Archive for the 'wine politics' Category

Sancerre to bid adieu to the AOC system?


The growers in the Sancerre AOC are more pissed off than pipi du chat. According to Jim Budd, their hackles have been raised because the national appellation bureau is closing their Sancerre outpost and centralizing regional functions in Tours, about 120 miles away from Sancerre. Jim says the growers find the situation so frustrating that they have talked to intellectual property experts about withdrawing from the AOC framework and using Sancerre as a trademark.

For all (both?) of the wine law buffs among us, this would present a sticky situation. INAO, the regulatory authority, is zealous in defending their geographic indications against FOREIGN transgressions and imitators. But what if a bunch of growers effectively withdrew from the AOC system and wanted to take the name with them. Sancerre has huge name recognition so the stakes are high–it will be fascinating to watch how this plays out. Perhaps it is bargaining to get their local office back but the growers’ frustration may lie deeper than that.

It’s the latest evidence that the AOC system is broken.

TTB shutdown means wine label slowdown

ttb_shutdownThe federal government has shut down “nonessential” services as of today. Surprisingly, that means that the federal agency that regulates the wine industry is also largely shut down. This is surprising because the agency collected $26 billion in revenues for the government–you’d think they would want to keep that flowing.

I spoke with a staffer at the TTB a few weeks ago while I was writing a story about wine label art. In the course of our conversation, he told me that the agency has experienced a surge in requests for label approvals. When they were formed ten years ago, they received 89,000 requests for label approvals whereas today they get 152,000 label requests. A 40% growth in wineries and a 60% rise in brewers have driven the surge. (Meanwhile, because of budget cuts, their headcount has been reduced from 520 to 471 over the same period.) I also spoke with some vintners who complained that the label approval process had slowed this year in the wake of the sequester. And now with the shutdown it will have ground to a halt.

Whenever TTB officials return to work they will have a ton of wine labels awaiting their review. The whole situation is enough to drive one to drink…

Before the shutdown occurred, the TTB did take a preliminary step to approving 11 new AVAs within the existing Paso Robles AVA.

Terroir is a “right-wing idea”? Could have fooled me

terroir_right_wingStephen Erlanger, the Paris bureau chief of the NY Times, holds forth on the notion of terroir in the opinion page.

The concept is fascinating for its power to readjust markets along quality lines for products that might be prone to commoditization (hmm, I recall reading a brilliant book about this somewhere. . .). It’s clearly political since lines have to be drawn somewhere and those outside the zone might even stage bloody protests, as happened in Champagne 100 years ago, for example. The idea could be interpreted as conservative since it contributes to propping up a rural, yeoman sort of life.

But Erlanger overreaches when he writes that “The notion of terroir is essentially political, at heart a conservative, even right-wing idea.” There’s nothing right-wing about it: I haven’t heard Marine Le Pen on the stump arguing for the AOC by saying, “Long live Volnay! Down with vin de table!”

Although terroir is a powerful concept, it has limitations administratively as the AOC system has shown. Also, it’s not the only way to signal quality or even protect quality, as a company brand (estate name) can often serve as a better indicator of quality than simply reading the place name. Also, if you’re looking for a product that’s made in a certain way–Biodynamically grown, fair-trade certified–there are tons of organizations that offer third-party certifications that have little or nothing to do with terroir.

Erlanger concludes his piece with a doozy: “The preservation of terroir is finally a kind of unwritten conspiracy between the farmers and the wealthy, as well as the bourgeois bohemians of the big cities, who will pay more for quality, for freshness, for artisanal craft and for that undefinable authenticity that is the essence of terroir.”

Ah, bourgeois bohemians–I thought David Brooks had his own space on the op-ed page? But, really, a “conspiracy”? Sorry, but I didn’t know that tin-foil hats came in AOC styles.

NY Liquor Authority to Wine Library: “immediately cease and desist”

ny_liquor_authorityNew York law states prohibits wine shipments from New Jersey retailers to NYS residents. But you’d never know it since New Jersey is home to many wine shops that sell wine online to New York and beyond. One of the state’s highest profile retailers is Wine Library, popularized by Gary Vaynerchuk who once streamed 1,000+ videos from the store.

In a staggering change of direction, the New York State Liquor Authority has now decided to enforce the law on the books. In a letter dated 8/12/13 that has not been seen publicly even though it is on the SLA website, the SLA instructs Wine Library to “immediately cease and desist” sales to New York residents. Wine Library did not respond to a query for comment.

Over the past decade, New Jersey has turned into Read more…

China threatens EU wine tariffs


China is waving a broken wine bottle in international negotiations: in retaliation for EU tariffs of 11.8% against Chinese solar panels, Chinese authorities have threatened to place trade barriers on EU wine. The EU alleges that China dumps solar panels below the cost of manufacture and China alleges the same thing for EU wine, pointing to subsidies to the industry. See this Reuters account for details.

But who really stands to lose, European wine producers or Chinese consumers who have acquired a taste for European wines? Well, surely the Lafite crowd in mainland China won’t be crying into their Riedel stemware as they could likely afford to pay any new duties. (Notably, wine coming into Hong Kong would still be exempt.) But it could shift Chinese consumption to other parts of the wine world, such as Australia or the US. Or maybe it would spur interest in domestic wines from China. Or maybe it would snuff out their newly stoked interest in wine. There are always unintended consequences in trade wars.

And, more often than not, tough talk is just a bargaining tactic.

Proposed French wine tax baits chardonnay uprising

yves_daudignyIn 1789, the price of bread surged in France. And in heads rolled as a result.

Another symbol of France–wine–is being threatened with a 1,000% tax increase. Will riots break out across the country?

Who is the man with a set of grapes big enough to dare provoke the ire of the French winegrowers and wine consumers? It’s Yves Daudigny, a socialist senator from Aisne (“The Fightin’ Aisne”) in Picardie. I bet they don’t even make wine in Picardie! Wait, what’s that, Jimmy? Champagne is partially in Aisne, Senator Daudigny’s district? Okay, scratch that.

The Senator is clearly a tough nut to crack. Last year he proposed a 300% tax on palm oil in what was dubbed the “Nutella tax.” Mmm, taxes so high you can spread them on your bread in the morning.

boy_wine_franceNow he’s unleashing his tax machine on the wine industry, proposing to raise the tax from three euro cents to €0.30-€0.60 a bottle! This would bring it inline with beer and spirits. But we all know that beer and spirits deserve that tax. Was there ever a black and white photograph of a child toting a six-pack and a bottle of Johnny Walker under his arm? Non, monsieur!

Senator Daudigny, taxing wine in France is like taxing being French! It’s un-French to even consider it! Moreover, why would you want people to drink less wine? The wine industry is struggling because French people are not drinking enough of the stuff. If you really want a radical reform, try uncorking a take-your-wine-to-work day. Or Hug a Vigneron day. Or how about a subsidy for French wine? It’s already so expensive that people in Hong Kong are bidding bottles to stratospheric levels! Or subsidize hipster wines from the Jura or the Loire to jumpstart exports to Williamsburg and San Francisco.

Don’t make the winegrowers stage protests outside your office with pitchforks and corkscrews!

In a setback for wine online, New York rules against “advertisers”

In a surprising setback for selling wine online, the New York State State Liquor Authority ruled yesterday that the sale of wine by third-party “advertisers” violates its code. Some online sales and marketing companies, such as wine clubs and Lot 18, sell or market wine online without a New York retail license, instead rely on a licensee to process or fulfill the orders. Read more…

Sobering: wine shipping map

In the comments of our recent discussion of the rosé drought that was gripping the Hamptons, a commenter said that the easy answer was to have the wine shipped in (via Gulfstream jet, natch). But, seriously, couldn’t they order wine from an out-of-state retailer and have it sent via UPS?

Well, they could but it wouldn’t be legal. According to a rather sobering map from the Specialty Wine Retailers’ Association, New York is one of 39 states where it is illegal to have wine sent from an out-of-state retailer. A 2005 decision from the Supreme Court rolled back many barriers to shipping wine from wineries to consumers, as states had to strike down laws that discriminated against out-of-state wineries while allowing in-state wineries to ship and about three dozen of them have now leveled the playing field. It’s a no-brainer to me that this should apply to wine shops as well; however, I am not Chief Justice and it’s still an open legal question whether the 2005 decision applies to retailers. Free shipping from wines stores is much more important to the average wine consumer since it would lead to consumers being able to find the best price or provenance anywhere for a range of wines, including those under $20; winery-direct shipping tends to focus on wines north of $20.

Some states, like New York, have porous borders–no eight-foot fence to keep those wine shipments out. Others, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have found ways to keep wine shipments out or at least down by working with the main carriers, UPS and FedEx. (A New York retailer once told be that shipments to Massachusetts’ islands were often sent back because of the local shops tipped off UPS drivers to report any incoming packages about yay big weighing 40 lbs.) Whether there’s little enforcement or not, wine lovers across the country would be better served with free, legal trade. Sadly, with no consumer movement and the judicial efforts of the Specialty Wine Retailers stymied, there seems little to break the impasse.


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