“People in our industry sometimes say we shouldn’t talk about politics. But politics kind of smashed the wine world in the head, and it’s time to speak out back against it,” says Michael Whidden, a former lawyer and now wine distributor and sales representative. With tariffs imposed on wine and spirits earlier in 2020, the threat of climate change, and the Black Lives Matter movement, the delineation line has become somewhat blurred between political activities and the beverage industry. Michael Whidden knew that 2020 was the time to start using his network and experience to launch the Vines4Votes initiative.
Whidden partnered with industry professionals Jeff Porter, Julia Coney, Icy Liu, Jake Lewis, and Laura Süpper to curate an online wine auction with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the ACLU Foundation of Texas. The aim? To support a cause that we can all get behind—voter suppression.
Why Texas? Whidden explains, “I was looking at battleground states where the voices were more important—just in terms that they could shift the balance one way or another. To me, it should be a surprising battleground state. If Texas went blue or for Biden, it would say, we don’t like this, we don’t like what’s happening in our country. And frankly, if it goes the other way, it’s loud and clear that as much as we might not like the politics, something is going on that says the message from the Democrats isn’t resonating.”
Texas is a crucial battleground state in the upcoming election but it is also notorious for its restrictive voting laws. Edgar Saldivar outlines on ACLU’s website issues that include redrawing electoral districts to suppress minority votes and the fact that voter Identification laws and limitations on interpreters have come under attack for violating the Voting Right Acts. There is also a long history of voter intimidation that “includes aggressively questioning voters about their citizenship, criminal record, or other qualifications to vote, in a manner intended to interfere with the voters’ rights.” These issues have shown to affect minority voters disproportionately—and the Hispanic vote is a large percentage of constituents in the state that tend to lean left. Texas voter suppression is guilty of many instances of persecution and even prosecution—as in the case of Crystal Mason in 2016.
Covid-19 has created its own set of problems. Texas is one of the only states that has not implemented online voter registration. Eligibility for vote-by-mail is highly restricted: only available to those 65 and older, incarcerated, or absent from their voting county. This leaves one option for many voters—to vote in person ultimately putting themselves and their families at risk of exposure. The current governor Abbott’s newest ruling has restricted each county to receive ballots in only one location. The inevitable results of this are long lines and large crowds while many disabled and elderly will need to switch out their transportation means.
The ACLU Foundation of Texas—the non-profit arm of the ACLU, will use donations to help fund the recruitment of both poll workers and poll watchers. ACLU will also use donations for initiatives educating Texas voters on how, when, and where they can vote and what they need to do to make their vote count.
Donations have poured in for the Vines4Votes auction from all across the globe, including some highly-sought after bottles. There are flights of Emmerich Knoll Riesling, vintages of Heitz Cellar’s Martha’s Vineyard bottlings, and jeroboams of Champagne. There will also be a Ruth Bader Ginsberg Tribute Lot. The affectionately-known RBG was known for her early work with the ACLU, and this lot is a selection of wine curated by Jane Lopes and Jonathan Ross, who held a private wine tasting for the late Justice in March 2016. It seems the marriage of wine and politics isn’t too far off, and Whidden agrees, “We just want to look back on election day and say we did all we could do. But we wanted to do this for fellow Americans in another state for a greater principle.”
Be sure to follow Vines4Votes on social media and head to Vines4Votes.org for more information. Log on and bid for wines. The auction will take place from Monday, October 12th, at 8 a.m. to Friday, October 16th, at 11:30 p.m.