Hosemaster riles Riedel

Austrian glassmaker Riedel has failed to see the funny side of “Hosemaster of Wine” Ron Washam’s latest satirical piece.

Riedel SuperleggeroPublished on Washam’s own site and Tim Atkin MW’s here in the UK last week, the piece, entitled ‘Riedel me this”, took aim at the glassmaker and its marketing ethos.

In it Washam imagined himself interviewing the head of the company, Georg Riedel, and put words into his mouth such as: “Riedel me this,” Georg said. “What’s the difference between drinking from my specially-designed Sangiovese glass, and drinking your Chianti Classico from an ordinary wine glass?”
Silence.
“When you drink from my Sangiovese glass, your lipstick leaves a mark—on my ass!”

Posted on 3 August in response to what he called an “insipid” piece on Riedel in The New Yorker, Washam said his version was the “inspiring story of Georg Riedel, the guy who put the ‘ass’ in wine glass,” adding, with some foresight, “Oh, I’m going to catch a lot of crap about this one…”

Sure enough, on 6 August Riedel’s lawyers sent both Washam and Atkin cease and desist letters claiming that what Washam claimed as “satire” amounts, in Riedel’s view, to libel and defamation.

In the letter sent to Washam (posted on his site) the letter stated: “The article is defamatory of Mr. Riedel and the Riedel company as it contains numerous fabricated quotations attributed to Mr. Georg Riedel and is otherwise replete with factual inaccuracies known by you to be false.

“Although you may profess yourself to be a writer of satire, there is nothing satirical or funny about the article or the act of libelling Riedel.”

It concluded with a demand that the article be removed from the public domain and a retraction and apology issued by 5 August or “Riedel will consider all of its legal remedies against you.”

As explained by Wine Searcher Washam can be reasonably secure of his position by virtue of US libel laws and protection of free speech under the First Amendment.

The most likely to “catch crap” in this instance is Atkin. Although UK libel laws were changed in 2014 in part to prevent “libel tourism” – aggrieved parties suing UK publishers of works they considered defamatory – there is no specific protection for works of satire here as there is in the US.

Washam has reacted sharply, describing the situation as the “stuff of comedy” and “bullying”. Atkin has sought legal advice and declined to comment as did Riedel.

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