Archive for August, 2016

A look back at Granholm v. Heald

August 19th, 2016

Granholm vs Heald supreme court wine

By Joseph Temple

Of all the famous Supreme Court cases—from Marbury v. Madison to Bush v. Gore—there is one that oenophiles should be very familiar with: Granholm v. Heald, a landmark 5-4 decision in 2005 that completely changed the way consumers are able to purchase wine.  Dismantling an antiquated “three-tier” system that had been in place since the repeal of Prohibition, this decision finally gave wine lovers the ability to buy their favorite vintage across state lines.  The red tape that had existed for decades (and made little sense in the age of the internet) was finally ripped to shreds.  But to understand the importance of this case, you first need to understand the context behind the decision.

While the Twenty-first Amendment ended the “noble experiment” known as Prohibition, legislators also threw a curveball known as Section 2, which states, “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”  Essentially, states interpreted it to mean that they alone were the supreme authority when it came to all things related to alcohol.  So while national Prohibition officially ended in 1933, many states continued the practice with Mississippi being the last one to repeal its laws in 1966.  Of course, some states handed jurisdiction over to the local counties and municipalities—hence the term “dry county.”

Additionally, with fifty different sets of laws, what became known as a three-tier system was established by the wine industry, which regulated how their product reached the consumer.  Going from the winery to the wholesaler, and then on to the retailer, this system puts an enormous amount of power in the wholesaler’s hands.  As the middlemen, they determined which wines ended up on the shelves, leaving the door wide open for corruption and kickbacks.

Then came the Internet.

With wineries establishing e-commerce sites, consumers could now buy from the vineyard online, eliminating the entire role of the wholesaler.  And with websites tearing down the traditional barriers, a much greater selection was now available, allowing someone to have wines that weren’t available at the local shop shipped to them directly.

Attempting to turn back the clock, some states fought back against these new practices.  Two in particular—Michigan and New York—passed laws allowing in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers but banning out-of-state wineries from doing the same.  In what can only be seen as a flagrant attempt at unconstitutional protectionism, Eleanor Heald and her fellow oenophiles argued that the two states had violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, which states that Congress has the sole power to regulate commerce between the states.

which states allow you to order out of state wines

After nearly a decade of battling in the courts, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments from both sides in December of 2004.  Less than two months later, the majority ruled in favor of out-of-state wineries, agreeing that the Twenty-first Amendment did not supersede the Commerce Clause. More than a decade after this decision, all but seven states have enacted some form of direct wine shipping.  However, since the states have autonomy over this matter, they still have the power to ban all forms of direct shipping, which several have done.  And matters such as the volume shipped and other requirements are still within their jurisdiction.  But without question, this case has definitely made it a lot easier to purchase your favorite wines online.  So the next time you place a website order and have it shipped via courier, you can thank the highest court in the land.

Sources:

Frank, Mitchell. (2016, August 2). How Wine Got Caught Between Commerce and States’ Rights. Wine Spectator. Retrieved from http://www.winespectator.com
Özer
, Özalp & Phillips, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Pricing Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Taylor, Robert. (2014, July 14). U.S. Wine Shipping Laws, State by State. Wine Spectator. Retrieved from http://www.winespectator.com

Zraly, Kevin.  Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006.


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Ask Sid: Lees stirring

August 17th, 2016
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Lees stirring batonnage
By Agne27 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: What is the difference between the stirring of the lees that fall to the bottom of a wine cask and batonnage?

Answer: No difference. Batonnage is the French term used for this stirring of the fine lees that settle to the bottom of the container (usually a wooden cask) holding the unfinished unfiltered wine in progress. Some believe that this procedure helps produce richer wines. However there is a growing group of winemakers that feel this opening of the container with vigorous stirring of the juice promotes earlier oxidation (pre-mox issues) and is to be avoided. This concern has resulted in a third school of thinking which wants mixing of the lees but not with air exposure. They instead either roll the closed barrels (Bouchard Pere) or inject CO2 gas in by a tube to mix it up (Lucien Le Moine). This whole area of cellar procedures involving stirring of the lees (or batonnage) needs some new catchwords to accurately describe what is actually being done by the winemaker.


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Traveller’s Guide 2016: Relais & Chateau

August 15th, 2016

Traveller's Guide 2016: Relais & Chateau

So many choices out there these days for your hotel and restaurant bookings. On line bookings are easy and ever expanding. Branding and consolidation are the buzz words in the hotel industry. Look at the recent merger of Marriott & Starwood to become the world’s biggest hotel company with over 5500 locations and 1 million rooms. How do you choose where to stay on your travels?

On the other end of the scale are the smaller more unique “boutique” hotels. Lots of printed material out there to assist you with your choices including for example the popular red Michelin Guide. One book I enjoy picking up every year that is FREE is the useful compact white covered Traveller’s Guide published by Relais & Chateau (www.relaischateau.com). Their new 2016 Collection of 264 pages spotlights 540 worthy properties on 5 continents in 60 countries. Like their appropriate description for the unique world of Relais & Chateau as “a united family whose members all share …a place where they cultivate a particular art of living.” It is always interesting to review the section in which the new members (this year 38 of them) are welcomed including internationally renowned chefs. A wonderful new feature this year is the creation of 50 “Routes du Bonheur” (www.relaischateau.com/us/destinations/routes-du-bonheur) detailing thought provoking ideas for your next wine and food vacation with some helpful itinerary maps. Wide ranging suggested regions to explore including the vineyards of Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux (comments from Jean-Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages) and the Douro Valley. The bike tour in Provence looks enticing as well as the Castles of the South of Ireland. Highly recommend you pick up a copy to peruse from a Relais & Chateau property near you! Enjoy.


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Book review: Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

August 12th, 2016

Michael Moss Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

By Joseph Temple

Salt, sugar and fat: the three magical ingredients that have made the food industry billions in profits.  For consumers strolling down the aisles of their local supermarket, it is almost impossible to leave without purchasing something containing at least one of these elements.  From frozen pizzas to fancy cheeses, not only are we buying them—we’re practically marinating in them.  So is it any surprise that America has become (and remains) the fattest country in the world?  Not only is half the population considered to be overweight, studies conducted from 2006 to 2008 showed that the obesity rate amongst children aged six to eleven has jumped nearly 20 percent.

So what responsibility do the companies that produce and market these products bare as diabetes and high blood pressure skyrockets across the nation?  It is a question that Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Michael Moss attempts to answer in his 2013 book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.   Tracing back the history of twentieth century food consumption, we learn that without these three ingredients, companies like Kraft and General Foods would not be the powerhouses that they are today.  That’s because on average, we consume 22 teaspoons of sugar and ten grams of salt per day, not to mention all that fat.  But is this the result of clever marketing or are we simply hard-wired to like these foods?  As one Kraft executive told the author, “This is not some big corporate plot to fatten up kids.  This is what kids want.  There are very few kids out there who will eat rice cakes and tofu.”

While human beings definitely have proclivities towards sweets and salty snacks, food scientists have taken it to a whole new methodical level as they come up with the next billion-dollar idea.  As Moss shows us, when it comes to sugar, they use what is known as the “bliss point”—the precise amount of sweetness that generates intense feelings of pleasure in our brains.  It is an exact science where too little or too much sugar can result in a dud that is quickly pulled off the shelves.  Describing this pivotal point, one expert states, “Pleasure from food is not a diffuse concept … it can be measured just as the physical, chemical and nutritional factors can be measured.  With more concrete status, the capacity of food flavors to evoke pleasure may start to be regarded as a real, tangible property of products, along with their nutritional status.”

Indeed, one of the most fascinating chapters of the book deals with the cereal industry, whose sales went from $660 million in 1970 to $4.4 billion by the mid-1980s.  Fueled largely by products that are loaded with sugar (e.g. Apple Cinnamon Cheerios contains 43 percent sugar) and aggressively marketed towards children, Moss aptly names the chapter “Is it Cereal or Candy?”  It’s ironic considering that the first cereals that entered the marketplace in the early twentieth century were designed to be nutritious alternatives to sausages and bacon at the breakfast table.

But as we learn, what works for sugar has absolutely no bearing on fat, an ingredient that has been more successful at flying under the radar with consumers.  In fact, scientists have known for many years that the more fat that is put in our food, the more we like it.  Citing numerous examples, from how it lessens the rubbery texture of hot dogs to how it can turn parched bread into silky loaves, fat is simply a miracle ingredient for manufacturers.  And when it comes to cheese, a food that most people do not identify as a fatty food despite the fact that it swimming in saturated fats, Americans are eating approximately 33 pounds of it per year.  To coin a term from the industry, we all have become “heavy users.”

Realizing that the family unit has changed dramatically over the past fifty years, food companies have also made convenience their biggest selling point.  With stressed-out parents overworked and less likely to make a homemade meal, processed and frozen foods, which usually contain high amounts of sodium, have filled the void at the dinner table.  Again, the research that is presented to the reader is simply fascinating, such as the cost-benefit analysis many parents are forced to make, which plays right into the hands of these companies.  “When you have kids, the question becomes, What can I buy that won’t cost much, that the kids will eat, and that won’t take long to prepare?” asks one study.  “For them the question becomes, how many dishes can you cook with potatoes and carrots before you say, ‘Kentucky Fried is not so bad after all’?”

Coming under fire from various consumer groups and to a lesser extent, the federal government for loading their products with these unhealthy ingredients, food manufacturers have become masters at projecting change even when there is little to none.  As people became more concerned about the negative effects of sugar over-consumption, Kellogg’s quickly changed Sugar Frosted Flakes to just Frosted Flakes. Two percent milk, which implies that it’s 98% fat free doesn’t let you know that whole milk only is one mere percentage point higher.  And many potato chip companies have printed the amount of fat on the label per serving instead of the total amount in the bag.  As you take in all these examples, it will make you think twice before buying a product that is listed as “fat-free” or “low in salt.”

Of course, the central question of the book is what role does the government play?  Some would argue that it is strictly the parents’ responsibility to ensure their child receives a healthy diet.  But with deceptive marketing combined with the fact that mothers and fathers are burning the candle at both ends, do they really have the time to investigate whether or not their child’s attentiveness will increase by 20 percent if they eat Frosted Mini-Wheats—a claim that the Federal Trade Commission said was clearly false and misleading?

Realizing the growing backlash against foods containing unhealthy levels of these three ingredients, Moss gives us a behind-the-scenes account of a meeting held between the food executives in 1999 to discuss the ramifications of their business strategies.  In the city of Minneapolis, CEOs from Nestle, Kraft, Nabisco, Coca-Cola and others met to discuss a possible dim future where their products would be lumped in with cigarettes as hazardous to the nation’s health, preventing them from advertising on television.  With the reader acting as a fly on the wall, it is one of the highlights of Salt Sugar Fat as you witness what could have been a major turning point for the industry.

Overall, Moss succeeds at giving us a candid look at the decisions that go into what we eat.  Through meticulous research, which includes numerous interviews with some of the most powerful players in the business, you start to realize how important it is to be an informed consumer.  With a government that is largely unable and unwilling to help, you’ll probably spend a little more time studying the labels at your local grocery store after reading this important and engaging book.

 


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Ask Sid: Best Method Of Drying & Polishing Wine Glasses?

August 11th, 2016
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Ask Sid: Best Method Of Drying & Polishing Wine Glasses?

Question: I need advice Sid on your best ideas for drying and polishing wine glasses without breaking the stems. Please help me?

Answer: Yes this can be tricky. I fortunately have a hanging rack to invert the glasses and slowly air dry them. Be very careful to make sure you avoid using soapy, fabric softener, or scented towels or paper. Instead acquire one of the many lint-free microfiber wine glass towels that are out there for sale. I have one from Copia – The American Centre for Wine, Food & the Arts – that does a good job of polishing that is made in Korea from 80% Polyester & 20% Polyamide. However, my preferred procedure is to use a clean 100% linen towel (like best the ones from France by Le Jacquard Francais) and gently dry and polish each glass. The key is to be very careful not to twist or torque the stem that can easily result in breakage if you use any force. Be sure to hold the bottom of the glass while drying the inside of the bowl – AND DO NOT HOLD THE BASE OF THE GLASS. In fact, my most careful reliable method is to use 2 linen towels – one in the left hand holding the bottom of the glass and the other in my right hand drying and polishing the inside of the bowl. Hopefully this will be a better method for you and result in less breakage. Give it a try!


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