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Put On A Happy Face
by Jonathon Alsop
April 1995


While the press world mourned the passing of Edward Bernays -- he was the man credited with the dubious honor of being the founding father of modern public relations -- Beaulieu Vineyard of Rutherford CA graced me with a press release that might have made the old guy spin in his new home.

One of the revelations in Bernays' obituary was his invention of the "public relations code of ethics," a credo that prevents any PR personnel from representing or boosting a cause they don't sincerely support. Not only was I unaware that PR folks had a well-defined code of ethics, if I'd had to guess, based on the BV press release, I would have imagined it drew the line at lambasting blood relatives, or someone who pays your rent.

BV's announcement, entitled "Heavy Rains Feed Thirsty Vines: Steady Stream of Winter Storms End (sic) 7-Year Drought," was truly reprehensible, ignoring as it did some basic laws of grammar and the fact that these steady storms also ended the lives of a dozen or so people. "Fortunately for Beaulieu Vineyard," it read, "there has not been enough rain to wash away nutrient rich top soil in its vineyard." Just nutrient rich Napa Valley citizens, I guess. "The wet weather has delayed some vineyard work (mating by the vineyard staff and the procreation of still more vineyard workers perhaps?) such as pruning (oh), but the 1995 vintage is in no danger (whew!)."

Finally and most amazingly since it expresses no regret for the dead and damaged, "'I think I speak for the entire team at Beaulieu Vineyard when I say we are happy to see the rain,' says Richard Walton, President of Beaulieu Vineyard. 'It's not dampening our spirit for the 1995 vintage.'" So much for ever buying another bottle of BV.

This entire missive was especially ironic, arriving just as a second round of storms lashed Napa Valley and killed still more people. Finally, as a third wave of rain and flooding threatened California the first week of spring, a press release arrived dated March 17, announcing Walton's State of the Weather assessment: "We have certainly had enough rain." My prediction for Beaulieu Vineyard's 1995 vintage: watered down and cynical.

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