Tag Archives: three-tier system

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Winebits 447: Pennsylvania wine, Judgment of Paris, wine on TV

Pennsylvania wineThis week’s wine news: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy in the supermarket this fall, the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, and a new wine TV show.

Maybe by Thanksgiving: Pennsylvanians may be able to buy wine in the grocery store by the holiday if all goes well, reports the Post-Gazette newspaper in Pittsburgh. The well-written piece explains the obstacles to be overcome and the bureaucratic tussle to be negotiated for grocery stores to sell wine for the first time in the state’s history: They need to get a retail license, renovate their aisles to make room for wine, and to work with distributors to make sure wine shows up at the store. For example, since no distributor in the state sells to grocery stores now, wholesalers will have to set up the process from scratch. Again, another example of how cumbersome and outdated the three-tier system is.

Judgment of Paris: The Wine Curmudgeon mentions the 40th anniversary of the most important event in the U.S. wine business after Prohibition again for two reasons. First, this Jancis Robinson story focuses on Steven Spurrier, the Briton who put the Judgment together, something we don’t see much of in this country. Second, as you read this, I’m in Colorado with Warren Winiarksi, whose Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon was chosen best red wine in the blind tasting. Perhaps Warren and I can find time to record a podcast while we’re here if he doesn’t mind recounting yet again how the California wines bested the best wines in France.

Making wine on TV work: The Wine Curmudgeon has often lamented that wine makes for lousy TV, because an interesting wine TV show could help boost wine’s popularity in the U.S. That may change in August, though, when Hulu airs the English “TV Wine Show” featuring two British actors who apparently make women swoon – Matthew Goode (hope he doesn’t read this) and Matthew Rhys. I have not seen the show, but will watch it and review it. Goode and Rhys are going to have to be very sexy to overcome the plot description, though, which sounds like another wine TV yawner: “[W]ine pros travel the world to experience international wine culture from experts.”

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Winebits 445: Wine scores, Veramonte, Tennessee

wine scoresTake that, wine scores: Writes MJ Skeggs in the Portland Mercury about wine scores: “Yep, despite how the tasting industry (the magazines, star reviewers, bloggers, anyone with a palate and a keyboard) claims objectivity, it comes down to personal preference.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, though I’ve probably said it just as well many, many times. Skeggs lists eight other reasons to avoid scores, as well as the best alternative – find a good retailer and go from there. And how can one not recommend a wine article that includes a Spinal Tap reference?

Chilean winery sold: Control of Veramonte, once a star of cheap Chilean wine, has been sold to one of Spain’s biggest producers. This is probably good news, since Vermaonte’s current owners have presided over the wine as it has become more expensive and less well made. The new lead owner, Gonzalez Byass, makes Beronia, always quality cheap wine.

Tennessee grocery store wine: How big a deal is supermarket wine? More than 400 grocery stores in Tennessee started selling wine this month, the first time they were allowed to do so under new legislation. The fight to allow wine in supermarkets in the state dates to the 1970s, and has been called the biggest change in the state’s liquor laws since Prohibition. Where have we heard that before?

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Winebits 444: Prosecco, direct to consumer, Barnes & Noble

ProseccoPremiumizing Prosecco: These days, it’s not enough to increase sales of a product eight-fold. You have to trade consumers up, even if that means you’ll sell less of the product. That’s the situation with Prosecco, the Italian sparklng wine, reports the Shanken News Daily website. Sales have passed 4 million cases, almost exceeding Champagne. But that’s not good enough, say marketers, since Prosecco rarely costs more than $15 – just a fraction of what Champagne costs. So the push over the next several years will be to convince consumers to buy higher-priced Prosecco, even though the reason for its growth and popularity is that it can cost one-third less than Champagne.

Take that, Michigan: Remember the good news about three-tier last week? Not so fast, says the state of Michigan. The liquor cops there, who still seem to have a chip on their shoulder from losing the landmark Granholm case in the Supreme Court in 2005, are cracking down on wineries who ship to consumers in the state. ShipCompliant, which helps producers navigate the various local liquor laws, reports that wineries who don’t list their special Michigan license number on the packing label are being cited. If this seems nitpicky, but it’s all part of the fun that is 50 laws for 50 states.

Bring on the booze: What do you do if you’re a struggling national bookstore chain? Sell beer and wine, of course. Barnes & Noble will add alcohol to stores in Virginia, California, New York, and Minnesota this year in an attempt to boost long-depressed sales. Ironically, Barnes & Noble is suffering at the same time that independent bookstores are enjoying a revival; what does it mean that independents who don’t sell wine are doing better? Hmm. Customer service, perhaps?

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Texas and the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart Texas lawsuitThree things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.

All that may be about to change.

Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.

I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.

More, after the jump: Continue reading

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Winebits 443: Three-tier system excitement

Three-tier systemThis week’s wine news features our old pal the three-tier system, but it’s mostly good news – including some of the biggest changes in state liquor laws since Prohibition.

Well done, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania wine drinkers, who have suffered for years at the hands of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and its infamous state stores, will soon be able to buy wine at a retailer not owned by the state. Somehow, despite years of political impasse, the legislature passed a bill that the governor signed that will allow hundreds of restaurants, hotels, and grocery and convenience stores that sell take-out beer to sell bottles of wine. As the story notes, passage was almost anti-climactic given how bitter the debate has been for years.

Wine in N.Y. supermarkets? Perhaps, reports the MPNNow website in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes wine country. New York remains the biggest market where grocery stores can’t sell wine in the U.S., and attempts to allow it have failed for decades. The impetus this time? Pennsylvania’s new law that allows grocers to sell wine, and which not only may send New York residents across the border to buy wine, but reduce the number of Pennsylvanians going to New York to shop in its liquor stores and visit its wineries. The story is well written, and hints at the contentious debate that will ensue if the issue makes it to the state legislature.

Colorado signs up, too: Expect to see wine in Colorado supermarkets, as well, after legislators agreed to a law that allows grocers, Walmart, and Target to compete directly with liquor stores and allows each to expand sales to 20 locations in phases over 20 years. Current law limits each chain to sales at one location in the state. The bill, a compromise, faces a court fight from those who want to eliminate all restrictions and allow groceries to sell wine, beer, and spirits in all locations immediately.

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Winebits 440: Champagne Jayne, distributor scandal, vineyard prices

Champagne Jayne

Champagne Jayne Powell

Kafakaesque, even: Not my phrase, but one used by the thedrinksbusiness website to describe Champagne Jayne Powell’s legal nightmare with the Champagne trade association, which sued her to stop her from using the word Champagne in her business name. The Wine Curmudgeon’s feelings about this are well known, and I haven’t tasted or reviewed Champagne since the suit was filed some two years ago. Powell, too, is bitter. Even worse, reported thedrinksbusiness: “She still has good relations with Champagne producers; she says many told her they disagreed with the CIVC’s legal action against her but they could not publicly speak out or were too scared to go against it because CIVC promotes and protects their product globally.” That’s always best business practices – let a trade group bully its members into submission.

Crossing state lines: Three employees of the second-biggest distributor in the country have been indicted on federal fraud charges, accused of sending wine illegally to New York from Maryland, where the state liquor tax is one-fifth less than it is in New York. The Republic National Distribution Co. employees allegedly used retailers in Maryland to help them sell the wine to New York stores, so the latter could avoid paying the higher New York taxes. Republic officials denied any wrongdoing, and said they would be vindicated trial. So much – if the charges are true – that the three-tier system helps prevent this kind of liquor fraud. It’s also worth noting that this is not a common practice, but it’s not unusual, either, and especially in parts of the country where higher-tax states are near lower-tax ones.

How high can high go? The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who marvels at how Napa land prices defy economics: “The wine grape vineyard market continues to operate in a universe of its own,” says a report detailing record land prices for Napa vineyards, up almost 15 percent from 2014 to 2015. It now takes $310,000 to buy an acre of Napa land, and given that Napa is “planted out” – no more room for new vineyard land – that price will almost certainly continue to grow.

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Why do you read about wine you can’t buy?

wine you can't buyHow frustrating is it to read about a wine you can’t buy? After all, how often do you read a review of a movie you can’t see?

Some of it, of course, is snobbery —  and yes, Winestream Media, I’m talking about you. Some of it can’t be helped, thanks to the foolishness that is the three-tier system. In the last month, I’ve tasted a $10 Gascon white and had friends tell me about a $15 red Bordeaux and a $10 Sicilian red that would be perfect for the blog. But the first is only available in southern California, and the other two are only found in the northeast. Which means the wines don’t have distributors in any other part of the country, and don’t meet the generally available criteria I use for the blog.

But there are other, less obvious reasons why you read about wine you can’t buy:

• To create demand for the wine. I get a lot of emails from publicity people offering me samples of wine from regions unfamiliar to U.S. wine drinkers and that have limited, if any, distribution in this country. They do so in the hope that I’ll write about the wine, even if no one can buy it, so that my review will convince an importer or a distributor that there is demand for it. Yes, it’s a little backwards, but it’s one way to get around the restrictions of the three-tier system.

• Because it’s the next big thing. Wine recommendations are often driven by peer pressure, and if one hotshot sommelier or writer praises something, then everyone else has to do so as well. We’ve seen this for years with gruner veltliner from Austria, which is difficult to buy outside of the East Coast. The most recent next big thing is Greek wine, which can be well done and offer value but is even more difficult to find outside of the East Coast than gruner. In fact, during our recent podcast, that’s what Wisconsin retailer Nick Vorpagel lamented about Greek wine.

• Available wine is boring. I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve heard and read this countless times: “Why should I write about a wine that anyone can buy in the grocery store?” This isn’t quite the snobbery practiced by reviewers who purposely write about wine no one can buy, but it’s almost as bad. Again, do reviewers not do movies because they’re in 5,000 theaters nationwide?