This week’s wine news: An airline investigates wine thefts, plus the growth of direct to consumer wine shipping and a plea for more truthful wine advertising
• Missing airline wine: Employees of Cathay Pacific airlines are being investigated for stealing sparkling wine, as well as ice cream and cutlery. The story is vague about what was actually stolen, and this may be more about a labor dispute than theft, but the point is well taken. As we’ve seen on the blog many times, if you’re going to commit a crime with wine, steal the good stuff. What’s the point of swiping the wretched plonk that those of us in economy have to drink?
• Direct to consumers: Tom Mullen, writing on Forbes.com, gives a level-headed account of the history of direct-to-consumer wine sales in the U.S. – how it became possible for most of us to buy wine directly from a winery, bypassing retailers and distributors. The piece is a bit long, but any mainstream article that calls U.S. wine laws “sometimes archaic” and spends time discussing the history of Missouri wine is well worth reading.
• More truth, less artisan: “I see far too many industrial brands calling themselves ‘artisanal,’ ‘family-owned’ or claiming their wines are ‘hand-crafted’ when they are anything but.” No, that’s not the WC ranting, but Dwight Furrow in Edible Arts. His argument is passionate but logical: The “issue isn’t whether there is an exact cut off point for what counts as artisanal. What is obvious is that wineries with annual case production levels over 50,000—enough to supply large retail stores—are unlikely to use artisanal methods. To claim they do is just false advertising.” His point matters more than ever as younger people, who are more sophisticated about advertising than their parents and grandparents, may be turning away from wine because they see those claims as hooey.
This week’s wine news: Captain Obvious strikes again – a study says customer service matters in selling wine. Plus, the end of a Texas wine era and a victory for direct shipping
• Believe it or not: A new study has discovered that customer service is more important than anything else in selling wine from winery tasting rooms. Or, as Paul Mabray, who probably knows more about winery tasting room sales than anyone put it, “File under nothing could be more obvious.” In other words, we have one more wine-related study that does nothing to help the wine business adapt to the 21st century. My grandfather, who sold blue jeans to farmers in central Ohio, knew about customer service 80 years ago. Then again, he didn’t have to publish or perish.
• The end of an era: The WC didn’t talk about Texas wine over the weekend; the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival and its annual Texas wine panel is no more. I will miss the event, and not just because I got to promote Drink Local. Kerrville was an adventure in and of itself. There is irony, too, since local wine has become a Winestream Media darling, and one of the events that helped it achieve that status is gone. Yes, a Texas wine panel was added to the Memorial Day festival, but it’s not the same thing.
• Hooray for Mississippi: A judge threw out an attempt by Mississippi’s liquor cops to stop residents from receiving wine from out-of-state retailers and wine clubs. It’s a ruling that could be significant in the continuing fight over three-tier reform. The Associated Press reports that a Rankin County judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit, though his written ruling offered few details. It’s another blow to state attempts, says the story, in restricting direct to consumer wine sales.
This week’s wine news: Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post takes on efforts to halt direct shipping, plus saving the kids from getting drunk and a baseball wine item
• Direct shipping clampdown: Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post takes on efforts to stop consumers from ordering wine out of state retailers, describing it as “The three-tier system that favors big producers and big wholesalers is fighting back. …Over time, the way we shop has changed, and wine lovers demand more freedom to buy wines that don’t reach local shelves through the traditional system.” The piece is worth reading – well thought, concise, and sensisible, and even discuss possible solutions.
• Striking back: The Texas Package Stores Association, which just had a federal judge call one of its favorite state laws arbitrary and irrational, is taking another tack to keep Walmart out of the state. From a post on its Facebook page: “Since the United Kingdom has deregulated its three-tier system, alcohol-related crime, bar intoxication, and alcohol-related deaths have increased.” Which, of course, has noting to do with the court decision invalidating the law that gave the association’s members a virtual monopoly on spirit sales in Texas. But when in doubt, always bring up public drunkenness and teenagers.
This week’s wines: Distributors lavish campaign contributions, plus direct shipping and Mississippi stays true to form
• Big, big money: Distributors – the second tier in the three-tier system – contributed $107 million to state political campaigns over the past five election cycles, according to a report from the National Association of Wine Retailers. Two things to know about this study: First, the group that did it is the sworn enemy of the wholesalers, and second, that doesn’t affect the results. Anyone can find the same numbers, using sites from the The National Institute on Money in State Politics (which this report used), the Federal Election Commission, or Open Secrets. The distributors spend heavily to protect constitutionally guaranteed monopoly, which prevents us from buying wine over the Internet from places like Amazon, in grocery stores in New York, and on sale in Michigan. The distributors’ $107 million “dwarfed the combined contributions of all other sectors of the alcohol industry.” Said association executive director Tom Wark: “It should be no surprise that this ‘middle tier’ of the alcohol beverage industry pays huge sums to lawmakers to keep their competitive advantage in place.”
• Direct shipping update: Five states still don’t allow their residents to buy wine directly from out of state wineries – but that’s the good news, reports the Napa Valley Register. Just 20 years ago, 44 states didn’t allow the practice. But “There’s been a lot of progress made over a long period of time,” says Jeremy Benson, who heads the Free the Grapes! Lobbying group. “But I think the No. 1 reason why this works is that [the industry groups] got together and they realized they needed a lobbying plus litigation plus PR strategy and that’s been really what has made this entire campaign.”
• Only in Mississippi: Mississippi officials are suing four mail-order wine sellers, saying they illegally shipped wine and liquor into the state. It’s one of a handful of states that don’t allow wine to be shipped to someone’s house for any reason. All wine and liquor is supposed to go through the Madison County warehouse operated by the Revenue Department’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division. Because, Mississippi. And, of course, the three-tier system.
This week’s wine news: Legal weed could be worth $10 billion in the U.S. by 2021, plus Canada’s shipping laws go on trial and Warren Winarski talks wine
• Billions and billions: Nestled in a CNN story about legal weed in Canada – the country’s retailers could start selling it in July – is this estimate of how much the business will be worth in here in a few years: “$7.1 billion to $10.3 billion in the U.S. by 2021, according to Marijuana Business Daily.” By comparison, wine sales in the U.S. were $38 billion in 2016, so the value of legal weed, in just a handful of states, could be almost one-third of wine sales. That’s a stunning statistic, and one more reason why then wine business needs to take the challenge legal weed poses to its growth and success.
• In the courts: The laws that govern inter-provincial wine shipments in Canada faced a court test last week, and would that the Wine Curmudgeon could have written that line about the three-tier system in the U.S. But our northern neighbors always seem more sensible about these things. Interestingly, the case is based on incident that we know all too well here – can a consumer buy alcohol in one province and legally transport it to another province? In other words, interstate shipping, which is mostly illegal in the U.S. Obviously, whatever Canada’s Supreme Court decides will have no legal weight here, but one would like to think that a favorable decision will offer food for thought in the U.S.
• So says Warren: One of the great joys of my time with the blog has been knowing Warren Winarski, one of the pioneers of Napa Valley wine. This story, from the Napa Valley Register, helps to explain why. Warren’s vision of what California wine could be, when most people thought wine should be made in France, is what sticks with me: “It gradually dawned on me that [winemaking in California] has to be brought back and restored. That America should be a wine-drinking country.”
This week’s wine news a day early, to make room for tomorrow’s annual Halloween post: A Canadian province takes over marijuana sales, plus a direct shipping lament and good news out of wine country
• State control: New Brunswick won’t allow retailers to sell marijuana when the Canadian province legalizes dope sales in July. Instead, the provincial liquor store system will set up “a network of of tightly controlled, stand-alone stores.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports that as many as 20 stores will open, but weed products will only be displayed under glass and customers will need to show identification to prove they’re of legal age before they can even get in. The story is worth reading, even if it’s not strictly about wine, because the politicians in New Brunswick are using many of the same buzzwords to justify the system that elected officials in the U.S. use to justify three-tier and state control of liquor sales – starting with protecting young people.
• More woes for direct shipping: Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine writer in the world, has discovered that it’s not easy to buy wine over the Internet. “But now, states — urged on by wine and spirits wholesalers who oppose any sort of interstate alcohol commerce that bypasses them — have stepped up enforcement efforts. Retailers say that the carriers began sending out letters to them a year ago saying they would no longer handle their shipments. For consumers who live in states stocked with fine-wine retailers, like New York, the restrictions are an inconvenience. For consumers in states with few retail options, they are disastrous.” Welcome to the middle of the country, Mr. Asimov – as we recently noted on the blog.
• Little vine damage: California grape experts say the grapes and vineyards should not suffer much from the recent wine country wildfires, reports a trade magazine for growers. The analysis says only a small percentage of the 2017 grape harvest might have been harmed by the fires and smoke, but most of the harvest was done before the fires started. In addition, the grapevines acted like firebreaks, preventing the flames from spreading as they moved through vineyards.
This week’s wine news: Very ancient wine, about 5,000 yeas old from Italy, plus on-line wine sales run into more snags
• Older than before: Italians may have been drinking wine since the fourth millennium BC – more than 5,000 years earlier than previously thought. Researchers found large storage jars in a cave in Monte Kronio in Sicily that date to the Copper Age that tested positive for wine residue. No word yet on whether the wine was red or white; further tests are planned to figure that out.
• Only in Pennsylvania: The blog has followed the hilarity and hi-jinks of the state store system in Pennsylvania – grocery store wine vending machines! – and this story fits in nicely. State law currently allows consumers to buy directly from distributors, which is illegal in most of the country. The only catch is that consumers can’t have it shipped to their house, but have to pick the wine up at a state store. However, once the state liquor bosses and the distributors realized what was going on, they immediately made changes to the program to make it impractical for consumers. The state wants to raise the price of a bottle of a wine to include shipping, so that a $15 bottle could cost $30, while the distributors will start to limit wines that can be sold to consumers. Not to worry, also, if this seems too convoluted for those of us who aren’t liquor law attorneys. It’s probably confusing to most in Pennsylvania, too.