According to a press release issued by Bill Leigon, president of Hahn Family Wines, the parent company of Cycles Gladiator, the winery was notified in July by the Alabama ABC Board that wines with labels depicting a winged nymph riding a bicycle had been deemed pornographic.
Interesting indeed, since the ABC Board initially approved this label and the wine has been sold for the past three years in the state. Leigon says Hahn Family Wines has sold 600,000 cases of the label in question in all 50 states and some 20 foreign countries, and the winery has never received a consumer complaint.
The label is based on a Belle Époque-era French advertising poster for the Gladiator Bicycle Company, one of dozens of bicycle companies that saturated the market at the height of the cycling era. What upset the ABC Board was a whimsical image of an unclothed female with flowing red locks, holding to the handlebars of a bicycle as it traverses the night sky.
Now gentle readers, I am not a connoisseur of pornography, but as I look at one of these forbidden labels, I am reminded of the late author and Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard's explanation of the difference in "naked" and the Southern "nekkid." Grizzard explains that "naked" means you are without clothing, while "nekkid" means you are without clothing, but up to something. The Gladiator nymph is naked, for crying out loud!
Being banned in Alabama is not without its rewards. Wine stores just across the state line and into Atlanta are doing a brisk business with the banned wines, so much so they are having difficulty keeping shelves stocked. One out-of-state wine buyer friend says he has customers coming in and asking for the banned wine, not even expressing preference for varietal.
The winemakers have even set up a special "Banned in Alabama" online shop, featuring T-shirts and mugs decorated with the offensive label (www.cyclesgladiator.com/bannedinalabama).
Gladiator wines come in chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and pinot noir. They are inexpensive, $10 to $12 range, easy-drinking, pleasant wines. A friend secreted a bottle of the 2008 pinot to me last week. I found it to be pleasant for the price.
Cycles Gladiator fruit is sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands in beautiful Monterey County. Founded by Nicolaus and Gaby Hahn in the late 1970s, Hahn Estates now owns 650 acres of vineyard land in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which are cooled by Pacific winds.
The Hahns were instrumental in having the area recognized as an official AVA, or Agricultural Viticultural Area.
Wines released under the Hahn Family Vineyard label are embellished with a rooster.
In German, "Hahn" means "rooster."
I guess these labels are acceptable in Alabama because the rooster is covered in a cloak of feathers.
Do pick up a bottle of Gladiator wine next time you're in another state. It is sure to be enjoyed, but most of all, it is an excellent conversation starter.