Yesterday I blogged about Sarah Palin’s silly quote that “alcohol isn’t necessary to have a good time” when she spoke last April about Alcohol Awareness Month. (This, despite her Playboy-style thigh tease with a glass of red wine; with those stiletto heels and cleavage-bearing decolletage, she sure seems ready to party hard.)
Actually, Alcohol Awareness Month is a production of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (your tax dollars at work), and specifically of a division within it called SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Now, I know I’m going to get into trouble with this post, but I have to say that something about this whole approach to “combating” alcohol rubs me the wrong way. On SAMHSA’s website they lump alcohol in with cocaine, methamphetamine and suicide, and that’s just on the home page. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find comparisons with LSD, ecstasy and marijuana, among other Devil’s delights. It’s as if a nice glass of Cabernet (which, judging by the dark color, Sarah might be enjoying) and a crackhead’s needle were morally equivalent. Go to HHS’s Alcohol Awareness Month homepage and you’ll find it stated that “People who abuse alcohol can be…Professionals who drink after a long day of work” and “Senior citizens who drink out of loneliness.” Now, can we get real here? Professionals who drink after a long day of work can be alcohol abusers? For crying out loud, I’ll bet you that plenty of senior management at Health & Human Services head over after work to the Fairfax Lounge in the Westin Hotel on Embassy Row for a well-deserved Gimlet. (And by the way, does “professionals” mean that blue collar workers can’t abuse alcohol, or does the Republican administration simply not want to piss red-staters off?) Of course, this is the kind of nonsense we might expect from the employees of a President who is an out of the closet “recovering” alcoholic. As for all those lonely old geezers, hey, if a couple glasses of wine-in-a-box or schnapps help pass the hours until snooze time, so what? The website also has one of those “Are you an alcoholic” pseudo-scientific quizzes, which contain such questions as “Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?” (Answer: I sometimes do, and I bet you do too. See Proverbs 31:6-7: Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.) and “Does your drinking worry your family?” (It doesn’t bother mine, but what if my family believed drinking alcohol was a sin, even though it’s mentioned, what? thousands of times in the Bible, and mostly favorably.) This approach by the Federal government is so opposite to our own here in California, where Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican but not a bizarre one, just proudly declared September “California Wine Month.”
We still have vestiges of neoprohibitionism in this country, which itself is an echo of the old Puritan ethic that, if it feels good, it’s a sin. Don’t get me wrong: Obviously some people have issues with alcohol abuse (just as some religious fanatics have issues with intolerance), and there are some people who should never drink at all. What bothers me is this suggestion that we should all conform to some white-bread government nanny’s ideas of right and wrong. And while I’m on the subject, now I see the Republicans are planning on promoting Todd Palin (who was busted for DUI in 1986) as “First Dude,” thereby winning the hearts and votes of the rural, beer-drinking, liquor-swilling, country & western crowd. Am I suffering from cognitive dissonance, or just too many glasses of Cabernet?
1. Last April, hailing Alaska’s Alcohol Awareness Month, she said, “alcohol isn’t necessary to have a good time.” Hell, neither is shooting moose. Why does Palin come across as such a smarmy, holier-than-thou schoolmarm?
2. She signed a bill, HB 118, that would fine a person throwing a party where an underage person possesses alcohol $500, even if that person was not responsible for providing the alcohol. For somebody who denounces Big Government, this intrusion into the household has frightening implications.
3. According to the Associated Press, in July, as part of her new Public Safety Plan, Palin called for legislation that will slow the flow of alcohol to rural Alaska. Sheesh. Today it’s rural Alaska, tomorrow it’s the cities, the next day it’s the whole f*****g country.
4. She fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan because (among other reasons) he was not making satisfactory progress on resolving alcohol issues. Seems Monegan refused to back up her scheme to raise the drinking age for moose to 25.
5. She signed a bill, SB 128, that requires the state Alcohol Control Board to maintain a database documenting the sale, distribution, and purchase of alcoholic beverages. More big brother stuff. What’s next, library books?
6. She’s a homophobe who supported Alaska’s 1998 ballot initiative to put a ban on same-sex marriage in the Alaskan constitution. Bad news. Everybody knows gay people are huge wine supporters (unless they’re in rehab).
7. She believes creationism should be taught in the public schools. As far as I’m concerned, anybody who doesn’t believe in evolution actually needs to drink more, not less.
Sarah Palin is bad news for the wine industry. On the other hand, Cindy McCain may be good news for the beer industry. Just put a Coors sign on the White House and let the taps roll!
P.S. Please visit my new post at Wine Enthusiast’s Unreserved.
When will California wine give up its addiction to crack, oops, I mean Styrofoam?
For an industry whose every press release touts something green/organic/biodynamic and environmentally-friendly, whose representatives are usually healthy and tanned and wouldn’t dream of polluting anything, who themselves probably recycle, there’s something schizy, if not outright hypocritical, about the widespread use of polystyrene packaging for shipping wine.
You know polystyrene by its trade name, Styrofoam. It’s that bulky white stuff microwaves and CD players come packaged in. If you have a problem getting rid of a few chunks of it, try multiplying that by the tens of millions of pieces that wine is shipped in.
It’s the wine industry’s dirty little secret.
Styrofoam is awful stuff for the environment and for us. Most curbside recycling companies won’t accept it because it’s bulky and fills up landfills. The processes both of making polystyrene or burning it in waste dumps pollute the air and create large amounts of liquid, gas and solid waste. Styrene, its active ingredient, is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA. The ill effects of chronic exposure are well-documented. If that’s not bad enough, Styrofoam is made with petroleum, and its manufacture releases hydrocarbons into the air, causing pollution and playing havoc with ozone levels. Styrofoam is often dumped into the environment as litter. When it breaks into little pieces, they can choke animals and clog their digestive systems.
There are non-damaging, ecological, truly recyclable alternatives to this stuff. It’s not my job to recommend any particular products, but suffice it to say the industry knows what they are, and of tests suggesting they’re as effective as Styrofoam.
The Wine Institute — the industry’s leading trade association, a powerhouse not only in California but in Washington, D.C. — has the power to do something about this situation. Wine Institute has long been criticized as a tool of big wineries, a charge that may be more in the perception than in actuality; but perception is reality. Politically, Wine Institute would do it itself a favor by coming out in favor of something the big wineries are perceived not to like.
When John DeLuca, who fought and won many battles, led Wine Institute, he declined to take styrofoam up as a cause. Both he and his successor, Robert Koch, were and are well aware of the contradictions of a pro-styrofoam policy. But we all know more about styrofoam’s toxicity than we did ten years ago. Mr. Koch’s tenure so far has been remarkably devoid of conspicuous accomplishment. He could do worse than to vow to push styrofoam out of the California wine industry. In one stroke, he would burnish Wine Institute’s green image, and send a signal that he is not entirely the captive of big donors — that he is, in other words, willing to put his money where his mouth is.
PS: Check out my Wine Enthusiast blog.
I was glad to be phoned by John DeLuca on Tuesday evening, barely an hour after he had been named “senior advisor to the board of directors” of E&J Gallo.
My first thought when I got the electronic press release had been, This is a pretty big step for a guy nearly 75, an age when most people are retired.
But John was excited. “I’m blessed with good health. I really want to stay active. I feel like a silk worm eating mulberry leaves spinning out threads of silk.” He’d been intending to write his memoirs when the call from Joseph E. Gallo came. “I’m still dedicated to starting it, and dedicated to finishing it in 2 years.”
The politically-savvy DeLuca, a former White House fellow under President Lyndon Johnson and also a former deputy mayor of San Francisco, headed the Wine Institute for 28 years. He will advise family-owned Gallo on political and business issues, including international competition. “We’re going into a global period, and there are so many issues that arise as a result. This [appointment] is a natural extension of all the work I’ve done for the past 33 years. I don’t want [California wine] to go the way of cars in Detroit.”
The role of a John DeLuca is largely hidden from the public (which is fine with him). DeLuca is a behind the scenes guy, the power behind the throne who takes satisfaction in what gets done, rather than who gets the credit. Under his tenure at Wine Institute, DeLuca was instrumental in a range of complex legal and technical decisions concerning California wine, from preventing higher taxes to settling the lead closure issue in the 1980s to furthering research into the health benefits of moderate consumption.
Four years ago at my urging Wine Enthusiast gave John DeLuca our Lifetime Achievement Award. He said at the time, quoting Shakespeare, “There is a tide in the affairs of men…” He was then retiring as head of the Wine Institute and people perhaps thought DeLuca’s tide was ebbing. Clearly it was not.
You’ve read for years how red wine’s antioxidant properties are good for your heart and may even prevent cancer. Maybe you don’t like red wine; it gives you a headache. Too bad white wines don’t have the same properties, but they’re not fermented on their skins, like red wines, so white wines don’t have nearly the same level of polyphenols as red wines.
But wait! Now comes news out of Israel that scientists have figured out a way to make white wine with the same antioxidant polyphenols as red wine. The technique was developed at the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, by Michael Aviram, a professor of biochemistry and medicine. It is said to involve incubating squeezed grapes in the presence of alcohol for 18 hours before removing their skins. This allows the skins to ferment with the pulp before the final fermentation is completed. Aviram says the resulting white wine has the same antioxidant activity as red wine.
You’ll be able to find such heart-protecting wines in the U.S. later this year because an Israeli winery, Binyamina, is planning on releasing a wine that was produced with the Aviram formula. It’s a Muscat, and it’s sweet, because the alcohol is so high that the yeasts can’t complete the fermentation, resulting in residual sugar.
It’s not hard to envision where all this is going. Red wine sales have been on the uptick ever since Morley Safer did his famous “French Paradox” segment on Sixty Minutes in 1991. There have been anecdotal reports ever since that people would drink red wine for its health benefits if it didn’t give them a headache. If Aviram’s technology really works as advertised, then white wine could be the new red. It would help if the wines were dry, but with today’s new genetically-modified (GM) designer yeasts that can function at higher alcohol levels, that shouldn’t be too hard.
But how far down this slippery slope should we go? Critics have already sounded the alarm over GM food products, charging that the necessary safety tests have not been conducted. In the world of wine, harsh criticism has been leveled against GM grapevines and yeasts. Late last year, The Economist reported that many French people view such tinkering as a “war on terroir,” while here in the States, wines made with GM techniques have been dubbed “Frankenwine.” Such tinkering at the genetic level opens up vistas that previously existed only in science fiction. As The Economist mused, “Why should sauvignon blanc be stuck with boring old gooseberry and cabernet sauvignon with cassis? Genomics could beget some novel wine flavours and combinations to ensure the wine really does go with the food…”.
I’m all for conducting safety tests. We don’t want to be putting anything into our bodies that could harm us or the gene pool. But I have a feeling that some people will never be satisfied with anything GM because it just rubs them the wrong way. They’re philosophically opposed to it. What do you think about GM grapes, yeasts, vines and wines?
I knew it. Knew that getting involved in another dustup over AVAs is like wading into quicksand. It’s easy to get in, hard to get out, and the more you try to disengage, the more stuck you get. Last week it was the flap over Calistoga and the Federal government’s proposal to make it harder to create “nested” AVAs. This week, that same Federal government — via the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which oversees AVAs — announced it will no longer consider creating a Tulocay AVA in the southeastern Napa Valley. It was only the second time in many years that TTB has pulled an AVA application from consideration.
Now, such a “sure thing” had been this Tulocay AVA that it was assumed up in Napa that it was just a matter of time before it happened. Alas, such was the furor over “Tulocay” that TTB yesterday yanked the application “because of questions regarding the actual name of the proposed viticultural area.” It’s as dead as Hillary’s presidential campaign.
The details, as I write, are these. The original petitioners for a Tulocay AVA, back in 2006, were Aaron Pott, then winemaker at Quintessa (now a consultant) and someone called Marshall Newman, from Newman Communications. They proposed to appellationize [is that a word?] 11,200 acres, of which 900 were planted to grapes. The name “Tulocay” is of Native American origin.
Everything seemed to be rolling along, and Tulocay seemed destined to become California’s latest AVA, joining other luminaries such as Lime Kiln Valley, Merritt Island and Salado Creek. But a funny thing happened on the way to AVA-hood: Somebody wrote TTB a letter charging that the creation of a Tulocay AVA would cause “inestimable economic damage” to his brand.
That was Bill Cadman, the owner of Tulocay Winery. His objection sprang from the fact that he has been able to use the word “Tulocay” for decades on wines not made from the Tulocay region (e.g., his Amador County Zinfandel). He feared that if “Tulocay” became law, he would no longer be able to do so.
Art Resnick, the chief spokesman for TTB, emailed me the official Notice of withdrawal. It said that the agency had received 20 comments on Tulocay during the comment period: 8 in favor and 12 against, with the naysayers urging instead a “Coombsville” AVA in the same region (and based on a different set of historical facts). The Notice also said that TTB was contacted by Cadman’s lawyer (who’s with the San Francisco firm of Hinman & Carmichael), who urged TTB to use “extreme caution” in considering the Tulocay AVA. This is lawyerese for “We might sue you really bad if you go ahead with this.”
TTB saw the light! (Or felt the heat, which is the same thing.) Their conclusion: “After careful consideration TTB has determined that it would not be appropriate to proceed with the establishment of the proposed Tulocay American viticultural area…”.
In other words: Here comes Coombsville!
Now, what are we to make of this whole brouhaha? I, for one, am getting a headache trying to follow the whirlwind of politics, business, egos, lawyers and government bureaucrats that infests every discussion of AVAs. They used to be so simple and charming: It was all about weather and dirt and history. Now, it’s the lawyers’ full employment act. I have a suggestion: Let’s just let individual wineries have their own AVAs (like Chateau-Grillet has in France). No fuss, no muss, no drama. After all, it’s not about the AVA, it’s about what’s in the bottle, anyway.
P.S. What if someone starts a Coombsville Cellars before the AVA goes through? Do they get grandfathered in?