Debating The Debate: Five Questions With Winemaker Jean Hoefliger


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Recent talk of debates may be about polling percentages but this debate is about percent alcohol by volume.

The Debate Wine is a uniquely branded wine annual collection of “three different vineyards with three different expressions of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.” And while what’s in the bottle is important—one of the three The Debate wines scored 100 points—what’s outside the bottle is part of the story as well.

The Debate Wine

With descriptions like “structure of Margaret Thatcher and the elegance and finesse of Coco Chanel”; “the complexity and depth of Sigmund Freud with the integrity of Abraham Lincoln”; and “the sexiness and softness of Marilyn Monroe with the eloquence of Mahatma Gandhi,” The Debate wine’s branding aims to be delicious but also, according to it, that “each wine is paired with a headline from the year to spur discussions around the table.”

We put some questions to Debate winemaker Jean Hoefliger about how the brand sees itself, the future and what the heck “the structure of Margaret Thatcher and the elegance and finesse of Coco Chanel” actually means.
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brandchannel: How did you pick the “headlines” and personalities?

Jean Hoefliger (above): The headlines were picked based on a balance between important world topics, sports, pop culture and always a hint of humor. As a team we like to debate. We enjoy opening up the dialogue and exploring our assumptions. We chose the topics based on what really stuck and kept us thinking throughout the year. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to The Debate, just different viewpoints for each person at the table to offer, consider and examine together.

The personalities are solely a reflection of the vineyard sites and how they express the Cabernet Sauvignon. It is my job as a winemaker to respect and interpret what is given to me by nature in the most authentic way.

Brandchannel: What were some of The Debate final topics and headlines that didn’t make it?

Jean Hoefliger: We tried to steer away from topics that would not stand the test of time. Pop culture topics such as the cancellation of Jersey Shore were big events of the year, but it will surely not stand the test of time. History is something to learn from; by debating we hope to see different viewpoints and to not repeat the same mistakes twice. We also left out events that would invoke great sadness. There are many reasons to be sad in this life but sharing wine should not be one of them. [Ed note: The Debate Wine topics are chosen according to the vintage, not the sale year; Jersey Shore was cancelled in 2012, the same “vintage” as the 2012 wine.]

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brandchannel: How does “the structure of Margaret Thatcher and the elegance and finesse of Coco Chanel” spur discussion? Would something more specific be easier to interpret?

Hoefliger: I think wine, just like art, refers to emotions and people. Sometimes creating a mental picture of two completely different styles will help to understand the soul of a wine. By bringing these two personalities together, you have the opportunity to capture the greatness of Missouri Hopper Vineyard. It is built to spur discussion because it is a completely different approach to wine, and the idea behind The Debate is to bring ideas and topics forward to discuss.

brandchannel: Such as?

Hoefliger: I want my wines to evoke a feeling and spur discussion. Something more specific would not leave much room for Debate; I want fine-grained perceptual judgments to be left out. In addition, the people I chose as descriptors are timeless classics. A classic never fades.

brandchannel: Any future plans for expanding the series?

Jean Hoefliger: Yes, we are looking into expanding the concept with other varietals in order to keep The Debate flowing.

Click here for more in our Q&A series