The Wine Caucus: They Dont Just Drink!
Welcome to the San Francisco Chronicle's, it's all political podcast. My name is talk open. I'm be chronicles Washington. Correspondent and senior political reporter I'm filling in for your regular host Joe Garre Foley, who's taking a well deserved vacation. And on today's episode. I'm bringing you the congressional wine caucus. Yes. There is such a thing. I actually sat down with the co-chairs of the congressional wine caucus local bay area. Congressman Mike Thompson, and the newly inducted co-chair the first from outside of California, Washington, congressman, Dan Newhouse, and we set on for lively conversation about the politics of wine the policies that the caucus tracks and weighs in on. And of course, we had some fun and talked about, you know, things like the congressman's favourite, grapes, and most revered bottles that they've owned so stick around after the break and you'll hear all of that conversation with congressmens. Listen and new house. Hi, I'm Audrey Cooper editor in chief of the San Francisco Chronicle and thank you for listening to this podcast. It's an honor to lead the largest and most ambitious newsroom in northern California. Which every day is dedicated to bring you the most essential journalism about your community. But we can't do this work without the support of our subscribers. So if you support indepth journalism, please consider lending your financial support, you can do that at SF chronicle dot com slash subscribe for both our digital and print editions or best of all. Let's try both again, that's SF chronicle dot com slash subscribe. Welcome to the it's all political podcast him sitting here in the US capitol with congressman Mike Thomson of Saint Helena and congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington who are the returning and newly inducted co chairs of the congressional wine caucus, welcome. Thank you both for being here. Thank you. It's good to be with you. So I think the first and most obvious question for almost anyone listening is what is the congressional caucus. Well, I founded the congressional wine caucus while. It was first elected of the co chairs were myself and Jordana bitch. A fellow Californian George at the time grew grapes and made wine grapes. And the idea was to form a caucus. So we could provide education of between our wine communities, and the US capital was an opportunity to get the word up to Washington. What's happening on the ground and an opportunity to get the word from Washington back down to those who were doing the work on the ground, an incredible, incredibly important community layers, a lot of jobs or lot tax dollars a lot of economic activity generated by the wine community, and we needed to ensure that everybody knew the challenges we're facing and all the good work. We were doing and in congress. A new house. You're a bit. More of a recent arrival is third or fourth term third third term and for or you years four months and did you join the line caucus right away? Or was it something you came to a little bit later on as you create when you come to Washington DC dated with all of the different caucuses that are here. There's there's I don't know. How many are there? Mike, there's dozens ninety millions. So it took me a while to figure out all the different opportunities available. You'll be so so after a bit of time, and you know, being in the wine industry myself, I was naturally naturally attracted to the wine. Cock, and it's everything that mister Thompson just said it it's an opportunity for the industry to have platform to tell its story and for us he hit as members of congress to be able to hear first-hand the some of the challenges in the needs of. Of the industry. So that they could be successful. And we have a couple firsts. Right. So this is the first time we have a co chair from outside, California and congressman you house, and it's the first time both co chairs actually, grow grapes themselves is that right? We'll georgia. Okay. So it's the first time in a while that you've got so so what kind of insight, do you feel like you can bring to the table not just representing growers, but being growers yourselves will let me give you an example of something that we do early on that I think kind of sums it up and give your listeners than idea of what sort of perspective, we can bring to congress and how we can help with our our our districts in our communities of interest a while back. There was an a vector in in California. The glassy winged sharpshooter, which is an insect. Right. And this insect would basically bite a great bind leaf and the vine would die. This was very very serious. I started showing up in Temecula down in San Diego area, literally wiped out. Acre after acre after acre the headed pull these finds out the the vines were the host to this to this insect. It was nearby. Citrus. Groves and wanna mental of oracle. The blessing wing sharpshooter didn't bother the citrus and didn't bother the ornamental 's only the grapes. So it took the wine caucus coming together and bringing all the parties together to make sure everybody understood the impact as you can imagine the ornamental 's didn't want to jump in and deal with us. It wasn't bothering them. Citrus. Didn't wanna jump in at one bother now. But it was devastating to our state and our national economy. So we were able to bring all the parties together and figure out some solutions. So we could go after this glassy winged sharpshooter. And I think that's probably a textbook perfect example of how any caucus can help work through problems to find solutions. Yeah. Because I think when I first heard that there was a line caucus. I kind of just pictured, you know, a five PM crew sitting. Jackets, wine and cheese. And I was like, oh, that's a lovely caucus. But we'll the truth is of after about my second or third term. I had a colleague come up to me and say, you know, you've really taken this wine caucus to different place. You said that you should know. There was a wine caucus before you got here. He said, I started it and what we do every month or so we would get four five bottles of wine, and we get four five colleagues and we'd drink them and talk about the wine. So there's always been that opportunity to enjoy a good glass of wine and talk about it. But as I said, we did move it to a different level. We made it a group of like minded members of congress who understand the value of the wine community every state produces wind today. So you have wine made and fifty states. Now granted some of. Fellow better than others. No, I'm sure that. And but every member of congress represents some part of the overall wine universe. They either represent grape growers producers retailers, and every member of congress represents wine consumers and comes are actually going to ask, you know, being the first co-chair, not from California. I think most of our listeners are probably very familiar with with California wine country. But but Washington has a pretty strong wine. Production itself, doesn't it really does. And we're we're very proud of our wine industry in the state of Washington or actually the number two wine producer in the country behind California. We are growing industry. It's it's been around the state of Washington for almost one hundred years, but certainly over the last two or three decades has really blossomed into the exciting dynamic industry that we have today we have. Almost two thousand wineries over three hundred fifty growers. It's become a big business and growing business. And we think and not, you know, we have a friend friendly rivalry between the two states, obviously. But we think the quality of Washington wine is second. I mean, we really do a good job of producing fine all wines, very tremendous value. And you know, Mike talking about some of the specific things that the wine Kaku has been able to help with the white ministry. It's a business absolutely is an important business in this country wine grape, growers wineries face a lot of the same challenges that other businesses face, whether it's trade tax issues labor issues, certainly in our part of the world water issues all of those things that other agriculture products face weedy to in the wine industry. So it's important to get that message across and you're on the. Culture committee up here. Right. You were. So you have that experience as well of just writ large agriculture policy. You know, I think when people think of farmers they don't wind doesn't necessarily come to mind, but certainly in in California and Washington and several states. It's a huge part of the agriculture industry, actually in attributed one of the first ones that come to mind because you can't make good wine without good grapes. So it takes the farmer to grow good grapes to make the the good wine. And there's not a meal that anyone consumes across the United States of America. That doesn't go better with one. And you know, I actually reached out to our our wine critic at the chronicle Esther Moberly, an asked her sort of what are some of the issues that she's tracking in one of the ones she mentioned that I thought was really interesting given both of your states is the growing legalization of cannabis where both California in Washington now have legalized cannabis, and my understanding is that there's an increasing competition for land labor is that something you guys are hearing from your constituents that they're paying attention to and concerned about well, we have people no further than constellation of which is one of the largest wine producing of families in the country. And they've made big investments in the cannabis industry of there's all the same agricultural of hurdles and challenges are faced by anybody growing anything in either one of. Our states. And when you're when you when you introduce a new of product or a new a new agricultral product, there's going to be competition competition for an already tough workforce. We we have tough time getting workers, and we Dan, and I both know the challenges we face with water and all this comes into play. What are some of the other issues that you're hearing from your constituents from your fellow growers right now that they're really really paying attention to in terms of policy. Most certainly I I don't think it day goes by that. I don't have a agricultural producers come in and talk to about the challenges that they face in the world trade. In the wine industry, particularly it's a it's a very very competitive market there. There's a wine produced by a lot of countries around the world. Good wine and for us to be able to compete for that shelf space in other countries, we need to have trade policies that allow us to compete fairly in. And that's right now, as you know, there's some issues with some of the packs that we have with our trade agreements that we have with other countries that are being worked on that impact that directly and so that's causing a lot of anxiety right now in the industry overall. Trade clearly a big one the terror of our something that's very troubling. And a real challenge. I have a lot of constituents small growers and small producers who were hit hard with tax Bill of their just notice Gushin of of notice cushion of anything in the tax Bill, but there were provisions that really hurt small wineries. And and that's that's an issue for a lot of my folks, and then the whole labor shoe and immigration, which we really need to do aggression reform. That's that's something that we can agree on who heartedly bipartisan effort, I think we'll get it done. And I think most cock not must say that some of the caucuses up on Capitol Hill are bipartisan like this one. Congressman Thompson as democrat congressman new houses are publican when you do have a new administration. Obviously, you mentioned the trade stuff that some of the. Policies of this president has particularly pursued have created some of these trade issues. You hear even Chuck Grassley? You know, a ruby red Republican from Iowa over on the other side of the capitol very concerned about the impact on the farmers in his state. Do you find that you know, regardless of administration? There's a way to bring the issues of wine to the forefront. Or can it be challenging at times to get sort of bipartisan interest in the issue carries? We'll from why time here. Everything's challenging. Legislating is hard. If you're doing and do it, right? I've found that on the issues of wine. We've had remarkable bipartisan of participation and support. And I see that only growing. I think Dan is an excellent addition to the caucus out into the leadership of the caucus. I think it's I think it's long past time to include more states than California. This is something that I fought for years ago. And there was there was a reluctance to do that. But we've done it now. And I think it's really going to pay off. And you've been watch how we work and you'll see the that we will work in a bipartisan way, and it will be good not only for the institution of Representative government. But for the people who we represent. Yeah. Speaking with them, you know, one of the government affairs people from the wine institute last night. There was an event to introduce. Congressman Newhouse instead of reintroduce the wine caucus members of congress. And I sort of asking him this question as well from a lobbying perspective, and he said that Missouri has a huge wine industry, Ohio has a huge in wine industry and not to mention the fact that the distillers council, which you know, is is crap spirits in this country. They will often partner with the beer institute or the wine institute, you know, and certainly Kentucky when you talk about tariffs other countries. They're punishing American wine, but they're also punishing American whiskey. And so I thought that was interesting that there there really are more constituencies than you might think up here that are sort of interested in the same no matter who's in the White House. Whoever is in the executive branch this platform that we have the wine caucus in the US congress conservatives is that place where we can really get the message out on a bipartisan basis to educate. Not only members of. Legislative branch, but the executive branches. Well, so so enough policy. Let's little fun. So what kind of grapes? Do you do each grow in on your in your opinion, while I'm the I'm the little guy on this conversation by grow sauvignon, Blanc only only one variety I grow twenty acre sunk cutoff thirty acre ranch on grill. Twenty acres of saw me on block. I grow all of grow organic oat hay. And then Dan could take my ranch in my vineyard and put it over in the corner. And what what region? Do you grow your grapes in a grown in Lake County? Okay. And what about you congressman Newhouse farm is just a it's not a huge farm. We have seven hundred fifty acres a lot of that is devoted the hops. We were also in the the the beer industry involved in that we've got about sixty acres of wine grapes as well. I live on Snipes mountain, which is one of the Appalachians in Washington state. But we also raise some tree fruit and repaired concord grapes for as long as I can remember cherries cherries pears replanning this year. We've had apples nectarines, I've raised a lot of hey to owed is matter of fact, his wrong. So, and that's that's the vote bell, which is. Before we get too far out of here. Dan raises a good issue. Chuck about growing, hops, I found that it takes a lot of beer wine. That's sort of like crop rotation. Right. Sort of the same a lot of the same consumers for what about what about to drink? What what's your favorite to drink favorite wine to drink? Gosh. You know, I I love the can't tribute to one person who says I my favorite wine is the one. I am holding in my hand right now. And so there's there's so many different good ones. I lotta times for red wine over white, but there's so many good ones. And the great thing is with with all the different wineries, not only in the state of Washington, but all over the country can try a lot of different ones and find some really good ones from unexpected place. I was I was recently for personal enjoyment, and this Anoma area myself, and there's a there's a vineyard out there. That specializes in the Italian varieties that they found a little. Slice of the area where they can actually grow a nice range of Italian wines. And it was interesting the way that you can you know, Californian, I imagine Washington to you've got a lot of different climates and regions that you can kind of learn from wine production all over the world and find a place that it might work in. You know? And congressman Thompson, I asked you this you you say, you're not a wine collector your wine drinker. But are there any bottles that either of you have acquired over time that you know, were particularly special to you. I think Kasur means a lot of I'm I'm definitely allergic to bad wine. But I like to I enjoy wine with food. The time of the year the place what you're eating as Dan said, there's so many great wines and sparkling wine rose as of made a huge comeback different reds, different Weitz who you're drinking with and what you're eating when you're drinking where you are. It's all part of it. It's all part of the total wine experience. And the fact that wine truly is if farm-to-table experience, and as I said, there's wine being made in all fifty states and one there's one common denominator in in the fifty state wine production, and that's every in every instance, if a farmer in absolutely loving, what here sheer doing working with the land to grow great grape that can be turned into a great one. And that's all really exciting. What I what about you? Congressman you house any. Particular wines that have stood out to you in your time. Well, you asked about a particular, Bob. Yeah. I kind of inherited a nineteen sixty seven seat, Michelle. It's a red wine. That's a long time ago. One of the biggest wineries in the country. Biggest winery in the state of Washington the night, my father had and I've I've I've got it in my collection. But like like Mike says it depends on the occasion. Certain. We have different bottles of wine for on our kids were born anniversaries different things like that that make make events special art can be passed onto members of your family or friends. What about the same? Michelle. Are you saving it for anything in particular? I'm not sure how well it's been almost fifty years. It may just stay Mitch. You know what we should do? We should use should pick to your Republican colleagues, but it's an all pick to my democratic colleague. But his and we'll each bring a couple of wines from our district, and we'll go I live on the hill over to my house will we'll have we'll a and will enjoy it ends at that sounds like a plant. Well, Nancy Pelosi told me when I was doing another story on congressman Thompson that that his dinners our legendary they're they're generally bipartisan, and you always know that the meal will be home cooked and the wind will be California. She was just at my house last. It was group of members. And and we enjoyed a pretty incredible meals stand tastic one. So there's going to be a change to that the time I have dinner at Mike's house. They'll be Washington state one. They got. Stranger to Washington today. A member of congress passed I led a delegation out to Washington, and we visited four or five different wine regions, we visited six rate, different wineries. And it was a real. And I had people from the California wine institute with us on the trip. And it was it was the making. It was the beginning of a great relationship between our states and that in conjunction with a real hard push to bring the major wine states into the wine caucus. We grew our numbers from what was a handful of people when we started to about three hundred members. And that's the challenge of now, Nick, we're down with the retirements and people leaving were down about one hundred seventy something, and Dan, we should really work rotter to get those numbers back up over two hundred gonna mention my just I don't think I've ever told you that when I was first elected I was touring. The wineries in my district. And interestingly one of the winemakers comes up to me, do you know, Mike Thomson? More popular my district. We'll have to go back up there and check it out. Well, well, there you go. Whether it's around your dining room table restaurant, or here in congress line just brings people together. I guess the moral story. So congressman like towns and congressman down Newhouse. Thank you both for joining us on the it's all political packets remote. There you have it that was our conversation about the congressional wind pockets, we appreciate you listening. And of course, if you would like to reach out to us. I'm talk open. You can find me at talk open on Twitter or tall dot copen at SF chronicle dot com, and as much as we appreciate your listening and your readership. We hope you also subscribe to our podcast and to our newspaper and online editions you can find us SF chronicle dot com. Thanks very much for tuning it. It's all political is part of the seven Cisco chronicle podcast network. Audrey Cooper's the editor in chief. If you like this show, we'd love it. If you'd subscribe to it wherever you get your podcast, and if you've got a minute to give us a quick review that helps us build our audience. So we can keep growing. Follow me on Twitter at Joe Geir Foley jail. E G A R O F O alive or can Email me at J air Foley at SF chronicle dot com support it's all political and a lot of great journalism with a subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle there are print and digital editions. Find out more at SF, chronicle dot com slash subscribe.