The current sentiment for severely punishing drunk drivers and for raising the legal driving age has broader implications of concern to all wine lovers. Being against drunk driving is second only to motherhood as a safe issue -- very few people are for drunk driving -- and politicians and commentators are breaking one anothers' legs in the rush to jump on the bandwagon. Most are unwilling to suggest that what the country needs is a little voluntary restraint, buttressed by courts that will deal effectively and impartially with those who have been charged. Instead they want new laws, and new taxes, that reach beyond the transgression and into people's private lives and into their cellars. A young adult who can vote and fight in the armed services should be able to buy a bottle of beer or drive a car. No amount of argument will do away with that basic fact. The only way to severely restrict (but not prevent) young drinking adults from driving is to outlaw alcohol for everyone, or to impose such financial penalties upon drinking that many people will have to stop. That is the logical conclusion to most of the arguments being heard nowadays, and in some it is the stated objective.
A prominent syndicated columnist recently wrote, "In some ways Prohibition 'worked,' and even was 'progressive' in that it improved the lot of the lower classes," because workers didn't spend their money on booze. (He didn't say whether it improved the lives of the upper classes, presumably those who drink Haut-Brion instead of Bud.) The truth is that a love affair with wine is not bound by social standing and often not by income. Most people who drink wine are not rich; neither are they given to reckless behavior (unless you consider buying the odd case of Cos d'Estournel reckless). But they stand a good chance of being punished as much or more than the beer chug-a-luggers and the martini inhalers. Increased taxes will spoil many a dinner, without making much of an impact on the drunk-driving stats.
Proof that Prohibition has never really died out can be found in the wildly various laws around the United States pertaining to alcohol. In Pennsylvania, a person can only buy a bottle of liquor -- or wine -- in a state-controlled store, where the salesman is forbidden by law to make recommendations. In neighboring New Jersey, a host can be held responsible for his guest's drunk driving. In Massachusetts, happy hours have been outlawed. The president has signed a bill that will withhold federal highway funds from those states that do not raise the legal drinking age.
Wine is still unfairly equated with booze. In many states, wine still can't be bought in grocery stores. In Rhode Island, it can't be advertised if the price is mentioned. In several states wine can't be bought on Christmas Day. In Kentucky, advertisers can't portray a family scene in the promotion of wine. In Alabama, wine tastings are illegal.
All are ridiculous laws. The wine industry could do several things to offset Prohibition sentiment. First, take strong steps to separate wine from booze in public perception. Wine may be alcoholic, but it is also food, best consumed with other food, which has a countervailing affect on the alcohol in wine. Spend money educating people about wine, and point out that as one's interest in wine increases, the interest and consumption of other, stronger forms of alcohol often declines or disappears altogether.
Wine enhances life.