefit of the doubt.
My personal reaction to these wines falls short of offended, but it's easy to see why many have been. This is one of the most emotionally charged topics in our country. The anger some have expressed isn't hard to understand.
Clearly, this was a marketing misstep. That has been proven out in the media onslaught. While some rallied around the initial September Mission wines, the temperature has changed. We're beyond the "rally against a common enemy" mentality I think. I also think that the Lieb family and winery General Manager Gary Madden are genuinely surprised by the vitriol being slung in their direction.
I am too... and yet I'm not. Media is just so different today. All it takes is one or two influential media types to blog or Tweet or mention something on Facebook for their reaction to snowball, or even explode like it has here.
Some people quoted in the stories I've read over the last several days decry these wines as offensive, pointing to all of the friends and family they lost on 9/11. Especially as New Yorkers, we all mourn those lost on the most tragic of days. The Lieb Family Cellars lost loved ones as well.
I think that's an important point -- Lieb Family Cellars feels the same pain, and was and is trying to do the right thing. Whether we like what they are doing isn't the point. There are plenty of companies and individuals who make mistakes with their marketing efforts. That doesn't make them bad people.
My parents taught me at an early age that it's the thought that counts.
This was a miscalculation, not an exploitation.