Thursday, December 4, 2008

HAPPY 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of the Prohibition

The culture of America has frequently been plagued with people who, rather than practicing self-control and responsible self-government, have sought to have the federal government act as a nanny to control the behavior of irresponsible adults. Such people abdicate taking responsibility for their own lives; seek to shift the blame for their behavior and foolish choices to someone or something else so that anyone with a half-witted shrink in the name of science or religion can excuse themselves from their immoral and unethical behavior.

In the last hundred years we have seen such ridiculous excuses for bad behavior, from the “Twinkie defense” to excuse murder to a private law suit against a fast food chain by a clumsy person who burned themselves, claiming that their coffee was served to them too hot.
While I am no fan of cigarettes, we have seen this same mentality used in an incremental fashion against the tobacco industry, imposing “sin taxes” on a substance which the Bible (ironically) does not forbid. Today the encroaching arm of the federal government is inching ever deeper into the lives of private citizens, which unless stopped, will impose a “fat tax” on fast food and a “sugar tax” on candy bars and soda pop. Why? Because many parents fail to provide a more well balanced diet for their children who spend an ungodly amount of time in front of the television, playing video games or chatting on the internet rather than getting some exercise through productive recreation.

But the biggest travesty of justice and freedom in our country in the name of pseudo-morality we have seen in the last century was the outlawing of what the Bible calls a gift of God:

“He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man's heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man's heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15)

In 1919, the requisite number of legislatures of the States ratified the 18th Amendment to the Federal Constitution, enabling the national prohibition of alcoholic beverages within one year of ratification. Many nagging women, notably the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, were the chief motivating force in bringing about the Prohibition in the United States of America, believing it would protect families, women and children from the effects of the abuse of alcohol.
So, rather than calling their husbands to take responsibility for their behavior and act like real men who lead their homes, they blamed the use rather than the abuse of the gift of God instead. The proponents of Prohibition had believed that banning alcoholic beverages would reduce or even eliminate many social problems, particularly drunkenness, crime, mental illness, and poverty, and would eventually lead to reductions in taxes.

What was the result?

The Prohibition destroyed the American wine culture and only served to foster bootlegging and a massive industry completely under the control of organized crime.

How did the Prohibitionists respond?

More government intervention of course! They argued that Prohibition would be more effective if the government became more parental and tyrannical with the increase of federal law and local law enforcement. However, the increased efforts to enforce Prohibition simply resulted in the government spending more money on a completely futile endeavor. Journalist H.L. Mencken observed in 1925 that respect for law diminished rather than increased during Prohibition, and drunkenness, crime, insanity, and resentment towards the federal government had all increased.

For 13 years this insane domestic policy went on until Congress formally proposed the repeal of Prohibition on February 20, 1933 which was fully ratified in the 21st amendment on December 5, 1933 – just in time for Christmas and New Years!

In has been a slow and long recovery since then, but the American wine culture has seen a renaissance over the past three decades marked by the triumph of two California wines in the 1976 Paris Tasting and the discovery of the health benefits of the moderate consumption of red wine. So, this Friday on December 5th 2008 please join me in celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of the Prohibition by enjoying a glass of fine wine, preferably accompanying a delicious meal with family, friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Longevity Wines - The First Urban Winery in Livermore

It was the first Saturday after Thanksgiving Day. The mobs are at the shopping mall looking for bargains, the sky was a bit cloudy, leaves were all over the ground, and the vineyards in the wine country weren’t looking too pretty.

“Where should I go wine tasting? Hmmmmm...”

How about to an an “urban” winery!

Urban, industrial-style wineries have existed in America for 150 years or more and Phil Long and his wife Debra’s story behind Longevity Wines is common: They fell in love with wine, began making wine at home for family and friends and then a dream to start their own winery was born. For them, wine making is a lifestyle and Longevity is an expression of “A way of enjoying what you live, as well as living what you enjoy.”

Urban wineries are a bit different than your “out in the country” wineries. Often you will find these tasting rooms in downtown or industrial-park settings miles from the vineyards that produce the grapes. The advantage is that rather than paying exorbitant prices for land in wine country, they rent a space in the city, truck in purchased fruit from a variety of regional vineyards and then ferment and cellar the wine on site. Or, they process the juice at a co-op close to the vineyards, then finish it off in the city or suburb.

Behind the proliferation of urban wineries is a growing recognition that you really don’t have to tie the winemaking to one plot of land. Wineries such as Crushpad in San Francisco, Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, an industrial town at the eastern end of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, near the old Naval Air Station, are examples of wine makers who are successfully establishing a great reputation as an urban winery.

Some of these ventures, such as Rosenblum, source their grapes from some of the vineyards that also supply the famous estates in Napa and Sonoma counties to the north. But other smaller ventures, like Longevity, often have to fight their way through waiting lists in order to source the best fruit possible within their budget and production levels.

One of the advantages in sourcing grapes for an urban winery is that most people who enjoy fine wine pay more attention to where they’re grown, not at where the wine was made. This is especially true for Longevity Wines. Although they are located in Livermore, they’re found in a business park outside of beaten path of the rows of wineries along Tesla Road, they source their grapes from a number of vineyards for grapes that do well in those appellations - Livermore, Lodi, Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills, and Sonoma. In fact, the Longevity Wine Club is based on featuring a different appellation each month.

On Saturday at Longevity Wines I tasted the N/V California Chardonnay ($16), the 2007 Lodi Viognier ($18), the 2005 Sierra Foothills Merlot ($23), the 2004 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon from the Owl Ridge Vineyard in Paso Robles. ($25), the Dry Creek Sonoma Zinfandel ($18) and their flagship wine the 2005 Longevity Signature Rhone Blend ($28). The 2005 “Longevity” is a blend of 66% Syrah, 16% Grenache, 13% Mouvedre, and 5% Petite Sirah ($28).

Phil and Debra are extremely hospitable and in general I would describe their wines as fairly well balanced with a very concentrated dense fruit forward appeal. The 2005 Longevity Signature Rhone Blend is a real palate pleaser and a “must try” if you are visiting the Livermore area.

Their tasting room is located at 35 Rickenbacker Circle in Livermore California and you can contact them at 1-888-325-WINE.