On Presidents & Wine


I know there are people who determine who to vote for in an election based on a single issue. "Do they or do they not support abortion rights?"…"Do they or do they not support unfettered access to guns?"…."Do they or do they not support gay marriage?"…

I don’t think I like single issue voters. They give me the creeps because anyone so single minded probably can’t be trusted think clearly. In my mind, clear thinking is a good thing.

That said, what if one was a single issue voter who only asked, "which candidate is best for the wine industry?"

Is it possible to look at the two major party candidates for President of the United States and answer this question definitively? How would we best engage this question? What factors and stated positions would give us a the raw material to evaluate the question? I’m thinking the following questions would yield the best information for answering this question of which candidate is best for the wine industry:

1. Which candidate supports lowering the drinking age to 18?
2. Which candidate is more apt to support heightened regulation in general?
3. Which candidate is likely to support Free Trade measures
4. Which candidate is likely to support more liberal immigration policy?
5. Which candidate is likely to be more visibly supportive of wine in general.

Asking which candidate is likely to improve the economy in general seems like a foolish question to ask in this context. I don’t believe that a president is capable of guiding the economy in any specific direction and this is why I don’t list it as a question to consider.

So, these seem to me to be the critical questions where the wine industry is concerned. Frankly, it’s unlikely that this presidential campaign will see any substantive discussion of alcohol related issues, let alone wine-specific discussions. If the question of alcohol is ever brought up, it almost always is done so to ask if a candidate has or has had in the past a problem with alcohol or to use wine and beer as a metaphor for the candidates’ demographic orientations and to characterize their supporters: Chardonnay Drinkers vs. Beer Swillers.

It strikes me that some media outlet connected to the wine industry, say the SF Chronicle, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Seattle Intelligencer, Oregonian, Wine Business Monthly, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, etc, really ought to submit a series of wine related questions to both campaigns.

If it were FERMENTATION submitting the questions, they might look like this:

-What is your favorite kind of wine?
-Do you collect wine?
-How would you describe "Terroir"?
-Is it good policy to allow Americans to buy fine wine via the Internet?
-Will you commit to serving exclusively American Wine at White House functions?
-Chardonnay or Chablis?
-What do you think of the 100 Point rating system?
-Do you ever read FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog?

29 Responses

  1. Arthur - July 16, 2008

    As a physician, and one specializing in neurobehavioral medicine, I cannot endorse the idea of lowering the drinking age to 18. From a medical and neuroscience standpoint, this is not a good idea.
    However, I would endorse a candidate who supports tearing down Blue Laws and shipping limitations (while being fully aware that these are state and not federal laws and that states stand to loose a lot of dough if they loose liquor monopolies).

  2. dhonig - July 16, 2008

    Since LBJ, only American wines have been served at the White House (source- http://lifestyle.msn.com/FoodandEntertaining/TheWineLife/Article.aspx?cp-documentid=687148). The Bush Administration seems to favor Texas wines, Laura Bush’s favorite:
    She is allegedly fond of Becker Vineyards’ wines from the Hill Country around Austin, Texas. Becker’s Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet was served to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner at the Bushes’ ranch in Crawford, Texas. Becker wines have also been served at the last two annual governor’s meetings.
    Curiosly, at least according to one site (http://www.thewinenews.com/decjan0001/feat.html), the White House does not have a cellar, instead purchasing wine for specific events. Wine decisions are made with an eye toward the guests as much as the meal being served:
    When Poland’s Lech Walesa visited in 1994, for instance, the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars were served by the Clinton administration because they were made by Warren Winiarski, an American vintner with a Polish ancestry. Similarly, when Romano Prodi, president of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Italy, joined the Clintons for dinner in 1998, American wines made from Italian varieties elevated the occasion: a Ponzi Arneis from Oregon, a Horton Nebbiolo from Virginia, followed by a Pecota Moscato d’Andrea from California.

    On May 22, the Clintons honored His Excellency Thabo Mbeki, president of the Republic of South Africa, and Mrs. Mbeki. A 1999 Long Vineyard Pinot Grigio was served with green and white asparagus with wild leeks, morels and new potatoes. (Zelma Long owns the California winery, but has purchased vineyard land in South Africa.) A 1996 Chimney Rock Elevage was paired with the apricot-ginger glazed lamb entree with saffron pistachio couscous and herbed spring vegetables. (Chimney Rock owner Hack Wilson once lived in South Africa.)
    Cool post. I hope you don’t mind the long comment.

  3. Steve Heimoff - July 16, 2008

    A year or so ago, I asked Gov. Schwarzenegger’s press secretary if I could do a Q&A with Arnold and Maria on the topic of wine, food and lifestyle for Wine Enthusiast. I promised not to ask anything political. I assumed that they both enjoy wine and that he has a personal cellar. Unfortunately, the answer was a firm No. The press sec’y didn’t explain why, but I have the feeling that politicians are extremely shy about talking about wine. They’re afraid of being branded as Chablis-drinking elitists by rightwing dingbats, and they’re probably right.

  4. Arthur - July 16, 2008

    That is ironic because the hallways leading to the governor’s office are lined by displays representing all the counties of the state and many of these displays feature bottles of wine….

  5. Gabriella Opaz - July 16, 2008

    As I am not a physician, I would never try and go head to head with you on the issue of brain development; however, I feel as if your comment is focused on children who binge drink rather than drink moderately.
    I would agree that high levels of alcohol inhibit or alter brain development, but I feel like we are making a direct link between healthy brain development and children drinking under 21, which concerns me.
    In the UK, it is legal to drink at 18. The Truth About Booze Campaign, funded by The UK Department of Health to tackle binge drinking, is quoted on their website saying, “it’s not illegal for you to drink alcohol – unless you are under five. Actually research suggests that children introduced responsibly to alcohol by adults go on to take a responsible attitude to it.” What I like about this political stance is that they’re emphasizing education and moderation, so that binge drinking is nonexistent at any age.
    Personally, I would hope that both Mccain and Obama put their money and their time not only into reforming archaic alcohol laws, but also into education without an underpinning of fear.

  6. Arthur - July 16, 2008

    Gabriella, the brain continues to grow and develop into our mid 20s. A major part of that brain development (colloquially called maturity) involves the development of the parts o the brain responsible for judgment, decision making and impulse control. On both continents, the legal drinking age comes well before the brain has stopped developing those critical areas.
    Most young people (in the US and Europe) tend to binge drink once they attain legal autonomy and legal drinking age. That is human nature: we tend to go to excess in exploring newly found freedoms and privileges. And, again,young people are particularly prone to impulsive behavior not being able know when to say when.
    Now, I understand and support responsible and cautious socialization of children into alcohol. A little, now and then, is *probably* harmless. I like to point out that until recently most children’s cough syrups contained alcohol.
    But the issue at hand is not children who may be given a taste of wine at the table. The legal drinking age pertains to autonomous young adults who very often just do not have the maturity (ie completed neurophysiology) to handle the responsibility of being able to purchase and consume alcohol and in the process also expose their developing neurophysiology to damage.

  7. dhonig - July 16, 2008

    It seems that you and Gabriella are actually reaching the same point from different directions. You are saying younger people should be put in a position where binge drinking is more likely, and she is saying treating alcohol, and particularly wine, as part of life rather than a forbidden fruit makes binge drinking less likely.
    I agree with both of you, even if you don’t agree that is what you were both saying.

  8. Tom Wark - July 16, 2008

    It has also come to my attention that setting foot on a battleground while in uniform is also very detrimental to the maturation not only of the brain, but the body. And yet, we seem not only to allow this, but to promote this for those under the age of 21.
    In my mind the question is not whether alcohol, when drunk to excess and excessively drunk by those between 18 and 21, can possibly harm their maturing and developing brain. Instead, I think the better question is, what are the consequences of treating 18 year old’s like children? I suspect by doing so, we will promote a childish attitude among 18,19, and 20 year olds.
    In my views, if we are going to support a 21 year old drinking age, then we ought also try to be consistent and also support a 21 year old requirement for military service, voting, driving a car and support the attainment of 21 years of age before anyone is allowed to speak without first being spoken to.

  9. Christina - July 16, 2008

    Spectacular post Tom. I have been wondering the same thing!

  10. Morton Leslie - July 16, 2008

    A few questions. Is there evidence that getting an answer from a politician on any issue before elected has bearing on what they will actually do after elected? Is there evidence that the European drinking age of 16 is creating a continent of mentally deficient individuals? (no French jokes, okay) Is there any kid of high school age who is actually (I am saying, realistically)limited in his or her access to alcohol by the legal drinking age?

  11. Arthur - July 16, 2008

    I actually wanted to point out the incongruity of the legal drinking age with the minimum age of enlistment (17, with parental consent I believe) but I wanted to keep my argument focused.
    You are more than likely correct that a single profound intoxication does not often cause lasting brain damage – in those cases when the young person does not drink themselves into a coma, fall off a balcony, get behind the wheel of a car or engage in risky behaviors like unprotected sex. All these behaviors and choices increase in incidence (especially in young adults) when you put some ethanol into their blood.
    Part of my daily bread and butter is participating in forensic cases where formula goes something like this:
    “young/immature/impulsive + alcohol = more irresponsible behavior” and “increasing irresponsible behavior = increased incidence of very bad consequences”.
    You are correct that it is absurd to create a milestone day only after which one is deemed an adult. But the fact is that most people aged 18-25 do not have the maturity to handle alcohol consumption responsibly every time. One can hope that gradual introduction to alcohol and socialization into a culture of responsible consumption may prevent tragic consequences. Unfortunately in many cases, no amount of nurture can override nature.

  12. Thomas Pellechia - July 16, 2008

    “Most young people (in the US and Europe) tend to binge drink once they attain legal autonomy and legal drinking age.”
    I question the use of the word “most.” That, to me, is like calling a mouse a rat–are you perhaps inflating the data, Arthur? If not, may I ask for access to the stats on that?
    What is the definition of “binge drink,” anyway?
    I always thought it referred to alcoholics who go on days-old benders. But it seems to mean something else these days, and I haven’t read or heard a definition backed up by stats.

  13. Arthur - July 16, 2008

    “Binge” is just that: and accelerated and intense consumption of anything in a short period of time. You don’t have to be an addict, alcoholic or bulimic to go on a binge. (http://general-medicine.jwatch.org/cgi/content/citation/2003/128/4)
    All the following are examples of situations that can be generally agreed to be conucive to or the scenes of binges (so long as you are consuming alcohol and not studying the bible): a party when your parents are out of town and it’s your senior year in high school, a weekend on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale or Rosarito with the fraternity brothers, a kegger or a blow out after finals or when the apartment lease ends.
    I think just as with our appreciation of wine, we can be out of touch with the general public’s (young and old) attitudes towards alcohol. I think many people do in fact like to drink to get buzzed or even drunk.
    After all that is why people use intoxicants: because they like the intoxicating effects.
    Now, when I say: “Most young people (in the US and Europe) tend to binge drink once they attain legal autonomy and legal drinking age.” I mean that as a group, they tend to experiment and go to excess. Some do it regularly (every weekend), others once or twice in their (4-7 year) college career. But they do indulge as a group and as a rule.
    Here are some publications which go into greater depth:
    (i will have to post the links separately b/c the spam filter is not allowing me to post the 4-5 links I have)

  14. Gabriella Opaz - July 16, 2008

    I don’t see that Arthur and I are coming to the same conclusion, and here is why:
    “The legal drinking age pertains to autonomous young adults who very often just do not have the maturity (ie completed neurophysiology) to handle the responsibility of being able to purchase and consume alcohol and in the process also expose their developing neurophysiology to damage.”
    Regardless if a child is 18 or 21, society will teach them how to interact with alcohol. Case in point, Spain. A child is legally able to drink wine at 16 and hard liquor at 18, and although there has been an increase in binge drinking, it is not as a result of age or maturity, but rather, cultural trends.
    According to the Sept. 2007 EU Business Report, “‘Although traditionally, southern European countries had a pattern of higher per capita consumption, most of which was derived from daily consumption of wine with meals, this is changing,’ said Joan Villalbí, a medical doctor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
    ‘For example, daily consumption with meals is decreasing in Spain, and beer is the most consumed alcohol. Binge drinking, particularly among youth on weekend nights, has become a health and social issue in Spain, a process mirrored in other countries of southern Europe,’ he added.”
    Therefore, I don’t feel that we can conclude that children are psychologically or emotionally incapable of drinking responsibly at 18, 16 or 21, but rather, society is failing to provide the support structure, the role modeling and the education to have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

  15. Thomas Pellechia - July 17, 2008

    For the record, I agree with Gabriella.
    Arthur, I don’t see a defense of the use of the word “most,” in your post, which at its core is an inflammatory way to make a point.
    Also, what “binge” means now differs from what it meant. It’s a word that had the meaning of going on long benders, and so it was co-opted by those who would exploit what has been a human condition since the beginning of recorded history–heavy celebratory drinking. They even did it in the Bible.
    The practice of celebratory drinking takes on the sadness of alcoholism by using the word “binge” to describe it. I’m not saying that it’s right for young people to get drunk a lot, just that it’s not the same thing as alcoholism, which the medical profession long ago decided is a disease and not a social failure.
    I have been around long enough to have witnessed a large does of empirical evidence against the so-called fact that brain development is seriously affected by alcohol in moderation after puberty.
    Scare tactics for social engineering rubs me the wrong way.
    I will read the links you provided when I have the time, and I will tell you what I think.

  16. dhonig - July 17, 2008

    Thank you for the clarification. It seems that you and I are closer to the same page than with Arthur, having read what you just wrote. My kids see me drink wine. They are allowed to taste it. At certain religious ceremonies they get a little. When they ask about it I speak to them frankly. I purchased an ’02 Climens for my 6 year old’s 21st birthday, and will probably get the ’05 Yquem for the three year olds. Wine is part of life, not a forbidden fruit. Unless you make it a forbidden fruit, a recipe for disaster.
    Yes, society does a poor job, selling alcohol (primarily beer) as the social lubricant and the key to beautiful women’s hearts and regions further south, as a running joke about inebriation, about everything bad in alcohol, and nothing of the good in wine. That said, treating it as an elicit substance PERPETUATES society’s errors. Instead, parents should reject that thrill/fear of alcohol and teach their children about life.

  17. Agent Red - July 17, 2008

    Interesting timing, Tom. Check out my interview today with the other presidential candidate, “Elu”, from St. Supery.

  18. johng - July 17, 2008

    On a different side of this issue, I have a neighbor who in 2004 displayed a bumper-sticker on his truck that read “Vote Your Sport”. He’s a hunter, so the implication is that Kerry specifically, and Democrats in general, despite their protests to the contrary, are seen by at least some hunters as being unfriendly to hunters and their sport.
    That is a more extreme example, but while I am curious about the questions you raise, it seems a little selfish and arrogant to advocate voting for somebody over a single issue that affects oneself.

  19. Morton Leslie - July 17, 2008

    Speaking of Presidents and wine, Dubya is here in the Napa Valley again. They are closing the trail for four hours this afternoon. Word I got he is visiting Mumm. Last time he was here it was choppers overhead days before, buses end to end surrounding the new track at the middleschool… as if he would land there, but only a diversion for potential terrorists. Motorcade after motorcade. All for a mountain bike ride at Meadowood. This visit has been less of a display.
    My question is why Mumm? Maybe he is here to announce a new idea of his on energy or another subsidy for ethanol? Or maybe he is there to see if we can eliminate the C02 emissions from sparkling wine and help stave off global warming.

  20. Arthur - July 17, 2008

    Maybe there’s oil in that there valley?…

  21. David - July 17, 2008

    McCain’s Answer’s to your questions:
    1. Anything from an really older vintage – you know around the time I was born.
    2. While I did for a while, I kind of lost the practice during the late sixties.
    3. It’s the thing were fighting against all over the world.
    4. The internet, the internet….hmmmm. What exactly is that again?
    5. Of course. There will be no “Freedom” wine served in my White House.
    6. Chardonnay…see question #5
    7. I’ve used it all of my career in the Senate to rate my fellow Senators. No one has ever gotten more that 65 points.
    8. The first thing I do when I get up every morning.

  22. Thomas Pellechia - July 17, 2008

    That’s funny, David, and probably mostly true!!!

  23. Margaret - July 17, 2008

    There’s a great new wine movie called BOTTLE SHOCK coming out on Aug 8. I saw it at the Maui International Film Festival. It’s got a great cast– Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Freddy Rodriguez. A must-see for all winelovers!!! The website is up check it out:

  24. Thomas Pellechia - July 19, 2008

    I read the links you put up. I have to say that they are mainly long on study results and short on information.
    What’s more, they do not talk much about the message of moderate wine consumption, which plays a major role in how young people of other cultures view–or used to view–alcohol.
    As an aside: I remember a stat many years ago about a study done on Italians. At the time, Italians had the highest per-capita wine consumption and the lowest alcoholism stats in Europe. Second-generation Italians whose parents emigrated to the United States, however, lost the low alcoholism benefit, and the loss was attributed to the change in cultural mores.
    Only Blumenthal’s piece made a case for thinking about the issue. His final thoughts inlcude:
    “Defining drinking behavior with absolute numbers and imprecise terms mislabels many drinkers; it also both overestimates and underestimates the true risk. The physical and behavioral effects of alcohol, as well as the context and time interval it is consumed, are more important considerations.”
    Couldn’t agree more. Regulators and social engineers don’t concern themselves with his final sentence–they just make sweeping claims and sweeping rules, as if there is no way that moderate alcohol consumption can–or should–exist. Citing inconclusive studies and using un-cited inflating adjectives plays into their hands.
    Oh, none of the links say anything about the affect on young brains that we were talking about earlier. I was looking for that information, too.

  25. William Charles - July 24, 2008

    Never heard of the movie, probably have to buy it though doubt my local rental has it.

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