Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wine, the corona virus, and the wisdom of George W. Bush

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush encouraged Americans not to be afraid to go on with their lives, including going shopping. He was immediately mocked for it, and still was years later. Here's a ridiculous piece from Time magazine in 2009, on the last day of his presidency, that says he should instead have called for sacrifice.

But he wasn't wrong.

There are now adult Americans who don't remember the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The destruction of the World Trade Center wasn't the only terrorist attack that autumn. Just a week later letters filled with weaponized anthrax spores were mailed to lawmakers and journalists. CNN and Fox News were competing to see which could be more hysterical. People were convinced that every shopping mall was a target. Bush wanted Americans to keep living life and not bring down the economy, which was the terrorists' objective.

He was mocked because our politics were the same as now. Half the country (including me) hated Bush, and that half, as now, included all the smartest and most interesting writers and commentators. "Going shopping" wasn't a serious enough response for a serious crisis and proved Bush was in over his head, was the argument. Then as now, it was nearly impossible to acknowledge when somebody on the other side of the political divide actually got something right.

Bush was right. We needed to spend money so that our consumer-based economy wouldn't collapse, so that people wouldn't lose their jobs and bring about an economic depression. We also needed a military response, and unfortunately he didn't get that right. But he was right about the shopping: It was one small thing that every American could to support our way of life.

I'm among the half of Americans who cheered out loud when Bush's helicopter carried him away from the White House in 2009. If you had told me that a scant 10 years later I would miss him I would have laughed in your face. But here we are.

The wine industry is going to be hurt very badly by the corona virus pandemic. It's not alone: almost every industry other than the hand sanitizer business is going to be hurt.

People are already staying home, which is sensible. But many restaurants will fail because of this. Ordering food delivered won't help them as much because they don't make as much money on it. Many restaurants survive on the margins they make by overcharging us for wine. And ordering food delivered won't help restaurant servers who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Restaurants failing is bad for wine.

Wine tourism is plummeting along with every other kind of tourism. Many wineries are dependent on sales from their tasting room. Some won't survive without it. Wine-country businesses like hotels and local transportation will suffer.

But, you say, people will drink wine at home.


Here is what you can do to help the wine industry fight through the looming recession: Keep buying wine.

This is true for most industries. But wine is more vulnerable than most. Vineyards take four years to develop and land prices are high. Distribution is complicated -- in parts of the country you still can't buy wine online -- and is skewed against small wineries, who large distributors would rather not carry. US wine importers are hurting because of the tariffs imposed from our trade war with the EU.

In 2008, after the last major recession (Bush was right about a few things but not about the costly Iraq war or about leaving the mortgage crisis untouched and festering), Americans kept drinking wine, but they spent a lot less on it. People started looking for good $10 wines again, which tends to help only the largest companies.

This will probably happen again as the pandemic leads to an economic slowdown. I'm not going to tell you to keep buying $300 Cabernets; you really can find wine just as good for $35 (but not for $10).

What I urge you to do is to buy wine mindfully. In hard times, each bottle you buy will support someone, whether it's publicly-traded Constellation Brands or that small winery you visited on vacation years ago where the staff was really nice to you. You can support a grocery store chain, or you can support your local wine shop, which is seeing fewer customers. You can support LVMH or the economy of a vulnerable country like Greece or South Africa.

This is the best thing you can do for the wine industry. Keep shopping, and shop with a purpose.

There's an expression I like to use: "Life is too short to drink bad wine." It's more true now than ever.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Bob Rossi said...

There is one major difference between 9-11 and the Coronavirus, although it doesn't really impact the thrust of your piece -- the wine buying. 9-11 was a horrible event that didn't continue. Post 9-11 terrorism threats did not involve the certainty of the Coronavirus spread. In the aftermath of 9-11, my life didn't really change. I shopped, ate, bought wine, and traveled like before. But now, because of the continuing nature of the Coronavirus, it looks like my April visit to France will have to be cancelled. My flight may be cancelled, and places I planned to visit and events I planned to attend maybe closed or cancelled. I'm not sure what my point is, except that the 2 situations seem very different. Bush's advice may have made sense then (although at the time I would never admit that Bush was right about anything), but similar advice now probably wouldn't.

Mine Lamps said...

Thanks for a positive article. As of 3/12/2020, there is 37 reported deaths nation wide for a world wide pandemic that affects hose over 60, weakened immune systems, and other health issues. We all mean well, and as a wine maker, wine consumer, wine traveler, and winery employee, we need to separate the wheat from the BS. This is far less a health issue than the Swine flu or the H1N1 flu, but the reaction is far much greater.

Ivan said...

Sorry, Mine Lamps, but you are an idiot.

The only equivalent we have to go on is the "Spanish Flu" or influenza H1N1 outbreaks of 1914-1918. Read up on that.

There is no wheat from chafe agriculture reference there, no matter your wine creds. If this one mutates like H1N1 did, we are fucked. Our healthcare system in the US is unbelievably fragile.

If you are in a rural region, how far away is the closest full-service hospital? If you stroked out how long would your ambulance ride be? How high is you deductible, and why is healthcare built upon cost benefit analysis?

How many rural hospitals do you hear about opening rather than closing? In the last 40 years, federal funding has decreased until it might as well be nothing. Then, our current President dissolved the office created to battle a potential Pandemic. But hey, our taxes are at the lowest levels ever. Do you feel the income and benefits? huh, go figure.

Back on topic, i bought two cases direct from Wilmette wineries today. While not significant, it is what i can do, and the benefit, is i get some seriously yummy wine.


jo6pac said...

Thanks Bob Rossi. The nice blog owner is very for off the mark.