Badass Beverage: Yalumba vs. The NRA

The NRA has a wine club now - but not all wineries are thrilled to be involved.

The NRA has a wine club now. So that’s a thing. Here’s how it works. You send American Cellars Wine Club some money, and each month they pick some wine to send you, and deliver the satisfaction of knowing that you are “…helping defend basic freedoms with every wine shipment and wine order” free of charge.

The wine club has some 500 wines to choose from, but not everyone is thrilled to be associated with the NRA. We’ll come back to that in a bit, after we get to your most pressing question.

What the Hell is a Wine Club?

Remember in the dark ages before Netflix when you’d get these flyers in the mail with like a hundred DVDs, and you’d send $25 and they’d mail you five movies each month? That.

In 1972, right at the start of the Great American Wine Boom, Paul Kalemkiarian started sending a couple bottles of wine to his clients’ houses each month. This little venture grew and grew until it eventually became the Wine of the Month Club. His son now runs it, but it’s still basically the same thing. You sign up, you pay membership, and every month you get a couple bottles of wine in the mail.

Kalemkiarian may have started this business, but he’s far from the only one offering that kind of service. Some of the larger stores offer something similar and many wineries have their own wine clubs, as do several organizations not normally associated with wine, like the New York Times.

It’s…not my favorite thing. I bring wine home several times a week, largely depending on what I’m going to be making for dinner. Often I’ll pick up something new and then head to the market to build a meal around it (what lead to last week’s Coq au Vin, for example, was finding a bottle of Carignan from Provence, a region more well-known for summery rosés). I also like to shop for wine, and to consider opinions from a good store. That’s how I found the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo* I had with dinner tonight. I was all set to have something chewy from the south of France, and I got to talking with a clerk about sauces and spices and…well, all the business that leads to eating. He recommended the Montepulciano, and it worked perfectly. I don’t like the idea of just having stuff show up at my house, because that’s not how I drink wine.

The Australians Fire Back!

Okay, so the NRA has their wine club, and all proceeds go to towards helping them in their struggle to get us one step closer to a world that looks suspiciously like the final shootout from Hot Fuzz.

And the producers of most of the wines they offer are fine with this. Once they’ve sold the wine, is it a winemaker’s right to choose what’s being done with it? Most seem to think that no, it isn’t. But not all of them feel this way. One Australian winery is less than thrilled to be associated, even peripherally, with the NRA. Robert Hill Smith, owner of Yalumba, told the Herald Sun “Philosophically, I’m not disposed towards the NRA, which runs counter to my family’s, and I would think all my employees’, positions on gun laws.” Smith is actively working towards having his Yalumba wines removed from the American Cellars Wine Club list, and good for him.

Yalumba is the oldest winery in Australia, having been founded in 1849 by Samuel Smith. It is still family-operated today, and Yalumba is known for the rich, powerful wines of South Australia’s famous Barossa Valley, namely Shiraz.

Shiraz is actually Syrah, a major grape in France’s Rhône Valley. It is a full-bodied, fruit-driven and velvety smooth wine, made from a grape that does particularly well in a warm climate with a long growing season. At its best it is lush and complex, capable of long years of cellaring without losing any of that rich, silky fruit. It’ll offer green, herbaceous notes and a telltale pepperiness, all playing against a balanced and easy backdrop. Shiraz is nice this time of year with beef and barley stew, but it’s appropriately perfect with barbecue.

I commend Yalumba’s decision to step away from an association that has goals they don’t believe in, likely losing a lot of money by doing so and causing no small amount of controversy. They have been and will be criticized for doing so, but I say more power to them. They are choosing a moral point over turning a profit, and I’ll always drink to that.

*These are good, by the way. Montepulciano is an Italian grape that grows pretty easily, and that makes a very expressive wine. They’re very typical of Italy, mid-weight, rustic, with an earthy texture, restrained fruit, and a really pleasant spiciness at the finish. Great food wines, and they tend to be inexpensive. Not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is a different animal altogether (Sangiovese grape, closer in style to Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino).