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US Department of Agriculture Names Wine the 7th Food Group

Obama, America’s ‘Wine President’ Leads Expansion of the USDA Food Pyramid by Adding Wine as 7th Food Group in the USDA Food Pyramid

Washington, DC, April 1/PRNewswire/—

In conjunction with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, President Barack Obama announces that the Food Pyramid, administered by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a department within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), was naming a 7th Food Group, wine, within the nutritional guidelines of the food pyramid.

“Look, there is great opportunity here, yet great peril,” said Obama.  “Everyday there is a news report about the health benefits of drinking wine in moderation, even if there are also reports about wine and alcohol causing health problems.”

“The American people choose hope over fear.”

Obama, noted for being a “wine” president after eight years of teetotaling in the White House by the previous regime administration, has been photographed with a bottle of Kendall-Jackson in the background of a family photo shoot for People magazine. 

Separately, it has been noted that Obama had a wine cellar of unknown size at his former home in the Chicago area.

Casting undoubted and empirical evidence, couched in hearsay, of his fondness for the grape as a ‘wine’ President, President Obama has enjoyed a glass of wine when poured for him at official state and formal functions.

Noted Obama, “The press reports of my fondness for wine are really immaterial to the matters at hand – Michelle and I have made it a priority to live healthy lifestyles, including creating a presidential vegetable garden, and we believe that a glass of wine at the end of the day is a healthy and healthful way of enjoying a tipple while toasting to our health.”

He continued, “Anyways, reports of my sneaking the occasional smoke have leaked and if I have to quit that, then I NEED SOMETHING to take the edge off after inheriting this bag of hot stinking mess left to me by former President Bush. Plus, if the domestic auto industry goes in the tank, and we nationalize the banks, after slow progress out of the gates on the stimulus program, then I figure doing something good with the wine industry is bright move because we can have something decent to drown our sorrows in.”

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack noted that the controversial Food Pyramid, which has been revised and modified over the years as Americans continue to get heavier and more addicted to sugar with epidemic levels of Type II diabetes, can’t get any more fouled up then it currently is with its recommendation for 8 teaspoons of oil a day.

Said Vilsack, “By adding a 7th dimension, wine, to the food pyramid we anticipate accomplishing a fews aims – first, we anticipate that there will be incremental gains to the fruit grouping, second, this will satisfy and quell all of the researchers who pump out wine-related health reports on a daily basis indicating that wine is good for everything but erectile dysfunction, third, we figure that beer and liquor lead to lawlessness, dope leads to the munchies, but wine leads to salubrious conversation and that’s the least of the available evils when considering modifications to the Food Pyramid.”

In closing, President Obama encouraged all Americans to stimulate the American economy by drinking to their health, noting that allocated and cult wineries were hurting and could use our support.  In repeating a quote from his stump on the campaign trail, he closed his remarks by saying, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.  Drink wine – for your health, even if it is mental health.”

                                                ###

To track progress on this story and others, please see the new wine aggregation site Dregs Report.


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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Hoosier Edition Pt. II of II

I looked on the state map and then looked again.  Yup.  Nope.  I could not find Pawnee, Indiana, the setting for the new television show, Parks and Recreation, set to debut on April 9th.

Even when Indiana gets some mention, it is fictitious, which is somewhat similar to being a winery or a wine enthusiast in the state – even when you are real, others do not always take you seriously.

Though, when it comes to television shows, I guess a laugh track is okay.

Starring Amy Poehler, ex-featured player on Saturday Night Live, and created by two of the writers/producers from The Office, Parks and Recreation promises to take a similar “talk to the camera” deadpan style in which the protagonist is completely deluded, this time, however, instead of Michael Scott’s non-politically correct managerial ineptness, it’s the small town local government player completely absorbed with the notion that she is doing important work.

A week ago when I checked out the mock web site at http://www.pawneeindiana.com (good for a wry laugh when you consider the header image to the site shows empty storefronts) they had an Indiana state image and a star where the fictional city was fictionally located – about 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis.  It roughly approximated the location of the real Marion, Indiana, a mildly depressed manufacturing based town.

Now, just a scant seven days later, the star is gone and the City of Lafayette, home of the Purdue Boilermakers, 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis, is staking claim as the inspirational city.

Apparently, the props department for the show called the Lafayette Parks Department and mined them for research on the minutia of small town government work in a Midwestern – you know the important stuff like what do the desks and Ford Taurus fleet vehicles look like …

Related to wine, the real Lafayette is home to important Indiana related wine stuff – our state viticultural extension and council is located there. 

The Indiana Wine Grape Council does do a nice job sponsoring the Indy International Wine Competition (the second largest wine competition in the country); amongst general support of the growing Indiana wine business.

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Also located nearby, in Monticello, IN, the home of Indiana Beach where the phrase, “There’s More than Corn in Indiana” comes from, is Whyte Horse winery, an up and comer that brings together everything that you’d like to see in a local winery – a good story, quality packaging, vinifera wines, French hybrid wines and the cordial style wines to please the masses.

In fact, two items really engender me to Whyte Horse. 

First, their back-story is interesting, as noted on their web site:

… we noticed a property that was for sale by owner.  We were told that it already had a full-price offer. We made a backup offer and were told it would probably be of no avail. The next day we received a call that the owner of the property wanted to speak with us.  When we called the owner back, she asked “Will you take the horse”? We had seen the horse the day before in the pasture. When questioned what she meant, she replied that she had a 25-year-old white mare that she couldn’t take with her. The people with the existing offer did not want the horse but if we would take the horse with the property we could have it all. Our prayers were answered, we gladly took Molly and the deal and our journey began.

They bought the white mare and Whyte Horse was born.

The second thing that they do that I appreciate is they grow Traminette and Vignoles as a part of their estate vineyard.

For those not familiar with hybrids, they are French-American crosses designed to create elegant and notable wines that also can withstand a cold winter.

There are a good number of hybrids that are oft neglected in our national wine conversation that create surprisingly high quality and enjoyable wines.

Traminette is a cross between Seyval Blanc and Gewurztraminer creating a wine that can have stone fruit flavors with the Gewurtz spiciness.  It can be produced both sweet and dry, good for the Midwest.  When dry, it’s good stuff and under-appreciated.

Vignoles is also a winner with Riesling-like characteristics that can also go sweet or dry.  In both instances, prominent tropical notes of pineapple and stone fruits are present creating a lip-smacking drink that invites summer sipping.  When used in a dessert wine its fabulous, rivaling Vidal Blanc, another hybrid.

Even though Parks and Recreation focuses on the fictitious, angling for chuckles, Indiana often gets short shrift on the respect-o-meter, not too mention steerage classification for its wine passengers.  However, several things will occur over the next decade that should cause others regionally and nationally to take notice, particularly around wine – hybrids will become a bigger part of our consumption landscape, and alternate wine regions, yes, even Midwest wine regions, will continue to develop in prominence.  And, that’s no joke. 


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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Hoosier Edition Pt. I of II

Wine with a local twist … because, to borrow from a local amusement park, “There’s more than corn in Indiana …”

Southern Wine and Spirits in Indiana

Southern Wine and Spirits is suing the state of Indiana in order to overturn a longstanding residency requirement law that says wine distributors must live in the state in order to run a business here. 

Southern filed the suit after the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission said it is not eligible to distribute wine and spirits in the state because ownership resided outside of Indiana.

All indicators point to Southern winning on the grounds of the existing law being completely ridiculous – if every business that did business in the state, had to have ownership in the state, our economy would fold up like a cheap tent in approximately 30 seconds.

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Yet, Southern, in a way, is already in the state.  They have an alliance with Glazer’s, who owns a large distributor here, so it is very unclear what Southern has up their sleeve and how it might affect the market.

I have been watching this with some interest.  It has been said that Indiana has access to just 5% of the domestic wine market and with a prohibition on shipping into the state via clubs, ecommerce, etc., you begin to see that our consumer choice is terribly behind other states.  Case in point, I went over to Under the Grape Tree’s store in Covington, KY, across the river from Cincinnati, and was stunned at the selection.  Not a little stunned, a lot stunned.  There were dozens and dozens of producers that I am familiar with but I have never seen in Indiana, all from a humble storefront. 

That said, I asked four people, the owner of an independent distributor, an educator for a large potential competitor to Southern in Indianapolis (who asked to only give background info.) and two independent retailers for their thoughts on Southern coming into the market.  While each asked not to be quoted directly, their anonymity aside, they were not concerned about the 800 lb gorilla.

From an independent distributor (edited for clarity):

Southern’s entry into a market usually spurs a rise in smaller distributors. A large number of small producers and importers vacate the Southern organization which creates a need for distributors that can effectively represent and focus on those smaller suppliers. If anything we would probably have access to the vacating good producers and probably good sales reps and support staff.

Overall their entry is good for the Indiana consumer because it will eventually mean more choices and good pricing.

The number of wine consumers in Indiana is increasing but it’s still a limited market for quality producers without 90+ scores. The outlets for quality wines are overwhelmed and backed up, as a result we’re dropping some of these producers.

My take-away:  A rising tide raises all ships – Southern coming in may create an opportunity for smaller distributors to pick-up smaller producers

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Overall, Indiana needs more retail for wine, particularly in light of rising consumption and increased SKU’s.

From an employee at an independent wine shop (edited for clarity):

Small distributors seem to be thriving, and even small out-of-state distributors are figuring out ways to do business in Indiana. One distributor from Kentucky has set up a small warehouse in Indiana that meets the letter of the current law; another from Illinois is working with an Indiana-based distributor who receives the Illinois distributor’s wine and then delivers it for a per-case fee.

Distributors whose territories cross state lines can pull wines from states where they aren’t selling well and send them to states where demand is good. Southern can presumably do that kind of thing in a big way.

To me, more choice is a good thing – I think Indiana residents should have the ability to legally procure any wine in the world, whether directly from a producer or collector or through a distributor.

My take-away:  The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is currently without a commissioner and has traditionally been run with a slant towards conservative enforcement.  As the opportunity for wine sales increases, so too does the opportunity for people to exploit the gray areas in the law.  Now is a dandy time to get leadership in there that is pro-consumer.

From the owner of an independent wine shop (edited for clarity):

I don’t think that many more SKU’s will come in to the market if they enter it, so I don’t see any benefit.  I don’t think there will be a huge shake up initially; however, I think the larger distributors will be affected the most.  I think most of the suppliers at the boutique distributors are there because they want to be in a smaller environment and don’t want to get lost in a huge book.  However, bigger suppliers and wineries might already be aligned with Southern in other markets and may align with them here. 

My take-away: The fourth person I spoke with, from a larger distributor, also noted that the shift in large wine companies from one book to another has the largest opportunity for impact.  If Terlato moves and Icon Estates moves Southern may gain, yet other businesses lose on a grand scale.  Now, one can argue that if those large books move, it gives an opportunity for them to pick up new sku’s for the market.  Yes, that is an argument, but not a very valid one, particularly when you consider that large-scale wine distribution is not about the end-customer, it is about velocity of inventory.

Summary

Overall, an interesting exercise to talk to people across the spectrum- small distributor, large distributor, small retail owner, small retailer employee.

Opinions are diverse: 

• Southern will create more choice
• Southern and the existing climate is creating smaller, nimble competitors who are getting savvy about their business and bringing in new wines to the state
• The large distributors in the state will begin to horse trade large accounts

Regardless of what happens, one thing that is not occurring in this conversation about a Southern Wine and Spirits entry is a discussion on the impact on consumers and how we can be best served.  This stunning oversight is unfortunate because the government exists off our backs and every company in business exists to serve a customer.  There may be more than corn in Indiana, but related to wine, there is not much concern for the desires of the people in the state.  It is about power, taxes, laws, lobbying and profit off a branded commodity.


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Naked

In fourth grade, fractions were hard for me, until one day when they weren’t.

At some point, with her shrill voice and marmish style, what Mrs. Majewski was saying made sense to me and it all came together.

The world of fractions opened up for me. 

So it goes with our individual ‘a-ha’ moments.

You don’t get it until you get it, no matter how well constructed or swiftly come the explanations.

Most of the time we need a personal, mental diorama to contextualize whatever the situation may be. 

And, of course, my fractions eventually gave way to other things that I grapple(d) with yet do not quite understand.

One of the things that I have had a hard time getting my arms around of late is the natural wine movement.

Sometimes when you see and hear things that are such a counter movement to modern day prevailing wisdom, it is just flat-out difficult to contextualize. 

Grapes.  Air.  Fermentation.  Natural wine—so ardently advocated.

Yeah, I get it, but is that enough to get passionate about?  Is the difference between a wine that is inoculated with yeast versus a wine that starts its fermentation naturally enough to get fired up about?  Especially when natural wine is such a micro-segment of our existing wine culture?

For some it is.

Then, the other day, as I was driving home late after a day spent out of town in meetings, across a stretch of flat, dark highway accompanied by the soft glow of my iPod, I turned up the volume on one of my all-time favorite songs – Naked by the Bodeans.

Best known for the theme song to the TV show “Party of Five,” this hard working regional band from Milwaukee has been playing for over 20 years to a loyal group of fans on the bar and club circuit.

One of their best songs, Naked, helped bring natural wine home to me, the volume cranked to 10, my thoughts my only company.

The premise of the song is the point in time in a relationship when a shared emotional honesty leads to a deeper relationship, down a path to the scary part that makes loving somebody difficult, our vulnerabilities completely exposed.  The opportunity for hurt is great, but the opportunity for greatness is equally so.

Baby, ask me anything that you want
And i’ll look you in the eye now
There can be no surprises
If we mean what we say
I’ve been around the block
And i’ve done some things
That i ain’t so very proud of
Darlin’ help me leave this cloud of
Rolling lonely behind

Naked
I’ll stand naked
If you stand naked with me
I’ll stand naked with you

The song says – I will give myself up, if you do the same.

Suffice to say, in my humble opinion, the ability of people, in relationships, even marriage, to be completely naked, vulnerable, completely open to the risk of hurt is rare.  Yet, the people that are able to tap a vein and reach that part of their being to give and accept love unconditionally, with all of its attendant pitfalls, are the people that live with a sense of purpose, conviction and invincibility.

The key to a healthy relationship, a great relationship, a naked relationship, is honesty, trust, respect and security.

Given that context, what I came to understand is that for people who are deeply connected to the grape, who have a relationship with wine, an engagement with vino in a search for honesty, trust, respect and security, for people that have the capability to love and be loved nakedly, they are the ones that like natural wine.

My own relationship with my wife, like thousands of other married men, is a work in progress.  I often tell her that I think we have the capability to have a relationship that other people talk about and admire, a completely naked relationship, but every day requires work, every day requires an effort to build on and deepen our honesty, trust, respect and security.

Maybe, like my ‘a-ha’ moment with fractions in fourth grade, our relationship, or our aspiration, with our loved ones, a connection to an emotional honesty, trust and respect can be a gateway to understanding the inherent honesty that natural wine represents.

I mostly drink New World wine, the vast majority of it isn’t “naked” wine, but now that I understand it, I’m going to work towards it.

Like our marriages and our life partner relationships, my relationship with wine needs to include a heavier dose of honesty, trust, respect and security, the kind of naked honesty that can be found in the glass, a reflection of our commitment to our relationships and our hope for the kind of authentic transparency that leads to a soaked nirvana stripped of all artifice, the pretension that holds us back from fully realizing the majesty of love and, yes, wine.


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True North in the New World

Life, in its historical minds eye, can be a cruel mistress, cutting with both sides of the knife.

To the positive, our memories can lead to a sepia-toned nostalgia steeped in mythology.

The downside, however, is a frequent benign neglect; out of sight, out of mind.

In the best circumstances, we pay respects to those that have made an indelible mark on our society with a reverent and honorable remembrance.

In the wine world, a time for remembrance is drawing near.

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May 16, 2009 is the one-year anniversary of the day that Robert Mondavi passed away.

Like me, thousands and thousands of wine lovers across the country view Mondavi, in reality and mythology, as the equivalent to a wine spiritual compass, a true north.

There is little question that California wine would not have earned its status on the world stage without the leadership of Robert Mondavi—truly a giant in the industry, a man revered for his vision, his audacity and his accomplishments.

Personally, Robert Mondavi has been a significant and re-occurring figure in my own wine life.

First encountering Robert Mondavi winery as a case study in a Marketing 300 course in college, I later read Harvests of Joy, Mondavi’s autobiography, a seminal moment that did not start my wine journey, but ignited it, inciting me to cross the transom from casual fan to budding enthusiast 10 years ago.

Later I went to the winery, a mecca of sorts for Napa Valley.

Some eight years later, I read The House of Mondavi, a portrait of the man that fleshed out his humanity.

In between, I drank a lot of Mondavi wine, across the price spectrum, always a reliable choice.

As an individual, all I can do is have a tipple on May 16th and remember Mondavi with fondness for his impact on the domestic wine world that gives me so much pleasure.

However, with the power of the Internet, collectively, we can start an annual day to honor the man, in a small, organic way in order to pay homage to him and his family.

So, that is what I am going to do.

I am not sure what exact form and function this will take, but I am the host of the May edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday and it is a safe bet that a California-ish/Mondavi/food pairing theme is in the offing.

Separately, I may do a few other things as well, but the overall intent is to keep this as an honor to the man and his impact on the domestic wine industry and our wine culture at large.

My goal, long-term, in a small, humble way, is to ensure we pay respect, if only fleetingly, once annually, to the patriarch of our current day wine culture, my true north in the New World of wine.


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