The State of Wine in America (or "A terrible amount of luxury and unease")

Vinted on January 21, 2009 binned in commentary

Frequent readers, as well as anyone who has conversed even momentarily with me on twitter, will know that I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens may want to skip this post entirely, with all speed and probably extreme prejudice.

Are they gone? Good, let’s get started!

Okay, I want to talk to you about the current state of wine in the modern world. I figured that I could work the U.S. presidential inauguration of our 44th President, the Steelers entrance into Super Bowl XLIII, and, of course, Wine. And tie it all together.

C’mon, it’ll be fun. I hope…

Anyway, it’s natural that, as we in the good ol’ U.S. of A. celebrate the (long overdue) 44th consecutive peaceful transition of executive power from one affluent male to another affluent male, that we consider the ‘state of things’ – not just of the country, but for anything that we hold dear.

Like wine, for example!

Ok, so that transition was a little abrupt…

…and speaking of abrupt transitions and startling segues…

Being a Steelers fan, I’m finding the state of American Football particularly rewarding at the moment. So it’s surprising (to me, at least) that I was able to control my blinding exuberance to notice a reference to Alice Munro in a recent, eloquently written Post-Gazette article by Gene Collier. Collier’s article describes the unique and conflicting emotions that engulf the Steelers faithful when they host the AFC Championship game at home – a game that, until this past Sunday, they showed an ability to lose like no other team (emphasis added by me):

…modern Championship Sundays in Pittsburgh deliver a seismic coupling of pride and wariness, something realist short story master Alice Munro might call “a terrible amount of luxury and unease.”

So, to recap.: that’s 44th Presidential innaguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro. All caught up? Good. “A terrible amount of luxury and unease” – a beautiful phrase, and one that uniquely captures my feelings about the current state of wine, at least in America.

To be a wine enthusiast in the U.S. is to be someone that lives with the joy of having thousands of wine brands sold in a market that continually drives up quality at all levels, while simultaneously not being able to enjoy those wines depending on what state you live in.

It makes me so terribly uneasy that I’m ending sentences with prepositions!

On one hand, the quality and selection of American wine has never been better. There has never been a time quite like this in the history of America, when it comes to Presidents, and when it comes to wine. In terms of quality and selection, this stage of American wine development trumps all others in history.

On the other hand, the unfairness, dishonesty, and bile of the state wine distribution monopolies has never been greater. To protect the revenue streams afforded to them via their monopoly position on the distribution of alcohol, many states are screwing the wine consumer – high prices, limited selection, curtailing your rights, and handicapping the free market (which screws other distributors, wineries, and you).

So, to bring us all up to speed here: that’s 44th Presidential inauguration to The Steelers to The AFC Championship to the Post-Gazette to Alice Munro to the State of the American wine market to unconstitutional wine shipping laws.


How does the future look to me?

If you’re talking U.S. executive world relations, or American Football, the future looks pretty damn good. In the words of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: “Barack is selling hope. And I’m buying.

If you’re talking the future for the American wine consumer, the jury is still out.






  • Tannat Madiran

    Being a wine consumer in America is still pretty much a “drink what we tell you” exercise, but then in all honesty, our market probably has more global choice than any other market worldwide.I think the jury is still out. I also think the three tier or whatever tier or state run models should be flushed along with the leftover Beaujolais Nouveau from Thanksgiving… but I digress (weren’t we all told to buy that for the big turkey dinner? Any business that approaches wine from the standpoint of “red product’ or “white product” should be asked to leave the playing field. Period.The serious buyer is already eschewing those models, patronizing the more progressive wine bars for wine and then turning to the Interweb for their purchases (Amazon will rule it all in five years, mark my words, especially with the inclusion of the $75/yr free shipping into their wine program…)Some of the more prolific “trade mags” are akin to Car and Driver, giving you the best cars from the mass market manufacturers, and pretty much ignoring the rest, how else does a Toyota get the car of the year, or some other car made in the millions? Another fight for another day…Until the media catches up (as has been considered both at and today) and realizes we need more than the usual fare, the market will not react. In fact the market (and by market I mean the suppliers/wholesalers/importers/brokers who feed us wines) will continue the course, happy to focus their energies on infighting among the more important (to their shareholders) trenches of Aussie Shiraz, Italian grocer-fodder, and a few of the bigger name pseudo-family owned wineries. When the press stops pandering and starts trailblazing, when we all can count on Terry Theise and writers/importers of his ilk to keep us up to date (before they take the Kermit Lynch suicide pill) on all the bleeding edge goodies to be mined out there, we will be happy to buy what we are shown, and continue to stick our collective heads in the sand.(steps off soapbox)

  • Joe Roberts, CSW

    Thanks, TM – feel free to step up on that soapbox anytime!

    I’d agree with you that most wine writing is a bit too safe for my tastes, particularly the wine writing in the established media mags.

    Having said that, I’m not sure we’re not in a chicken / egg syndrome:

    – Writing about a limited production wine could spur sales for that wine and eventually raise their sales and production, offering their more interesting wine wares to a wider audience, BUT…

    – Writers may chose not to write about those more interesting producers since their readership isn’t likely to have access to such a small production…

  • Kevin R

    Wine Dude,

    I would like to add a perspective about selection of wine in the US. Just stroll down the beer isle and you will see wine is in a much better postion than its bother beer. Beer business is consolodating more each year and local micro brews are being squashed.

    There is a reason the large distributors have a hold, mostly economics, pure and simple. Unless you can upset the overwhelming fact that economics are going to rule, you will need to go out of your way for small batch wine. And I agree, you will not read about it, you will have to discover it on your own.

  • Joe Roberts, CSW

    Thanks, Kev! Wise words in your beer comparison, but nothing to say about the Steelers? :-)

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