On top of Sacramento canceling its popular Grape Escape festival because most wineries declined to participate, after some were cited last year by the state for mentioning it on social media, it appears many local wineries here got stung by BottleRock in 2013.
According to Lew Perdue’s Wine Industry Insight free newsletter, about 35 wineries were cited by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) department for violating the archaic tied-house laws in an arcane way, partly relating to a small ownership in the Uptown Theatre by the festival producers.
Perdue, a superb investigative journalist who often annoys members of the wine business by disclosing things he digs out, provides the details to his paid subscribers. His website is WineIndustryInsight.com.
Apparently, most wineries settled. But no one, including the ABC, is talking as the cases are ongoing.
The tied-house laws were established when Prohibition ended, to keep from “tying” big producers to distribution and retailing of alcoholic beverages.
One concern was that people who had been in the business during Prohibition would take over, and you know who they were. In fact, rumors of mob influence once used to taint the distribution business and were even covered in the Wall Street Journal in 1999 (wsj.com/articles/SB938998156171122649).
As with Las Vegas, those days, if they ever existed, are long over, and the old Mafia is a shadow of its past thanks to badger-like work by the FBI and others combined with new competition.
At any rate, the ABC takes a literal and aggressive role in enforcing the byzantine alcohol laws in California. It’s time for our representatives in Sacramento to take a hard look at simplifying, clarifying and rationalizing those laws in the wake of changes in the market and technology like the Internet and social media.
The laws were designed to prevent corruption, but 70 years after they were passed, there’s no sign that they’re doing much but vexing producers, distributors and retailers trying to make a decent living and satisfy customers.
I just returned from two weeks in Virginia and North Carolina, part of that time visiting local wineries. I cheated a bit by getting recommendations on which ones to visit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the wines.
Napa need not be quaking over competition, however. Virginia only has 3,000 acres of grapes and 200 wineries, for example, and it’s both more difficult and more expensive to grow grapes there (land values aside).
The biggest problem is rain. It rained almost every day I was there, and some of the rains were epic: 1.5 inches overnight one day.
The rain keeps everything (especially the invasive kudzu vine) beautiful and green, but it requires the growers to spray repeatedly, make sure clusters are in the clear, and remove leaves and other expensive hand labor.
And, of course, grapevines don’t like wet roots, so the optimum sites are steep, rocky and sandy soil, not as common back there as flat, deep, rich loam.
I’ll be reporting more on my travels later.
Napa Wine Project features 800th winery
The Napa Wine Project recently posted its 800th unique Napa winery/producer review. Founder David Thompson has personally visited with, tasted the wines and reviewed each of these Napa-based wineries/producers over the past nine-plus years.
His goal is to reach more than 1,000 unique Napa wineries and producers reviewed on his site over the next five years.
Thompson continues to visit with and review Napa wineries not yet listed on his site. If you are a small Napa-based producer and have not met with him and would like to do so, contact him through his website, NapaWineProject.com.