Magnetic Field Blend, or, Crushed by the Wheels of Industry

I am always saving links to items that catch my fancy, in the hope that they will eventually find their way into a post.  As the year runs down, I want to clear out my aging 2005 link inventory to make room for all of the new and exciting incoming 2006 links, so today I offer this miscellany of items relating to food and [mostly] drink.  Less tipsy compilations will follow in the countdown to Twenty-Ought-Six.

  • The Guardian's "Bad Science" columnist Ben Goldacre reports from the frontiers of winology -- in this instance, winology is to oenology as astrology is to astronomy -- on the dubious benefits of magnetizing your wine.  [Link via Arts & Letters Daily.]
    • This story reminds me of the wacky, New Age-y "pyramid power" craze of the late '70's, during which Vic Bergeron, founder and namesake of the Trader Vic's Polynesian restaurants, became enamored of the idea that wine would age in a superior fashion if stored in pyramid-shaped cellars.  He installed the pointy contraptions at several of his restaurant locations.  It seems not to have worked out, as you will find no evidence of the practice today.  Perhaps if he had magnetized the pyramids . . . .
  • Tom Wark rightly sings the praises of the Kir Royale .  If you don't already know what it is, you need to click through and find out.  The Kir Royale is a most elegant cocktail that happens also to be a particular favorite of the two most important women in my life: my wife and my mother.  (No wonder, then, that the latter thinks that the former is a very fine daughter-in-law.)  Involving as it does Champagne or other sparkling wine, a Kir Royale is an excellent choice for sipping during New Year's Eve celebrations.
  • Wine_and_fire_1 One of the biggest stories in California winemaking over the past few months has been the fallout from the colossal warehouse fire in Vallejo that ruined or destroyed as many as half a million cases of wine belonging to Napa and Sonoma County vintners large and small.  I took a look at the insurance problems being faced by those wine makers on my other weblog just before Christmas.   (That post includes links to Tom Wark's excellent coverage of the fire and aftermath, including exclusive photos of the scene.)

More recently, Bob Sargent's Specialty Insurance Blog has raised the obvious follow-up question: if the insurance isn't in place to cover this loss, is there a potential claim for negligence against the brokers who placed the policies?  Any way you look at it, where there's fire, there's not just smoke, but lawyers.

  • At TCS Daily, Professor Bainbridge continues his campaign against The Scourge of Corked Wines, with this somewhat political slant:

I like old things.  Old ideas.  Old books.  Old wines.  I guess that's part of the reason I'm a conservative.  Yet, the intelligent conservative combines a disposition to preserve with an ability to reform.  And so we come to the question of closures for wine.

More corkage from the good Professor on his wine weblog, here.  My own commentary from this past August on non-cork closures is here.

  • Finally, in a bibulous literary vein, 3quarksdaily provides a link to a TLS consideration of Omar Khayyam and of Edward Fitzgerald's 'translation' of his Rubaiyat, aka "Omar Khayyam's Bible for drunkards."
    • The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam are not, of course, to be confused with Khayyam's Ruby Yacht, discovered by Bullwinkle J. Moose on the shores of Lake Veronica.

Vinous Vignettes

Aussie Reptiles Against Drunk Diving

CrocodilewineIs there nothing those Neo-Prohibitionists won't try?

Almost one in three people bitten by deadly saltwater crocodiles in Australia had been drinking alcohol before the animal attacked, new research has found.

An Australian review of unprovoked crocodile attacks on humans between 1971 and 2004 found that 29 percent of the 62 attacks had involved some alcohol consumption by the victim.

'About one-third of the people who had been attacked had actually been drinking alcohol,' study co-author Charlie Manolis told AFP Wednesday.

Stompin' in the Foothills

The Los Angeles Times Business section reported earlier this week on how the small wineries of the Sierra foothills are capitalizing on the recent liberalization of direct shipment laws.  Familiar villains rear their heads, however:

'If you can sell every drop of what you make out to the tasting-room door, through your wine club or by direct shipping, you will be king,' said Scott Klann, winemaker at Twisted Oak Winery, a small producer in the Calaveras County hamlet of Vallecito.

* * *

Already, the Sierra foothills wineries are seeing an increase in business from the gradual liberalization of the shipping rules.

Boeger Winery is on track to ship $65,000 worth of wine to out-of-state consumers this year, 30% ahead of last year.

Shipping companies such as FedEx Corp. are starting to supply small wineries with marketing materials such as 'Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Ship!' signs to remind tasting-room visitors that they can probably send any purchases home.  But increasing direct sales isn't as simple as just taking down someone's credit card number.

Distributors don't want to lose market share — even a small amount — to the small wineries pursuing the direct-sales strategy, said Barbara Insel, managing director for research at MKF Group, a St. Helena, Calif., wine consulting firm.  They have used their political clout to get complicated compliance procedures written into legislation by states legalizing wine shipments to consumers.

'There's all sorts of paperwork, the wineries have to collect and keep track of taxes, they have to keep statistics on how much they ship to a customer, and in some states they are going to have to buy special permits that won't be worth the cost unless they are selling a lot of wine there,' Insel said.  'But if they can conquer those hurdles, this is going to mean a lot of money to a lot of people.'

The Times, by the way, maintains a page devoted to aggregating its most recent Business stories on wine and the wine business.

A Sad Soap Opera at Sanford

Also from the LATimes, on the front page of today's Food section, a long report on why there's no Sanford at the Sanford Winery anymore.  Outside investors, big distributors, clashing philosophies, and organic farming are all involved.

Fred Wine Goes With Everything

I've been meaning to link this since early September:

The SF Weekly provides the most comprehensive profile I have yet seen of the man behind "Two-Buck Chuck," Fred Franzia.   Among other things, you can learn from this article

  • why Fred Franzia is legally prohibited from putting his own name on any of his wines,
  • the secret significance of his company name "JFJ Bronco," and
  • the forgotten link between the real/original Charles Shaw winery and . . . Luciano Pavarotti.

[Link via Hit and Run.]

Laissez Les Relief Checks Roulez!

Short notice, I realize -- I only learned of it myself this morning via an e-mail from the Pinot-pressing gang at Santa Barbara's Flying Goat Cellars -- but those of you who are

  • in the Los Angeles area this Friday evening (September 9),
  • partial to the delights of food and wine for which New Orleans was known (and will be again, say I!), and
  • looking for additional opportunities to help in the hurricane relief effort

should consider attending "TASTE, LAsupportsLA":

A disaster relief effort from the greater Los Angeles Community to our friends in Louisiana.

Hosted by Harry Shearer of The Simpson's, KCRW, This is Spinal Tap, and A Mighty Wind . . . and musical performances by world renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold, Dave Hernandez and more!

* * *

100% of the proceeds from ticket sales will go benefit Hurricane Victims. All proceeds from a silent auction taking place at the event will benefit the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund, established by the BRENNAN family of Commanders Palace, to aid hospitality workers who will be without jobs while New Orleans is being re-built.

40+ restaurants and 100+ wineries are scheduled to participate, alongside what is touted as "The Largest Silent Auction in Los Angeles History."  Seriously hip self-indulgence in the name of a seriously important cause.  I Love LA (both of them), don't you?

Hey Joe, Where You Goin' With That Cheap-But-Drinkable Merlot in Yer Hand?

I have made many mentions of the Trader Joe's Markets, principally in connection with the phenomenon of "Two-Buck Chuck" and other inexpensive wines.  Today, via Jeff Jarvis (who, true to form, sees it as harbinger of a trend toward "individual blogs keeping a watchful eye on individual companies"), I learned of the existence of "Tracking Trader Joe's," a new weblog by Mike Kaltschnee devoted to -- wait for it -- tracking Trader Joe's.  Why?  Mike explains in his initial post:

I wanted to start another blog, and I was looking for a company that was growing in a competitive market, had a lot of passionate customers, and was doing something very interesting.  Trader Joe's is all of this and more.  It also helps that I shop there several nights a week.

He also reveals that I will soon have to stop mocking New Yorkers and their backward, Joe's-free ways: they will eventually have their very own TJ's store on Union Square, possibly by year's end.


UPDATE [1237 PDT]: Extra thanks are due to the Tracking Trader Joe's sidebar for including a link to, of which I had previously been unaware.   "winejoe" is Joe Coulombe, the "Joe" in Trader Joe's, who founded the company and ran it until 1989.   His site is devoted to posting his reports on his trips to wine-producing regions around the world over the past several years.   The current edition covers Northern Burgundy, where the wine is not cheap, but is often very very good.   He'll return to Australia in September, I see.

Answering the question "Who is winejoe?", Mr. Coulombe reveals the origins of the namesake markets' wine strategy -- and the secret to extracting the best from those low-priced wines:

During my years as Trader Joe, I tasted at least 100,000 wines.  Most of them were not terrific, but on the other hand most samples were submitted by vintners who were desperate for money.  That's how Trader Joe's got those low prices.  That's also how I learned that a lot of wines that are marginal can be very good--if served with the right food.

Field Blend

Herewith, a miscellany of vaguely interrelated wine items, served at room temperature, built up in bits and pieces over the past few weeks until they have burst forth as this loose baggy monster of a post, which launches itself with a few words from Evelyn Waugh:

When wine is truly corky, the cork is diseased and foul smelling, and the wine is more or less tainted.  It should never be drunk in this condition...  It is for this reason that a small quantity of wine is invariably poured first into the host's glass for him to taste...  If the host is so barbarous as to taste and accept a corky wine, all that the guest can do is to refrain from drinking it and never come to that table again.

[from Wine in Peace and War (1949); quotation via the obsessed and seemingly inexhaustible Corkwatch.]

  • Desperately Seeking Closure: Real corks -- the type that are made from the bark of the Cork Oak (quercus suber) -- still hold their own as a method of sealing up a bottle of wine, but they have an ever-growing corps of detractors.  A certain irreducible percentage of natural corks -- estimates range anywhere from 1% to 15% to 20%(!), and there is informed speculation that the number has been increasing in recent years -- will produce the unpleasant "musty wet dog" aromas and flavors of "corked" wine, the wicked handiwork of the chemical 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or "TCA".  The condition only manifests itself after the wine has been bottled, and no reliable method has been developed to detect and eliminate those particular corks that will be found, too late, to have been little ticking TCA-bombs.

Colorful_corksVarious alternatives to cork-made-from-cork have been trotted out.  Synthetic "corks" are popular with the marketing department because they can be produced in a rainbow of colors or elaborately imprinted to coordinate effectively with the rest of the wine's packaging.  They also provide no growth medium for those pesky TCA-generating spores.  Synthetic corks have their detractors, however, including those who claim they don't allow aging, or alternatively allow wine to age too quickly.  Even some environmentalists object to them, as they are not biodegradable.  (Natural cork degrades when disposed of, though it takes a long long time to do so.) 

Taming_the_screwIn the southern hemisphere, the screwcap has been increasingly favored as a cork-free method for sealing wine bottles.  James Halliday, writing in The Australian, reported earlier this month that

[a]nyone wanting to verify the mass migration to screwcap in Australia should simply walk into any large retail shop and see for themselves; 70 per cent of the white wines on display will have screwcaps, and up to 40 per cent of the reds likewise.  Repeat the exercise in a month's time, and the percentages will have increased. 

That comment appears in an article triggered by publication of Taming the Screw (right), a 304-page book devoted entirely to the subject of screwcaps and their use with wine.

  • Not to be left behind, New Zealand has also embraced the screwcap:  The first International Screwcap Symposium took place in Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand, this past November.
  • Fresh from his own recent trip to Austreyelia, UCLA Law's own Professor Bainbridge recently declared that "Screwcaps rule."  [The professor also recently held forth on the cork-spoiled wine problem in response to a cranky winemaker.]
  • Anecdotal Evidence from the IPNC:  On July 31, we had the pleasure of attending the afternoon tasting appended to the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon.  The Celebration itself runs for three days, concluding on Sunday morning.  For those who did not attend the event in its entirety, the 60 participating winemaker pour samples from two vintages (this year it was 2002 and 2003) over the course of four hours on Sunday afternoon in the Eucalyptus Grove on the campus of Linfield College.  Some years, it rains; some years -- this one, for example -- it is sunny and more than slightly hot.  In all years, the selection of pinot noirs from around the world is worth the trip.
    • This was a big year for pinot noir, of course, still basking in the attention drawn to it by the movie Sideways.  The film's director, Alexander Payne, was to have been the keynote speaker at this year's IPNC, and to have MC'd the Sunday tasting, but he canceled his appearance.  This MSNBC report gives a good idea of the event, and includes the intriguing statistic that despite pinot noir's heightened profile this past year, it still accounts for a mere 1.6% of the U.S. table wine market.

New Zealand has become well known for sauvignon blanc, but it is also proving to be a fine place to grow pinot noir.  Six New Zealand wineries were represented at the Celebration this year -- six-and-a-half when you include Gary Andrus' new Gypsy Dancer Estates winery, which produces pinot from both Oregon and New Zealand and which was pouring a delicious example of the latter -- and all of their wines were sealed with screwcaps. 

An intriguing show of mixed feelings toward screwcaps came from the very French winemakers of Oregon's WillaKenzie Estate Winery, who were pouring their lovely 2002 'Pierre Leon' Pinot Noir from a twist-capped bottle.  WillaKenzie is now making many of its wines available with a choice of closures: screwcap or natural cork.   One of the winemakers was heard to remark that given the choice he would seal everything with screwcaps, but that WillaKenzie WillaContinue [ho ho] to use corks for the time being because there are still too many people who simply will not buy the wine without the 'traditional' closure.

  • Enfer Trade Practices:  The screwcap item above from Professor Bainbridge ties into some reported remarks on the topic by Randall Grahm of California's Bonny Doon Vineyard, who now seals all of his wines with screwcaps and has gone so far as to proclaim the Death of the Cork.  Grahm holds forth at length here with at least 20 reasons to cast aside both the natural cork and its synthetic contemporary cousins.   

And with that, we leave at last the subject of wine bottle closures, but not the subject of Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon.  To continue:

Among his many other activities, Mr. Grahm produces newsletters for his winery that are replete with erudition, philosophy and the sorts of pun that demonstrate much too much education on the part of their creator.  Reading a Bonny Doon newsletter, you are just as likely to encounter a Kierkegaard joke as you are a discussion of malolactic fermentation or some obscure grape variety.  (Anyone thirsty for a little Uva di Troia?) 

In the most recent edition, he has outdone himself, combining a fondness for Dante Alighieri with a scorn for current winemaking practice to produce the fiery pseudo-terza rima of Part 1 of Al Dente Allegory's spirited epic, Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno [PDF], in which wicked winemakers who over-oak, over-process or otherwise warp or deracinate the grapes in their care receive the cosmic comeuppance they deserve.

MooseIn this first episode, our hero finds himself in a dark wood, beset by doubts concerning winemaking philosophy and technique.  An immortal Burgundian guide is sent to show him through the circles of winemaking perdition.  They pass through the gates ["ABANDON ALL OAK, YE WHO ENTER HERE"] and encounter the mediocrities, the producers of "wines neither so great nor so wretched/Provoking nothing but yawns," swigging Red Bicyclette whilst surrounded by the symbols of mass production: a Little Penguin, the Yellow Tail kangaroo, an enormous rooster (in Italian, Gallo), the goat from Le Vielle Ferme and, inexplicably, the moose shown at left.  (The illustrations, by Alex Gross, are a treat in themselves.) 

Andre_samsaThe barrel-chested boatman Char-on ferries the travelers to the first Circle, reserved to The Unrated: those great winemakers, like Dante's Virtuous Pagans, whose great wines were made in the era pre-dating the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.  Here, they encounter the likes of the Veuve Clicquot, Jacob Schram, Gustave Niebaum, and a "squat beetle-browed figure, puffing mightily," the incomparable André Tchelistcheff (right).

What lies ahead in future episodes can be gleaned from the helpful map provided as a frontispiece: special circles and torments are reserved for such offenders as Espousers of 'Gracious Living,' Wine Consultants, Wine Conglomerates, and The Manufacturers of Natural Cork and Synthetic Cork-Like Closures, as well as "The Vine-olent" against the grape, against wine consumers ("over-pricers, producers of overly alcoholic, over-oaked, over-extracted wines, . . . Merlot mongers," etc.), and against Bacchus. 

  • No need to travel to the stygian depths to encounter these viticultural sinners.  As Tom Wark regularly demonstrates at Fermentations: They Walk Among Us.
  • Postscript -- Some Political Wine Gossip: Fermentations also reports in a recent post that one of the Napa Valley's newest winery owners is House Democratic Whip and noted Woman of the People, Nancy Pelosi.  She has not stated a position in the cork vs. screwcap debate, so far as I know.

Attention TJ Shoppers: the New York Times is on Your Side

Here's a grand opportunity for California customers of Trader Joe's markets, allowing you both to save money and to savor an advantage over those pesky New Yorkers:

Through Lifehacker (the Really Useful component of the Gawker Media empire) comes a link to a New York Times item selecting the 10 Best Wines Under $10.00.  The good news for Californians is that two of the wines listed are readily available at TJ's, and are priced some $2.00 less than your East Coast friends will be obliged to pay.

  • The Times'  top choice among sub-$10 red wines is the 2001 vintage Côtes du Rhône from J. Vidal Fleury, a blend mostly of grenache and syrah described as "fruity, earthy and balanced without the candied or too-sweet qualities that may make for great popularity in the marketplace but will not impress discerning wine lovers."  I will vouch for the accuracy of that description, having coincidentally had this wine with dinner two nights ago.  In New York, you'll pay $8.00; in sunny California, Trader Joe's will sell it to you for a mere $5.99.
  • Number 3 among the reds was the 2003 bottling of the ever-popular Big House Red blend from Bonny Doon Vineyard.  "Not complex, but full of spicy fruit flavors."  $10.00 in New York, but for you lucky West Coastaceans a paltry $7.99.  (What will you do with all the money you save?  That's right: you'll have enough left over for a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck!)  [Bonus Link: an animated version of the Big House Red label art is viewable here.]
  • The wine-swigging Timesmen also commend an Old Vine Zinfandel from Bogle Vineyards, a wine I have not spotted at TJ's although the store stocks several other Bogle bottlings.  Headquartered in unfashionable Clarksburg, in the Sacramento Delta, Bogle is a reliable source of affordable wines of quality.  And I can promise you they are less expensive here than in New York. So there.

Wine Wins Poll Position in Beverage Derby

The Los Angeles Times on Monday reported on a Gallup poll in which wine finally edges out beer as the drink that American drinkers most frequently drink.   In proper Times fashion, the story is burdened with an inexplicably arch tone and an unfulfilled yearning to find some Larger Forces at work:

What could it mean?  For the first time since the Gallup Poll began keeping track in 1992, more Americans have reported that their alcoholic beverage of choice is wine, not beer.  Months after Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was caricatured as a Chardonnay-sipping Francophile, and somehow less American for it, the French national beverage seemingly has become our preferred swill.

According to Gallup, 39% of American drinkers said they drink wine most often, while only 36% said they drink beer most often.  (The rest prefer liquor, and a small percentage said they like all three equally.)  Technically, the pollsters said, the numbers put wine and beer into a statistical dead heat (when the margin of error is considered).  Still, the trend inspires speculation: Is the slippery-floored college keg party going to be replaced by civilized gatherings with string quartets?  Will American guys trade their beer and baggy board shorts for Petite Sirah and man bikinis?  Is our country, in other words, on some ineffable road to effete?

Qu'est-ce que c'est?  (That's French for "Huh?!?")

Tom Wark is on the case at Fermentations, slicing through the silly stereotyping and expanding on the forces that most likely explain wine's slow but successful rise closer to the top of the beverage heap.  Tom points to:

  • Price/Value/Availability:  "It really doesn't matter what the product is, once price comes down enough and once the perception of the price of a product is understood as a value, more people will consider purchasing it.  This certainly has occurred with wine."
  • Popular Culture:  "[T]he ability of pop culture [such as the film Sideways] to inspired sales trends is undeniable and probably even more impacting than mass marketers even appreciate."
  • The Times article itself includes this little jibe at Sideways:

Gallup Poll Senior Editor Lydia Saad agreed that Sideways might have had an effect on wine consumption, but she is not sure why.  'I couldn't follow the movie very well — maybe I was watching it too late at night — so I don't know.'

  • Health & Fitness:  "[The] consistent barrage of good wine and health news surely has had a cumulative effect."
  • Demographic Trends

Yet it seems the real increase in wine consumption is coming from women and young people.  The poll showed that 52% of men still choose beer over wine, suggesting that a whole lot of women are buying the wine.  In addition, the millennial generation, those essentially in their 20s, are adopting wine at a much faster rate than Gen X or the baby boomers.

Do, please, read Tom's complete analysis if these sorts of questions interest you.


For Further Reading:  Even if you are not a wine drinker yourself, you can enjoy Tom's recent post, "The Art of the Vineyard", in which he expands on an idea that I have posited previously: that winegrowing is the most aesthetically pleasing form of agriculture I know. 

Drinkin' Wine and Bronco COLAs

DaumierAnd now, more adventures in Wine Labeling Law. . . .

In our last episode, we left Fred Franzia and the Bronco Wine Company on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, having just learned that the Court had declined their petition to review the California Supreme Court's decision that precludes Bronco from using wine brand names with the word "Napa" in them unless the wines in the bottles have some grapes from the Napa Valley in them.  Yesterday in Sacramento, the California Court of Appeal for the 3rd Appellate District rejected Bronco's remaining arguments and again upheld the Brand Name = Grape Origin requirements.

We are about to start a looong Memorial Day Weekend, so it is appropriate that the Court of Appeal has issued a looong opinion, weighing in at 75 pages.  Earlier, Bronco had urged that it had received COLAs [Certificates Of Label Authority] from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms permitting it to use brand names such as "Napa Ridge," "Napa Creek," and "Rutherford Vintners" without regard to whether any portion of the wine within was made from grapes grown in the Napa Valley or in or near the town of Rutherford, and that California's state statute should be invalidated because it conflicts with the federal approval.  That argument was rejected by the California Supreme Court. 

Nothing if not creative, on remand to the Court of Appeal Bronco tried and failed with several additional arguments, all invoking the U.S. Constitution.  In brief:

  • Free Speech:  Bronco urges that the restrictions on the use of place names violate its rights of free speech and free expression.  No, says the Court, the California statute is a valid regulation of unprotected "inherently misleading" commercial speech.  [Connoisseurs of this sort of thing may enjoy the discussion in footnote 20, distinguishing this case from one involving "Cajun" catfish from China.]
  • Commerce Clause:  Bronco argues that the California labeling law impermissibly burdens its sales of wine in interstate and foreign commerce.  No, says the Court, because federal law contemplates that California may impose stricter regulation on labels originating within its borders and because "the state's interest in protecting California wine consumers from misleading brand names of viticultural significance and in preserving and maintaining the reputation and integrity of its wine industry in out-of-state and foreign markets outweigh the effect . . . on interstate commerce."
  • "Taking": Finally, Bronco urges that the stricter California rule operates as an uncompensated "taking" of its property rights in the federal COLAs, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.  No, says the Court, because the statute "does not bar Bronco from using its brand names under all circumstances" -- all Bronco needs to do is incorporate the required percentage of Napa-grown grapes into the wines to which those brands are applied -- "and because Bronco failed to establish the statute has destroyed the substantial economic value of the brand names."

For those who want to heed the traditional weblog injunction to "read the whole thing," the Court of Appeal's opinion in Bronco Wine Company v. Jolly (May 26, 2005), Case NO. C037254, is accessible at these links in PDF and Word formats.

[Note: Links to the court's Slip Opinion expire approximately 120 days following issuance; the opinion should still be accessible thereafter by substituting "archive" for "documents" in the URL.]

"Bottled Poetry"

That's the phrase Robert Louis Stevenson famously used to express his appreciation for the wines of the Napa Valley, which he sampled on his honeymoon.  There have been wine posts and poetry posts lately on this weblog, but no posts combining the two.  To remedy that condition (before moving along to some other topic), I take yesterday's Supreme Court decision on interstate wine shipment as an excuse to reproduce this poem by Yvor Winters, which serves to capture in words what I have long maintained: that winegrowing is the most aesthetically pleasing form of agriculture I know.

In Praise of California Wines

Vineyards_paso_robles_by_mooncat_smallAmid these clear and windy hills
Heat gathers quickly and is gone;
Dust rises, moves, and briefly stills;
Our thoughts can scarcely pause thereon.

With pale bright leaf and shadowy stem,
Pellucid amid nervous dust,
By pre-Socratic stratagem,
Yet sagging with its weight of must,

The vineyard spreads beside the road
In repetition, point and line.
I sing, in this dry bright abode,
The praises of the native wine.

It yields the pleasure of the eye,
It charms the skin, it warms the heart;
When nights are cold and thoughts crowd high,
Then 'tis the solvent for our art.

When worn for sleep the head is dull,
When art has failed us, far behind,
Its sweet corruption fills the skull
Till we are happy to be blind.

So may I yet, as poets use,
My time being spent, and more to pay,
In this quick warmth the will diffuse,
In sunlight vanish quite away.

Not really a Great Poem, but certainly a pretty good one, its stray archaisms notwithstanding.  And it goes well with the red, white or rosé of your choice, preferably to be enjoyed in good company.

[Photo by mooncat (Erika Thorpe) -- whose uncle's Paso Robles vineyard it is -- via stock.xchng.]

Wine Makes Strange Benchfellows

"From wine what sudden friendship springs!"
    -- John Gay (1685-1732), The Squire and his Cur

Good news for winemakers and wine consumers: The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its decision in Granholm v. Heald, and has overturned state laws that permitted direct shipment of wine to consumers within a state by that state's wineries while outlawing direct shipments into the state by out-of-state wineries.   The opinions are available here [PDF].

This is yet another 5-4 decision from our often closely-divided Supreme Court, and displays an intriguing split among the justices.   Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion, which is joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and, in the unusual role of "the swing vote," . . . Justice Antonin Scalia.   The dissenters are Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Stevens, O'Connor and Thomas; Stevens and Thomas contribute written opinions in dissent.

The entire package of opinions comes to 73 pages, and I have not begun parsing it in detail.   More commentary to follow.


UPDATE [1305 PDT]: Unsurprisingly, Professor Bainbridge has a slew of worthwhile insights on his main weblog and on his wine weblog.   He provides other useful links here.

Apropos of my title for this post, Professor B notes just how unusual the line-up of justices on the two sides of this case really is.   Let's do the numbers:

The 5 justice majority had never voted together in a 5-4 case once in the last 10 years.

It just goes to show how unusual were the ideological and doctrinal issues presented by this case. You've got federal judicial power lined up against state legislative authority. You've got the original text of the constitution (albeit a principle extracted therefrom mainly by negative implication) versus an amendment tacked on validly but motivated by the worst sort of rent seeking. And so on.

I have to agree with the Professor's analysis of the limited basis for the majority's decision: essentially, what the Court disallows is the discrimination between in-state and out-of-state wineries under the direct shipping laws under consideration.  One "remedy" available to the affected jurisdictions is to treat the two classes of winemakers similarly by prohibiting all direct shipment of wine, without regard to whether the point of origin is inside or outside of the State's borders.  I suspect there would be a unanimous vote of the Court for the proposition that the 21st Amendment authorizes that sort of regulation -- just as it would authorize a State to go completely "dry" if it so chose.  We should learn soon in which of these States there is a sufficiently strong neo-Prohibitionist sentiment -- or a sufficiently strong lobby for the entrenched wholesaler/distributor interests -- to close the door that the Court opened this morning.

OF RELATED INTEREST:  So you say you want to buy the wines of the wineries who brought this case to the Court?  Here are links to the winemakers mentioned in the majority's opinion:

  • Domaine Alfred Winery -- successor to Chamisal Vineyards, the first wine property in the Edna Valley in California's San Luis Obispo County.  [The Edna Valley is one of those places that instills a recognizable character in the wines produced from its grapes.  I happen to dislike most Edna Valley wines because I dislike that character; many others, however, hold a more favorable opinion of the area.]
  • The Lucas Winery -- located in Lodi in California's central valley, producing mostly Zinfandel.  [I have no personal experience of the Lucas wines.]