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Wine Review: Tariffs show ugly side of wine industry

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Prugelknabe is the German name for a boy who was whipped for the transgressions of some royal brat. This was outlawed centuries ago, but occasionally, the practice of blaming others for a transgression still continues. Today, the term Prugelknabe could be applied to the wines you enjoy.

As it stands now, foreign wine imports are facing U.S. tariffs. OK, we here in the United States produce an ocean of wine, so why should we be bothered by European wines being taxed? That answer is unfortunately simple: It will hurt us all. Tariffs run in two directions, to and from. The European countries involved will, in turn, impose a tariff on our wines coming into their country.

To digress for a moment, tariffs are a government’s way of protecting native producers from being priced out of the marketplace by lower-priced foreign goods. If I may quote the king in the movie, “Anna and the King of Siam,” when offered British protection from attack by other countries, he said, “might they not protect me out of all that I own?”

By reducing the amount of American wine imports, producers will be forced to increase their prices here to cover the export shortfall. Another and definitely ugly problem for the consumer will be greed. It will not be too long before American producers realize they have the American wine market completely corralled, and greed will rear its ugly head.

For almost 100 years, the wines of Italy and Spain have been the low-priced leaders in the wine world. These countries have been the suppliers of very affordable wines of excellent quality, while also acting as a throttle on the marketplace. Producers and wholesalers could not go wild with their pricing for fear of turning the consumer away, when decent wines from Europe were readily available at a lower price.

Unless you have been asleep for the past 20 years, you may have noticed that wine prices have been consistently going up. Under normal conditions, the price of a wine depends on the price of the grapes, while the price of the grapes depends on their quality. Grapes’ quality depends on the weather. That is the reason that both the vintage year and the location of the vineyard must appear on the bottle label. Just FYI, if a wine label says California, the grapes were sourced from various vineyards in that state. If the label says something like Napa Valley or a specific vineyard, that, and only that, is the location of the vineyard and the wine will probably be priced higher.

The current international tariff wars raging in the United States and the rest of the world could result in a dramatic loss of business from two of the major consumers of American wine, China and Japan. I do not need to tell you the result of the loss of this business, as it is rather obvious. But just in case, the price of wine will definitely go up.

What can you do about it? I haven’t the foggiest idea. When prices go up, it usually takes a major catastrophe to lower them. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is hard to stuff him back in.

About the only thing that I can suggest is to contact your representative and senator. Be sure to tell them that if they do vote for tariffs on wine, you will vote against them at every opportunity, regardless of political affiliation.

Unfortunately, that is the only weapon we have — but it is a very strong one. It is the only way that we will be able to enjoy our favorite libation and still have enough money left over for a pizza. I will close this tariff tirade with an admonition: Remember the King of Siam.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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