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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In my previous 343 consecutive weekly columns, I’ve touched on many wine-related topics. Oftentimes educational while on other occasions tracking unfolding news events, I’ve enjoyed the research and resulting reports presented to readers.

A number of news events are open-ended as I report on them. I periodically hear from readers inquiring if closure has been achieved on a particular wine report. This week I’ve decided to follow through on two reader inquiries.

When Wine Merchants Flaunt Regulations and Regulators

The wall between wine producers, wholesale distributors and retailers has been in place since the end of Prohibition. Regulations have been meted out at the federal and state levels by regulators who have a spotty track record. On various occasions and in certain jurisdictions these regulators have zealously zeroed in on apparent violators, while at other times certain regulators have taken a laissez faire approach of loose and inconsistent enforcement.

So it came as a surprise to me that Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and his mother Lidia–all celebrity restaurateurs, TV personalities and highly successful entrepreneurs–were investigated by the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) last month for disregarding aspects of the Chinese wall. The Bastianichs have an ownership interest in a winery in Italy and the retail wine shop at Eataly, the Manhattan food emporium. This was thought to be a clear violation of state regulations but regulators seemed to be “looking the other way.”

Until last month. The SLA held a hearing to determine if violations had occurred and, if so, to decide how to proceed against the violators. The decision: the SLA determined that a violation had in fact occurred and proceeded to levy severe penalties on Batali and the Bastianichs. A $500,000 fine was assessed against the pair, the Eataly wine shop was ordered to close for six months and Lidia Bastianich was required to relinquish her interest in the wine shop. Shutting down any business for an extended period of time is significant, but not as catastrophic as temporarily shutting down any of the 10 mutually owned, highly regarded restaurants.

Some felt this settlement was in order for the flagrant disregard of regulations, while others felt this was a witch hunt of highly visible personalities by bureaucratic headline seekers. In either case the SLA now has the industry’s attention.

Accepting the Consequences of Our Actions, Even if They Are Unintended

Last month an organic winemaker in Burgundy, France was prosecuted for not spraying his vineyard with a chemical pesticide. It seems counterintuitive that a winemaker who consciously decides to practice “safe farming” should be fined for avoiding chemical pesticides. But there is a bureaucratic logic behind this decision to penalize Emmanuel Giboulot, who has been growing and harvesting grapes for the past 30 years.

The French government has made a commitment to reduce the use of pesticides by 50 percent by 2018. So why the seemingly contradictory actions by the French government? The answer: Flavescence dorée disease, inflicted by a leaf-hopper insect that is spreading throughout France, threatening to wipe out vast stretches of vineyards.

So concerned are the authorities that Flavescence dorée could have a devastating effect on the French wine industry that they have compromised their noble edict to reduce the use of pesticides.

This doesn’t help Giboulet’s noble effort, who was complying with the government’s efforts to reduce chemical pesticides–before they decided to revert to an industrial-age solution.

The potential fine–and its unintended consequences–was significant: up to six months in jail and a fine of 30,000 Euros.

Last week, after a half million French signed an online petition protesting the fines, a judge fined Giboulet1,000 Euros (suspending half of it) and no jail time.

Mr. Giboulet intends to appeal.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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