Wednesday, January 17, 2018

New wine tax law is more tolerant of alcohol error, apparently

I have been jumping up and down wondering how the TTB is going to interpret alcohol label tolerance after the new tax law pushed the definition of table wine up to 16 percent.

Last week we got a little clarity. The alcohol label tolerances are not changing ... except they are.

Here's the background. For many years, wine was taxed at about 21 cents per 750 ml bottle if it contained less than 14% alcohol, and 31 cents a bottle if it contained more than 14%.

As part of the tax reform passed by Congress last month, that line of higher taxation moved up to 16%. All wines under 16% alcohol (except sparkling wine, sigh) will be taxed at the lower 21-cent rate. This is good. Winemakers shouldn't have to make decisions based on taxation rate.

However, the label tolerance -- the amount a winery can legally misstate the actual alcohol percentage -- was not addressed in the tax reform. And that was very important. Previously, wines under 14% ABV had a label tolerance of 1.5%, while wines over 14% had a tolerance of 1%. But, and this is key, the label had to be on the correct side of 14%, so that a wine labeled at 13.5% might have 12% alcohol or 14%, but not 14.1%.

Last Friday, the TTB sent out a mailer that answers some questions about the way the tax law will be enforced. One section specifically addresses label tolerance. It says:


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Bible's viticultural plan

Zory Arkin left some of his vineyards fallow for a year to follow the Torah -- and thinks he subsequently got better grapes
Many grape growers are going back to the systems of their grandfathers: forgoing chemical fertilizers and pesticides, using horses to plow, etc.

How about going back to the system of the Torah? You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy kosher hot dogs, so it stands to reason you don't have to be Jewish to follow "shmita."

The Torah mandates that in one of every seven years, agricultural land should be left fallow. Like a lot of Biblical rules, there was a sound scientific reason that people didn't understand at the time. Constantly growing crops depletes the soil, especially in warm regions like the Middle East where year-round crops are possible.

Even today, the Israeli government supports the concept of "shmita." In 2015, Israel had a program to pay people to not harvest crops. But it's not the law, and many wineries don't follow it.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Medals in wine competitions allow wineries to make more money

A gold medal means more gold for the winery that wins it
Americans in the wine trade like to say that nobody cares about wine competition medals. In fact, some people do care, according to a study by two researchers from the University of Paris.

Bordeaux wine producers can successfully raise their prices by 13 percent after winning a medal, according to the study published by the American Association of Wine Economists. Gold medals are worth the most -- about 19% more than a non-medaled wine, according to the study. (PDF link here.)

But the impact is not the same for all competitions. The authors, Emmanuel Paroissien and Michael Visser, write:


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Beaujolais reviews done purely in emoji

We're living through the de-evolution of written language: from meaningless letters that form words and sentences back to meaningful pictograms that anyone can understand. This is a tough development for writers, but I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve.

So here we are: the first wine reviews written solely in emoji. I have chosen cru Beaujolais for this experiment because the best quality of a great Beaujolais is delight. Or, better expressed, Beaujolais πŸ·πŸ‡πŸ˜›πŸ½πŸ”πŸ•πŸ—πŸ€—πŸ’˜.

Guy Breton RΓ©gniΓ© 2014 ($26) 12% alcohol
Imported by Kermit Lynch
πŸƒ‍♀️πŸ‘•πŸ’πŸŒΆ❄️🍽πŸ₯“πŸ₯—πŸ’πŸ™‹‍♂️91
Buy it here

G. Descombes Morgon 2015 ($20) 13%
Louis/Dressner Selections
πŸ’œπŸ‹πŸΏ‍♀️πŸŽ…πŸŒΆπŸ‡πŸ‹πŸ•”πŸ•¦πŸ‘©‍πŸ’»91
Buy it here





Friday, January 5, 2018

Is a conservative boycott of California wines a real threat?

I heard about it from a liberal friend, who saw Joss Whedon tweeting about it. Conservatives, upset at California because of its relative welcome to immigrants, propose boycotting California wine.

Is it a real threat? The short answer is no. In fact, a conservative boycott would probably help California wine sales, to the point that I seriously wonder if a California wine broker or vintner surreptitiously created the image.

A brief note on that: I went looking for the source of the image, and the best I could find for Patient Zero is Patrick Monahan, a New York-based comedian. Monahan is a volume tweeter but it doesn't appear certain from his feed that he's conservative. I'm not sure where he found it: maybe he created it, but even the way he tweeted it seems ambivalent about the content: he simply shared the photo above with the overline, "Powerful stuff." Maybe it's performance humor. (I have reached out to him and will let you know if he responds.)

Conservatives, so far as I can tell, have not picked up on it so far. (Thanks for making me read Breitbart, Patrick.) But liberals like Whedon have.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Public safety alert: Americans could get more drunk than they expect because of tax law change

One small well-meant provision regarding wine in December's Congressional tax reform package could have a very damaging impact on public health and safety.

As part of the tax reform bill, Congress included elements of the Craft Beverage Modernization Act that had been kicking around Capitol Hill for a while. One important aspect is that it raises the amount of alcohol allowed in "table wine" from 14% to 16%. Previously, wines over 14% were taxed at a higher rate. Now, that higher-taxation line moves to 16%.

By itself, this is a good change that reflects the way wine is made in the United States today. But there's a catch that could be not just bad for wine lovers, but dangerous: label tolerance, or how much a winery is legally allowed to misstate a wine's true alcohol level on the label.

Currently, the label ABV must be accurate within 1.5% for wines under 14% alcohol, and within 1% for wines over 14%. However, because of the difference in taxation, 14% was a dividing line that a winery could not legally cross. A wine labeled at 13.5% alcohol might actually contain 12% or 14%, but it could not contain 14.1%.

Wine connoisseurs have known about this line and it has helped inform some people's choices. If you want a wine under 14% alcohol, you can confidently choose one.

More importantly, most ordinary American wine drinkers are blissfully unaware about how crucial this tax law has been for their relationship with wine.