Chile-infused wine in New Mexico gets $50,000 taxpayer-funded grant

DRINK UP: A $50,000 federal grant to help a New Mexico winery market and produce chile-infused wine made a list of 2014 government waste. But Sen. Tom Udall says it’s money well-spent.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

For millions of Americans, a glass of wine is a perfect complement to a meal. If the drink is from a local winery, so much the better.

But should U.S. taxpayers help fund the making and marketing of that locally produced product? Even if it’s a chile-infused wine from southern New Mexico?

That’s one of the 100 targets in the “2014 Wastebook,” the compilation produced each year by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that takes aim at what Coburn says are examples of some $25 billion in “silly, unnecessary, and low priority projects” the federal government spent your money on.

And checking in at No. 42 is “Wineries Get Help Selling Beer, Chile-Infused Wine.”

It seems the USDA spent $4.5 million the past fiscal year on grants to its Rural Development Value-Added Producer initiative, something the Wastebook criticized as “a program that offloads some of the burden for producing and marketing locally grown products, and places it on the backs of taxpayers.”

Among the recipients of program’s $50,000 was the St. Clair Winery, which uses chile to spice up its Hatch Red Chile Wine and Hatch Green Chile Wine from its vineyards 47 miles west of Deming.

Coburn also took a shot at one of his Senate colleagues, Tom Udall, who “boasted that his position on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee was instrumental in sending money back home to the winery, raising questions about the hatch chile wine’s competitive edge.”

We’ve all heard of politicians delivering the pork, but politicians but delivering the port?

SPICY: The $50,000 federal grant went to the St. Clair Winery, located outside Deming, N.M.

Udall says he did the right thing.

“For New Mexicans, investing in chile is never a waste, and I am proud to use my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund agricultural and rural development programs that support New Mexico’s economy and create jobs,” Udall told New Mexico Watchdog in an email late Monday.

Funding for the grant program was authorized through the Farm Bill, which Udall strongly supported. The Farm Bill is expected to cost $956.4 billion over 10 years.

“Sen. Coburn may be unfamiliar with the importance of chile production to New Mexico’s rural economy, and I invite him to visit Hatch and learn more,” Udall said. “Nothing is more New Mexico than Hatch chile, and with the wine industry growing in our state, I’m proud to support these truly New Mexico farm industries.”

“Udall Announces Funding to Help Deming Winery Expand Operations,” a news release from the senator’s office announced in August after Udall took a tour of the winery. The $50,000 grant “will help the winery to boost revenues and grow its customer base,” while also boosting jobs in Luna County, which suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The Value-Added Producer program handed out grants to 28 businesses in 20 states, which the Wastebook said “footed the bill for all kinds of operating costs that are normally” borne by businesses themselves.

The program also sent money to three brewers making craft beers, nine farms starting or expanding their production of hard cider and even one company in Hawaii that wants to make mead from tropical fruit.

But the booze grant money is a mere pittance compared to some of the other items listed in Coborn’s Wastebook.

Such as the Pentagon’s plans to spend $1 billion to destroy $16 billion in surplus ammunition. That’s enough to pay the salaries of more than 54,000 privates in the Army.

Upon hearing that, a taxpayer may need to chug a whole bottle of wine — without or without chile infusion.

Click here to read the entire 114-page Wastebook. The chile wine entry is on page 38.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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