It’s OK to be confused by the talk of wine tariffs; it’s confusing. Like really confusing. The tariffs themselves are pretty straightforward. Wine hailing from the European Union (France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom) is going to become a lot more expensive because of a tax that President Trump has decided to impose. The tariff also will affect the price of olive oil, cheese, liquor and myriad other delicious imports, plus non-food related products, including some clothing, tools and aircraft. The product itself will determine who will pay for it. As far as wine goes, the cost will reach far beyond the bottle.
“I would like to make it clear to everyone that this isn’t really about the millions of wine enthusiasts out there that would have to pay much more for some of their favorite juice from some of their favorite European wineries, this is about people,” says David Koebley, national sales manager (U.S.) for Familia Zuccardi wines out of Argentina. “This is about the many people whose livelihoods will most definitely be affected.”
Koebley breaks it down, noting it isn’t just the people who make, sell, or represent imported wine. It’s also the local bartender who works at the French restaurant, and the dishwasher in the back saving up for their child’s college fund.
“Why should these people and their families suffer so profusely over a fight between the aviation and technology industries?” begs Koebley.
That’s where a lot of the confusion comes in. The tariffs being imposed on European imports are due to a 15-year feud between the United States and European Union (EU) over funding that the EU has provided airplane manufacturer Airbus. The long and short of it is the US is frustrated because the EU’s subsidization of Airbus allows the company to sell their products at a lower price. Thus, it undercuts American airplane manufacturer Boeing. The US brought this to the attention of the World Trade Organization, which has allowed President Trump to impose up to $7.5 billion in tariffs annually until the EU discontinues its subsidies.
Reports from local restaurant owners, wine shop owners, and wine representatives show these tariffs in no way make sense in terms of what they will accomplish versus what they are trying to accomplish.
“They are ludicrous,” says William Mellon, owner of manna, Bourgie Nights, and Earnest Money & Sons—three Wilmington institutions heavily affected by the tariffs. “There wasn’t any thought by the person or persons who enacted them. It was a blatant power move and is going to be devastating to the wine industry and the infrastructure that keeps that industry afloat.”
Similarly positioned is Andrew Bopes, owner of Mon Âme Chocolate and Wine Bar. “I feel the tariffs are a misguided bargaining tool that have far-reaching circumstances for everyday Americans in an industry that already runs on tight margins. I do not see any good coming from these tariffs.”
Americans might see this as an opportunity to support domestic winemakers. While it’s never a bad time to go local, the price of American wine will likely go up as well.
“This will not be a boom for American-made wines,” Bopes counteracts. “The way the distribution system is set up in the U.S. requires me to purchase from a distributor, not directly from wineries. These distributors have large portfolios that contain large chunks of European wines. These distributors are people that live in our communities that rely on sales of European to pay their bills.”
It’s easy to feel helpless, or at least infuriated, in regard to tariffs. Locals have advice for those concerned. “If we want to do right by our European winemakers, importers, and the folks (read: Americans) they employ, we must keep buying and hope [the tariffs are reversed],” Mellon tells.
If Anthony Bourdain taught the human race anything on his too-short tenure on earth, it was that food and drink are the great neutralizers. Koebley agrees.
“Wine and food bring people together; they allow us to experience other cultures through our taste buds,” he urges. “These products offer stories of different places, foreign cultures, and families. For many, a bottle of wine or a taste of cheese from a specific place is their first introduction to these foreign regions. It could be the first spark of interest into another language or travel for many. Without affordable access to these products, our very culture truly suffers.”
And if research proves true, our culture will truly suffer by these tariffs.