Tag Archives: Prohibition

Winebits 659: The “They want to bring back Prohibition” edition


“That’s too much wine — back up the paddy wagon.”

This week’s wine news: Reaction from the cyber-ether to proposed federal guidelines that take us closer to banning drinking in the U.S. – just one glass of wine a day for women and two for men

The banker’s perspective: Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank is one of the smartest people in the wine business, and he sees the threat clearly: “What science is behind the recommended change? The report cited only a single study that examined the difference between men consuming one or two drinks per day. My question is how can an unbiased group conclude that a single study should outweigh and counter the weight of decades of prior work?” McMillan also points out, yet again, how remiss the wine business has been in addressing the threat.

The retail perspective: The National Association of Wine Retailers is blunt: “It appears to the NAWR that there is much more at work here than reasonable recommendations based on a solid body of evidence. It appears to the National Association of Wine Retailers that a significant anti-alcohol agenda is at work in devising the proposed new guidelines on alcohol consumption.”

Even the Wine Institute: The Wine Institute, a trade group for the California wine business, is notorious for its refusal to have anything to do with wine and health. That it finally issued a statement criticizing the new guidelines – as milquetoast as it was – speaks volumes about how the wine business finally sees the Neo-Prohibitionist threat. For it is a threat, as I’ve noted many times — equating moderate drinking with cigarette smoking is past science and is about Prohibition.

15 years since Granholm, and how much hasn’t changed in the three-tier system

GranholmThe Supreme Court’s Granholm decision was supposed to make it possible for us to buy wine from out-of-state retailers and on-line. So why didn’t it?

This is the first of two parts looking at how the century-old three-tier system still prevents us from buying wine on-line or from out-of-state retailers. Today, part I: The Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision, and why it didn’t change three-tier as much as everyone hoped. Friday, part II: Dear Supreme Court: Please fix three-tier.

Fifteen years ago this spring, the Supreme Court made it possible to buy wine from an out-of-state winery in its Granholm decision. The court ruled that states had to treat wineries in- and out-of-state the same way. So, if residents could buy directly from an in-state producer, then they had to be allowed to buy wine from an out-of-state producer as well. This opened the direct-to-consumer wine market, which is worth about $3 billion today

Many smart people also thought Granholm would open the retail wine market, so that consumers could buy wine over the Internet and from companies like Amazon. But that never happened (save for the rare exception like Wine.com), and I explain why in a freelance piece I wrote for Meininger’s Wine Business International.

And why didn’t Granholm do that? Because state lawmakers, regulators, and the courts still go by what’s called the “public health and safety” standard that was set up by the political compromise that ended Prohibition and gave us three-tier. The doctrine says that if a liquor regulation protects the public health and safety, then it’s constitutional. And each group – and particularly the courts in almost every decision since Granholm – still insists it isn’t safe for wine drinkers in one state to buy wine from a retailer in another state. So it remains illegal.

Yes, this is silly and outdated in the second decade of the 21st century – but that’s three-tier for you.

More about three-tier, Granholm, and direct shipping
Tennessee residency law: Did the three-tier system come crashing down yesterday?
Is the coronavirus pandemic the beginning of changes to the three-tier system?
Direct shipping loses a big one

Winebits 629: Prohibition, SVB report, wine consumption

ProhibitionThis week’s wine news: It’s the 100th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, plus insight into the SVB wine report and why the U.S. still drinks more wine than anyone else

Happy anniversary – or not: Reports the BBC: “A century on, a small group of Americans are fighting to keep the dream of the so-called ‘noble experiment’ alive.” The story looks at those who think repeal was a mistake, and why they’re still optimistic about stopping alcohol sales in the U.S. Because, as the story also notes, “The drinking age of 21 is higher than in other nations where drinking is legal. Dry counties and dry towns – where alcohol sales are restricted or barred outright — are dotted throughout the country. And Gallup polling from last year shows that nearly one fifth of respondents said drinking alcohol was “morally wrong.”

Keep the faith, baby: Rob McMillan, whose Silicon Valley Bank wine industry report made such depressing reading last week, tells the Wine Business International trade magazine that one should not abandon hope. He says the industry needs more professional management, which is usually missing given so many family businesses; that wine needs to understand younger consumers and not assume they’re like their parents and grandparents; and that wine needs to focus on health and not premiumization.

Still No. 1: The U.S. remains the world’s biggest consumer of wine, despite all the doom and gloom. That’s the latest data from a study by International Wine and Spirit Research commissioned by Vinexpo. Intriguingly, Chinese consumers drink more red wine than anyone else, some 155 million cases. By comparison, the French drink 150 million cases of red wine. No, I have no idea what this means, save the Chinese prefer red wine.

Prohibition didn’t work then, and it still doesn’t work today

ProhibitionBanning booze has failed in Iran, where you can be whipped for drinking. So why does anyone in the U.S. still think it’s a good idea?

The neo-Prohibitionists, arguing for stiffer laws and higher taxes to stop us from drinking, need to widen their world view. If Prohibition hasn’t worked in Iran, where drinking is punished with floggings and even death, why does anyone think it will work in countries with less repressive governments?

Because, as the New York Times reported (in one of those stories that reminds us how good the best reporting can be), the Iranians realize that almost 40 years of Prohibition has failed. By some estimates, “drinking [among the urban middle class] has become as normal as it is in the West. The Iranian news media have reported that those Iranians who do drink tend to do so more heavily than people even in heavy-drinking countries like Russia and Germany.” In addition, “alcohol is relatively easy to procure. There are alcohol suppliers anyone can call, and they will deliver whatever you want to your doorstep. Dealers receive their goods through a vast illegal distribution network that serves millions with alcohol brought in from neighboring Iraq.”

In other words, Prohibition in Iran ran into the same obstacles that it did in the U.S. – bootlegging and corruption on the supply side, and increased demand that led to excessive drinking and even abuse. Drunkenness has become so widespread, in fact, that the government now permits Alcoholics Anonymous chapters – a stunning reversal of policy in a country where officials always insisted no booze meant no alcoholism.

Said one AA group leader: “These days there is so much alcohol available, simply punishing everybody and using force is no longer working. Drinking and bootlegging used to be viewed as equal crimes, and people would be lashed for being abusers. Now, security officials, the municipality, they all view alcoholics not as criminals, but as patients who need treatment.”

In other words, the key to reducing alcohol abuse is education, not tougher laws like Utah’s two-drink limit. What puzzles me about the neo-Prohibitionist trend in the U.S. is that we’ve seen education work – fewer drunk driving deaths and less underage drinking, and especially over the past 20 years. Yet that hasn’t seemed to make an impression with the Neos.

Hopefully, it will. Otherwise, they’re going to waste time and money on something that they can’t fix. If the Iranians can figure this out, why can’t we?

Images courtesy of the BBC, using a Creative Commons license

Wine with lunch and the end of Western civilization

The Wine Curmudgeon, as a general rule, eats lunch at home — a sandwich with a couple of glasses of water while hoping the phone doesn ?t ring. It ain ?t glamorous, but it is effective.

About a dozen times a year, though, I get to have wine with lunch. It’s usually a meal with a visiting winemaker, but it could also be a media trip or just because — either I’m taking the day off or someone suggests it. And, in those dozen times a year, I’m reminded that sometimes, effective isn’t enough.

Wine with lunch is not what it used to be. Even the French, who turned it into an art form, have pretty much given up on it. Writes Simon Kuper: “France is still not like bits of the U.S., where anyone ordering a lunchtime glass is apparently assumed to have a drinking problem, but it is getting there.”

There are good reasons for this, the most obvious being that no one wants to go back to work too sloshed to get anything done. But isn’t there a midway point between being too sloshed and Kuper’s right-on description of U.S. attitudes? (Which I know first-hand, since I live in one of those places — I get the stares when I order wine with dinner.)

I was reminded of this last week, when I had winemaker lunches with J and Rodney Strong. Somehow, we managed to taste wine, eat lunch, and have intelligent discussions about the wines, the wine business, and even bread baking without anyone staggering out of the restaurant like Foster Brooks. I was even able to drive home and work both days. The wine was not a hindrance, but fun. I don’t know that I want to do it every day, but I do know that I want to do it more often.

In this, wine with lunch does not mean wine instead of lunch. I wonder if our attitude towards this sort of thing has been shaped by what Lew Perdue of Wine Industry Insight describes as the neo-Prohibitionist assault on wine and drinking. Regular visitors here know that I don’t write about the foolishness that is wine health news and that I long ago accepted that 40 percent of Americans say they don’t drink. That’s their business, and who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

But are we at a point where they’re telling the 60 percent what’s good for us? It’s a question I ask with hesitation, because it seems difficult to believe here in the 21st century, 90 years after the end of Prohibition. But if someone like me, who loves wine and writes about wine and drinks wine daily — and is responsible when I drink it — is reluctant to drink wine more often, how must less experienced wine drinkers feel?

Perhaps it’s something to discuss the next time I have wine with lunch.