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Thursday Thorns
A Wine Drinking Nation Declares War On Women

By Charles Olken

I am a winewriter. I don’t do politics. Today I want to talk about booming wine sales in the good old U. S. of America. Mrs. Olken wants me to talk politics.

When it comes to wine, I can tell you the ten reasons why Napa Valley Cabernet continues to grab the lion’s share of the upscale wine dollar among California enthusiasts and then go on to discuss the ten reasons why Pinot Noir is catching up fast. I can cite history. I can name names. I can examine the viscera of these phenomena vintage by vintage by vintage and then some. It is what I do. I have intimate knowledge on my side, and even when others may disagree with me, they will find it hard to disprove my theses.

Not so with politics. It does not matter that I have opinions galore about the body politic. It does not matter that long discussions of health care systems, the virtues and evils of capitalism and related tax policy, the rights of women, gays, animals and gun owners are part and parcel of life here in northern California. I simply do not know enough to be a political commentator—in print.

And so, on this second day of Spring, I find myself on the horns of dilemma. I am looking at a Hobson’s Choice of some forty years making. That is how long I have been a wine collector and that is equally how long I have been happily attached to Mrs. Olken. Today, Mrs. Olken thinks it is time for all Americans, including her loving and mostly obedient husband, to take a stand on the fast-erupting war on women that she sees happening in this country. Hardly a day goes by when some legislator in Idaho or Texas or Virginia or Washington, D. C. does not propose new laws that would push women back to the dark ages. And Mrs. Olken is fighting mad.

OK, I get it. And I agree with it, and in so saying, I am crossing a line that I care not to cross. This blog is not called The Political Connoisseur’s Blog. It is called The Wine Connoisseurs’ Blog. I am fighting mad. There I have said it again. The rights of my wife and my daughter would be trampled upon on folks who want to blame women for rape and incest. There is even a Presidential candidate who says a woman who finds herself pregnant in such situations should be thankful, yet this same Neanderthal would deny women the right even to birth control. Well, now I have gone and done it. I feel a lot better now that Mrs. Olken will speak to me again. (N. B. That was intentional exaggeration.)

And now I can move on to the news of the day in the California Wine Industry. Today, the wine sales statistics for 2011 have been released, and sales volume measured by case sales grew by close to six per cent while dollar volume increased by almost ten per cent. Those are massive gains by any standard. And what is even more pleasing is to look back for historical comparisons. When I came into winewriting, the United States was a piker in per capita consumption of wine. Put simply, this was not a winedrinking nation back in the 1970s. Today, we consume four times as much wine per person, and while we still do not rank near the top of the list of per capita wine drinking nations, we are now no longer an afterthought. There are massive statistics to be found on this subject on the website of The California Wine Institute. Even a statistics collector like me (if I had not found wine statistics to collect, I might have a library of hundreds of baseball statistics books) dares not bring them all out at one time lest you and I both fall asleep at some point. Let’s just say that the sun has shown nicely on California wine sales this past year and leave it at that. That topic may not be as momentous as politics, but I am a lot more comfortable in this realm than in that other.


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by Wine Harlots
Posted on:3/22/2012 11:28:30 AM

Thanks for taking a stance, Charlie.
And a toast to Mrs. O for holding your feet to the fire.

At Wine Harlots we avoid politics in our print work, as we feel you’re going to alienate half your readership, no matter what stance you take, and at Wine Harlots we want every page view we can get. Wine brings people together, is our motto.  

Since you stepped up, we though we should said with you. Here are our two positions for the 2012 elections. 

  • Medical decisions should be between a patient and medical provider.
  • We believe in equality. If you don’t, you’re standing on the wrong side of history. 

Thanks again for your courage. 

All the best, 

Nannette Eaton

by Bob Back
Posted on:3/23/2012 9:29:43 AM

I have read your publication for over thirty years and I appreciate that you focus on the wines. It is becoming a dark time in our country when those who profess to love freedom are hell-bent on taking it away from those they do not agree with.

Thank you for speaking out and thank Mrs O for making you see that it has become a time for everyone to speak up or see the promise of this great country disappear.

I'll raise a glass of Zin to you tonight when I get home.

Taliban Legislators?
by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:3/23/2012 9:58:02 AM

I've wondered if there is much difference between the Taliban and the mass of U.S. (male) legislators who are doing their misguided best to make the world a safer place...
And, Charlie, to link wine to Mrs. Olken's anger over the current hot topics related to the treatment of women:  don't think these nimrods won't, if they're not stopped immediately, get around to wine legislation.  It will certainly be viewed as 'demon alcohol' and there will probably be efforts to control its consumption and distribution, all under the heading of smaller government, of course (which makes it, in their pea brains, okay).
It might eventually lead to your right to publish a journal encouraging the consumption of wine.  They'll start with obliging you to have a health warning printed on each page of CGCW and we'll take it from there. 
Subscribers might have to buy a government-issued permit to be able to read your publication, for example.  Customers in a store or restaurant might have to sign a document aknowledging that there is alcohol in wine and that it may cause health problems (since the warning labels on the bottles have not been effective as you've noted with that increase in sales of wine).

Not putting our heads in the sand
by Kate
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:00:57 AM

Thanks for publishing this. I could not agree more. All human beings should be empowered to make decisions about their own bodies. If lawmakers don't want to take birth control, then by all means they shouldn't. But they also shouldn't stand in my way. I'm really not interested in having 10 kids and being forced to apply for welfare, thank you very much.  

Also, since wine is a commodity, and women make about 80% of purchasing decisions in the U.S., I would argue that this argument does have a place in this forum. The saying holds true, after all, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

All of us should talk politics more
by Blake Gray
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:04:32 AM

Hey Charlie, one of this country's biggest problems is that we don't talk politics more. It has allowed both the left and right to get more extreme because they don't have to defend their positions against people they disagree with.

I'll bet you'll get comments supporting you from people who agree with you, and a few people saying, "I don't come to your wine blog to read about politics." These will be from the people who disagree with you and don't want to defend their position.

I couldn't agree more with Mrs. Olken. The No. 2 candidate for President from the Republican party said this week that "our government every day and in every way is ordering us around, trampling our freedoms." In other words, he wants men to be free to send their genes to the next generation with whichever woman they can beat over the head and drag into an alley.

You snob you...
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:13:51 AM

Oh, you are just another lily livered, college attending, wine sipping, hybrid driving, French and Jerry Lewis lovin' snob, Charlie... :<)

by Richard
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:15:55 AM

   Thank you for this piece of wisdom - I wonder why more people aren't speaking out?  The choice that one party seems to be giving us with the two remaining candidates (face it, the two white haired guys aren't going anywhere unless there's a convention deadlock) is the "evil of two lessers" and both seem to be going more and more right to prove how right wing they are, to, what appears to be, a very small, voiciferous, right wing base that wants full dictatorial control over everyone... 

   I have no idea what the one Used Car Salesman candidate thinks since he changes his mind every day, and the other candidate (whose name you really shouldn't Google) who appears set to send the US back to the Inquisition and women's rights back to the stone age.  Oh, joy! what a choice...

   But, as you state, Mr. Olken, it is not just the candidates, there seems to be a swing toward this ultra conservatism - they preach individual rights, when, in fact, they seem to want to take everyone's rights away, particularly a woman's right to choose...  and this is a right that should never have been debated to begin with - it's a basic human right - since when have men ever had to deal with "the right to choose..."

   Mr. Weisl is correct, once these guys get on a roll, women first (in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant doin' all the chores), then what next?  Demon rum? property rights? the right to vote?

   Thanks again for your pithy, perspicacious, insightful comments...

Govt force
by Donn Rutkoff
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:38:04 AM

Well, I am not sure where the line demarks the humor vs the serious since I have missed it by my miles previously.  But let me make 1 point:  the political fight is not about women's health.  It is about the govt. forcing you, Charlie, to pay for someone else to buy pills.  For leisure and discretionary stuff.    The pills are cheap and available to anybody.  Besides, the front page woman is a Catholic who wants the US govt. to tell the Catholics how to reform itself.  Can't find support for that in the Constitution.  I suppose I can claim that my mental health requires a bottle of Rousseau Chambertin once a month, I can't afford it, so everyone in my insurance pool should ante up.`I bet I can find quite a few people willing to join that church.


Standing up for Women
by Paula Sugarman
Posted on:3/23/2012 10:59:57 AM

Thank you for going out of your comfort zone this one time to support the rights of women. I too, usually avoid politics in my business and my wine label blog. But we can't afford to do that any longer. The majority of our country is made up of practical minded citizens who believe in freedom. They are not the fringe on the right or the left. If we don't make a stand, it will allow the fringe to dictate the future of this country. At the moment it's freedom for women that's at stake, but what's next?

I'm not a historian, but I would guess if I looked back in history, I would find it was the fringe that brought the concept of prohibition to reality. And today we are still influenced by laws that were created in the name of prohibition. We can't let this happen with women too.

Again, thank you for your courage. And thanks to Mrs. O for her inspiration and her perseverance.

by Donn
Posted on:3/23/2012 11:20:57 AM

Hey Paula, actually it was women who passed Prohibition.  While the men soldiers were away in France & Germany fighting The Great War.  And look up Carrie Nation.  For gosh sakes, folks, don't open your brain before writing.  That would be too hard.  Read the dam Constitution, read what Ben Franklin and Madison and Jefferson said and wrote.  It is all there.  Nothing in there about me paying your bills, or you paying my bills.  Go buy your own pills.  OR find a different employer, the economy is chock full of private enterprise scouring the countryside looking for employees.  It is that dam Haliburton that keeps killing the job recruiters, that's why some people can't find jobs.  Its' Haliburton's fault.  Eeeggaaaaaddd, are we a dumb sorry bunch.

No Subject
by Richard
Posted on:3/23/2012 11:53:45 AM

  What I find interesting is that, in a forum such as this, how quickly civility and common sense breaks down.  Generally when the "opposition" can't form a coherent argument to logically and rationally refute what is being said, they resort to name calling as in "open your brain" and "sorry dumb bunch," and "dam Constitution." 

   Having said that - I would say to Donn, with all due respect, and no name calling, that you have both made assumptions and jumped to conclusions...  why?  First, when I read Mr. Olken's comments, my first thoughts were with the Presidential candidates and their stands on "women's rights," i.e., abortion, equal pay, etc. - Romney was for it in Massachusetts before he was against it as a candidate; Santorum has blatently stated several times in national news that he believes, effectively, that a woman's place is in the home...  So, I took the comments in this spirit - whether I'm for or against.  It took me a moment to figure out the pills comments - ah, ha! the "Fluke controversy..."  So, contextually, I think the issue is larger than "pills" and health care... 

   Having said that, Donn, I agree with you that I should not have to pay for other people's health care - but if you have health insurance now (you, if you are on a 1099 like I am; or you and your employer if you are employed), you are paying - for all the people who smoke, who are overweight and refuse to work out; for people who go to the emergency room because it's the only place who will see them (because they have no health care), etc.  The list goes on and on...  Paying for "pills" is just yet another manifestation of a health care system run amok that has the highest health care costs in the world, bar none... 

   As for the comments on "Prohibition" that glorious, misdirected, gone wrong "social experiement...  I would remind that women did not have the right to vote until June 4th, 1919 and Prohibition was ratified on January 16th, 1919.  The First World War ended on November 11th, 1918.  So, the statement that "it was actually women who passed Prohibition" is slightly disingenuous, in my opinion.  Women couldn't even vote and had no say so in the actual election process in the state houses and Senate and Congress of the US who actually passed Prohibition.  While many women did lobby (as much as women were allowed to lobby) and certainly, Donn, Carrie Nation was a contributing factor...  I believe it is an exaggeration to say that "it was actually women who passed Prohibition."

   It's easy to point out half facts and half truths but it is not a refutation of the points.  Tell us what Madison, Jefferson, and Franklin said (and you left out Washington who has been overlooked in our history and the framing of the Constitution as well as Adams, Hamilton, and Jay) - they said little since they wrote the Constitution to be strict in it's initial proclamation but flexible in it's future...  there are many things that are "not in the Constitution" and many things that people misrepresent as being there.

   I hope Donn, you will feel free to point out where I am wrong and defend your position with rational thought vice name calling and ire.  Part of the issue in today's "debate forum" is that it's the one who shouts the loudest and drowns out everyone else who "wins."

   I do not disagree with you Donn, I'm on the right, but will sit out this election.  But as you said, and I paraphrase, we need to think before we speak, but the speech should be germane to the topic with rancor, bitterness, or ire.  And part of the problem with the issues surrounding women's rights now, is that they are knee jerk, emotional topics that make people angry - but anger will get us nowhere, it will only dig the hole deeper like the current President is doing, or as I feel the contenders from the Republican side will also do...

No Subject
by Christian Miller
Posted on:3/23/2012 12:18:58 PM

 "Well, I am not sure where the line demarks the humor vs the serious." This comes down firmly on both sides of the line:,0


by Donn
Posted on:3/23/2012 1:28:08 PM

Hi Richard.  Prohib. was largely a woman's Christian Temperance issue and when the boys were away at war in 1917 and 1918 and 1919, the women agitators had the upper hand and swayed Congress over time.  It was not a one-day affair, it was a long running battle.

And I am both conservative politically (at risk of never getting hired again in our biz in Calif.)  and work in the wine world.  I rarely see right wingers jumpng in bed with the powerful liquor wholesalers who are frequently trying to deny choice, to mandate controls that favor the big wholesalers, and they do it in the guise of protecting us from ourselves.  The gun-toting bible clingers are not usually found among that crowd.  San Francisco liberals are all over it like white on rice.  Having lived in the SF area, and for a while in Nancy Pelosi's district, and then in Barbara Lee's district, I may be allowed that observation, first hand.  And I will repeat, we are a dumb sorry lot that doesn't know diddles about our form of govt. and precious liberty.  The Founders were nearly phobic about NOT GIVING POWER to the Federal govt.  That was their primary motivation for laying their lives on the line.  They were aware of the power of govt. to interfere with individual choice.  The English people went and hanged their king, Charles I, not just deposed but tried him and executed the king, for such reasons.  Reading history is quite fun, but I was never taught this bit of history in school.

And of course, most of the founders were also winemakers, distillers, and alemeisters.  Geo. Wash. being fond of pumpkin ale, Thom Jeff being famously fond of swindling the Koch bros with phony back-dated Frenchy swill.


Charlie, thank you for taking the dive into the  2nd most enjoyable diversion.  Red wine being no. 1.

No Subject
by george kaplan
Posted on:3/23/2012 1:46:38 PM

Charlie, I'd give a case of 90 Mouton( my wife's favorite) to know what you did that required such an act of contrition.

This 'womens rights are at stake" is all blowhard political posturing and talk-show marketing  on both sides. Women outnumber, outvote and out-talk male blowhards of all stripes. If, IF they are unified on any issue thay can call the turn. 

For what it's worth, I am the humble servant of a wife of 28, almost 29, years and father of 2 whip-smart heavy-hitter JD daughters who can take care of themselves. For 30 years my wife has trumped my poor posturing over a wine I've tried to convince myself was worth what I paid for it by a simple protocol: if she doesn't want a second glass it ain't worth it.

Love you, Man.

My Case of 90 Mouton
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/23/2012 2:48:07 PM

Now, George, I don't want to get between your wife and my case of 90 Mouton, but what I did that required me to write the blog above is love my wife and my daughter and feel that they deseve every protection, every right, every privilege that my son and I enjoy. And that includes protections in reproductive health.

As for the nature of the political debate, it has turned a bit in the wrong direction from my perspective, but that is because everyone has her or his own perspective. If I find myself concerned about this debate, then I am to blame for starting it.

Don't worry
by Donn
Posted on:3/23/2012 3:30:53 PM

Charlie, your protections are safe.  Your wallet isn't.


There is no fight over "protection", in both meanings of the word.  Your protection from intrusive govt. however is not safe.

Here, try this idea:  what is insurance anyway?  Will you insure me against getting fired if I drink too much and have too many hangovers and lose my job?  Is that insurable?  How do you calculate the cost of insurance against voluntary behavior?  I want insurance against catching disease, not against "my cup runneth over."

Or, do you want the govt. to protect your health by forbidding winemakers to go over 15% abv?  Protect me, protect me.  Selling snake oil to protect me.

our founders
by Steve
Posted on:3/24/2012 11:40:35 AM

While the revolutionary war was fought to gain independence from England, the resulting states rights did not work.  Our founding fathers of this country were completely focused on creating a strong, centralized, federal government at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation because the people (rich, white males) who funded the revolutionary war were not getting paid back by the newly created individual states.  The creation of the Constitution made the federal govement fiscally liable for paying off the war debt while empowering Congress to collect taxes (Article 1, Section 8).  The original Constitution does not have any mention of individual rights...that all came from the Bill of Rights that, one at a time, were amended to the Constitution as ways to appease the masses.

by Ken Musso
Posted on:3/25/2012 10:32:08 AM
Not bad, Gerald.Not too bad at all!Ken
Women and Prohibition
by Paula
Posted on:3/25/2012 7:30:02 PM

Fringe Donn, fringe. Extremism is not gender specific. Nor does it make it in the best interest of the nation.

Little blue pill
by Les
Posted on:3/26/2012 12:26:50 AM

Hey Donn, hope you're enjoying SoCal. Just curious .... since you frame the issue as being one involving "who pays for the pills (contraceptives)?", where you do fall on the issue on government funded Viagra? Are you also outraged over that?  : ) 

by Donn
Posted on:3/26/2012 9:35:50 AM

Hi Les.  Yep.  ANother dumb waste of taxpayer money.  There is no reason for the Fed. Govt. to be in education (that Dept. works oh-so-well), Energy (another triumph, as per Obama being 200% behind the curve on the world market), housing, and charitable donations.  Let states and locals spend on whatever social engineering they want.  The Founders were pretty clear on deferring to the states all that; the power of the Fed. Govt. to be reserved for preserving the union, and barring interstate tariffs.  That is the point many miss.  The states are empowered to do a lot of things that are not in the mission statement of the Fed.

As for SoCal, keep your eye on eventual rise of the Ramona AVA.  Very small size producers, no purple haze, many excellent reds, Moscatos, and very good popular dessert wines (HURRAY!!!).  Many drinkers here are less familiar (to be polite) with Norcal wines, with Euro wines, but they sure do like wine. 

To Steve
by Donn
Posted on:3/26/2012 9:52:46 AM

Steve, with your negative attitude to the Constitution, don't you resent the Fed picking your pocket on behalf of Haliburton, Exxon, Merck, and GM?  As for people in the states not paying the bills, wouldn't a winery in your state want to get re-paid in a functional currency, not some paper issued by another state, neither of which honored each other?  And do remember that during the war, the King, oh yes, the King, I forgot, the war was against a King, uh, uh, uh. what was my point????  That was preferable, yeah, uh, sure.

to Donn
by Steve
Posted on:3/26/2012 2:36:51 PM

Donn, with all due respect here, what are you talking about?

Thanks for speaking up!
by Goddess of Wine
Posted on:3/27/2012 1:40:41 PM

Mr. Olken - I also try to avoid politics in my wine writing, but I am glad to see that there are men like you who understand that any legislation that takes away the rights of any citizen of this great nation sets the stage to take away all of our rights. It's reassuring to know that there are individuals out there who get that it's not about 'those' people, it's our own mothers, wives and daughters whose rights are in danger. Cheers to you!

No Subject
by David L Price
Posted on:3/28/2012 11:48:16 AM

Charlie, maybe you missed your calling, maybe you should do political columns, after all, look at the enormous response.  Wow!

I like a balanced approach ("extremism in the pursuit of balance is no sin").  For example, I support publicizing the medical research which suggests lower limits on the amount of daily alcohol women should ingest as opposed to men, but I join with you and others in standing aainst those who would legislate for that result.  The idea that government knows what's best for us in all areas of life has been disproven to such an extent as to make it a laughable concept.

Half the Country
by Bill Alexander
Posted on:4/1/2012 12:04:03 AM

Seems at any given time, half the country hates the other half the country for whatever political views one happens to have at the time.  I have never seen a Country so divided and no such thing as bi-partisanship. If the Dems suggest it, the repubs hate it. If someone wants smaller government, there is always someone who wants to expand it.  Everyone wants free government entitlements, even those on Social Security.  They call it Social Security Insurance, but I have Insurance on my house, it didn't burn down last year and I don't recall the Insurance company offering to give me back my premium.  I just think we have had enough of Government regulations.  The ATF has gone nuts.  Posting a bond to insure we will pay the fed excise tax is also nuts.  Don't they trust us?  And yet, half of us want bigger government and the other half has pretty much had enough.  I think I will open a bottle of wine and ponder this....

Drinking For Clarity
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/1/2012 1:11:24 AM

Bill, drop me a note when you get to the bottom of the bottle and let me know what you have found.

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