Tag Archives: liquor laws

Winebits 528: Utah liquor, canine bars, and flavored wine


“Bring on the craft beer!”

This week’s wine news: Utah, despite some of the strictest anti-drinking laws in the country, sees more booze consumption, plus craft beer and shelter dogs and flavored wine

Only in Utah: Mormon-dominated Utah has some of the strictest anti-drinking laws in the country, something we’ve noted many times before. So why do alcohhol sales keep increasing every year, up three percent per capita from 2106 to 2017? State officials say its because of more residents from out of state plus thriving tourism. Which, of course, overlooks all those anti-drinking laws, including the most stringent DWI regulations in the U.S. It demonstrates a point that we’ve been making on the blog for years, that anti-drinking laws don’t slow consumption. Education does, but hardly anyone wants to invest in that. It’s easier to get tough.

Craft pooches? Who knew that we would one day take our pets to a do-themed bar? But that’s what happened in suburban Portland this week, when Fido’s Taphouse opened. Its owners say Fido’s is the first of its kind: “Fido’s blends foster housing for shelter dogs with a craft beer tap room. Patrons will be able to drink craft beer and play with shelter dogs, with the goal of rehoming these dogs to loving owners.” It’s an odd approach (even allowing for the PR person who used “rehoming,” which is not a word). I’m more concerned, as someone who has owned dogs his entire life, about people who drink beer while contemplating adoption. Hard to make a rational decision, isn’t it?

Flavored wine? No, apparently not, reports Flavorman, the Beverage Architects (and no, I am not making this up). The Louisville, Ky., company says “Maple, the sweet sign of spring and uniquely North American ingredient, is the top trending flavor for the upcoming year. It is famous for its complex sweetness and unmatched flavor. More recently, it is front and center for its role as an alternative sweetener and extensive list health and nutritional benefits.” The bad news for wine drinkers? Sadly, there will not be any maple flavored wine – only “Matcha Tea, international coffee blends, botanical-heavy beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and in craft beverages including sodas, beer and spirits.” How will we ever survive?

Winebits 523: Booze ban, grape varieties, liquor licenses

booze banThis week’s wine news: Building an island to get around a booze ban, plus climate change’s affect on wine and good news for Massachusetts wine drinkers

A private island: What do you do when the liquor cops ban public drinking? You build an island where they can’t enforce the ban. That was the case in New Zealand over the New Year’s weekend, where residents built a sand island in in a bay to avoid the ban. The BBC reported that “Locals joked that they were in ‘international waters’ and thus exempt from an official liquor ban.” Which seemed to work; one local cop said he thought it was a terrific idea.

Climate change effects: A Harvard study says winemakers might be able to counteract some of the effects of climate change by planting lesser-known grape varieties, even though many of them are reluctant to do so. Says Elizabeth Wolkovich, one of the study’s co-authors: “With continued climate change, certain varieties in certain regions will start to fail – that’s my expectation. The solution we’re offering is how do you start thinking of varietal diversity. Maybe the grapes grown widely today were the ones that are easiest to grow and tasted the best in historical climates, but I think we’re missing a lot of great grapes better suited for the future.”

Loosening the law: Massachusetts, which has some of the toughest liquor laws in the country, should be willing to loosen its restrictions. That’s the conclusion of the state’s Alcohol Beverages Control Commission Task Force in a 288-page final report. The good news for wine drinkers? The task force says the state’s grocery stores should be allowed to sell alcohol in every store, as opposed to the current cap on the number of stores in a chain that can sell booze.

Winebits 468: La Vielle Ferme rose, Utah laws, Kevin Zraly

La Vielle Ferme roseThis week’s wine news: Even La Vielle Ferme rose wants to be hip, plus Utah liquor laws and Kevin Zraly.

Bring on the pink: How do we know that rose is hot, hip, and happening? Because the Wine Curmudgeon has received two news releases from the company that makes La Vieille Ferme rosé, the first I’ve ever gotten from La Vielle. The wine has been sold in the U.S. for so long that I wasn’t old enough to drink when it first appeared; until 10 or 12 years ago, the rooster rose was about the only dry pink wine that was widely available. That the producer needs to remind wine writers that it’s still on the market, and hasn’t done a Blue Nun, speaks to the idea that newer, more trendy roses are getting all the attention. I should try it again and see if the producer has stepped up its game given all the competition on the market.

Even in Utah: The state, known for some of the most draconian three-tier laws in the country, sold a record five percent more booze on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This matters since the state makes it so difficult to buy spirits, wine, and beer. Nevertheless, there were so many customers at some of the 44 state-owned stores that officials had to limit the number of people in the store so it wouldn’t be overcrowded. If anything shows that the country’s attitude towards alcohol has changed, this is it. Utah is home to the Mormon church, whose members are supposed to abstain.

40 years on: Kevin Zraly, the man who wrote perhaps the best introductory book about wine, has taught his last Windows on the World wine class. I can’t say enough about Zraly’s book; I’ve used it in my El Centro class and always recommend it. Says Zraly: “If my course had just been about wine, it never would have lasted. It’s interactive. It’s entertaining, I want people to talk. I studied elementary education. After the third glass of wine, it’s not a class. It’s crowd control.”

Winebits 451: A three-tier system roundup

three-tierThis week’s wine news is all about the three-tier system – a well-written story about how it works, plus updates on marijuana and Utah.

• “It’s impossible to taste 645 wines:” Jeremy Baker of Food52, a self-described “amateur wine lover,” writes about his adventure in the three-tier system, and he spends a lot of time down the rabbit hole. Baker interviews a wine shop owner, who explains what it’s like to taste hundreds of wines a week to decide what to carry, and gets to visit a trade tasting where 645 wines are being shown. “The tasting list is in actuality a 166-page book,” he writes, and his amazement goes on from there. That Baker can actually begin to imagine the difficulties that the system imposes on retailers is the strength of the story. My only regret is that he doesn’t assess the system and decide if it’s time is past. Otherwise, highly recommended reading.

Don’t trust the wholesalers: Tom Wark, whose crusade against the three-tier system makes my opinions seem like a child’s musings, has a warning for the marijuana business: “Whatever you do, don’t allow America’s alcohol wholesalers anywhere near your growing and soon-to-be-legal industry.” Wark’s post explains why he doesn’t want the legal weed business to be dominated by the distributor-based system that controls the wine supply chain. My favorite part? Where he quotes a distributor trade group, which says legal marijuana needs three-tier to prevent illegal sales. Which, of course, sounds like an argument only Dave would understand.

Only in Utah: Regular visitors know how much the WC appreciates Utah’s Kafka-esque interpretation of three-tier, and this is yet another example. Under a new tasting law, liquor producers must have a “distinct area for consumption” so that tastings are “outside the view of minors” who may be at the winery. In other words, wineries can only do tastings in a back room out of sight of any children who may be at the winery. Which presupposes that kids are flocking to wineries and craft beer and spirits producers to watch adults sample the product. Could be worse, though: What happens when the Utah legislature finds out kids might be watching their parents drink at home?

Winebits 449: Oklahoma grocery store wine, chilling wine, retailers

Oklahoma grocery store wineThis week’s wine news: A legal challenge to Oklahoma grocery store wine, the history of chilling wine, and inside dope on how retailers price wine.

Not in Oklahoma: A judge won’t stop a November referendum to decide whether to allow Oklahoma grocery store wine, though her ruling was not a ringing endorsement. The Associated Press reports that the judge had questions about whether the ballot measure was constitutional and would schedule another hearing to decide that issue. Oklahoma grocers can’t sell beer or wine; only the legendary 3.2 “weak” beer, which has about 1 percent less alcohol than “strong” beer.

Chill, dude: U.S. restaurants aren’t the only place where you can find wine served too cold. Sarah Bond writes in Forbes that several ancient civilizations were using snow and ice to chill wine as long as 2,000 years ago. In fact, the “shape of ceramic vessels from the ancient world also indicates how much Greeks and Romans enjoyed a cold beverage. The original wine cooler was in fact called a psykter, and was a mushroom shaped vase.” That shape allowed it to float within a much larger bowl of cold water or snow, chilling the contents of the psykter. My question? Did the Greeks and Romans have to pay $200 for theirs?

Damn that competition: This article from the trade website Shanken News Daily details the discomforts of selling wine in Minnesota, where competition has cut prices significantly and where Surdyk’s, one of the state’s oldest retailers, is feeling the pinch. It is selling Black Box wines for $14.99, which is $7 from what it “should” retail for and is “pennies” above Surdyk’s wholesale cost. The interview with Jim Surdyk shows perfectly how competition is cutting wine prices in many markets, and is written so that even consumers can understand it. The catch? The site has gone to a paywall after years of free access, and most of us won’t be able read it.

Winebits 447: Pennsylvania wine, Judgment of Paris, wine on TV

Pennsylvania wineThis week’s wine news: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy in the supermarket this fall, the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, and a new wine TV show.

Maybe by Thanksgiving: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy wine in the grocery store by the holiday if all goes well, reports the Post-Gazette newspaper in Pittsburgh. The well-written piece explains the obstacles to be overcome and the bureaucratic tussle to be negotiated for grocery stores to sell wine for the first time in the state’s history: They need to get a retail license, renovate their aisles to make room for wine, and to work with distributors to make sure wine shows up at the store. For example, since no distributor in the state sells to grocery stores now, wholesalers will have to set up the process from scratch. Again, another example of how cumbersome and outdated the three-tier system is.

Judgment of Paris: The Wine Curmudgeon mentions the 40th anniversary of the most important event in the U.S. wine business after Prohibition again for two reasons. First, this Jancis Robinson story focuses on Steven Spurrier, the Briton who put the Judgment together, something we don’t see much of in this country. Second, as you read this, I’m in Colorado with Warren Winiarksi, whose Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon was chosen best red wine in the blind tasting. Perhaps Warren and I can find time to record a podcast while we’re here if he doesn’t mind recounting yet again how the California wines bested the best wines in France.

Making wine on TV work: The Wine Curmudgeon has often lamented that wine makes for lousy TV, because an interesting wine TV show could help boost wine’s popularity in the U.S. That may change in August, though, when Hulu airs the English “TV Wine Show” featuring two British actors who apparently make women swoon – Matthew Goode (hope he doesn’t read this) and Matthew Rhys. I have not seen the show, but will watch it and review it. Goode and Rhys are going to have to be very sexy to overcome the plot description, though, which sounds like another wine TV yawner: “[W]ine pros travel the world to experience international wine culture from experts.”

Texas and the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart Texas lawsuitThree things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.

All that may be about to change.

Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.

I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.

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