Clearly, the government shutdown is a critical opportunity to gain positive publicity for your brand. So I needed to quickly stake my claim on a portion of the former federal government. I was looking to bankroll a program that was small yet something people cared about. Anything involving poor people was out. As were food safety, work safety, market regulation, the environment, the arts, the courts, nuclear waste and anything having to do with foreign countries.
As I was reading descriptions of shuttered government programs and getting really bored, my brother-in-law Ian Barry told me he just got a license to operate his own winery, Barry Family Cellars, in upstate New York but can’t sell bottles until his label is approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Which is closed. In fact, the nation will enjoy no new brands of wine, beer or liquor until the government reopens and possibly longer if, as I suspect, the guy who looks at labels comes back with a hangover. Which means that all this time, the Chinese will be gaining on us in lime-infused beers, marshmallow-flavored vodkas and knockoff Barry Family Cellars Vineyards pinot noir.
Unfortunately, my patriotic offer to pay the label inspector was rebuffed. Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and a co-chair of the House Small Brewers Caucus, said the agency couldn’t even function enough to give me a cost estimate for a job that he agreed was totally dumb. “I had no idea they were approving each and every label and every different size of bottle,” DeFazio said. “One good thing has come out of the shutdown. I’m going to find out how to do some partial deregulation.” Maybe having the government stop inspecting every label detail is a good thing that came from the shutdown, or maybe it’s a good thing that came from celebrity philanthropist Joel Stein.