User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
Two Goodies: HR 5034 and Dan Berger

By Charles Olken


HR 5034


This legislation, being pushed in the Congress of the United States by a bunch of self-serving politicians whose contributions from alcohol wholesalers has them bought and paid for, has recently gone from bad to worse. In the face of Supreme Court rulings that have overturned local legislation favoring in-state interests at the expense of producers from out of state, has now been rewritten to make it the law of the land that such discrimination can now be practiced. What all this means as a practical matter is that states will be allowed to make laws that prevent out-of-state wineries and wine stores from shipping wine into any state that declares that their discriminatory laws advance any conceivable local purpose that cannot be adequately served by reasonable non-discriminatory alternatives. In other words, the states would be free to make laws that discriminate not only against out-of-state sources but also against their own citizens in favor of the big liquor and wine wholesalers.


Connoisseurs’ Guide tends to stay away from politics. We are in the wine commentary business, but we came into this business as consumers, our wine cellars are stocked with selections that we are able to buy wherever we can find them because California does not discriminate. Even in a state in which wine is big business, there is no hint of discrimination against outside retailers who undercut the locals, undercut the tasting rooms, pay no sales tax on California wine bought by Californians. Yet, the Congress, in its wisdom, has before it legislation which, if enacted in ways that prevent California producers and retailers from selling beyond our borders, could lead to a trade war of sorts as California moves to shut out other States from selling into California. Today, it is wine. How about whiskey? We make whiskey here. It is not as famous as that which comes from other places. Why not shut that other stuff out? How about baby food? Soap? Beer? Computers? How many jobs have we lost to Texas and Taiwan?


OK, we exaggerate. But the point is that any laws that discriminate against legitimate commerce ultimately discriminate against consumers. And, dear readers, that is where you come in. Have a look at the very good blog written by Tom Wark called Fermentation. In today’s offering, he gives the details and the arguments as only he can because he has been the absolute leader among wine scribes in this fight. Have a look at


We rate his blog on this topic at: A
We rate the legislation and those who support it as: D


My Running Argument With Dan Berger


I like to kid my friend Dan because there is no more opinionated, outspoken, sharp-witted voice in the wine journosphere than Dan. No one takes themselves more seriously. No one tells you what is right and what it wrong more often and more self-convincedly than Dan. And no one is more in need of being kidded than my friend Dan.


Now, don’t get me wrong. Dan is a smart guy and he is right more often than he is wrong, but I will fairly frequently disagree with Dan because when he is wrong, he is wrong—in my opinion of course just he will believe that I am wrong. We have our disagreements, and have had them stretching back now for a couple of decades, but those disagreements, even in their vehement best never end in hurt feelings. Dan may be convinced of his positions, but deep down, he knows that his positions, his opinions are his own and not everyone else’s. That does not stop Dan from also knowing that he is right. And from me knowing that he is wrong. Thus, My Running Argument With Dan Berger—which will appear here in The Report Card from time to time because I just can’t help myself.


You might now ask yourself, as I did today, “what has Dan done now?” And I can answer that question. He has tackled the nasty question: what is complexity, and as my political science professor once described a local politician, Dan has come down squarely on both sides of the issue. I cannot tell you how stunned I am at this turn of events. Where is the bombast? Where are the right answers? Is this the same guy who recently described Napa Valley Cabernets as having become “parodies of themselves?” Dan, where have you gone. On this topic, even though he is trying to sound even-handed, he has given us pablum when we want Tabasco sauce.


Our grade: B-, for trying not to fry everyone else’s opinions.


He does go on to ask the question, “Where is Grenache?” OK, good question, that. We agree. What California needs is a lot of efforts with Grenache because the grape has the ability to show a personality that is totally its own. It is distinct, pleasant, inviting when done right. We need more Grenache. Good on ya, Dan, for asking the question. We might have been a little more convinced if your proof of Grenache’s goodness had not been rooted in comments you and others made ten years ago. Still, my good friend Dan, who has led the way in promoting Riesling, a cause in which we join him, needs to do more on behalf of Grenache than to repeat a decade-old story that he has told before.


Our Grade: A-/B+, for hitting the nail on the head, but less than top marks for hitting it with remarks that are essentially throwaways.


This was not Dan at his best, but it was also not Dan at his worst. I suspect the next installment of My Running Argument With Dan Berger will be edgier and funnier. I just love to kid Dan.


by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:9/16/2010 7:05:05 PM
Dan is beloved for having strong opinions. You can agree or disagree, but he always gets you thinking. He gets a little too ideological for me, as with his stance against high alcohol. But Dan is always worthy of respect.
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/16/2010 8:56:58 PM
Yes, Steve. Not only to be respected but to be understood, debated, kidded and ultimately to be agreed with or disagreed with but to then let it go. Most of the time, we are able to laugh at ourselves while we debate in earnest.

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.