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Rudy K. and neo-Prohibitionism

neo-ProhibtionismRudy K. is Rudy Kurniawan, the con man convicted last month for bilking wine collectors out of millions of dollars by passing off cheap wine as rare bottles worth thousands. The story, not surprisingly, was huge among the wine writing fraternity, both traditional and on-line, and a Google search yesterday turned up 1.8 million references to it.

On the other hand, a story that could affect every wine drinker — and not just those who can drop a couple of grand for a French first-growth that may or may not be real — was mostly ignored last year. That was the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to cut the legal drinking limit, which would be two glasses of wine for most women and three for men. Yesterday, there were just 37,000 Google references to the plan.

And some of us wonder why no reads wine blogs anymore. This contradiction, and what it says about wine writing and the wine business, is after the jump:

None of this is to say that the Kurniawan trial wasn’t news. If nothing else, it was enjoyable to see that billionaires can be fooled by wine just like the rest of us. The point is that it’s the kind of story that’s fun to write about and that doesn’t require any special skill. Link to a news report, write some snarky comments, and you’re set.

The legal limit story is just the opposite: Complicated (blood alcohol levels! math!!), political, and no fun at all to write, especially for someone who doesn’t understand why it’s news. Which, unfortunately, was most of the Winestream Media, whether in an office on Park Avenue South or in their parents’ basement. Wine writers, like too many in the wine business (as Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight has noted more than once), don’t see the threat neo-Prohibitionism poses. They figure no one would be stupid enough to bring back Prohibition, and they’re probably right. What they don’t realize is that these 21st-century Prohibitionists are smarter than their forebears. They don’t want to outlaw drinking; they want to restrict it for our own good.

That was the point of the transportation board’s proposal. It’s not that drinking is evil, which was Prohibition’s assumption, but that if we drink less, we’ll live longer. Who can argue with that?  Who would want to? So every study and report that says less drinking is better, and there have been hundreds over the past couple of years, gives the neo-Prohibitionists one more argument to use on their behalf.

While we write about Rudy K. — literally typing while the neo-Prohibitionists gather the kindling so the wine business will eventually burn. Sadly, this is just another example of the Winestream Media’s focus on the high-end part of wine, and not the stories that affect most wine drinkers. How else to explain their fascination with Kurniawan and their complete disregard for a worse scandal, one that affected 1.5 million cases of cheap wine, the Gallo fake pinot noir story?

Because, if I can do the math to write the legal limit story, almost anyone can. Just ask my high school geometry teacher.

2 Responses to Rudy K. and neo-Prohibitionism

  1. The raising of the neo-Prohibitionist profile might not be such a bad thing. Consider this: they’ve poked their heads out far enough for people to take notice. And who might take notice? Our three-tier preservationist friends at wine and beer wholesaler associations around the country, that’s who.

    Ac couple of well-funded, ideologically-fueled, anti-consumer-rights groups just itching for a fight? Worse things have happened.

    Happy New Year

    • A fine point, Steve, and something I want to write about. One can argue that three-tier is an integral part of the neo-Prohibitonist approach to alcohol regulation, and that the wine and beer wholesalers should be their natural allies since the latter want to keep three-tier.

      The catch, as you note, is that they actually have very little in common, as the legal limit debate demonstrates. The beer and wine wholesalers want to limit choice to protect their monopoly. They don’t want people to drink less.

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