Wine Lovers’ Outrage

Is wine worth fighting for? You bet

Wine Lovers’ Outrage
Recently proposed U.S. tariffs could potentially double the prices of European wines. (Illustration by Lisa George)
Jan 7, 2020

Happy New Year. Now here’s one of the first quizzes of the year. Don’t worry: It’s one question long and multiple choice.

Question: Two beer companies, say Golden, Colo.’s Coors and the Netherlands’ Heineken, are in a trade fight. Each one, with the backing of their respective government, complains their competitor gets unfair advantages at home (tax breaks, direct aid, etc.), limiting their own ability to compete on the world stage.

The complaints go all the way up to the World Trade Organization, which first takes up the case of Coors. The WTO agrees that Coors’ “Silver Bullet” has suffered because Dutch state aid made Heineken cheaper. The WTO then rules that Uncle Sam can put tariffs on goods coming into America from the European Union.

As a U.S. citizen or resident, what do you think our home team (the U.S. government) should do?

A. Put tariffs on Heineken to equalize the playing field and theoretically let Coors recoup its lost opportunities.

B. Realizing that it is politically dangerous to tax a populist beverage like beer, decide it’s better to put high tariffs on sophisto-elite things like French wine, Italian cheese and a whole lot of other nice European products.

C. Don’t just stop at B. Threaten to tax all European wine at 100 percent, along with a longer list of European products (cheese, olive oil and Scotch). This will show the Europeans.

If you answered that B or C was the appropriate response, you must be on the wrong website.

Of course, you answered A. That is because you are an educated wine consumer. You realize that high tariffs on wine would only hurt your favorite U.S. wine shops, bars and restaurants, along with vignerons and vigneronnes on the other side of the Atlantic. You understand it makes sense to tax the offender—not innocent bystanders. Besides, there is no way you want the cost of some of your favorite wines—not to mention cheeses, olive oils and whiskies—to skyrocket because of more taxes.

Now let’s talk reality: B and C are happening at this instant—except that rather than a dispute over beer, it’s over airplane manufacturers: U.S.-based Boeing and Europe’s Airbus. The situation was set out in a piece by my colleague Mitch Frank.

Read all of Wine Spectator's ongoing coverage of the trade wars and wine tariffs:

But I believe some good may come from this.

Here’s why: I think the government trade types way underestimate the passion of wine lovers.

In recent weeks, I’ve been receiving email notifications of campaigns to contact congresspeople and trade officials and put an end to this foolishness.

The best of them came from the place where my parents bought their Pauillac back in the 1970s—Westchester County, N.Y.-based retailer Zachys, which has created a nifty webpage to oppose 100 percent wine tariffs.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. The wine world has been in a cranky state in recent years, split by too many petty, divisive subjects: oak, amphorae, stems, skin-contact whites or how best to make bubbly.

Now comes this attack on our vinous and inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which should unite us all—whether you celebrated New Year’s Eve with Dom Pérignon, Prosecco or a fun and funky pét-nat.

When one wine is under attack, my fellow followers of Dionysus from Chianti to Calistoga, all wines are under attack. As an American who has lived in France and Italy nearly 19 years, I believe that what’s bad for Piedmont, Priorat or Pomerol is just as bad for Paso Robles, Portland or Puget Sound.

Robert Camuto Meets… is a regular column by Italy-based contributing editor Robert Camuto. Explore more of his posts!

It’s time to stand up for wine. But it won’t be easy.

A case in point: At a holiday dinner with some of my best friends, I lamented the tariffs. I was sure at least one of my fellow expats would echo my sentiments. A hard-core libertarian, several years ago he changed lives from an international business consultant to an independent brewer and beer shop owner in Nice, France.

“But wine is a luxury product,” he countered. I practically choked on my Amarone. (Have you checked the price of craft beers lately?)

Now he’s a beer guy—he’s on another team. This made it clear to me that if we don’t stand up for wine, nobody is going to do it for us.

Politicians of varied stripes pick on wine because they think they can get away with it. They guess we’ll forget it after our next bottle of Etna Rosso or Burgundy grand cru, or whatever happens to be your favorite pour of the moment.

My wish for 2020 is that we prove them wrong: Let’s now devise new and clever ways to show them you don’t mess with wine.

Like I said, Happy New Year.

Legal and Legislative Issues Taxes Opinion Trade War Tariffs

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