Ep. 127: Wine Tastings Are a Civil Right?

Global wine production has fallen to a 62 year low. Israel's vineyards report on a war torn harvest. California producers may have dodged carcinogen warnings on their labels, but not for the reason you might think. Napa wineries claim that wine tasting is a…civil right? These are the news stories we’re following this week.

Katherine Cole: [00:00:00] Hey listeners, Katherine here. Thank you for joining us for the first episode of the new season of The Four Top. We have a new format for you and we are eager to hear what you think. So here’s the lowdown. We will be running weekly episodes to keep you up to date on the week’s wine news. With the help of our producer, Nick Toole, and our media manager, Ruby Welkovich.


Now, if you are a fan of The Four Top Classic Edition, don’t you worry, we will still have the long-form wine talk and dad jokes you know and love with our favorite co host, Martín Reyes, Master of Wine. But between those longer episodes, we will be serving up news episodes like the one you’re about to hear.


So stay tuned, everyone, and after you’ve heard this, let us know what you thought. We love feedback. You can find us on Instagram @thefourtop. Just spell it out and you’ll find us. All right. On with the show.


Nick Toole: Hey, [00:01:00] so, Katherine, I hate to do this like this, uh, but I’m quitting the podcast.


Katherine Cole: Oh my God. Producer Nick Toole, this is the first time we’ve had you on air and now you’re leaving us already?


Nick Toole: Yes, because I have discovered that I have a future as a scientist. I was scrolling through the news today, as I do for this new iteration of The Four Top, and I discovered that a team of medical researchers in Germany have discovered that the sedating effects of alcohol and the psychoactive stimulant effects of caffeine obscure each other’s impact on sleep quantity and sleep quality.

I’ve been doing research like that for years, and I could have written a scientific paper. So I’m off to pursue my scientific dreams. 


Katherine Cole: Okay, so what you’re saying, Nick, is that these researchers got a grant and put a ton of time and effort into this longitudinal study just to discover that people drink coffee in the morning to wake up, and then they drink wine in the evening to relax.


Nick Toole: Yes, [00:02:00] I’m surprised that they didn’t reach out to me for, uh, my results. But, they make it sound a lot better. Uh, they use phrases like the interdependent use in this cohort. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. 


Katherine Cole: Okay, okay, so Nick, while you’re spouting out that scientific nonsense, I think I’m going to go pour a glass of wine and chill out, and then you and I are going to sit down and find four better stories for our listeners this week. And I’m sorry, this is your boss speaking in the most supportive manner possible, but you’re really good at producing beverage podcasts, and I don’t think you’re that good at science.


Nick Toole: I have a political science degree, so I disagree. Uh, but I, I’ll, I’ll get some espresso in me, and then some wine, and then some espresso, and then some wine, and then maybe beer, and we’ll see how all those things interact. And, uh, we’ll, we’ll start producing a podcast.


Katherine Cole: Global wine production has fallen to a 62 year low. Israel’s [00:03:00] vineyards report on a war torn harvest. California producers may have dodged carcinogen warnings on their labels, but not for the reason you might think. And Napa wineries claim that wine tasting is a human right?


Well, this is the Four Top and I’m your host, Katherine Cole, joined this week, as you heard, by producer Nick Toole, whom we just saved from a career of science. And before we dig into the news this week, a word from our sponsor.


Hey folks, this episode of The Four Top is coming to you courtesy of L. I. V. E. That’s L. I. V. E. Insider Tip: that stands for Low Input Viticulture and Enology. L. I. V. E. is the leading third party certifier of sustainable winegrowing in the U. S. Pacific Northwest, and you can see L. I. V. E. certification on fine wines from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Hey Nick, what’s your favorite aspect about L. I. V. E. certification?


Nick Toole: Well, I’m a bit of an animal lover, so I’m kind of torn because they’ve got awesome long term partnerships with [00:04:00] Salmon Safe and a new partnership with Bee Friendly Farming, and then they’ve got their current initiative to plant 10, 000 oak trees, and at this point, I consider trees animals as well, so it’s kind of hard to choose.


Katherine Cole: I mean, I love it all, right? I love all creatures great and small and I love that live certified wineries and vineyards are working, like you said, to protect fish, pollinator habitat, and our stunning Oregon white oaks. And hey, folks, we have one more sponsor break coming up, so we will be digging deeper into all that is wonderful about live later in this episode.

But now, back to the news.


Nick Toole: Alright, Katherine, our top story this week comes from the International Organization of Vine and Wine, they are reporting that global wine production in 2023 was at its lowest level in 62 years. As Ido Vock writes for BBC Online, poor weather, frost, heavy rainfall, drought, those all mixed together to create some poor growing [00:05:00] conditions. 


Katherine Cole: Wow. Lowest level in 62 years. That is surprising. Although I think many of us remember the torrential rainfalls we had in California this past year. And while that was happening, Australia, Spain, and Italy experienced droughts. Chile suffered wildfires. Of course, the seasons were reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, but nonetheless, it was a wacky weather year for everyone.


Nick Toole: Yeah, it seems the only wine-producing nation not affected by foul weather was France. But there, due in large part to plummeting demand, the federal government mandated vignerons to tear out vines and destroy roughly 80 million gallons of domestic wine.


Katherine Cole: My goodness. I remember we were all talking about this on the Four Top team a couple weeks ago. When this came up in the news, Southern French winemakers were so upset about this, about their government telling them to tear out vines and destroy 80 million gallons of domestic wine, that they stopped truckloads of Spanish wine coming in across the border and proceeded to destroy the wine on the spot with their hands, their feet, [00:06:00] and even sledgehammers.

I mean, the streets were literally running red with wine. 


Nick Toole: Martín would be proud of that joke. Uh yeah, flood, famine, fires, smash bottles, sort of Book of Revelations stuff, end time stuff, but for the wine industry. 


Katherine Cole: No, no, it’s not true. It’s not happening. I know this is a tough weather year, but we will not give up. And by the way, we shall vanquish the demon White Claw and rise again. I know we can do it. But seriously, what I find interesting about this story is that every year in the wine industry, our farming gets more and more precise and scientific.


And we seem to have solved All the problems that there are in, in viticulture. And yet every year the planet throws a new curve ball at us and the market throws a new curve ball at us. And so we keep having to play catch up and I guess it’s just keeping us on our toes. Let’s just hope for a better harvest season for 2023 and we will keep an eye on this story.


Nick Toole: [00:07:00] Okay, on to our second story, and Katherine, you might remember that our last season, this past summer, ended with an eye opening episode about glyphosate. AKA Roundup, featuring Dr. Jamie Goode and Anna Brittain of Napa Green. And it ended up being our most popular episode of the season in large part, because as our listeners know, glyphosate is very controversial.

It’s a cheap and effective herbicide used widely in wine production, but it can also negatively impact soil health, which we should all be worried about. And there are concerns about its effects on humans.


Katherine Cole: Yeah, so California is leagues ahead of other states in the United States in terms of consumer protections. And residents of California see warnings on products that indicate cancer risks, and these warnings are required by California’s Proposition 65. Essentially, this law requires the state to keep a list of all chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

And businesses actually have to let customers know if their products contain those [00:08:00] chemicals. It’s honestly kind of scary when you pick up a product in California and see that warning. Well, so up until 2018, Monsanto, the company that produces Roundup, was required to put a Prop 65 warning on containers of that infamous weed killer.


Nick Toole: Now, welcome to the stage, the courts. 


Katherine Cole: Dun dun.


Nick Toole: In… We’ll keep that in. In 2018, a California court issued an injunction that barred California from requiring the cancer warning label. As Bob Agelco of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, in order for the state to compel a company to apply that Proposition 65 warning, the warning has to be factual and non controversial.

Glyphosate has never actually been found to create a cancer risk by the EPA or California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.


Katherine Cole: That’s right, which is kind of a surprise, but listeners, you can go back and tune in to episode 126 of The Four Top and hear none other than Dr. Jamie Goode saying that he would drink Roundup because it has [00:09:00] not been proven definitively to be harmful. Okay, tough guy. 


Nick Toole: I wouldn’t do it myself, but I’d be interested to see him do it, maybe. Honestly, I don’t want to see that. Only the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has found it to be a probable cause of human cancer. Since only one institution claims a connection and others don’t, the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred last week with the 2018 injunction that we mentioned earlier and found the label to be controversial and thus an infringement on Monsanto’s First Amendment rights.


Katherine Cole: Okay, but here’s the twist. Judges up and down California have awarded millions of dollars to cancer victims and their families who have been exposed to Roundup.


So clearly, some judges are convinced of the connection, while others are not. And this argument is certainly not over because California’s Attorney General can ask for another hearing. So what does this all mean for the wine industry? You know, Nick, you and I and Ruby on the Four Top team, we’ve been watching [00:10:00] label legislation and we have been seeing a movement to include more and more health information on wine labels.


This is currently an issue being considered for legislation in Australia, for example. So if you’re a vineyard owner and you’re using glyphosate, I guess we would just say proceed with caution and keep an eye on the headlines. 


Oh, wait, hold on folks. We have a late breaking news update for you. After we wrapped this episode, the California Sustainability Certification NGO, Napa Green, announced that it would be requiring members to phase out the use of glyphosate, aka Roundup, by January 2026, and actually all synthetic herbicides by January 2028.


Now, Napa Green is the first sustainable winegrowing certification program globally, of which there are about 20, to require this phase out of glyphosate and synthetic herbicides. This is really big news for the wine industry. Um, congratulations to Anna Brittain, our friend, and we will keep an eye on [00:11:00] this story and keep you updated as we learn more.


Katherine Cole: So Nick, I’m going to date myself here, but I want to play a few seconds from a commercial that is etched in my brain from the 1980s and 1990s. So imagine two Rolls Royces pulling up alongside one another, the passengers in the back seats, each roll down their windows and lean out to speak to each other and here’s the exchange that comes next.


Nick Toole: Alright, it’s, it’s my turn to date myself. Uh, because I don’t think I’m old enough to have seen that live on TV. But I, I really wish I had, I think I would have gotten a good chuckle out of it back then.


Katherine Cole: Well, so, I, it’s always stuck with me, Nick, and I am going to make an [00:12:00] argument. I think that sustainably certified grapes should be the Grey Poupon of the wine world. I mean, these grapes are farmed fastidiously. They are not sprayed with a bunch of crap. And to me, this means that sustainably farmed grapes are the purest translations of terroir in wine.


So consumers and the trade should accept no substitute. We should be seeking out sustainably produced wines And so folks when you’re buying one from the Pacific Northwest, you should be turning that bottle around looking at that back label and looking for that live logo L I V E that’s confirmation that those grapes were farmed sustainably. They are the Grey Poupon of wine.


Nick Toole: They certainly are. I think next time I’m in a restaurant, I’m gonna say, Pardon me. Do you have any live certified wines?


Katherine Cole: Oh… 


Nick Toole: Oh, man. I hope….


Katherine Cole: …fully


Nick Toole: …doesn’t make it on air.


Katherine Cole: That was Cockney. You gotta put a little, uh, You gotta put a little Oxbridge in it. Uh, okay, but yeah, we all get the idea. Live [00:13:00] Certified Wines. Except only the best.


Nick Toole: Alright, on to some more sobering news.


No matter what your view is on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, I think we can all agree it’s a tragedy for everyone in the region. And from where we stand, that includes the wine industry.


Katherine Cole: Yes, Wine Spectator recently ran a feature reporting on how Israeli wineries and vineyards got through harvest this year. My colleague, Kristen Bieler, reports that according to the Israeli Wine Producers Association, wine sales there are down more than 60%, and Israel is, of course, a nation where most of the wine is consumed domestically.

So that’s been really devastating. I would encourage everyone to check her piece out in Wine Spectator. Many of us in the industry know and respect the producers Kristen spoke with including Golan Heights winery, Tzora and Domaine du Castel.


Nick Toole: According to Bieler, for many of these wineries, harvest was interrupted by the [00:14:00] outbreak of violence and many vineyard workers were from Gaza. So winery and vineyard teams consisting of Arabs, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, who were working side by side are now gone. They’ve either been, unfortunately, evacuated, kidnapped, or drafted, or possibly worse.


Katherine Cole: Yeah, it’s so sad. It’s just horrible. And you know, this reminds me of interviewing the late great Serge Hochar. I interviewed him about a decade ago about his continuing to make wine at Chateau Musar, the famous Lebanese winery, during the Lebanese Civil War. And he told me about losing two vintages in 1976 and 1984 to the fighting. And he recounted to me that the experience of harvesting and working while shells were literally falling around him. Now, of course, this is happening in Israel now. Um, some of you may be thinking, wait a minute, Israel’s key wine regions, Upper Galilee and Golan Heights are closer to the border of Lebanon.


But of course, [00:15:00] Hezbollah has significant forces there. So that area is also heating up. And the rising tensions on the Israel Lebanon border may soon affect the Lebanese wine industry as well. So. It’s just really just devastating obviously for everyone and that includes the wine industry. So folks, we will be keeping an eye on this story as it develops and we would love to hear from you.

Do you have friends, colleagues, or family working in the wine industry in the Middle East? Let us know what you’re hearing from them, how they’re coping, and just anything you’re hearing from that part of the world. And we just wish everyone all the best as they deal with this awful situation.


Nick Toole: Alright, for our final story of the week, we are returning to California, where a years-long legal battle has taken an interesting turn. But first, some quick background.


Katherine Cole: Uh, are you passing this over to me? Is that what you’re doing?


Nick Toole: Nah, that [00:16:00] was my smooth transition. Take it away.


Katherine Cole: Okay, okay. Um, we will work on our smooth transitions. Anyway, in 1990, Napa County passed the Winery Definition Ordinance as a way to protect agriculture and curb commercial development so that Napa would remain the bucolic place it is.

I mean, really, Napa Valley Bucolic? I mean, I guess it is, but anyway. So, this ordinance controls how many visitors wineries can host, the types of experiences and events they can offer, and it stipulates what sorts of changes a winery has to make to infrastructure if they want to bring in more guests, offer new experiences, and so on.


Now, I hear about this issue a lot from my friends in California, in the Napa Valley. It’s kind of a headache that they can’t have guests at their wineries. In many cases, they can’t have a hospitality experience, and it’s also frustrating to them that many small wineries that were operating before 1990 were grandfathered [00:17:00] in and have been permitted exemptions to operate more or less, you know, how they were prior to this ordinance.


Nick Toole: This is where it gets sticky though. In 2017, a lawyer by the name of Lindsay Hoopes purchased the former Hopper Creek Winery, which she renamed to Hoopes Winery and continued to offer tastings on site because Hopper Creek enjoyed a small winery exemption. They had opened prior to that 1990 winery definition ordinance.


But then Napa County came for Lindsay Hoopes. They tried to shut down her tastings. She countered. They countered. She countered. And last year, the county sued to stop her winery from offering public tastings or tours. There’s a lot of back and forth in here, and I have to thank W. Blake Gray for documenting it all for Wine-Searcher, or else I would have given up trying to figure it all out.

So, thank you, W. Blake.


Katherine Cole: Yes, Blake, another one of my beloved colleagues. Thank you, Blake. Um, yeah, so now, finally, the twist. [00:18:00] Lindsay Hoopes has teamed up with other small wineries to argue that the county’s rules and their arbitrary enforcement of the rules are a violation of those wineries’ civil rights. Nick, you’re supposed to jump in here.


Nick Toole: I was, I was leaving room to edit in a dun dun dun, since you kind of got one of those earlier.


Katherine Cole: Please don’t do that.


Nick Toole: Alright, I won’t not do that. Okay, so, Lindsay Hoopes is arguing that by taking away what she calls substantial property rights without due process, the county is violating the Civil Rights Act. That’s a pretty big accusation. And, while I personally think, you know, Napa County has probably done a poor job of handling its own rules and enforcement, it definitely still feels like a bit of a stretch.


Katherine Cole: Yeah, I’m not sure that Hoopes Vineyard doesn’t have a case. I mean, as we know, wineries in the Napa Valley are pretty frustrated that they can’t host even just a few visitors a day in many circumstances. I hear from a lot of winery owners that [00:19:00] they’re kind of quietly having to circumvent the rules just to have some, you know, avid club members come visit and taste the wines. But I do think this is a major stretch to prove that this is a civil rights violation. I mean, we were just talking about the war in Israel and Gaza. Come on. If any civil rights are being violated in the wine industry, I think Nick, you and I both know that it’s probably those of the vineyard workers around the world.

But anyway.


Nick Toole: It’s an interesting one. It sounds a little lame, but I think I will actually be following this case because I’d like to see if they can successfully make their case.


Katherine Cole: Yeah. Well, it’s time to wrap up folks, but before we go, Nick, do you have a dessert course for us?


Nick Toole: I do, and a little bit of background. When we were developing this iteration of The Four Top, we were like, ah, maybe we won’t do the dessert course. And we heard from a few of our listeners that they love the dessert course. We’re keeping it on, and I’m glad because I’ve been [00:20:00] using Molly Baz’s cookbook called Cook This Book, and it’s fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone. She does a fantastic job of breaking down recipes so that they are easy to follow. And the recipes are absolutely delicious.

So I would recommend for my dessert course this week, Molly Baz’s, that’s B A Z, cookbook called Cook This Book.


Katherine Cole: Ooh, I gotta get that because I must admit I’m a little cooking impaired because I know so many great cooks and I just open the wine. So I think I need this. Thanks for that great dessert course. 


This has been The Four Top podcast. Katherine Cole, I’m your executive producer, Nick Toole. Our wonderful second voice today is our producer. We are also assisted by sound supervisor, Kielen King. And of course our amazing media and design manager, Ruby Welkovich. Please visit our website, thefortop.org. We just kind of redesigned it, so we’d love to hear what you think of it. If you have not already subscribed to [00:21:00] The Four Top on iTunes or Spotify, please do so. And please leave us a rating. Every rating feeds the algorithm and helps new listeners find The Four Top.


Well, signing off from the high fiber, protein-packed city of Portland, Oregon, stay safe out there, folks, and thanks for listening.


Nick Toole: And signing off from the original Portland, established long before Portland, Oregon. Uh, stay safe out there. Oh, I just stole your line. 


Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[1:00] – The Drinks Business: Wine Assists Sleep After Drinking Coffee

[4:33] – BBC: Global Wine Production Falls to 62-year Low in 2023

[7:33] – San Francisco Chronicle: California can’t require a warning label on weed killer Roundup, court rules

[7:33] – Reuters: Appeals court blocks California warning requirement for glyphosate

[10:18] – PR Newswire: Napa Green Becomes First Sustainable Winegrowing Certification to Require Phaseout of Roundup, Providing Toolkit and Financial Incentives

[13:21] – Wine Spectator: How Has War Impacted Israel’s Wine Harvest? A Time of Fear and Pain

[16:08] – Wine-Searcher: Napa Wineries Claim Tastings as Human Rights