This is crazy! I try not to be political when I write, believing that my topic of choice, wine, is to be enjoyed by all, no matter what your political leanings are. We moved to an island to get away from the topic of politics (among other things.) But, as our country continues down the rabbit hole of nonsensical daily realities, i.e., let’s allow for the deregulation of everything put in place to protect us, while we argue over whether or not the President is a racist. Now, the joyful indulgence of wine has become the next hot topic.
This month the current administration in Washington is proposing to put in put in place a 100% tariff on imported European wine, along with Scotch and Irish Whiskey, cheese, olive oil, pasta. Yes, everything from your beloved special occasion bottles of Champagne, Bordeaux, and Barolo, to your $8 bottle of Prosecco used for making Sunday mimosas. They already imposed a 25% tariff on most of these items, which many suppliers and retailers have just absorbed into their current costs of doing business, but it is hard to do this with a 100% tariff hike.
As a wine lover, I could say to find an alternative. There are fantastic wines from all over the world. Seek out stellar Malbec from Argentina, like from Vina Cobos or Achaval Ferrer. I had a zippy, vibrant Brut sparkling wine from Chilean winery, Cono Sur, recently that acted as an ideal aperitif and would be a good base for a mimosa. Australian wineries are producing incredible earthy Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the country needs your support now more than ever. In every state of our country, wine is crafted by passionate dreamers with a love of the grape.
But, the ability to find something else isn’t in question. The reason the 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting was such a monumental event for the American wine industry was that the up-and-coming wines of Napa Valley, namely Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena, made a name for themselves by defeating favorite wines of France in a blind taste test.
These tariffs seem to be the “tit for tat” because of a “Digital Service Tax” the French put in place last year. However, how did wine get thrown under the bus? The White House touts “America First” beliefs that will end up costing American’s jobs while hurting our economy.
How you ask? The American importer who exclusively works with impacted products may lose their retail accounts who can’t afford the products anymore. The distributor of European and American wine may not be able to rationalize the additional mark-ups from the importers, decreasing their overall distribution, losing revenue. The stylish French bistro that you frequent on Friday nights may be pouring Domaine Carneros instead of Dom Perigon, and Napa Cab over Bordeaux.
The mom and pop store who sells imported wine, olive oil, cheese, and pasta, like Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas, may find their Lakewood and East Dallas clientele unwilling to pay $100 for the $50 Franciacorta from Lombardi, Italy. The classic method, ultra-premium sparkler, is already working through an extensive educational campaign teaching consumers who they are. Add a huge price hike to their product and the likelihood the average American consumer giving it a try becomes slimmer based on cost alone.
The bistro, importer, and store may be able to survive, but it may be with fewer employees, as costs will have to be cut somewhere, potentially increasing unemployment in our country. And, the imported wines brought into our country may not be the best that the European country has to offer.
If you have traveled abroad, you often find your favorite wine from a region isn’t available in America. This is often because the winery is small, making a few hundred cases of wine, as they have for generations. Finding an exporter to take their small quantities across the ocean is often difficult. Imagine if that 300-case production, $50 bottle of wine, would cost $100 in the U.S. Economically, it just doesn’t make sense to try to import such a small quantity to the U.S. for double the price it is worth.
Meaning, the wines that end up finding their way on to your store shelves may become the larger production brands with big powerhouse corporate companies behind them. Not that this is a bad thing, but we should have the opportunity to try them all and then decide what we like. I have a deep appreciation for their craftsmanship and quality of American wines. But, we should have the ability to enjoy them alongside the wines of the world, including those from the EU.
So, what do you do? There is a very brief window to state your comments U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR) before these tariffs are put in place. You have until January 13. Colleague, friend, and writer Lana Bortolot and I have traveled to many of these potentially impacted regions together over the years. Her column on Forbes (here) outlines the impact of these tariffs further and provides additional links to make your voice heard. (Thank you Lana.)
And, I would go out to your favorite wine shop and buy as much wine from Italy, Spain, Germany, and France and stash it in a cool, dark place to enjoy over the next few. And, make sure your voter registration card is up to date and prepare to make your voice heard in the election of 2020.
My “Wine of the Day” posts for the next few weeks will feature European selections to purchase now. Subscribe on our home page to get them in your inbox daily. Cheers!