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Categorized | General

Wine In The News


Liberté, Egalité, Sobriety

A proposed law in France would change wine from cultural treasure to public health threat

Imagine France without wine. Bizarre, non? Wine is so associated with French culture, you would think they invented the stuff. (The Greeks and Etruscans taught them. Shhh.) Man has been making wine for thousands of years, but the French made it big business, refining it and marketing it to a thirsty world.

While the image of French wine has arguably never been stronger, especially in young markets like China, the French don’t drink nearly as much as they used to. Part of this is healthy: For centuries, the average French farmworker drank a few liters a day because it was safer than the water. But lifestyles have changed in other ways; the French don’t linger at long meals with a bottle or two like they used to, and young people don’t see wine as a staple.

When wine isn’t seen as part of a meal or something with cultural value, then it becomes just another alcoholic beverage.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that the French Senate is considering a bill that would impose new restrictions on wine. As our contributor Suzanne Mustacich recently reported from Bordeaux, the proposed law—pushed for by the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction (ANPAA)—is being touted as a public health measure. Sin taxes on wine would rise, and warning-label language would change, from "the abuse of alcohol is dangerous for health" to "alcohol is dangerous for your health." Suddenly, even moderate drinking is dangerous.

The bill’s original language also contained new restrictions on advertising and marketing. French winemakers have long complained about the Evin law, passed in 1991, which bans alcohol ads on TV and restricts how it can be portrayed in print ads. Since 2008, thanks to a lawsuit brought by the ANPAA, editorial content is restricted too. Journalists are limited on how much they can praise a wine–too much is considered free publicity and forbidden. The new provision would have extended the rules to social media, preventing wine promotion on Facebook or Twitter.

How would the government enforce such rules? Well, according to ANPAA director Patrick Elineau, China has proven it can be done—by censoring political dissidents. Vive laliberté.

So far, no politician seems to be jumping to lead the charge for the bill. The French agriculture minister has promised no higher taxes on wine for at least two years. President François Hollande has stayed silent. And the social media language quietly disappeared from the bill as it wound through the Senate. Yet the bill is moving forward. French winemakers have formed their own lobbying group to fight back.

Is it wrong to put more controls on alcohol? Alcoholism is a serious issue, with medical and social costs. Drunk driving claims innocent lives. But will these restrictions have a real impact at reducing those ills? Elineau is quick to say that he and his allies do not want prohibition. But what will happen when the restrictions don’t solve alcohol abuse?

What may be most revealing about this campaign is a comment by Dr. Alain Rigaud, ANPAA president and a Reims-based psychiatrist specializing in addiction. He told Wine Spectator that these restrictions would not deter fine-wine drinkers. No, they would target those drinking cheap wine. "They are not drinking for the pleasure of tasting wine. They drink for the alcohol," said Rigaud. Take note, Two-Buck-Chuck fans.

America’s "noble experiment" with Prohibition was marked by a similar attitude. The country’s temperance movement gained steam in the decades before the 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919. During that time, America experienced a huge immigration wave. Southern and Eastern Europeans came, looking for opportunity. In 1910, a majority of Americans lived in small towns. By 1920, most lived in cities, and the country was more ethnically diverse than ever. Congress actually delayed reapportioning its seats for nine years after the 1920 census to keep urban voters from gaining majority rule.

Temperance supporters looked at the newcomers who frequented city saloons and decided they could not handle alcohol. The best thing for both America and for immigrants’ well-being was to ban "intoxicating liquors," which meant all alcohol. (In the South, temperance fans felt African Americans couldn’t handle a drink either.)

So, a Congress representing a minority of voters in an increasingly diverse country banned the production and sale of alcohol because they thought they knew what was best for those poor, urban, ethnic voters. You know how it worked out.

Even though it was repealed, Prohibition’s impact on wine was felt for decades. By making wine a banned substance, something people brewed in their basement, it reduced wine’s value to its ability to intoxicate. Wine was just another type of booze, an intoxicating liquor.

If France decides to chip away at wine’s status as a pillar of French heritage, how long before it becomes just hooch?


Caymus Vineyards Matriarch Lorna Belle Glos Wagner Dies at 97

Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, the strong family matriarch who worked behind the scenes as she, her husband Charlie Wagner, and their son Chuck founded Caymus Vineyards and helped put Napa Cabernet on the map, died Oct. 2. She was 97.

Lorna Belle was never in the limelight. She was a quiet, enduring presence at Caymus Vineyards for decades, a Napa Valley native from a family with winemaking roots dating back 150 years. In 1972, when she helped found Caymus, Napa Valley was struggling to define itself as a wine region and gain wider recognition. When she died at her Rutherford home on Wednesday, just shy of 98, Caymus and its sister wineries—Conundrum, Belle Glos, Mer Soleil, Meiomi and Silver—were enormously successful.

“She had a good run for sure, yet to me it seems like the end of an era, as she was the last of the wagon-train crowd,” her son Chuck told Wine Spectator. He recalled that she worked at the winery, made lunch every day and performed any job that needed to be done, from harvest to the bottling line.

Lorna Belle was at the heart of the Wagner family as its Cabernet Sauvignon became a model of consistency and excellence. She is the namesake for the family’s Pinot Noir label, Belle Glos, now made by her grandson Joseph. Five of her grandchildren are winemakers.


Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience Welcomes Thousands, Announces Plans To Stay In Big Apple

More than 2,000 wine lovers, winemakers and industry professionals filed into two packed ballrooms at New York’s Marriott Marquis in Times Square Thursday night for the first of two nights of Grand Tastings that kicked off the 33rd Wine Spectator Wine Experience, a three-day event featuring winemaker seminars, seated lunches with wine pairings and the black-tie Grand Award Banquet Saturday night featuring a performance by John Legend. The walk-around tasting, which sold out weeks in advance, featured 264 top wineries from around the world, all pouring wines rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator’s editors. For Wine Spectator’s recap of the sold-out festivities, click here.

Meanwhile, as Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin Shanken explained to a ballroom audience of more than 1,000 wine lovers on the opening morning of the gathering, The Wine Experience is putting down roots in the Big Apple for the foreseeable future. In previous years, the Wine Experience has alternated annually between New York and other cities around the country. But this year’s New York event drew overwhelming interest. So, for at least the next five Octobers, the great wines of the world will continue to come through New York.

“What we have proven is that the center of the wine world is right here,” said Shanken. “People want to come to New York.”


Police Uncover Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Counterfeiting Ring

Wine Spectator reports that European authorities have thwarted a counterfeiting ring that’s been faking Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) wines. On Oct. 16, police officers in multiple European countries swooped down on 20 houses and companies, seizing evidence and hauling in seven people for questioning. Two men—a father and son from Italy—were arrested and now face charges of fraud. Both work in the wine merchant business. During the raid, police officers found packaging similar to what was used on the fake DRC in one of their homes. The two men are being held in Italy while awaiting extradition to France. If found guilty, they face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

In December 2012, DRC’s staff alerted gendarmes in Dijon, France, to their suspicions about fraudulent DRC-labeled wines seeping into the marketplace, sparking an investigation. The call set in motion a Europol crime sweep that spanned 10 countries and dismantled an international network involving forgery and smuggling.


Bogle Continues Long-Term Climb, Projecting Double-Digit Growth For 2013

Over the past decade, Bogle Vineyards’ namesake brand has emerged as a standout within the thriving premium-plus ($10-and-up) California wine segment. Last year, the family-owned franchise rose nearly 16% to 1.75 million cases, earning its 12th consecutive Impact “Hot Brand” award and claiming the most Hot Brand honors of any domestic wine brand ever. This year, Bogle vice president, sales and marketing Chris Catterton predicts the brand will continue its trajectory and grow by 12%-14%.

Retailing at around $9-$12 a 750-ml., the core Bogle portfolio features 10 offerings, including a host of varietals and the recently added Essential Red blend, launched a little over a year ago. Up the pricing ladder, the brand also offers Phantom—a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre—which retails in the $15-$20 range.

“Our brand is really founded on value, and our core principle has always been to produce great wines for the money. We think the $10 area allows us to combine the appeal of everyday pricing with good quality,” says Catterton. Bogle’s value proposition has been validated with a strong showing among reviewers over the years, including more than 30 scores of 87 points or higher from Wine Spectator, all on wines priced $17 or below, with the great majority in the $10-$11 range.


Chilean Vineyards Hit By Frost

Two severe frosts have left Chilean winemakers facing a small harvest for 2014, months before they’ll pick the first grapes.  But they’re cautiously optimistic that quality will be good, even if there is less wine, and believe the industry can weather the damage.

“It will be a difficult year for small farmers, and the government is coming to their rescue,” said Aurelio Montes of Viña Montes. “The bigger wineries will have a short supply of 2014 grapes, but will be totally covered by the surplus in stock.”

The frosts may have been the worst in 80 years, according to early estimates by the country’s agricultural department. The coastal regions of Casablanca and Leyda bore the worst damage, but the Central Valley was also hurt.

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