I so enjoyed Bono’s “Ten for the Next Ten” op-ed piece in last Sunday’s Times that I was inspired to come up with my own version. Bono changed the traditional end-of-year Top Ten list: his “looks forward, not backward,” to developments that might make the world “more interesting, healthy or civil.” I won’t pretend that anything that could happen in the wine industry is on a scale with, say, international peace or addressing climate change (although I do think that if more people drank wine the world would be healthier and more civil). But here are my hopes for the next ten years in California wine.
Wine Experiences its Greatest Renaissance Ever
It’s been astounding to watch America grow into a true wine-drinking culture. Everywhere you look, wine is portrayed as an aspirational drink with lifestyle overtones. That’s good, but we have a long way to go; for many people, wine is still an occasional indulgence rather than an essential part of their day. That could change, but for anything to change in America requires a major force to set it in motion. “Sideways” showed how a movie can be instrumental in driving wine sales. I hope more movies present wine in a positive light. It also would be great if some of America’s cultural heroes from politics, entertainment, industry and sports were more outspoken in support of wine. Why is it that some people seem almost ashamed to talk about their love of wine? (President Obama, I’m talking to you!)
California’s Under-Performing Regions Show Improvement
Paso Robles illustrates how a wine region that was pretty rustic for a long time can get its act together with a lot of hard work. It takes people with dedication and vision, but it can happen. Such places as Temecula, the Sierra Foothills, Livermore Valley and Lodi are large and historic wine districts that for whatever reason haven’t lived up to their potential. They have to figure out their own identity, and there’s no better time than in this new decade, when the old rules are being thrown out and new ones are being written.
Wine’s Health Benefits are Far Greater Than Anyone Thought
I personally believe that a little wine helps promote relaxation and God knows we all need to relax these days. Science also has strongly suggested wine can lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. I hope scientists will continue research along these lines, and that the government will support it (instead of getting in the way as they often do), and that Big Pharma will not attempt to block research in order to preserve prescription drug sales. I mean, what would Prozac do if people knew that a glass or two of wine, plus some meditation, exercise and a healthy diet, actually cured their depression?
Wine Blog Writing Gets Seriously Good
Once upon a time all a wine blog needed in order to be taken seriously was to exist. In 2010 that’s no longer true. Winners and losers are starting to emerge, based on talent. Great writing may not be a sufficient guaranty of success for a wine blogger, but it is a necessary one. We’re starting to see strong writing in wine blogs and I hope that over the next several years we’ll see the modern equivalents of the greats be critically recognized.
Anyone in America Can Buy Wine From Any State Through the Internet, Without the Government Getting in the Way
I know what you’re thinking. Dream on, Heimoff. But it’s a good dream. No more state stores, no more interstate shipping hassles, just good old-fashioned competition among brands through low-cost broadband. It could happen.
Quality at an Affordable Price Becomes the Norm
We’re on trickier ground here, because for all of history, people have had to pay more for better wine. But we’re sort of nearing the End of History, aren’t we? At least, it feels that way. With modern revolutions in grapegrowing and winemaking, there’s no reason why the gap between great expensive wines and great inexpensive wines should not continue to narrow. It already is. What that will mean for the traditional way in which we classify wine into hierarchies (a la Bordeaux and Burgundy), I don’t know.
America Lowers Its Drinking Age to 18
It’s so stupid and illogical that Americans can be sent off to fight and die in wars at the age of 18, but they can’t enjoy a beer or wine until they’re 21. This is a relic of our Protestant ethic (in which pleasure is evil) and Prohibition. And please, don’t tell me that lowering the age will result in more car crashes. Idiotic teenagers who drink and drive are not stopped for a second by being underaged.
As long as I’m permitted to dream… There are anecdotal reports that restaurants that drop, or significantly decrease, their corkage fees actually earn more money, because diners are then willing to spend more on appetizers and dessert. Wouldn’t it be great when you can just bring your bottles in with you with no hassles, no fear of being misunderstood or challenged, etc. I’d even be willing to bring my own wine glasses, so the owners wouldn’t have to deal with breakage.
The Rise of Italian Varieties
Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Trebbiano, Montepulciano, Dolcetto, Negroamaro, Refosco, Cortese, Verdicchio, Vermentino, Vernaccia. They make nice wines over in Italy and are fun to pronounce. Why not here? Wouldn’t it be something if they turned into household names in California over the next ten years.
A Whole New Area of California Emerges as Home to Fine Wine
Where could it be? The Far North Coast (Humboldt, Siskyou, Eureka counties)? Some distant corner of the Foothills? On the road to Mammoth? A strip of hill in San Benito County? What about Ventura? You never know in this vast state, but one thing is sure: pioneers, filled with the restless, innovative spirit of risk-taking, will push the boundaries and, on occasion, stun us.
Anyway, that’s my Ten for the Next Ten.
Why anyone would take seriously anything the Marin Institute says about wine is beyond me, especially when they pretend to be friends of the small wineries they’ve tried for years to destroy.
We are talking major chutzpah here when this neoprophibitionist group, which has tried to stifle if not strangle the wine industry, comes out crying crocodile tears for family winemakers whom they say they’re trying to protect from the “global alcohol giants” they accuse of driving “the Family Winery” out of business. They issued a press release the other day just before picketing the Wine Institute, which they said should be renamed “the ‘Big Alcohol Institute’.” (Incidentally, no one came to their little demonstration except for a clutch of cold MI members who shivered for about 15 minutes, then called it a day. Evidently, Marin Institute’s call for a big protest, issued on their PR Newswire press release, was a complete failure.)
Cold, lonely Marin Institute members picketing on Market Street
Far from being concerned about little wineries, this is the organization whose web site says its “vision” is “communities free of the alcohol industry’s negative influence and an alcohol industry that does not harm the public’s health.” It has tried (unsuccessfully) to ban wine and other alcoholic beverage advertising, even on the Super Bowl telecast, to raise excise taxes on alcohol (also unsuccessfully), and — most spectacularly unsuccessfully — to cause laws to be passed prohibiting families from serving their children wine within their own homes for religious, cultural or simple celebratory reasons, as if millennia of giving kids a teaspoon of wine in a glass of water has harmed Italians, French, Portuguese, Jews, Greeks, Germans and others whose roots in wine go back to Biblical times.
And this is the group that now has the gall to claim “Big Alcohol…exploits California wine imagery” by fostering “the industry-spun myth of family-grown wine from Napa and Sonoma” while in reality being dominated by “Diageo, Constellation Brands, and Brown-Forman” who “call the shots” while the little wineries, ostensibly their pawns, roll over to be plundered and ravaged.
Let’s get the facts straight. Most California wineries are small and family-owned. At the Wine Institute, each winery gets precisely one vote, regardless of size or affiliation. According to Wine Institute, of 3,000 wineries in California, half produce 5,000 cases or less. This hardly suggests an inordinate dominance by corporate entities, much less a malicious plot by them to rule the little guys. In response to Marin Institute’s charges, Wine Institute issued a statement that said, in part: “Marin Institute’s attempt to portray Wine Institute and its 900+ winery members, the overwhelming majority of which are small, family-owned businesses, as serving interests other than those of California wine is incorrect…Wine Institute and its members support the responsible consumption of wine in moderation in keeping with the advice of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The vast majority of wine consumers enjoy wine responsibly with meals and should not be penalized for the societal problem of alcohol abuse.”
Are there problems of little wineries competing against big ones? Certainly, especially on the distribution side. But no one should believe for a second that Marin Institute gives a damn about little wineries or the families who run them. Marin Institute’s agenda is the same as it always was: to cripple the industry the way Prohibition did.
I’m of two minds when it comes to California raising taxes on wine, beer and spirits. (Yes, that issue is still on the table, and was the subject yesterday of a hearing by the Assembly Committee on Health.)
California, like other states, is in the toilet financially, and Schwarzenegger and the (mostly Democratic) legislators are looking for every dime they can raise. (Republicans are calling for spending cuts.) Schwarzenegger is a Republican, of course, but at least he has the cojones to admit he’s raising taxes after promising not to because California is on the verge of fiscal Armageddon and he has no choice. Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he was Governor; he raised taxes after saying he wouldn’t. Reagan and Schwarzenegger, like most Governors, are political pragmatists in the long run.
I don’t mind an honest discussion over taxes vs. spending cuts. But the discussion turns dishonest when the likes of Assemblyman Jim Beall (who introduced the alcohol tax hike bill) and the Marin Institute step in to spread their skein of lies and half-truths. The Democrat from San Jose and the fiercely anti-alcohol Marin Institute insist their support for the alcohol tax hike isn’t because the money is needed, it’s because the alcoholic beverage industry “causes” fetal alcohol syndrome and DUI fatalities and must “pay” for its sins.
“The industry must start paying its fair share for the problems their products cause,” Beall insists. On his government website, he goes even further:
“The alcohol industry creates devastating problems – traffic accidents, alcoholism – and walks away with money stuffed in its pockets while the public — including non-drinkers — are left to pay billions for the mess.’’
His friend Bruce Livingston, the Marin Institute’s executive director, backs up these incendiary falsehoods. “Now is the time to charge Big Alcohol for the $38.4 billion … in harm their products cause every year in California.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the alcohol industry doesn’t “cause” anything. It’s stupid people who cause problems: the idiot mother who gets loaded while pregnant, the moron who drinks and drives. Blaming a winery because someone who drinks their wine got into a traffic accident is just plain stupid-headed and unfair. It reminds me of the burglar who tried to break into a store at night through a rooftop window and fell through, hurting himself. He sued the store he was trying to rob! “It wasn’t my fault I got hurt, it’s because they put a dangerous window there and they should have known better.”
I DON’T THINK SO, KNUCKLEHEAD!
I can do no better than to quote this statement from a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut:
“Mr. Beall and Marin’s whole strategy of taxing people sober (with the long-term goal of eventually going back to prohibition) is fatally flawed…Research indicates that the heaviest drinkers do not curb their drinking in response to higher prices, unlike light-to-moderate drinkers, for whom there can be positive health benefits…If alcohol abusers are truly addicted, will an extra ‘dime a drink’ stop them? Will a career criminal decide to not get drunk before his next crime spree because of a 10-cent-per-drink tax? Of course not.”
Look, I fully recognize that some people have a substance abuse problem, whether it be with alcohol or drugs. So before you slam me for not “getting it,” let’s get the foregoing straight, okay?
Having said that, last week’s news that President Bush, for the first time, candidly talked about his history of alcoholism has me wondering why so many people who go through this struggle end up talking about Jesus Christ. I mean, do you have to be an ex-addict to discover that old time religion?
CNN reported on Bush’s fess-up, quoting him as saying, “I’m a faith-based guy. Sometimes, to help change a person’s behavior, you have to change their heart.” We have to understand “faith-based” in the context of another quote in the article, from a baseball player named Josh Hamilton, who told Bush that his own drug addiction was cured only after “I opened my heart, and that following night I committed my life to Christ.”
That’s what makes me uneasy with this entire anti-alcohol movement. I’ve posted many times on this site about neoprohibitionism and accompanying moves to curtail the use of alcohol, if not to eliminate it altogether. When I wrote my blog on “Seven reasons not to vote for Sarah Palin if you love wine” (Sept. 7), it alluded to this concern. I have little problem with professionals who rightfully point out the dangers of excessive use of substances, including alcohol, and I understand, as I explained above, that some people feel they just can’t take a single sip of alcohol without endangering themselves. Hell, I have relatives in that sad situation, and I feel sorry for them.
But why do so many of these crusaders have to juxtapose Jesus Christ and born-again Christianity with their recoveries? Do the two have anything to do with each other? Does that mean an agnostic can’t be a recovering addict, or a Jew, or a Buddhist? When my Jewish relatives went to AA and gave up alcohol, they didn’t run all over the place yakking about Moses and Abraham, they just quietly got their stuff together in a dignified way. Why can’t people like Hamilton and Bush do it the same way? It’s their religious certainty, and the need to pompously showcase it for everybody else, that bothers me about these recoverers — the same ideological certainty Bush displayed in his disastrous war in Iraq, in the anti-science bent of his administration, in his reflexive instinct against gay people, in the arrogant middle finger he gave to the rest of the world through his go-it-alone foreign policy. I could go on and on. I completely agree with Oliver Stone, who said:
There’s nothing more dangerous for America than an ex-alcoholic President who tells you to believe in Jesus.
And before you accuse me of being anti-Christian, I’m not. Hello! Jesus was a great Jewish rabbi. What I’m against are Christians who want to impose their narrow religious beliefs on the rest of us, tear down the wall between church and state, and replace the Constitution with Leviticus.
By the way, Mr. Bush, what about your use of cocaine?
On Monday, back to wine!
Our neoprohibitionist friends at The Marin Institute are at it again. I mentioned these anti-alcohol crusaders last week, after they freaked out about funny whiskey ads on buses. Now, they’re carrying the battle to social media (and the young people who hang out there). The latest is what they call “the country’s first anti-beer ad contest.” Marin Institute is calling for “youth from 13 to 20” to create “original anti-beer ads of 30 to 60 seconds…”. The campaign is dubbed Free the Bowl, as in Super Bowl. Seems the beer ads on America’s favorite televised sporting event of the year are offensive to the Institute’s Board of Directors, and they’re out there recruiting impressionable young people to their cause. First prize for the lucky young videographer: “a brand new 13” Apple Macbook with Final Cut Express 4.0 software.”
Heck, if I was 18 years old and into making videos, I’d enter the damn contest myself, and if I won, I’d celebrate by drinking a bottle of Champagne.
Crushpad is a very cool place in San Francisco where, for money, you can produce your own wine, under your own label, made from grapes grown in some very good California vineyards. Now, they have a cool thing they’re calling The Wine Bailout, AKA Dude, where’s my 401K?
Before I sound off on it, I need to get this off my chest: I HATE to give free publicity to businesses that are shamelessly angling for it. Which Crushpad is: I got a personal email from them. The gist is, you pay $39 as futures on a 2007 Napa Cabernet that will be bottled next August. Then, “If the Dow goes down, you get an economic stimulus check of $2 per bottle for every 100 point drop. If it goes up, then your 401K is looking good and the maximum of $39 is a steal for similar wines we produce that command $75+ at retail.” It’s hard to know, under these circumstances, whether to root for the Dow to go up, or down. If it falls 2,000 points, you get your wine for free (actually, Crushpad would have to pay you a dollar). If it goes up, you’re still guaranteed the 39 bucks.
It’s a cute scheme and maybe worth looking into. We’re all a little meschuggina with the markets tanking; maybe The Wine Bailout is a way to laugh through the tears.
Another interesting post from WineDiverGirl, who continues to explore the ways wineries and bloggers can work together. As readers of this space know, I was critical last month with some suggestions WDG had made, although I allowed as to how she was asking some interesting questions. Read her new post. The money line isn’t from her, but from the blogger 1WineDude [Joe Roberts], whom she quotes: Heaven knows I’ve got no problem whatsoever being courted by winemakers, PR contacts, or the wine media in general (in fact, my view is that it’s about time this has happened). The trick is maintaining the willpower to keep a unique, individual, and (hopefully) credibly opinionated voice as a blogger while the “courting” ramps up. As one who’s long used to being “courted,” I couldn’t agree more.
There seems to be a movement around the world to ban alcohol advertising. From Australia to France, from England to right here in the U.S.A., even the most inoffensive ads are under attack. In this country, at least 11 transit systems — including Los Angeles MTA and Golden Gate Transit — have banned alcohol ads. In France, cradle of gastonomy, the courts have affirmed the illegality of Internet wine advertising. In Australia, the NSW Health Minister again has demanded a total advertising ban on all alcoholic beverages.
Leading the charge against alcohol in this country is the Marin Institute, a San Rafael-based non-profit largely funded by the Buck Trust. The Institute’s attitude toward all things alcoholic is the opposite of a smiley face — a frowny face that never met a drink it didn’t hate. On their blog is a post that criticizes a bus booze ad from Marker’s Mark whiskey that reads “blue or red, Democrat or Republican, we’re all united in one party: The Cocktail Party.” I think it’s funny, but the Marin Institute says the ad “trivializes the election,” as if a little humor about politics is unpatriotic and bad. Paging Tina Fey!
Times are tough all over the world, and it seems like politicians — clueless when it comes to actually solving problems — are letting themselves off the hook for their ineffectualness by blaming alcohol, among other things, for the situation. This is a first step toward the Nanny State, a big government that “protects” its citizens by intervening in their personal lives and institutionalizes its own narrow interpretation of moral behavior. This is not only dangerous, it’s downright silly, because no form of prohibitionism ever has worked. A study of the relationship between restricting alcohol ads and alcohol consumption came to the following, unsurprising conclusion:
“The relationships between consumption and alcoholism rates for the U.S. and advertising regulations were very weak and not statistically significant. Subsequent to a restriction on beer advertising in Manitoba, beer consumption in that province rose at a similar rate as in a control province of Alberta. It is considered unlikely that restrictions on advertising will reduce consumption.”
America has far more serious problems than banning Marker’s Mark ads from buses on the Golden Gate Bridge.