Blind Muscat hates it when he has so much paying work to do that he can’t get around to giving it away for free on his blog. Quel bummer.
But here’s a story worth ripping out of the wine world headlines: the fight to make sure home winemakers can deliver a bottle or two of their hard-won products to an off-premise (away from their garages) location and put them into competitions. Without, that is, running afoul of The Law.
There are two kinds of home winemakers, the ones that think they can make wine that’s a lot cheaper than what they’ve been buying in the supermarket, and those who think they can make wines just as good as the fancy bottles at their favorite wine shop. For the latter group—count me among them—putting your best efforts into the competitions that get held at most county and state fairs across the country is not only fun but a great way to get some kind of objective reading on how good your skills are. If total strangers give your wine a medal, maybe you’re on to something. Plus, the gaudy ribbons that get handed out, just like for the 4H club hog-raising contests, are very cool.
After years and years of such competitions all over the land, suddenly there’s a scare, with a number of state liquor control agencies indicating they aren’t sure it’s OK to ship amateur wine from one place to another for the purposes of consumption, even by state fair judges. This eruption of idiocy got initial exposure (at least for me) from an email attachment circulated from Joel Sommers of WinePressUS, a popular home winemaking website. Today it made the national public relations Business Wire in the form of a press release from the (commercial) Family Winemakers of California and the Western Fairs Association announcing legislative efforts in California to return a tad of rationality into the mess and let the home wine competitions go on unimpeded.
Alcohol regulation in the U.S. is way beyond weird. Prohibition was bad enough; the Byzantine swamp of state-by-state foolishness that replaced it is nearly as bad. Among other things, the “system” in place has made everyone paranoid about potential liability, a topic I ranted about a couple months back when the Rhone Rangers organization decided that my fellow Rhone homies and I could no longer pour wines at their annual tasting. Once a potential danger from alcohol consumption, however remote, gets mentioned out loud, panic and bureaucratic cretinism set in within a nanosecond. As Joel’s account shows, as soon as you start asking what the regs are, there are more of them.
The legislative effort in California to cut through the fog and let this year’s competitions go on will probably succeed. But in a sane cultural/political environment, it never would have been necessary. In the meantime, let me announce to the world: I and a zillion other home winemakers from every ZIP Code will be pouring our stuff—and actually drinking it—in Sonoma, California a week from now at WineMaker magazine’s first big-time homies conference. Ain’t nobody gonna turn us ‘round. Free the homies!