These are gloomy times for the wine business, too, as sales and prices take a hit, especially at the high end. Indulging a dose of magical thinking, wine purveyors are jubilant over the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, because he and Michelle drink wine. Their hope is that the First Family’s personal consumption will somehow boost sales. This expectation could be misguided for at least several reasons. George Bush is a teetotaler, yet during his presidency, sales soared to the point that in 2008, Americans consumed more wine than citizens of any other nation in the world. That’s probably not a coincidence. In 2008, the economy was falling apart, but we still had money to manage denial with fine wine. Even if Barack Obama were to be a more inspirational leader than George Bush, and we were driven to imitate his life style, very little is known about how much and what he drinks. The sleuths are hard at work, but so far, they have uncovered very little information.
What we know is that the Obama home in Chicago has a 1000-bottle wine cellar. But we have no information about which bottles or how many might be stored there. Given what we see of Obama’s propensity to think, my theory is that he has stuffed the racks with books. Another bit of information that we have about Obama’s wine purchases came directly from him when he told “People” magazine that Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay was a staple in his house. Along with Obama, legions of Americans buy Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay, and most of it is mass-produced, generic wine. My take on that information is that people, for whom Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay is a staple, like wine alright, but they’re not paying a lot of attention to what’s in their glasses, at least not enough to lead a nation toward increased wine enjoyment. Finally, we know that Michelle Obama likes sparkling wine, specifically a $15 brut from South African producer Graham Beck. That could be a good lead, and I look forward to trying it, although right now, I’m hopelessly enthused about sparkling Ruggeri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene at the same price.
Whether or not the Obamas manage to increase the country’s wine sales in any noticeable way is yet to be seen, but their populist bent may already be influencing wine choices for state dinners at the White House. The Bush administration created a lesser known scandal in November when it hosted an emergency economic summit for world leaders after the global economy began to unravel. Along with dinner, the White House served a Napa cult Cabernet, the Shafer 2003 Hillside Select that retails variously from $250 to $500 a bottle, depending on who’s selling it, when Two Buck Chuck would have been more appropriate for the occasion. Clearly, President Bush had no responsibility for this choice. I blame Dick Cheney. But then I blame Dick Cheney for everything, including bad-hair days.
Instead, the three wine picks for the luncheon that followed Obama’s Inauguration received high praise, the $14 Korbel Natural California Champagne, the $30 Duckhorn 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, and the $50 Goldeneye 2005 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. California Senator Diane Feinstein may have been responsible for those choices since she was the chair of the inauguration committee.
So now, along with everything else, we need President Barack Obama to fix wine sales. We can all drink to that. Wine is like money. The more we have, the better we feel.