Wise & otherwise – wine news

Wise & otherwise – wine news – column

Philip E. Hiaring

Wise & Otherwise

FAT CITY. John De Luca, president of Wine Institute, should be a happy camper. You’d be too, if you got a 62.5% raise to $400k per annum. With a 10-year contract, no less! At least Jack Valenti, the head of the movie association, pulls down more than that. But it’s about twice what the director of an average national association gets. This “rumor” buzzed about the industry for a while, and we asked W.I. Chair Frank Woods to confirm or deny. W.I. doesn’t talk about salary matters, but, obviously, if the “rumor” was untrue Frank would have set me straight. Right? So why the incredible raise? Well, it looks like a slap in the face to the wineries which rejected the newly-defunct California Wine Commission. The raise was the big wineries’ way of sticking it to the dissidents in a very blunt power play. July, I’m told, is the month when W.I. salaries are reviewed. Wonder if any of the troops over there got 62.5% pay hikes? It will be hard for wine to plead poverty re: excise taxes, etc. given that salary scenario.

RUN THAT BY ME AGAIN. Last month, a hearing was held on the Sensible Advertising and Family Education Act of 1990, sponsored by Cong. Joe Kennedy and Sen. Al Gore. The venue: the Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials. Funny, wine is a “hazardous material”? Anyway, the National Wine Coalition urged wine and grape associations to write and express their views to Cong. Tom Luken of Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee. The NWC even offered 10 “talking points” to include with those comments. Somehow, the fact that wine is different from booze or beer was not communicated. Nuthin’ about wine as the beverage of moderation, the blood of Christ, that it’s a farm product with a cultural and religious heritage, etc. No, rave on about the first amendment vis-a-vis commercial speech. Unfortunately, what the NWC urged was about the same arguments as offered by beer and spirits. Boy, did Seagram ever stick it to wine with that “equivalency” campaign. It would appear that wine’s salvation would be in separating itself from beer and spirits, but don’t hold your breath. Wine Institute, because of the big winery interest, will not break ranks with beer and spirits. My guess is it’s because the big outfits do not care what the various governments do. While a $20,000 “special occupational tax” could put a mon-‘n-popper out of business, it wouldn’t really bother the giants. This is all very interesting in light of the fact that one of the brewers, I think it’s Miller, is portraying the wine drinking set as tuxedoed and dining in swank restaurants. Then the spot cuts to “average” joes having a brewski in the backyard. Copy asks, “who do you think should be taxed”? As in excise. That’s not nice, but so far, no reaction, much less a counter-attack, from wine. Back to the Kennedy-Gore bill, Rick Feeney of the National Vintners Association noted the bill probably wouldn’t pass this session, since congresspeople take August off, and many will take October off to run for office again. But you can expect Kennedy or Gore to reintroduce the bill next year. Then, for crying out loud, maybe we can get some of the good stuff about wine on the record. Feeney and the NVA will certainly give it a shot.

WORTH WAITING FOR. The fourth edition of Leon D. Adams’ The Wines of America should be in teh bookstores this month. For the first time, it will be out in paperback; a good idea, since Leon figures the book will be more available to readers. The hardcover price is $24.95, the paperback $14.95. The Wines of America is the sole source of exhaustive background on the wine industry in North America.

GREEN MONSTER. Not often do we welcome federal intervention, but there may be an exception regarding Hayden-Van de Kamp’s “Green Monster” initiative. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said that the provisos of the initiative would, among other things, put California (and the U.S.) in a bind concerning free trade. Of course, supporters of the Monster rebuked the E.P.A. “We think it’s outrageous for the (Bush) administration to propose this kind of pre-emption,” said Carl Pope for the Sierra Club. Carl, there are more than a few of us out there who think the Sierra Club’s support of the Monster is, in a word, outrageous. A long time ago, I belonged to the Sierra Club. I always wondered why I let my membership lapse …

WAR ON DRUGS. Good old Christine Lubinski of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has put it to the Bush administration (again) for not including beer, wine and spirits in the war on drugs. Our local daily, the Marin I-J, helpfully published her diatribe July 1. Of course, she believes – or at least writes – that advertising causes alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Of course, she supports the numbskull Kennedy-Gore advertising bill. It’s pretty clear where Lubinski and others of her ilk are headed: because ethanol is a drug, it should be lumped in with heroin, crack, etc. But a lot of things are drugs, aspirin for example. Should it be considered “illegal”? Unfortunately, newspapers like the Marin I-J give people like Lubinski a forum without questioning her postulations or logic. This same paper spirits advertising. I doubt wine people would argue with Lubinski when she limits herself to alcohol problems; but I’m afraid she does not – because she cannot distinguish between use and abuse. That’s what’s scary. What is even scarier, of course, is the possibility that Congress will believe her. It would be a mistake to think “it can’t happen here … not again.” Oh, really?

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