Politics can lead to sour grapes

By Howard W. Hewitt

Mixing the world of politics and wine might be a bit like oil and water for some readers. But there comes a point, and it could come soon, that politically based decisions could have a huge impact on wine and particularly the cost of wine.

President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated talk of deportation of some or all of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers has thrown a scare into wine country.

All across the nation, many vineyard owners use mostly migrant or Hispanic workers to harvest the annual grape crop. While visiting upper state Michigan in 2010, winery owners talked about the lack of a strong labor market for harvest and the fear of immigration changes that could cost the industry dearly.

The numbers are big. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 67 percent of the harvest workforce picks fruit. The ag department also reports labor represents 72 percent of cost of harvesting Napa Valley grapes. The only crop with a higher percentage of labor cost in California is asparagus.

If the harvest workforce was substantially reduced, the impact would range from more expensive end products to the reduction of product in the marketplace. Hiring legal workers would, frankly, be more expensive.

The other alternative is to make the switch to machine picking. The two negatives with machine picking is the cost of the equipment and a hit to wine quality. The top bottlings from any region are almost always handpicked and sorted.

A big labor problem could soon get worse. Of course, this isn’t a wine problem only. The cost of fruits and vegetables could all increase with a big increase in labor cost. Some crops could just disappear from the market shelf.

On another front, the end of the year brings top 10 lists, surveys and sales numbers. Wine trends are evaluated every month of the year, but it’s worth sharing for those who aren’t inundated in wine news.

It is no surprise that red wine blends continue to be one of the hottest categories in wine retail. Blends are turning up everywhere. The market for blends is moving toward bigger and bolder. Wine buyers want rich red wine with grapes like Malbec, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot.

Another interesting year-end chart really jumped off the page. Wine sales can be broken down many different ways. Recently, I saw a list of the nation’s best-selling wines based on actual sales.

The top 10 sellers for the year were Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Veuve Clicquote Yellow Label Champagne, Trivento Malbec Reserve, Hara de Pirque Hussonet Gran Reserva Cabernet, Meomi Pinot Noir, Rombauer Chardonnay, Miraval Rose, Clos du Val Cabernet, Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet and Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico.

There is a real price range in those top sellers. The Brancott sells for under $10, while the Caymus Cabernet domes in at $69.99. Five of the top 10 wines retail under $20.

Howard W. Hewitt of Crawfordsville writes every other week about wine for 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach Howard at: hewitthoward@gmail.com