Round-up ramblings: As the wine world turns

The Passing of a Legend

Ernest Gallo, one of California’s founding fathers of wine production, died last week at almost 98 years of age. In 1933, he and his late brother Julio borrowed $5,900 (about $100,000 in today’s money) and, after researching wine recipes at the library, founded the E&J Gallo Winery. They grew their small operation into the world’s second largest wine company (Constellation is tops). At his death, the family estate was valued at $1.3 billion. Living to that ripe old age, who can deny the health value of wine now?

A Growing Business

According to Wine Business Monthly, the number of American wineries has increased to 5,970 as of November 2006. Although still not up to pre-Prohibition levels, wine is now actively produced in all 50 states. And you might be surprised about where the action is happening.

Virginia wine country has more than 100 wineries, North Carolina nearly 60, and New York almost 200. All totaled, American wineries provide a $162 billion-per-year kick, creating 1.1 million full-time jobs, according to MKF Research.

And for the first time, U.S. wine sales reached an all-time high of 300 million cases, indicating a movement toward wine being part of everyday life. But by comparison, the French drink six times more than us per year, per person. Ahem, and we have a drinking problem?

Crushing Blow

In a study completed by the American Economic Review, two M.I.T. scientists analyzed the economic impact of global warming on U.S. agricultural crops. Hey, wake up. This is more important than it sounds — think Armageddon for California wine. Ninety percent of the state’s total crops are irrigated, and increased temperatures will put an already-strained water resource into further jeopardy. Not to mention the heat’s impact on grapes and the lack of cooler nighttime temperatures, which develop flavor and acids in the fruit. This all means that by mid-century, Napa Valley chardonnay may be a thing of the past, and Canadian cabernet and Ohio syrah might reign. Time to buy vineyard land in southern Canada.

Liquid Bitching

The federal government is cramping my style. The 2-ounce liquid restriction on airline carry-ons has seriously hurt my ability to haul carefully selected wine back from faraway lands. Sure, I can check it in the suitcase, swathed in my dirty undies, to be followed by a slight panic attack while awaiting a stained-in-ruby-red suitcase at baggage claim. And who knows what sort of conditions the poor bottle might endure while traveling? I once brought a fantastic bottle of Beaujolais back from France — given to me by the winemaker after I freakishly gushed so much over the wine that she wanted me to disappear — only to have it flavorless, “cooked” by the April heat on the way home. It probably sat in the sun for hours in Paris, slowly dying.

But for the few bad experiences that I’ve had checking in wine on planes, I’ve had 10 times as many successes. When returning from California, I routinely buy a case-size shipper, fill it and check it onboard. The Styrofoam separators in the shipper seem to protect it from the tarmac heat better than my suitcase, so I’ve taken to using it on every trip. It seems safer than risking my investment — not to mention a fine collection of unmentionables — in my bag.

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