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Whining about Wine in Alabama

(Notes from Duane:) Those who really know me know that I’m all about wine because it’s all about the sharing experience it brings to our lives. My brother Darin took a job down at Ft. Rucker Alabama recently and has found himself living in a state with some very strange alcohol laws. I thought you’d enjoy his write-up as it does help shed some light on the struggles folks like him go thru in states like this.

Whining about Wine in Alabama

by -Darin Pemberton

When people ask me where I grew up, I have two possible answers, depending on what they are really asking. If they are asking about my physical growing, I tell them Renton, WA. If they are asking about growing up on the inside I tell them near Mainz, Germany. Germany taught me a lot about what I thought I’d believed up to that point – the point of moving to and living there. I’m very thankful The Army decided to place me there from 1992-1995, if for no other reason than the start of my wine experience.

My then-girl-friend and I would follow the wine fests up and down the Rhein river. For about 7 marks ($5? then) we’d get a glass (a few of which I still have somewhere packed away) and get to ‘sampling’ the wines of the region. True, my pallet was limited to mostly sweet whites (Spätlese Riesling, generally), but because of the times I learned to to associate wine with ‘good times’.

Fast forward several years. Fast forward to today in fact – Sunday, 13 July, 2008. I find myself living in Enterprise, Alabama. If Germany had a bizzaro world, this may very well be it. Having started my journey with wine in a country where drinking isn’t “drinking” per se, it’s just what happens with dinner, to a place where what I decide to do with my money is strictly controlled, is a hard pill to swallow.

As I sit here in my cluttered townhouse, my family is getting ready to leave the house. Our mission is to document for WineFoot.com the struggles, challenges, and joys associated with living in a state where it’s illegal for stores to sell wine on sunday.

Our first stop will be a widespread grocery chain – Win Dixie. Plastered on the side of the store in large red plastic letters is scribed – “The Beef People.” Because Winefoot.com is more than just drinks, we’ll also try to capture the frustrations of finding fresh, good ingredients. After Win Dixie, we’ll stop at a very small grocery store called “Tate’s.” Then, we’ll cross the state line and stop at Big Daddy’s liquors in Esto Florida. Because it’s against Alabama law to transport into the state ANY alcohol which was not purchased within the state, we’ll try to pick up a bottle of wine, and do a tasting before heading back to our home state.

During what i hope is to be a continuing piece for Winefoot.com, we’ll move our way around the state of Alamaba looking for good wines, and good people – the latter will get their chance to sound off about the borderline-oppressive liquor-control laws in this state.

Here goes…

Win Dixie –

In case you’ve forgotten, the good folk at Win Dixie are kind enough to place a reminder on the first case of alcohol you see in the store. Just sorta neat it’s a Washington wine. :)

In fact, more than ‘a’ reminder, I think there’s a reminder every 4 feet on the racks.


(Click on images to enlarge)

What we’ve found typifies what I’ve seen in other grocery stores in the area. Loads of Mondavi. Several Australian labels (Yellow Tail being the largest), with the token Chateua St. Michelle ($14.99 for their 2004 Merlot) and Columbia Crest ($11.99 for a 2005 Merlot) offerings.

One fairly good Chianti I’ve enjoyed – Da Vinci – sells for $14.99. I’ve purchased that wine on sale, in WA for about $10/bottle.

We looked at several bottles – touching of course, not buying – when the proper day of the week gets here, I’ll grab a couple bottles for a look-see.

On to the meat section – after all, the Beef People should have strong kung fu, right?

Eh? Not impressed. $12/lbs rib eyes are nothing to write home about. Couple the price with the fact all the beef looked…desaturated? Not-cared-for. Just flat and lifeless.

As an aside, I found a couple GOOD things about the store – namely, Widmere Heffeweizen AND yuengling! YAY! Two of my all-time favorite beers.

And of course, I’m tellin’ ya…this beer is ON to something. WAY beyond a simple ‘beer garden’ – a HOEgarden would make me a millionaire, no? :)

And the single biggest ‘win’ for our visit with Win Dixie? SBC, baby!! WOOT!

Moving south by about 20 miles, the town of Hartford, AL features Tate’s Supermarket.

Tate’s takes the cake in terms of diversity of product. Where else, amid the boxes and bags of crackers and treats can one buy a cherry 69 Camaro?

Based on a suggestion from Steve from Frogz Restaurant (www.frogzrestaurant.com), we spent a few minutes looking over Tate’s offering of beef. MUCH better than what Win Dixie had – AND…at less than $7.00/lbs for the rib eye, a great deal, too!

One thing I noticed was the absence of any sort of alcohol. As I was browsing, however, I came across a Chardonnay. Really. In the middle of Lawn Mower blades, Food stuffs, and a candle supposing to smell like JESUS CHRIST himself, was a box full fo Chard bottles. Note the label, however.

We’ll review this “wine” later in the day.

Now – next mission – Head for the Border!! WOOHOO! Florida, here we come!

The good state of Florida has decided it’s populace, upon reaching legal age, SHOULD be allowed to decide for themselves on their purchases of alcohol.

Here we go! Digable Planets up loud!

Big Daddy’s Liquors is the place. It looks like a bar. Note the drive through.

I didn’t take any photos inside because there wasn’t much inside. I saw several – literally 3 or 4 – wine choices amidst bottles of Thunderbird, Jack, and other ‘(poor)man drinks’. I selected HRM Rex-Goliath Wines 47lbs Rooster Merlot.

So as not to break ANOTHER alabama law as mentioned above, I GPS-verified my location and parked just before the “Welcome to Alabama” sign  and broke out my road-wine-tasting kit. (insert trunkmount.jpg) The Honorable Bob Riley’s state would be kept safe from ‘shiners’ like me.

Right there on the side of the road I poured and sampled the Rooster.

Nose: Menthol. Cherry Halls cough drops. A hint of apple cobbler. Underlying layer of sweating, musty gym locker.

On the tongue: As the wine crossed my lips and hit my tongue my first thought was ‘spoiled milk.’ As I swished a bit, I was hit with, appropriately enough, the smell/taste of chicken poop soup, stirred and blended with black licorice. Bit of rotten/rotting plumbs and a lot of Char. Think 1/4bls burger patty, cooked in a Weber gas grill on HIGH heat for 10-15 minutes. Char. Propane a bit?

Overall: Even for $7.99, this wine hurt my feelings. I honestly felt my palate taking a step backwards in protest to what I’d just put it through, if for no other reason. I could see this “merlot” being served with, and possibly okay with heavy-heavy MAN-sized hamburgers (think 1lbs patty cooked VERY well-done, sauted/grilled onions, hot sauce, pickled jalapenos). INTERESTINGLY enough, after me and my wife had a mouthful of the Rooster, we both felt like eating at Hardees.

When we got home from our trip, my 9-year-old daughter and I broke open the Alcohol-free Chardonaay.

Her notes as follows:

Nose: Peaches. Pears. Little Apple going on.

On the tongue: I think it tastes like fruit because it’s very fruity.

My notes:

Nose: Grapes. Pears. Club Soda.

On the tongue: Tons of mango here with unripened grapes – those little tiny almost sour grapes on the end of the bunch. A touch of vinegar. A stainless steel component. Watered-down Welch’s White Grape juice from concentrate.

Overall: This “wine” kicked that merlot’s butt. This might be the first oak-free Chard I’ve tried. I think most kids would love this as a kid’s table wine at thanksgiving. I could definitely handle a glass of this with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy.

That’s brings us to a wrap of the first installment of “Whining about Wine in Alabama.” I hope you enjoyed my journey today – as always, I suggest you go out and learn flavors and wines and embrace your palate. After all, only you can decide what’s GOOD for you.

  • josh

    great post! just one more reason to never go to alabama.

  • Darin

    Hey now – Alabama is great, backwards, uber-conservative alcohol laws notwithstanding. :) I love the people, and so far the weather ain’t bad, either.

    :D

    :D

  • pittypat

    Very cute blog. Dothan is a tiny bit more liberal with the wine than Enterprise, but not by much. The baptists and politicians of Alabama are infamous for trying to control ALL our lives. They have never figured out here that our country was formed on Religious FREEDOM, DUE to religious OPPRESSION. Therefore, every law in this state is based on the baptist interpretation of the bible. And somehow, they have interpreted here that the bible says “thou shalt not drink wine or beer”. And “thou shalt not play bingo”. (Sorry, I had to throw that one in, too, as it is another large issue in this state)

    My wine of choice is a nice Pinot Gris. Of course, grocery stores are not allowed to carry it, I understand, so I purchase the slightly watered down version of it called Pinot Grigio, which I find fairly pleasant to my palate.

    I look forward to reading part 2. Will you email me when it is posted? Thank you

  • Darin

    Thank you pittypat. A couple of aspects of living here frustrate the heck out of me. First, the No-Alcohol-on-Sunday law.

    Why Sunday? What’s the deal with that? I assume the law was to ‘keep the Sabbath Holy’ right? The kicker is, SATURDAY is the Sabbath. Right?

    Oh…and then there’s the whol part about Christ working to show how ‘keeping rules’ does nothing to determine or measure “holiness”. Don’t. Get. Me. Started.

    And the second part is what you keyed upon – Religious FREEDOMS. I have a feeling I’m going to get heavily involved in the Politics of this state. I encourage every reasonable voter to ask their representatives if they will support over-turning the blue laws. If the Candidate says they would not support over turning the laws, they absolutely would never get my vote.

    Thanks again – I’ll let you know when Part 2 gets done.

    :)

    darin

  • rocket

    Most of us here in AL have more sense than to do our liq shopping on Sun. Most of us here in AL who enjoy wine don’t do our wine comparisons or our wine buying at Winn Dixie. But of course we welcome you to shop where you are most familiar and most comfortable. Most of us can easily discern between USDA Choice rib eyes (Winn Dixie) and the ungraded ones that you seemed to favor for the lesser price. Sorry that you don’t find our area quite up to your standards but you are welcome anyway.

  • http://winefoot.com dp

    Rocket – not to try and speak for Darin – but I will.. lol

    If you knew the butcher he left and the wine he left behind up here, then you’d understand why his findings were appalling to him.. :P

    Where do “most of you” buy your wine from?

    Just curious, what kind of wine do you buy and enjoy? Perhaps you can help point him in the right direction?

    -duane

  • Darin

    Rocket.

    The point of the piece was to show the folks where I came from a little bit about where I am. I started on a Sunday to lay a foundation upon which I intend to build.

    I’m not comfortable shopping at Winn Dixie – but there isn’t much variety around here, so I picked a store.

    What USDA does as far as grading meat where it’s butchered or where it’s processed does nothing for how it’s trimmed, cut and packed at the local groceries. Frankly, USDA grades are a joke to me. I don’t need ‘The Man’ telling me what constitutes great meats. I need Me tasting it. I can’t see paying to cover Winn Dixie’s PAYING for it’s graded (for quality) meats. It’d be like paying MORE for a high-point-score on a wine. When the Gov’t tries to determine and grade ‘quality’ I get nervous. A guy I met online once quipped something to the effect of show me one thing the government does better than private industry, and it’ll be something requiring the use of force.

    I find the ‘area’ to be very pleasant. I love it here. I don’t love archaic, pointless alcohol-control laws. The way it sits now, my kids will grow up here.

    When my Weber shows up, I’ll pick up an express-delivery meat-pack from doug’s quality meats (find the link here on the blog). I’d put Doug’s Meat against anything Winn Dixie (Or any other chain) sells. Blind taste test. Winner gets…hrm…a bottle of non-alcoholic wine? :D

    Thanks for your feedback! :)

    :beers: to you – unless it’s sunday, of course.

    – d

  • shelly

    I moved here 2 years ago from Florida. I literally had a “mental breakdown” with my first experience in the grocery stores, one in particular, Piggly Wiggly. When i went to the produce department, more bugs flew out of the tomatoes than i have ever even seen outside and i stood there and cried. I also could not find Balsamic vinegar !!! I love to cook, (not anymore).

    My wine experience is much like Darin’s. I now buy my wine, like everyone else, on Saturday and other days in order to “stock up” and i find that most of the people on a Saturday are stocking up also and the choices get slim. This is the “bible belt”, don’t let them catch you.

    The wine choices are terrible, unless you travel far to other towns to find specialty shops which are very scarce.

    I am trying to adjust, and when anyone asks me where i live now, my response is that i am “passing through” this state, i don’t intend to stay too long.

    sincerely,
    unhappy in alabama

  • Darin

    Poor Shelly. We should start a support group

  • Kati

    I lived in Maryland for the first part of my life then moved to florida when I was 30 something then moved to Alabama (Dothan) 6 years ago. I dont buy meat at winn dixie I buy meat that has been processed! I do buy wine at winn dixie and they will get whatever kind you want just ask them! I find the Sunday law not too horrible as I prepare for it just like you would for a hurricane! get prepared stock up then you wont have to worry about it, You just cant buy it does not say anything about drinking it. Dothan is a GREAT place to live and a wonderful place to raise a family. And if all you have to worry about it USDA meat and Buying wine on sunday then I think you are Blessed living in this beautiful state and should appreciate your low scope of worry!

  • Sack

    Ya know in Alabama if you know your way around you’ll find that just about anything you want is available-yes even items from godforsaken places like LA and NYC. They sell alcohol in Dothan in restaurants on Sundays. The laws vary from county to county (and city). Moreover, how many states are there where you can drink in a club until the sun comes up (you just have to sign a membership card for the ‘private’ establishment). Alabama is a relatively more free state in comparison than most I have lived in (and yes I have probably lived more places than all of you combined-including Germany, thanks).