To bail them out or not to bail them out. That is the question.
California’s new and first-ever Wine Czar, former president Bill Clinton has been mulling over the arguments ever since recently taking office.
Buoyed by the movie Sideways, thousands, maybe even millions of consumers flocked to wine shops, grocery stores and online sources to load up on wines made from the pinot noir grape. As demand continued to increase, so did prices; accelerating in an upward spiral that until recently seemed as if it would never end.
Then the bottom dropped out.
There are the novice wine drinkers who scored bottles of pinot noir and drank nothing but, thinking there was nothing better. Then slowly they branched out into other varieties of grapes and discovered they actually preferred these other varieties over their vaunted pinot noirs.
Then there are those who hoarded huge stocks of pinot noir and only recently began popping the corks, finding it wasn’t what they were expecting. Ron Percoli is one such disillusioned consumer:
“The other day I had dinner with a friend who, since he was paying, ordered the wine. He ordered a bottle of merlot. I was wondering what was wrong with him – I thought he had more class than that. Then our waiter served the wine. I was apprehensive but I tried it, expecting it to taste like, well, you know, the ‘s’ word. But it was good!
“Man, if this crappy merlot tasted this good then those bottles of pinot noir I had saved at home must be fantastic, I thought. The next day I opened one up – one really expensive bottle I’d bought sight unseen based on what the wine store guy told me. And you know what? It’s not merlot that tastes like the ‘s’ word, it’s this pinot noir stuff! It smelled and tasted like a barnyard!
“I felt like I really got ripped off. So I pulled out a few more bottles to try, and wham, the same thing. I thought I was done with dirty diapers after my kids got potty trained! I thought I was buying prime wine at these prices, but it turns out I was buying subprime wine.”
Experiences such as these are not uncommon, and have caused a real headache for Czar Clinton, already beleaguered over his decision to invade the Starrken Vineyards and rip out the last known vestiges of the nesbitt grape variety.
“Everyone is suddenly anti-pinot noir, demanding their money back,” moaned Clinton during an interview yesterday at the Capitol building. “Prices on the secondary markets and auction houses have dropped like a rock and you can’t even give away the wine anymore. A lot of people are saying that unless the government pumps up the market by buying all this unwanted pinot noir, it’s going to cause an economic disaster for the wine industry.”
The California legislature is pushing strongly for the state to take back all the unwanted pinot noir. They say that the looming crisis is just too big to ignore and they can’t afford to take chances. A bailout is necessary, they insist. And if not the state purchasing the wine from unhappy consumers, then a subsidy should be provided to the wineries themselves to buy back their own wines.
A few dissenting voices have surfaced, however, who are adamantly opposed to any form of government bailout.
“Nobody told these people to go out and buy mass quantities of pinot noir,” declared state senator Dom McClinnock. “They did that on their own volition. Why should we bail them out just because they acted irrationally?”
McClinnock continued. “And don’t think the wineries themselves aren’t to blame for this mess. Charging prices upward of $50, $75, even $100 and more per bottle created unrealistic expectations about what was inside those bottles. Even at those prices they were selling all they could produce. They got rich off the pinot noir mania but now things have settled back to earth. Why should the government, i.e., the taxpayers, foot the bill?” He shook his head and spit like he was a wine tasting pro. “The whole thing’s left a bad taste in my mouth, no pun intended.”
Despite McClinnock’s protests and the few who agree with him, the majority of the legislature is expected to pass an emergency bill to proceed with the bailout. Asked what the government is going to do with all the pinot noir that will be flooding the Capitol, one congressman responded, “Looks like our state employees won’t need to wonder what form of Christmas bonus they’ll be getting in their stockings this year.”