THE BITCH

Put a Cork in It

From the four-footed perspective, it seemed as if this past weekend's South Beach Wine & Food Festival went woofingly well, particularly in regard to how the Grand Tasting tents were organized. In fact, for a dog, this was kind of like heaven: You got to walk around on the beach as humans handed you cups of watercress-pumpkin soup, slabs of curried tofu, and every kind of cheese imaginable, and as soon as you finished a mojito, someone was handing you a pisco sour. But The Bitch is quick to give maximum wags to anything involving excess consumption; more discerning individuals found the SBW&FF to be more of a Two Buck Chuck operation than a Chateau d'Yquem-class affair.

Banned from the festival are all wineries employing a distributor other than Southern Wine & Spirits, the Miami company that runs the event as a benefit for Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Southern is the nation's largest wine distributor and for many years has had a reputation for playing rough with competitors and their clients. This exclusionary policy isn't common. The renowned Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, actually solicits boutique wineries to showcase their products. The difference: Food & Wine owns and operates the Aspen festival while FIU has ceded control to Southern Wine & Spirits.

Beyond that, for all its aspirations to be definitively Dionysian, lots of alcohol not made from grapes was being served, enough to consider renaming the event South Beach Booze & Food Festival.

Those who attended Grand Tasting, Version One, were dogged by a lack of luminescence. Saturday's round featured precious few restaurants of repute, lots of caterers and second-tier eateries; the lineup on hand the next day was vastly more impressive as big toques such as Norman Van Aken and Anthony Bourdain mixed with the crowd. (Both days cost the same $100.)

The Best of the Best party on Friday night at the Fontainebleau was great -- plenty of nice seating for everybody, very good food, a nice selection of boutique vintners. Meanwhile another official gathering at the Sagamore didn't go so well, owing partly to the beverage sponsorship of NaVan, "a fusion of natural black vanilla from Madagascar with refined French cognacs." This nasty concoction caused The Bitch to wonder, not for the first time, about the remarkableness of lemurs, and to ascribe the observed bad behavior -- lots of shoving and nonconsensual touching -- to the collision of the hotel's mostly townie guests with South Beach irregulars, not the vanilla.

J. Stephen Burnett from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, told The Bitch he'd paid $9000 for a weekend at the festival but felt less than flash at the hotel's lobby bar. Sporting a khaki suit and a Morgan Entrekin haircut, Burnett, the inventor of a heat-free fiber optic lighting system, exclaimed: "I was sitting there for, like, twenty minutes and no one came to take my drink order! So I went to just sit in the lobby and cool off, and these bouncer guys came and told me I couldn't sit down! I said, öWhat do you mean I can't sit down? This is a chair, isn't it?' But they were big guys and I knew I'd had it. I was thinking about buying a condo down here on the beach but I just don't think I'd fit in."

Saturday night's dinner series at Nikki Beach was an outdoor clam bake with Todd English. Although weather reports days before the event called for rain, no contingency plans were in place and, yes, it rained. Food and $300-per-person paying guests alike were soaked.

By Sunday afternoon, as the Tasting tents closed down, sending away guests bearing swag bags full of Volvic water and thousands of tiny Tabasco sauce bottles, most people skipped the closing events -- which included an all-but-forgotten awards ceremony and a bartending expo at the Shore Club starring neither wine nor food but Belvedere vodka.

OUTLOUD Outlives LawsuitIn its February issue, OUTLOUD, a free monthly newspaper written mostly by teens and distributed at more than 100 high schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, printed an editorial titled "OUTLOUD Trumps Viacom." According to the story, Viacom alleged that OUTLOUD's name infringed upon the megalithic corporation's trademark for Outloud, a bloc of films, shorts, and other programming on the Sundance Channel focused on gay and lesbian culture.

Then, this past December, the two-year "David and Goliath battle" (as the OUTLOUDeditorial put it) ended when Viacom summarily withdrew its lawsuit, a startling about-face for one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world. "We weren't surprised so much as relieved," Talk Teens Inc. chairwoman Judy Lefton, which publishes OUTLOUD, told The Bitch.

Lefton said she applied for a trademark for OUTLOUD in June 1999, more than a year before the newspaper's first issue was published in September 2000. Then, in August 2002, Lefton says she received a cease-and-desist letter from Mallory Levite, Viacom's senior vice president of international and intellectual properties. "They figured that they could either intimidate us or outmaneuver us legally and have us give up our trademark," she says.

Though Viacom's bullying tactic initially scared OUTLOUD -- "Believe me, our knees were shaking," said Lefton -- its lawyers eventually responded with a letter requesting proof of rights. The two companies traded legal paperwork for the next two years, and OUTLOUD filed its own lawsuit against Viacom in the summer of 2004 to win back rights to the trademark. But Viacom eventually gave up; in turn, OUTLOUD decided not to pursue its lawsuit.

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