Maryland, the home of the Fightin’ Terps, threatens to turn its wine lovers into perps: The laws governing these five and a half million residents make it a felony to order wine online and have it shipped to their homes. To purchase wines, consumers residing Annapolis, Baltimore or along the Chesapeake must buy from a local store; comparison shopping through retailers on the internet or ordering directly from a winery is illegal. (Small wonder neighboring DC is the thirstiest non-state in the nation.)
Maryland is also home to 38 wineries today. Seeking to jump-start the domestic wine industry after Prohibition, the US Department of Agriculture turned to this mid-Atlantic state, opening an experimental winery in Beltsville, Maryland. Even though it was not long-lived, today’s wineries follow the early trail blazed by the Feds. The only problem: they cannot ship their wines to consumers in-state or out-of-state. In a recent survey (pdf), all but one winery respondents found this to negatively affect their business.
The keys to reforming the laws that have kept Marylanders locked out of the wine cellar for several decades may be within reach. Although the legislation has been introduced every year since 1981, Adam Borden, executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, says that this year it has majority support in both houses.
But the legislative path is not without roadblocks. Who has screwcaps big enough to stand in the path of this legislation? Senator Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Health and Education committee, threatened to stifle the bill in committee despite six of nine members being co-sponsors. But today, a committee in the House will hear testimony on the issue.
Robert Parker, Maryland’s best-known wine consumer, will not be testifying today since he is traveling, according to Borden.
Thanks to shortfalls in state budgets, state authorities are increasingly looking to liberalize liquor distribution according to a piece in the WSJ yesterday. The issue is in play in at least Washington State, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Vermont.
Privatization could be a mixed bag for wine enthusiasts. Read more…
Have you ever been in a New York wine store and thought there was something missing? Maybe gourmet cheese? Gift bags? Cigars? No, no–an ATM!
Well, if you’ve ever thought that then you will like Governor Paterson’s latest proposal to allow wine sales in food stores. He tried it last year but the measure was poorly thought out since it just focused on the grocery stores selling wine and not what would happen to current wine and spirits stores. Ultimately, it met resistance, and was dropped.
But it has been re-animated this budgetary year and this time the governor is trying to mollify the opposition by allowing wine stores to also sell Read more…
SIPPED: Scottish wine?
French chefs have urged President Sarkozy to seal a deal at the Copenhagen climate change talks this fall–or risk ceding some the world’s prime vineyard sites to…Scotland! [independent.ie]
The Village Voice looks at the jockeying behind the legislative initiative to allow supermarkets to sell wine.
SIPPED and SPIT: growth (of the viticultural kind)
The AP offers more reporting on the coming harvest “under economic cloud.”
SIPPED: a second life for those OWCs
Wine crates as serving trays.
SIPPED: tree planting
An Australian winery will attempt to offset its carbon emissions by planting up to 10,000 trees worldwide. Let’s hope the trees fare better than those planted for Coldplay! [Perth Now]
SPIT: bottled water
Mother Jones has a long article on the making of FIJI bottled water.
SIPPED and SPIT: rosé! Controversy continues to swirl around the proposed changes in the EU to allow blending rather than bleeding. We’re talking rosé, of course, which has traditionally been bled off red grapes but may soon be allowed to have the lower cost method of red being blended with white. Francois Millo, head of the Provence vintners’ association, brings this intra-European fight to the pages of the NYT with an op-ed arguing that their local “achievement should not be drowned in a flood of cheap imitations.” AFP previously reported that France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland are opposed to the practice. But Decanter reported that José Bové, in full EU electoral mode, has called the French agricultural minister a liar, saying that he failed to vote against the reform as a part of a broader package in January.
UPDATE: The European Agricultural Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, has withdrawn the rose reform. [Guardian]
SWIRLED: wine tax increase
The Senate finance committee considers raising the federal excise tax on wine (and beer)–and introducing a tax on other beverages, such as soda–in the name of funding health reform. The last increase in the federal excise tax on wine was 1991, when it was increased to $1.07 a gallon for still wine under 14% alcohol. Prior to that, the rate had been stable since 1951 at $0.17 a gallon.
SPIT and SIPPED: New Vine Logistics
New Vine Logistics, a Napa-based company that provides order fulfillment to 200 wineries and may have been involved in the back end of Amazon wine, startlingly ceased operations a week ago. But faster than you could say “Chrysler,” it found an apparent savior in Inertia Beverage Group. Follow the action over at wineindustryinsight.com.
SPIT: signs as a threat to the environment
The steep hillside vineyards of Hermitage may be preserved under an environmental heritage act. Such an action could jeopardize the signs of Chapoutier and Jaboulet on those hillsides (“one of the region’s most beloved landmarks” according to the Chapoutier web site), which may have to be removed as a result.
Ulli Stein has made a forbidden wine for decades. The Mosel winemaker still makes the wine, but it’s now allowed by law. In fact, he’s the only person in Germany with the right to make it.
The wine in question is a so-called vin de paille, or straw wine, made in miniature quantities. This sweet wine has its origins in the Jura, the Alpine region of France, and gets its name from the straw mats that the grapes are dried upon for months after harvest and before a long fermentation (Stein said his takes 12 months). Germany has many sweet wines, of course, but the sweetest wine of all, the Trockenbeerenauslese, gets its sweetness from the distinctive botrytis rot.
The lanky, hirsute Stein told me yesterday that covertly made his vin de paille for decades and labeled it as a Trockenbeerenauslese, as you can see in the picture. But he wanted to make it legally and brought the issue to a German judge, who turned down his request based on the 1971 German wine law, which claimed that grapes in the vin de paille were not fresh enough. Stein appealed. The next court turned him down. Eventually he appealed to the European courts and won the right to make vin de paille from the 2007 vintage. He added the court granted him the exclusive right in Germany to make vin de paille.
The 2003 that I tasted is a lovely, rich dessert wine. If I were a judge, I wouldn’t ban it.
As to the other Rieslings in his portfolio, they are all very good and interesting. But the standout for me was the Stein Bremmer Calmont Riesling Spatlese Trocken 2007. The delicate, slight sweetness (7.5 grams of residual sugar–all natural) embraces a vital core of acidity and minerality. Very nice.
The budget battle in Albany looms on the calendar–and with it a decision for a possible overhaul of New York wine retail law that would expand wine sales to supermarkets. (See backgrounders here and here.)
In an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, wine shop owner Marco Pasanella makes the case that he and other independent shops should be allowed to expand to have more than one location and be able to sell bread, cheese, microbrews, and, yes, recyclable bags, which they are not allowed to currently sell. I’ll drink to that! In fact, it is absurd that this corollary is not in the proposed reform legislation and should be corrected immediately.
I stopped by Pasanella & Son last week for a book signing. It is a handsome shop with an antique Fiat on the floor; the wine selection is excellent. The staff did a fantastic job setting up the event and it was great to see so many people, particularly from the neighborhood turn out. In his op-ed, Marco says that the staff at a local shop will remember a customer’s name. In fact, one woman there that evening told me that the staff member actually remembered which wine she had bought on her previous visit when she couldn’t. Bet that won’t happen at D’Agostino.
Also check out their clever and popular free wine and movie nights, Sip ‘n Cinema!
French winegrowers feared that a bill making its way through the legislature could prohibit free tastings at the vineyard/winery, often an important sales channel (and one that can offer fantastic prices too). The increasingly powerful health lobby was pushing the bill but, in the end, the health minister, Roselyne Bachelot, was able to prevent some promotional wine tastings from inclusion as well as striking down a proposed ban on wine advertising on the internet. Other changes include raising the drinking age from 16 to 18. See jancisrobinson.com for more perspective on the current law. And learn more about how France got to this point in my book, Wine Politics.
In 2007, Illinois wine consumers became legally prohibited from buying wine from out-of-state wine stores, thereby reducing a national market for wine to a local one. State Representative Julie Hamos from Evanston–where I lived for several years and, ironically, the home of the once-powerful Woman’s Christian Temperance Union–has submitted a bill to repeal this restriction. The Chicago Tribune had an editorial in support of the new bill calling the current situation “boneheaded.” Learn more about how America got to this point in my book, Wine Politics.
SPIT: minimum pricing
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK rebuffed an attempt to set high minimum prices for alcoholic beverages. The chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, sought the increases, which would have doubled the price of some beer and spirits and set a minimum price of £4.50 for a bottle of wine as a strategy to combat binge drinking. Separately, Scotland is set to impose minimum prices on alcohol by year-end. [Guardian]
SIPPED: more celebrity wine
The latest entrant into the crowded field of celebrity wines is Sting (who has chosen the downturn in the NYC real estate market to offload his Manhattan apartment, btw). The two red wines will come from his 300 hectare (!) Tuscan property and are, as yet, unnamed. Will they go with Message in a Bottle? [The Times of London]