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Tuesday Tributes
DUI—A Scary Story

By Charles Olken
I have chosen to air this article under Tuesday Tributes because I want to salute the courage of a fellow winewriter who had the intestinal fortitude to share his experience with us all. He is Greg Walter, a long-time journalist and one-time editor of the Wine Spectator. Today, he publishes The Pinot Report. Greg was stopped in the Napa Valley, tested for alcohol and found to be just over the legal limit. My guess is that his 0.10% Blood Alcohol level has been met by this writer, and many of those reading this column, on more than one occasion. Believe me. I take no pleasure in printing Greg’s report. It is scary, sobering and highly instructional.

“Usually I like to keep the subject matter of this column light hearted and easy to digest. I’m sorry to say that this one will be neither. In fact, I’m hoping that it makes a serious impression on you. I’m hoping that you will think long and hard about what I’ve written here.

Nearly two months ago now I was pulled over, cited and arrested for DUI in Napa. It was late in the evening and I was driving on Highway 29 like I’ve done thousands of times. My BAC (blood alcohol concentration ) was .10, .02 above the legal limit of .08. A very professional CHP officer administered the various tests to make that determination. At that point the officer informed me that I was under arrest. He confiscated my driver’s license, handcuffed me and placed me in his patrol car. He informed me that my vehicle would be towed and impounded because the location was not a safe place to leave it.

The relatively short ride from the highway to the County Jail in downtown Napa seemed to take forever. It took another hour to book me (there were several others ahead of me) and then I sat in a holding area – no shoes, belt or any of my possessions – for the mandatory four-hour hold. That mandatory hold is to make sure that my BAC had dropped to below the legal limit before they could release me. A lot of things went through my mind during that time – the most prominent thing I remember was disbelief – that this must be a bad dream.

I was released around 4 a.m. the next day. I could not get my vehicle out of the impound lot until after 8 a.m., so a friend picked me up and then took me down to the towing company a little more than four hours later. It was an expensive impound as it was a Saturday morning. Nearly $400 later, I was on my way home to Sonoma still in shock and disbelief, and with a pink “Administrative Per Se” temporary driver license in my wallet. But as that day went forward, I remember thinking how it could have been much worse – how I could have been in an accident and, God forbid, hurt someone.

I have been in and around the wine business for about 33 years. I’ve been driving for about 38 years. Over that time I’ve had a couple of moving violations and a few parking tickets but otherwise I’ve had a clean driving record and up until now considered myself a pretty good judge of my fitness to operate a motor vehicle. I remember actually being surprised when I saw the red and blue lights in my rear view mirror that night.

Since my arrest, I’ve had my arraignment before a judge in Napa County Criminal Court, where the charges were read and I was asked if I wanted to enter a plea or speak to an attorney. I chose the latter. Because the temporary license was only good for 30 days past the date of arrest, I applied for a hearing on that suspension with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – the net effect of that was an extension of that temporary license until the DMV could hold the hearing.

So what am I facing ultimately if I am convicted of a first-time DUI? The penalties include jail time, a stiff fine, license suspension (in addition to and separate from the DMV suspension), mandatory DUI education courses (also expensive) and probation. If I am convicted, that conviction will stay on my driving record for 10 years. My auto insurance rates also will take a significant jump. Also, I must stay squeaky clean in terms of driving with any alcohol in my system – you do not want to get a second DUI. The penalties are far more severe.

By the time you read this column, two things will most likely have happened. First, I will have begun the DMV-imposed license suspension. That is a four-month suspension with the first 30 days being a “hard suspension” – meaning I will not have the legal ability to drive anywhere for any reason. I will be eligible to apply for a restricted license after that first 30 days. Meanwhile, Vern’s Taxi will have a regular customer and I will be doing a lot of walking. The second thing that will likely have happened is that I will have had my second court appearance and will have entered a plea. From there, depending on the plea, I will either be sentenced or a trial date will be set.

So why do I tell you all of this in such a public forum? For those of you who have not been through this – who feel you’ve been “lucky” or “dodged the bullet,” this is not the same as getting a speeding ticket, believe me. You do not want to go through this. It is a huge burden on you and your family. If you’ve been drinking, take a taxi. Ask for a ride. Don’t drive. And for God’s sake talk to your kids about this stuff; they need you to set a strong example on this.

Now that I have been through it, I never, ever want to do it again. It has been a serious wakeup call for me. Although the memory and the consequences will fade with time, this experience has changed my life, that’s for sure.”


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by Sherman
Posted on:5/29/2012 10:04:08 PM

Having been in the biz for aq few years, part of my daily regimen is to travel to accounts and have them taste the wines that I'm presenting. While some folks taste without me joining them, many do want me to participate and so I regularly spit. But even at the end of a long day, we must all be cognizant of not over-indulging, as a series of DUI convictions are not only highly expensive -- they can put an end to one's career in the wine biz.


This stands true for sales folks, writers, tasting room personnel and anyone who is tasting on a fairly regular basis throughout the day. We must stay aware of our tolerances and curb our intake well before we reach them. Not only for our own sakes (and that of our families) but to set an example for the "civilians" who look to us as examples.


i lead a group of 15 people this past weekend on a tasting tour of 8 wineries over the course of nearly 7 hours, traveling by car between each winery. Part of our group talk before setting out was setting the ground rules for tasting (not drinking), spitting, staying well-hydrated and keeping an eye out for each other, so as not to have anyone getting "sloppy." I can report that while all enjoyed themselves, not a person in our group became inebriated.


Listen to Mr. Walter's cautionary tale and listen to the lesson being offered here -- it's all too easy to let that .08 limit sneak up on you and then pass it. None of us want to pay the toll of being on the wrong side of the line.

I've been there!
by Greg G.
Posted on:5/30/2012 2:45:27 PM

About 4 years ago I was at our private pool club located on a dirt road celebrating my daughters 18th birthday. At about 11pm I was on my way out and passed a local Mendocino County sheriff. He immediately turned around and pulled me over. I asked him why and he said I was missing my front license plate. Then he said he could smell alcohol on my breath then summoned a California Hwy Patrol officer to administer both a sobriety and breathalyzer test. I was soon after both tests arrested and brought to the local CHP office for the official breathalyzer test which I blew a .08. (Questions,why was your friend pulled over and he must have had another test at the CHP office, because I don’t believe the one on the street is valid for booking and incarceration). I was taken to jail and booked. After review, the DMV never took my license away. The bottom line was I was so close to the limit it was hard to prove when I was in fact at that limit, before or after I was pulled over. Before we went court I was offered reckless driving, no alcohol involved. I took it! It still cost me several thousands of dollars. The bottom line was that they wanted a pound of my flesh for their trouble. The state is looking for money and this is one way to get it. Even though it may not illegal to be missing your front license plate it is still a reason to pull you over. My new saying after that experience is don’t break two laws at the same time. Meaning if you have already been drinking, don’t speed, have both license plates, make sure your registration is current, all your lights are working, stop at all stop signs and don’t talk on your cell phone. Don’t give them any reason to pull you over. I have learned many things from this incident. It is a hazard of being in the wine business. But most importantly, don’t drive drunk!    

No Mas
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/30/2012 7:02:19 PM

I have take nthe pledge.

No, not that pledge. I am not going to stop drikning. I am going to stop drinking and driving. One of us is going to be a designated driver from now on.

Every time I hear stories about being pulled over for DUI, they get worse and worse. It does not matter what I think of the law or of my abitlity to drive after a big meal with a lot of wine.

The consequences are simply too high.

by Jay
Posted on:6/2/2012 8:49:26 PM

Next time throw up in the machine it will spike with (what was the alc % ) 15% alc zinf. and render it useless not to mention no judge will believe you were drunk. 

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