Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prohibition effects still weigh on wine industry

Repeating myself, I know, but in the spirit of sharing some of the more universal wine sentiments from Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, here are some excerpts from this week's e-letter.

HAPPY 75TH ANNIVERSARY! (SORT OF). Prohibition is dead. At least in theory. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, ironically pushed over by ratification from the most anti-alcohol State, Utah. Alas (and with apologies, though I wasn’t born then), New York State was the hotbed of the Prohibition movement, that “noble experiment” to legislate human behavior which created bathtub gin, speakeasies, and organized crime. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which created Prohibition in 1919 was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933—the only time a truly stupid law has ever been overturned in this way, requiring two Constitutional Amendments (whoops!). But the problem was, and still is, that wine was included in the definition of “intoxicating liquors” (objected to by the President, but overruled by Congress). In addition, the federal government punted, leaving it to each state to determine how to deal with “intoxicating liquors.” Like wine? That’s why the “United States” is, in effect, 50 different countries (states) in terms of where wine is sold (at the winery and/or through direct shipment to consumers and/or direct distribution to retailers [which may be liquor stores, grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, etc., depending on the state] and restaurants and/or through wholesalers). Each state is different—with different laws and regulations, bureaucracies, and tax structures—so the bureaucratic nightmare is overwhelming for most New York and other American wineries, which are primarily small farm family businesses. It is truly amazing that so many people of passion have elected to get into this business and stay in it, given all the obstacles our various levels of government have thrown at them. And while I don’t want to spoil the anniversary celebration, it is important to realize that there are many people—on state, national, and international governmental levels—who essentially want to revive Prohibition (without actually saying the word) through taxes, trade barriers, sampling regulations, and other means. There’s one country, for example, which doesn’t allow wine advertising and is considering a ban on sampling in tasting rooms. Where? France! And if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. That’s why organizations like Farm Bureau (state level), WineAmerica (national) and FIVS (international) are so vital to the health of our industry. Anyway, Happy Anniversary—and may the next 75 years bring true Repeal. Cheers!
GRAPES AND HEALTH is a fascinating, multi-faceted subject discussed by scientists from Hawaii to Boston this week in San Francisco at a seminar hosted by the National Grape and Wine Initiative (NGWI), the private sector strategic planning organization for research and education. One scientist noted that there are at least 1,600 compounds in grapes that affect human health. And did you know that raisins are good for you (and your kids’) teeth? Yes, those sticky sweet things, besides having lots of iron, have fructose and glucose (good sugars), but virtually no sucrose (bad sugar), and their stickiness takes away lots of other bad things in your mouth that could otherwise lead to problems. And what’s happening in your mouth affects the rest of your body. So eat lots of raisins—but not most commercial raisin bran, which contains lots of sucrose (read the label). Concord grape juice also has many health benefits, and current research is expected to confirm protection against Alzheimer’s and other dementia. In fact, we’ll be sponsoring a major media and trade event in New York City on the health benefits of Concord grape juice, when we hope to light the Empire State Building purple for the event. Table grapes also have various benefits, as does grape seed extract sold in many health and nutrition stores. We’re not allowed to talk about wine (ssshhh!!), but there are even rumors that regular moderate wine consumption has incredible, multiple benefits including the reduction of risk of heart disease, cancer, and other common killers. In short, the humble little grape is powerful medicine.

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