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Winebits 363: CDC, lawsuits, Big Wine

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CDC excessive drinkingSaving us from ourselves: The Centers of Disease Control is at it again, reassuring those of us who drink too much that there is hope. Says the head of the health agency’s alcohol program: “Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence. We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol.” This strikes me like being sort of pregnant, but what really matters is that the CDC’s definition of excessive drinking is wine with dinner, and this fact doesn’t appear in the story. For which the Wine Curmudgeon must call out Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times for repeating that assertion. Which, as near as I can tell after doing the reporting, is scientifically unfounded.

When is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s the name of a wine writer, reports Decanter, the British wine magazine. Hence the lawsuit filed by France’s Champagne trade association against Australian Rachel Jayne Powell, who goes by Champagne Jayne. Since Powell also writes about other sparkling wine, the Champagne group says her name violates European Union rules. Their logic? That Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, so a writer who uses Champagne as a name can only write about Champagne. The case is scheduled to go to trial next week in Melbourne, believe it or not, and Decanter reports that it could set precedents. The Wine Curmudgeon, whose aversion to silly lawsuits like this is well known, has a suggestion: Settle by letting Powell call herself champagne Jayne with a small C, since every wine geek knows Champagne only comes from Champagne with a capital C.

Yet another million case producer: One of my goals with the blog is to help consumers understand that most of the wine we drink doesn’t come from artisanal producers, but from Big Wine — the multi-million case producers who dominate the business. That’s why this two-part interview with someone I’ve barely heard of is worthwhile. In it, Vintage Point’s David Biggar talks about his company’s 17 brands, the best known of which is Layer Cake. In this, what the wines taste like barely comes up, though there is plenty of discussion about pricing, distribution and the three-tier system, and margins. Which is what the wine business really is, and not all that foolishness that the Winestream Media would have you believe.

What the media didn’t tell you about the CDC alcohol death study

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CDC binge drinkingThis is not a critique of the science in the Centers for Disease Control study that equated drinking wine with dinner as binge drinking. I’m not a doctor or researcher. I’m also not questioning the health, emotional, and social costs of alcoholism; I’ve attended too many funerals.

Rather, this is a critique (based on a story I wrote for the Wine Business International trade magazine) of the shoddy and slipshod reporting done by most of the media, wine and otherwise, when the study was released. That is something I am qualified to do after 35 years as a journalist.

Journalism, something that I love and have spent my professional life trying to do well, is in a sorry state. How the study was covered demonstrates this all too well. Too many news organizations, regardless of size or reputation, are lazy, sloppy, and willing to accept what someone says — be it the CDC, the government, or big business — without asking questions. And journalism is about asking questions. These days, though, it’s cheaper and easier and less offensive to advertisers if you re-write a news release, throw some hyperlinks in it, and call it reporting. Or rewrite what another news organization has already rewritten.

My reason for being, even in wine, is to try not to do that. Here are the questions the media didn’t ask when the CDC study was released:

• Where did the excessive drinking standard come from? Why is the standard eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men? In fact, these come from a 2006 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and are based on the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines: “drink alcoholic beverages… in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.” Which is not exactly the same thing as excessive drinking.

• Why does this study contradict what one eminent cardiologist told me “is a reasonable certainty, based on hundreds of studies over the past decade, that moderate drinking as part of the Mediterranean diet that includes fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and wine, will benefit cardiac health. It’s the difference between partying and wine with a meal.”

• Why now? Why is alcohol suddenly in the spotlight? Note that the CDC study came in the wake of the proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving by one-third.

• Why these solutions — higher taxes, fewer liquor licenses for stores and restaurants, and an end to wet-dry elections and state deregulation? Will these prevent alcoholism, or will they penalize responsible drinkers?

Winebits 341: The Neo-Prohibitionists’ new study

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Neo-Prohibitionist studyA roundup of the recent news from the Centers for Disease Control that excessive drinking is killing 1 in 10 working-age Americans, another scientific study in the Neo-Prohibitionist effort to stop us from drinking by scaring us to death. And where no one bothered to check this out:

NPR’s sobering picture: The bad pun is there because, believe it or not, someone working for a major U.S. news outlet used the pun in the story. The report, written by Nancy Shute, says 1 in 6 of us binge drink, but doesn’t question one of the study’s definitions of excessive drinking: eight drinks a week for women and 15 for men. Which implies that most core wine drinkers in the U.S. are binging, including the Wine Curmudgeon. So why is two glasses of wine with dinner excessive? I expect more from NPR, which usually does better reporting than its competitors and doesn’t accept on faith whatever the government says.

Got to have charts:The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein seemed quite surprised at the statistics in the study, including what he called “the eye-opening charts included in the report.” Maybe. But there were almost 15,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2012, according to the FBI, while the CDC attributed about half of those to excessive drinking. That difference is what’s eye-opening to me: That about the same number of us killed someone and weren’t drunk when we did it. Does this mean we need to regulate sobriety?

Get rid of booze, get rid of the problem: The solution to all of this? “.. [I]ncreasing alcohol taxes, regulating alcohol outlet density, and avoiding further privatization of alcohol retail sales.” Which, of course, is exactly the aim of the NeoDrys — regulate drinking by making it more expensive, reducing the number of places where we can buy it, and keeping government involved in selling it, as in Pennsylvania. This is instead of outlawing drinking, which didn’t work the last time. That education, and not regulation is the answer seems to be beyond their understanding. Perhaps someone can explain why Pennsylvania, with some of the most restrictive liquor laws in the country, had the same death rate as Illinois, where you can buy scotch at the drug store, or Louisiana, where drinking is a tourist industry?

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