Archive for the 'wine politics' Category

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.

Telmo Rodriguez uncorks terroir in Rioja

telmo rodriguez
Telmo Rodriguez was in full cry when I met him in New York City recently. Although the 50-year-old “driving winemaker” studied enology in Bordeaux, worked a vintage at J.L. Chave in the Rhone, and for 25 years has made his own wines across Spain, what was on his mind when we spoke was Rioja:

“What do we know about Rioja? Just a few brands? Nobody wants to talk about site, or villages. Rioja is the next thing to discover. We don’t know Rioja. If you think you know Champagne and you only drink Moet et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, you don’t know Champagne! You need to know the specific vineyards.”

Andre Tamers, who imports Rodriguez’ Remelluri wine, agrees: “This is the way that Spain has to move forward: away from brands and toward the land.”

Starting with the 2010 vintage, Rodriguez Read more…

Wholesalers beat a retreat on CARE act

After appearing in two sessions of congress, a legislative proposal that would have threatened the legal, direct shipment of wine is dead according to Shanken News Daily. They cite Tom Cole, president of Republic National Distributing Co., who says “The CARE Act is officially off the table.”

Wine lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. And we are dialing the official HR 1161 threat level back to neck level! (See backgrounder here and here). We were concerned that in the “lame duck” session when oh-so-much wheeling and dealing is likely to be done, that it could have squeaked through in some form. It still might, but the wholesaler will appears to have slackened.

I wonder what led the wholesalers to pull in their legislative claws? The brief Shanken News piece had no insights in this regard. But in this Super PAC era, it would be delightful to think that possible voter outrage trumped campaign contributions. It is interesting to note that wholesalers recently did an about-face on a restrictive reform in New York State. Hit the comments with your take on the situation.

Put “at rest” to rest in NY

What if you could not buy a book at a bookstore in New York if it had come from a New Jersey warehouse? Or fill your car up with gas in New York if the truck that brought it to the gas station came from New Jersey? We can agree that would be silly. About as silly as trying to prevent wine wholesalers who sell wine to NY wine stores and restaurants from going about their business if they have a warehouse in New Jersey.

But that is exactly what is happening. A large wholesaler is trying to prevent smaller wholesalers from using their existing warehouses in New Jersey by inserting an “at rest” provision in the state senate’s 2012 budget. This would require all wines to come from warehouses in New York. While I do care about the provenance of my wine, I do not care one whit if it comes from a (climate-controlled) warehouse in NY or NJ. Some specialty shops and small wholesalers are uniting to try to stop this before Friday, March 9. An email that has been making the rounds today follows after the jump: Read more…

France is a “banana republic” says Guffens

When the fraud squad raided Verget from Verget.

Jean-Marie Guffens, a winemaker in Macon who founded Maison Verget, endured a decade-long investigation by French authorities, including Customs and Fraud office. It started in 2001 after the grapes were harvested but before the winery staff had even filed the harvest paperwork. And it continued ebbing and flowing, with allegations that Guffens was blending wine from the south into his Burgundies. In the 27-minute video, Guffens declares that “we live in a banana republic” with “mafia-style” raids including a surprise winery inspection with 25 officers, and accusations of complicity against the staff. His wife and members of the staff were even held in custody for two days. Eventually, in 2010, the charges were dropped. Guffens sued to have his name exonerated and– SPOLIER ALERT!–a judge in Beaune ruled in his favor in November.

This action and the heavy-handed tactics over Olivier Cousin’s whimsical labeling, set against the backdrop of declining domestic wine consumption, illustrate the difficult days for many French vignerons. I’ll add it to my file for updating Wine Politics.

New Jersey wine law: half a case is better than none

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Jersey? Surely, the local wine, right?!

That’s what state legislators were hoping when they voted a reform to New Jersey wine law this week. With the governor’s signature, which he has said he will provide, the state will become the 39th to allow the direct shipping from wineries to consumers. After Granholm, the 2005 Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to allow in-state wineries the right to ship to consumers while out-of-state wineries were prevented, New Jersey was one of the rare states that didn’t open up shipments, but instead closed down.

The new law is certainly worth celebrating but don’t think about popping Champagne unless it is purchased at a store in NJ. The most glaring shortcoming is that the bill only legalizes shipments from wineries, not wine stores, thus disallowing free trade in over a third of the wine consumed in the US. For reasons of parity, that’s too bad. But since there are many innovative wine stores and the state has become one of the most competitive in the country, New Jersey residents are still well-served.

Anyhoo, not all wineries can ship to New Jersey under the new law, just wineries under 250,000 gallons (about 85,000 cases). These “capacity caps” are controversial and were struck down in Massachusetts (at a threshold of 30,000 gallons) as a form of discriminating against out-of-state wineries, which was what Granholm said was the big no-no. Further, wineries must purchase a license to ship, which is among the highest such fees in the country. Cathy Corison, proprietor of Corison in Napa Valley, tweeted “NJ opens up to direct wine shipment. $938 annual fee. Gee… thanks. #smallwinerytax.”

For an additional fee, licensed wineries are allowed to open more than a dozen tasting rooms for direct sales throughout the state, which also seems to advantage in-state wineries. But if an out-of-state winery opened a store, it would be a new and fascinating challenge to the three-tier system. (In this vein, Chateau Montelena just opened a “tasting room” in the Westin hotel in San Francisco; New Jersey also has many BYOB restaurants.)

So for NJ consumers, it’s a half-a-loaf law. It’s better than the status quo ante. But not ideal since buying wine from, say, NY wine stores is still illegal (and thus, I’m sure, never happens). New Jersey wineries may be the biggest beneficiaries of all as they can expand in-state (and out-of-state!) sales. Time to bone up on the terroir de Jersey Shore (although this map is much funnier).

What do you think? If you are a winery or New Jersey resident, are you excited or non-plussed by the change?


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