NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The wine world is raising a glass to President Barack Obama as he moves into the White House, hoping his enjoyment of U.S. wine will impact on American’s drinking habits.
U.S. wine producers could hardly contain their glee at the news that the Obamas had bought a $1.65 million mansion in Chicago equipped with four fireplaces — and a wine cellar that reportedly holds up to 1,000 bottles.
“I can’t help but think that after eight years of no wine drinkers in the White House that (Obama) will have a felicitous effect on Americans’ drinking habits,” John Gillespie, head of the Wine Market Council, told the 2009 Wine Market Council Research Conference in New York.
Outgoing President George W. Bush is a teatotaler who gave up alcohol over 20 years ago.
The White House has no official wine cellar but wines are chosen by a small team for specific events, based on their affinity with the menu as well as politically correct pairing depending on the guests in attendance.
But all wines served at state dinners are American.
President Lyndon Johnson decreed only American wines should be served at White House state dinners and it has stayed the same ever since — although President Richard Nixon reportedly had his beloved Chateau Margaux secretly poured.
The contents of Obama’s own wine cellar remain unknown but Chicago area merchants have noted Obama’s eclectic taste in wine.
One told the Chicago Tribune that her shop quickly sold out of a South African sparkling wine made by Graham Beck after the first couple reportedly poured it on election night.
The Duckhorn Vineyards and Goldeneye Winery have seen the same effect since it was revealed that Duckhorn’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and Goldeneye’s Pinot Noir would be served with the first two courses at the official Inauguration lunch in the Capitol.
“I definitely think that with all the buzz there’s been an increase in sales,” said Emily Gorton, a spokeswoman for the wineries.
La Finquita Winery in Napa Valley is hoping to join the party with a bottle of 2005 Merlot in a limited collector edition bottle with a handetched and gold painted picture of Obama.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Obama carried the vote in eight of the 10 top producing wine states that make more than 95 percent of the wines produced in the United States.
But that support is unsurprising given that wine drinkers as far back March 2008 seem to have preferred the candidate with a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finding wine drinkers preferred Obama to Republican rival John McCain.
But McCain had the beer vote and the lion’s share of campaign contributions from the beer, wine and liquor industry, netting $634,355 to Obama’s $386,929, according to opensecrets.org.
Any Obama boost will be a good thing for the industry.
While the United States remains on track to become the world’s largest wine-consuming country by 2010, it does so despite a dramatic slowdown in growth recorded by retailers and tracked by the Nielsen company in the last three months.
The slowdown has affected most of the industry from $10 bottles of Chardonnay to $1,000 bottles of Petrus. The Liv-ex 100 Fine wine index - the wine industry’s leading index - recorded a 2.2 percent drop in December for the third straight month, finishing 2008 down 14.6 percent.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith