Here’s a little quiz for all of you out there in wine-land. What do you call a government that:
- Limits the choices of products available to its citizens by offering them only via government-run monopoly that has no incentive to provide competitive prices, good customer service, or expanded selection;
- Charges its citizens a premium for the “privilege” of the products limited choices & poor service, including taxation on goods already controlled by the government;
- Refuses to change archaic legislation that was enacted over 50 years ago, in order to protect its monopoly position & profits;
- Does nothing to alter its stance or comply with changing federal law, nearly three years after its current legislation has been deemed unconstitutional at both the federal and regional levels?
In most circles, the first two points could be considered Communism.
Technically, the later two points aren’t Communism, but I’d like to think that most people would at least consider them reprehensible…
Unfortunately, what I’ve described above is more-or-less what the state of Pennsylvania is doing in its wine trade, which is controlled by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Bucking the Law Means Big $$$ for States
Actually, now that I consider it, I haven’t been entirely honest with you so far. Since the Federal government ruled that PA’s liquor laws banning interstate trade were unconstitutional in 2005, the PLCB has done something. It’s made money. Approximately $3 billion dollars in sales (that’s Billion, with a “B“), in fact. That is roughly twice the GDP of the country of Liberia.
That’s big, big money. In the case of the PLCB, it’s record-setting sales money, all achieved while operating what has been determined an unconstitutional system.
This is not just impacting PA wine lovers (& wineries) – similar situations are playing out in other states. The ones who benefit are the middle-men (distributors and state governments). The ones who get the short end of the stick? That’s you & me, baby (and the people making our favorite beverages!).
Distributors are – not surprisingly – paying big money to protect this windfall. What is surprising is that those same groups are claiming that money is not the motivator in their efforts to protect the “three tier system” of wine shipping. $3 billion in 2 years, seemingly operating unconstitutionally, and it’s not about the money?!?? I don’t know how they can even say that with a straight face…
Whether You Know it or Not, You’re Being Taken for a Ride
If you live in one of the States that prohibits (or seriously discourages) direct shipping of wine, and you buy wine, then you’re getting screwed. Your wine choices are probably limited. You might have little (if any) recourse to purchase the wines that you want. And likely, you’re paying too much for the wines that you are able to get.
What You Can Do About It
Big money issues like this one will not go away on their own. They require that wine consumers who want a fair deal – people like you (and me) – fight back:
- Visit the Shipment Compliant blog to find out where your state stands, and to catch the latest news in the fight for fair wine shipping for your state.
- If you have a blog or website, read Tom Wark’s posts on fighting back and link to support Wine Without Borders.
- Visit (and support) FreeTheGrapes.org.
- Write to your state legislators and let ’em know how you feel! I have (many times) – and trust me, some of them will respond!
Not too long ago (June of 2007, I believe), in what is probably the coolest take on Blogosphere wine reviews since the inception of Wine Blogging Wednesday, Chateau Petrogasm was born.
If you’re at all interested in the visual arts, have even a small semblance of a sense of humor, and enjoy imaginative takes on the varied impressions that wine can have on different palates (& I hope this includes all of you Dude-O-Philes out there!), then you really need to check out the Chateau immediately. Or better yet, subscribe to their feed.
I recently submitted my first humble contribution, which you can check out here (thanks for the post, Ben!).
The wine sulfites battle rages on.
Some of you will recall that the Dude has been commenting on the topics of sulfites in wine, as well as biodynamic and organic wines.
Jason Haas over at Tablas Creek Vineyard has posted a great article on how the widely misunderstood fear of wine sulfite allergies (& “wine headaches”) has combined with overly-cautious (and poorly-constructed) U.S. wine regulations to cause winemakers unnecessary grief…
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for Winemakers
In a nutshell, it seems that the U.S. regulations regarding sulfite use for wines that are to be labeled ‘organic’ have a big negative impact on potential quality of the wine. That’s because some use of sulfites in higher quality wines is inevitable – otherwise the finished wine could be too unstable.
According to the Guidelines for Labeling: Wine with Organic References from the U.S. Dept. of Treasury – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:
“100% Organic” products cannot use added sulfi tes
in production. Therefore, since no add ed sulfi tes
are present in the fi nished product, the label may
not require a sulfi te statement. In these cases, a lab
analysis is necessary to verify that the wine contains
less than 10 ppm of sulfites.
Less than 10 ppm of sulfites… hmm… good luck! I wrote about the challenges of achieving such a low level of sulfites in wine before. Those winemakers that chase after the pot-o’-gold at the end of the marketing rainbow may make “organic” wines, but that will need to be done without much thought to the ultimate quality of the wine. Those winemakers that truly care about quality – well, they end up being discouraged from even trying to make wines that would be labeled “organic” by the U.S. government.
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for You
And who suffers the most – wine consumers. Because the average person is likely to a) be scared off because of the required sulfite warning labels on wines, often believing (mistakenly) that there last ‘wine headache’ was caused by sulfties, and b) assuming (mistakenly) that wines labeled as ‘organic’ are healthier and of higher quality, consumers can have a poor experience tasting a nasty unstable wine that is labeled ‘organic’ but sucks – and possibly get turned off to wine altogether because of that experience!
[WARNING: SARCASM] Gee… what’s not to love about this scenario? Besides everything, I mean… [END SARCASM]
Don’t Get Suckered into Following the ‘Organic’ Marketing Bandwagon
Unfortunately, it means that we wine lovers still need to have our wits about us when shopping for wine. Stay sharp, and don’t assume that a wine labeled as ‘organic’ is better for you or is higher quality, or contains no sulfites. Higher quality wines will contain sulfites and probably will NOT be labeled organic – but they will taste better, and in the grand scheme of things will be better for you, will provide better value for money, and will give you a better wine tasting experience!
There’s a great little article by Janice Jones in today’s Sierra Sun about the rising tide of wine consumption in the U.S.
According to the article, the U.S. has surpassed Italy and is now on the heels of France to claim the title of the world’s largest consumers of wine by volume (at 2.77 gallons per wine drinker per year). Though I think Luxembourg still holds the title in terms of wine consumption per capita.
What is most interesting about the article is the picture it paints of just how vast our wine choices are here in the U.S. – 7,000 different brands (with the $20 and under category making up most of the market).
That’s just… HUGE!
How’s a wine consumer supposed to navigate that kind of territory?…
Janice offers some sound advice on this: keep track of what you’re drinking, so you can build up your ‘Wine IQ’ and form the vocabulary to accurately describe what tastes you like – and don’t like – in your wine. Preferably by using a notebook and writing down your wine experiences. Which is exactly what the Dude’s Wine Tasting Guide eBook. Yeee-haw – vindication!! ;-)
In a way, the Sierra Sun article underscores why I wrote the eBook in the first place – to help people better navigate the crazy (but utterly wonderful) wine by building their own personal wine taste ‘map’. Without that map, and considering the vast array of wine brands available, their multitude of styles, and the increasing ‘pressure’ to somehow get on board the rising wave of wine popularity in the U.S., you may find the journey into the world of wine so daunting that you never even take the first step.
And that would suck – because the journey is really an amazing one.