Saturday, November 07, 2009

Maine revisits Prohibition-era

If you've ever attended a wine tasting, you'll know how informative and enjoyable these can be. For someone like me, who never knew much about wine, and whose experiences with the fruit of the vine consisted mainly of toasts with really bad, discounted wines at family gatherings, the past couple of years of occasional tastings accompanying the wine drinker in the family--my wife--have been great. I'm still no expert, but I now can tell the difference by taste between a cabernet, a merlot, or a shiraz.

Recently, Mary informed me about a law that has curtailed these monthly events at wine merchants across the state, including a couple of her favorite wine venues--RSVP, in Portland, and Freeport Cheese and Wine.

A new law, sponsored by Rep. David Webster (D-Freeport) has put a damper on wine tastings at wine merchants and other establishments that held these regularly. The new regulation requires every seller of wine to reapply for permission to hold wine tastings. Since Maine has only five inspectors covering the entire state, it has basically closed down an important element that merchants use in promoting, and ultimately selling wine.

My first forays into the world of wine tasting began about five years ago. A small shop in Freeport (now shuttered), whose owners happened to live in our town, sent out mailings to all the residents in town. Mary dragged me to my first event that July, and I've been a semi-regular at a variety of tastings in Freeport, Portland, and a few other locales since.

While I don't drink wine regularly (I'm a beer kinda' guy), I've come to appreciate a nice red with my steak, and particularly enjoy other varieties of wine with special meals. Sometimes, having a nice chianti Fridays, at pizza night is a great way to wind down after a demanding week.

Mary's been mentioning this issue now for several months, and this morning, she put the Portland Forecaster in my hands, doing something I often do with her--"here, read this article--"offering a better explanation of an issue than I can usually give. Her rationale was wanting me to have a broader sense of the issue with wine tastings, and how they've been shut down by a stupid piece of legislation.

Steve Mistler, who has written for this venerable monthly for quite some time, does a good job showing the idiocy of Webster's bill, and the consequent difficulties this has visited on businesses, many of them Webster's own constituents. What is particularly troubling is that it hurts small businesses particularly hard.

From my own experiences, it's not unusual for Mary and I, after attending a wine tasting, to pick up several bottles of various types of wines that we've just sampled and enjoyed. We might spend $50-100 that particular evening, and bring them home and have them in our wine refrigerator to enjoy with a meal in the future. Others do the same, with a few spending much more than that on wines. It's obvious to see that this legislation removes some serious cash flow from local businesses.

From Mistler's article, I gather that Webster was more concerned about supermarket liquor events where "booze, race cars and scantily-clad women" were going to be present. The article goes on further, doing a good job painting Webster as the "boob" that he is, when it has an additional quote from him saying that "we wanted to give parents a fighting chance to go to a grocery store and not have to wade through a sea of drinking adults." Some of the merchants that Mistler interviewed were none too pleased with Webster's explanation, including Peter Leavitt, of Leavitt & Sons Deli in Falmouth, who characterized the bill as "stupid," and "neo-Prohibitionist."

I understand New England's Puritan past, but good lord, why can't consenting adults be trusted enough to enjoy adult beverages without government nazis and anti-drinking zealots taking that away from us?

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