This week’s wine news: Tom Wark asks how distributor consolidation fits into the legal framework that guides three-tier, plus wine discounter Grocery Outlet goes public and the role of wine in the battle of Agincourt
• Distributor consolidation: Wine marketer Tom Wark’s take on the recent RNDC-Young’s Market merger is well worth reading. “It has long been a near unbreakable tenet and motivation of state alcohol regulation that no single company be allowed to control too great a portion of the market,” he writes. So Wark wants to know: What will regulators do about the merger, since it means three companies will control more than 60 percent of wine and spirits distribution in the U.S.? In this, he forces the regulators’ favorite argument in favor of three-tier on its head. Regulators have insisted for more than 80 years that we need three-tier to protect us from the abuses of one company controlling too much of the market (also known as Al Capone during Prohibition). Some of the post is inside baseball, but Wark’s point is well taken – distributors and regulators can’t have it both ways.
• Bring on the cheap wine: Grocery Outlet, the supermarket discounter that’s all but worshiped on the West Coast for its cheap wine deals, went public last week. Shares traded at almost double the initial estimate, which means I’m not the only one excited about the chain’s expansion plans. The company’s president said Grocery Outlet wants to move off its California base, opening 32 stores this year, 2,000 in the near term and as many as 4,800 stores nationwide over the long term.
• Lots and lots of wine: Ever wonder how much wine a medieval army needed when it went on campaign? England’s Henry V, in his invasion of France in 1415 (memorialized in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” which includes “Once more unto the breach, dear friends“) took 4,000 casks of wine. Rupert Miller, writing in the drinks business trade magazine, says no one is quite sure how much wine was in a cask, but notes that Henry had to provision a 12,000-man army (plus servants). So it was probably a lot. The piece is very history geeky (which is why I liked it), but does offer some perspective on wine’s role in the pre-industrial world, when water wasn’t safe to drink.