What Wine Lovers Should Watch For In Tonight’s Debate

Today is a big day for political junkies and wine lovers. The punditry and blogosphere all seem to agree that this first presidential debate of the 2012 general election campaign is not just the most important, but could decide the 2012 election. Here’s what America’s wine lover should be watching for .

Can Obama Defend his Biggest Achievement: ObamaWine
The right side of the wine drinking spectrum has made repeal of ObamaWine their number one goal since the president pushed through AVA reform in 2010, fundamentally changing the way wine was produced and  labeled. In following up on his 2008 campaign promise to reform America’s AVA system and making it more European in character by putting region before varietal, the President knew he would be putting a target on his back and his re-election campaign. This will be the first time the President has had to defend his new regulatory scheme side-by-side ObamaWine’s greatest critic.

The question is can Governor Romney make the case that ObamaWine will, as he has repeated over and over, “destroy wineries, destroy winemaking innovation and put America squarely in the failing European wine camp.”

Look for Romney to tie ObamaWine to a moribund French appellation system that has kept winemaking innovation at a minimum in that country and, according to some, has lead to a decline in that France’s once dominant wine industry. Look for the President to try to tie Romney to the violent 2011 Napa Valley Winemaker Riots and tar him as sympathetic to terrorists. This tack worked well in the now infamous “Does Romney Support Terror” ad following the Tampa Convention. The same question got the greatest cheers in Charlotte when the President repeated it during his convention speech.

Can Romney Use “Natural Wine” as a Wedge Issue and Knock the President Off Balance?
Perhaps the only crack in the famously cool demeanor of President Obama that the country witnessed over the passed four years was in his hyper defensive response to NBC Anchor Brian Williams’ interview question about “Natural Wine” back in April. The President was caught off guard by Williams’ aggressive questioning of the president’s support for a move toward Natural Winemaking and his reluctance to explain the policies he would actually put in place, let alone even define the meaning of the term. Romney will remind Americans of the President’s seeming disregard for “traditional” winemakers the Right has defined as the “backbone of American Winemaking that doesn’t deserve to be tarred as poison-mongers”.

Obama will need to go a little further in explaining what he views as the benefits of “Natural Wine” and its production or at least effectively pivot away from the subject. How deftly he handles this difficult subject could define the post debate spin.

Can Obama Deliver a Knock Out Blow over the 28th Amendment?
Perhaps no issue so fundamentally divides the candidates as the 28th Amendment, now working its way through the state legislatures. With 30 states now having ratified the “Drinker’s Rights Amendment”, the country is as close as it has ever been to allowing citizens in every state to purchase wine from any out-of-state source without the traditional interference by state laws. With national polling showing 60% of Americans in favor of the DRA, Romney is behind the wine glass on this issue.

Expect the President to aggressively defend the DRA as an economic stimulus and as an economic rights issue. Romney will need to find a way to overcome his glaring flipflop on this issue. His support of direct shipping of wine while governor of Massachusetts stands out even more than his current opposition to direct shipping of wine.  His turn to the right on this issue during the Republican primary campaign has been a source not only of ridicule generally, but of the doubt many conservatives have had about his candidacy. Expect Romney to fall back on the states rights argument, while Obama continues to push Romney on his flip flopping over the DRA.

“Cabs & Cults”
The accusation that Obama is a left wing wine elitist has been the single most damaging charge leveled at him by the Right and Romney. He never has fully overcome the release of a secretly recorded video of him at a fundraising dinner in which he claimed that “part of America will never give up its cults and cabs in favor of a more reasonable practice of drinking more widely and supporting upstart winemakers.” His attempt to walk back the statement only got him in more trouble. You can’t simultaneously denigrate cult cab drinkers then arrange to be seen drinking Harlan, Bryant Family and Bond. The ploy never worked.

Look for Governor Romney to drive the point home, painting not just the President but his entire administration as disdainful of those who work hard to get on cult Cabernet mailing lists and prefer to utilize Riedel glasses. As Obama’s former Secretary of Wine said in the wake of the damaging video, “the president needs to find a way to avoid this subject altogether. It’s not a winner for him or for wine reformers of any stripe.”

Will “Old Vine” Reform Play a Role in the Debate?
Nary a word of “Old Vine” reform has been raised in this campaign since Obama took the proposal to regulate the term out of the ObamaWine legislation in order to forge a victorious majority for AVA reform. However, who can forget the war of words over Old Vine reform when conservative lawmakers and bloggers accused ObamaWine supporters of trying to “regulate Zinfandel out of existence”?

Though a minor issue in the ObamaWine debates, there are stirrings that Romney will use the President’s support for regulating the term “Old Vine” and creating new “Ancient Vine” and “Centennial Vine” categories as proof the president is killing wine via a regulatory assault on grapegrowers and winemakers. If unprepared to defend both is backing away from “Old Vine” reform during the ObamaWine negotiations as well as his previous support for “Old Vine” reform, the president could find himself pushed back on his heels. If debate moderators Robert Parker, Eric Asimov or Karen MacNeil bring the issue up, expect Obama to return to his staunch (and effective) defense of “Old Vine” reform that worked so well for him in the 2008 debates with Hillary Clinton.

A lot rides on this first debate tonight. The very future of the American wine industry and wine drinker could be decided by the outcome.


21 Responses

  1. Swanny - October 3, 2012

    Hilarious. Will be thinking of these issues while sipping an Oregon Pinot during the debate.
    Oh, and also wondering what Thomas Jefferson would be drinking.

  2. Tom Wark - October 3, 2012


    I think it all comes down to the “ObamaWine” issue tonight. As for Thomas, d’Yquem.

  3. harvey posert - October 3, 2012

    OMG, you’ve almost gotten me to watch!

  4. Tom Wark - October 3, 2012

    Harvey, with so much at stake for wine lovers, how could you not. After all, there is the 28th Amendment and the future of “old vine” zinfandel to consider.

  5. Marcia M - October 3, 2012

    Gee, I thought Jefferson would be imbibing some of that “Old Vine”

    Marvelous analysis of tonight’s potential volleys, jabs and spikes (although not spikes in brix levels). But I’m sure, given the opportunity, the candidates would stoop to lobbing brix if they needed to.

    Oh, man! I gotta stop… Now, what pairs well with a debate?

  6. Tom Wark - October 3, 2012

    “lobbing brix”…..It’s mine now, Marcia. I love it. I’m going to use it!!!

  7. LeCellarCat - Holly E - October 3, 2012

    Lobbing brix – ohhh… Hilarious, and I’m with Harvey, your post almost has me willing to watch the debates. Operative word; Almost.

  8. Helene - October 3, 2012

    In the fourth paragraph, shouldn’t that be “terroirists”? 😉

  9. Thomas Pellechia - October 3, 2012

    I have a feeling the evening will be all hydrogen sulfide.

  10. Raymond Haak - October 3, 2012

    You guys and gals are funny! However, just for the records, Thomas Jefferson would be drinking Madeira along with George Washbington and Pensylvania gang as when they toasted the signing of the Declaration of independence. I wish I had a bottle or two of that madeira!

  11. Kristy Kelley - October 3, 2012

    This is hilarious! I’ll be sure to enjoy this debate while sipping some wine! Thanks for the afternoon laugh!

    — Kristy @ Wine Logic

  12. Thomas Pellechia - October 4, 2012

    After having watched the debate, I wish they had discussed wine instead.

    Never has so little been revealed by so much talking.

  13. Tom Wark - October 4, 2012

    Thomas…I though one of the candidates actually laid down some serious facts, figures philosophy. But the candidate mistakenly didn’t get too dirty. I suspect that will be rectified in upcoming debates.

    That said, It appears now that this post of mine was inaccurate and all the result of White-Zin- induced delusion. I gotta get off that white zin!!

  14. Thomas Pellechia - October 4, 2012


    So many of those “facts” are simply talking points…and yes, one of the candidates wasn’t good at picking up on the obvious openings the other gave him. In fact, this candidate almost appeared not to want to be at the podium at all.

    While I admire Lehrer (sp), and like the format, I think the candidates ran away with it and Jim had absolutely no control over the format.

    I consumed a Rosso Piceno during the debate, not the whole bottle of course…I think.

  15. A Wino at the Presidential Debates | Vine Art … from the palate of first vine wine online - October 4, 2012

    […] what I’d like to hear in the debates from a small business perspective.  And then I read a blog post by Tom Wark about the debates cast as a referendum on ObamaWine, the wine-lover’s version of Obamacare.  […]

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