Criminalizing “Merlot”

I’ve reported before how the mainstream (not blogs, not wine media) media tends to cover wine almost only when there is a prurient angle. Here’s another example.

Yesterday ABC Radio News was reporting that a citizen of Utah who’s license plate read "Merlot" will have it revoked because "intoxicant words" are banned from vanity plates in that part of the United States. The owner of the plate has had it for ten years now, but recently someone anonymously informed the Utah Tax Commission that a dangerously descriptive car was traveling the state’s roads using its license plate to promote licentiousness, boozery and drunkeness.

You get the sense from reading the Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting of this incident that they find the policy every bit a ludicrous as I do. But rather than say this (all journalism is objective of course) they jab the Tax Commission with this account of just how the offending license plate could have been missed for ten years:

"Tax Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts said it’s understandable that the offending word could have gone unnoticed for more than a decade.

"I’m a little rusty on my French, too," he acknowledged.

Roberts added that another Utahn has been ordered to remove a
plate from his vehicle. This one spells out "chianti," although he said
the owner will be given the option
of picking another region from France less well-known for its wine. The
problem: Chianti has been famous for its red wine for nearly 300 years,
but it’s located in Italy."

The owner of the license plate is going to appear, arguing that the word refers to the color of his car. I have a feeling that’s not going to go over too well.

The whole incident reveals a number of things. Certainly it reveals that as a varietal wine, Merlot has become every bit as well known as Chardonnay. It confirms the suspicion many of us have had: Utah regulators and state officials have too much time on their hands. It reveals that by reporting this incident on its national news, ABC Radio is willing to make a backhanded attempt at ridiculing the state of Utah for its prudish approach to alcohol.

It should be noted that alcohol references are not the only ones that are banned from Utah licensed authomobiles’ plates. Among the others are plates that reference :

-organized crime,
-illegal activity
-certain body parts
-certain functions of body parts
-contempt of a race, religion,
gender, or political affiliation.

-the numbers six and nine, combined

5 Responses

  1. Randy - March 19, 2007

    So, it’s probably not helpful to wonder at the state of winemaking in Utah. They’re probably above the viticultural boundary anyway, or would be relegated to growing German varieties (not that there’s anything wrong with German varieties…)
    Shrug and move on…

  2. Dan Cochran - March 20, 2007

    I guess there’s no need to ask if any theatres in Utah carried the movie “Sideways”?
    “I am NOT drinking f***ing Merlot!”

  3. Vin Pinard - March 21, 2007

    What’s wrong, then, with “Mare Low,” “Key Anti”, “Port Oh,” “vee no,” “gru-ve,” “Mal Beck,” etc.?

  4. Seth Neal - March 30, 2007

    There are actually a few wineries in Utah now and there are several varietals that grow well here in Utah. Mostly hybrids, but even some Vinifera… although their are some interesting “cultural issues” here… winemaking is alive and well I’ll have you know!

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