Tag Archives: direct shipping

Winebits 513: Marijuana, direct shipping, wildfires

marijuanaThis 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.

Winebits 509: Ancient wine, direct shipping, Amazon

ancient wineThis 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.

Not even the retail killer: W. Blake Gray, writing on Wine-Searcher.com, bursts another bubble for anyone who thought Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods meant easier on-line wine sales. He delves into the magical realism that is called tied house, part of the the three-tier system, and which he explains as well as anyone can who isn’t paid by the hour. Suffice it to say, the system restricts what Amazon can do with Whole Foods and its on-line wine sales.

Direct shipping update: Unfortunately, more of the same

direct shippingThe distributors are fighting back so that direct shipping remains complicated and limited

Just when it looked like it might be getting easier to buy wine through the Internet, either from retailers or a winery, we got the not unexpected backlash from the people who don’t want to make it easier: the distributors.

“The distributors conceded the battle against the wineries, but they doesn’t mean they’re conceding anything else,” says Jeff Carroll, who has helped companies comply with direct shipping rules and regulations for more than a decade – and knows as much about this stuff as almost anyone I’ve met, including attorneys who work with the subject.

The winery concession he mentions came in the 2005 Supreme Court Granholm decision, which made it possible for wineries to ship to customers in another state. Since then, says Carroll, despite several favorable court rulings and even a few states taking a second look at direct shipping – and especially to allow us to legally buy wine from retailers in a different state – very little has changed.

That’s because the distributors – the legally mandated second-tier in the three-tier system – want to keep what they have, says Carroll. And why not? It’s a constitutionality protected monopoly that forbids almost all direct shipping from another state. The only exception is for wineries, who are allowed to ship to some states depending on where you live.

Their aim is two-fold: First, to more strictly enforce existing direct shipping laws by pressuring the states and UPS and FedEx to crack down on illegal shipments. That means, for example, that your state liquor cops may be asking the two delivery services for customer lists to see if you ordered wine from an out-of-state retailer, which you may not be allowed to do depending on where you live. In addition, a variety of states are being more exacting in the complex paperwork required for direct shipment. If the winery misses dotting an i or crossing a t, it could face fines or penalties.

Second, the distributors, through their trade group, have invested in Drizly, the on-line delivery service. The goal is to allow Drizly to fill orders using distributor inventory, and where the local retailer is the conduit for the product and the delivery. It’s actually a clever idea, which uses the three-tier system to help Drizly offer more products to deliver; limited selection has been one of its problems. Theoretically, it could deliver any wine in the world that has a local distributor.

More about direct shipping:
Could the Internet screw up direct shipping?
Direct shipping and underage drinking
The Supreme Court and retail direct shipping

Winebits 455: Wine labels, Connecticut pricing, direct shipping

Cute labelsThis week’s wine news: Cute labels matter, plus more on the Connecticut pricing controversy and direct shipping in South Dakota

The cuter the better: Even in Japan, where the culture and the alphabet are far different than here, cute wine labels matter. Reports the Japan Times: “Wines produced in Chile, Australia and other New World regions are gaining popularity among consumers in Japan due to their reasonable prices and eye-catching animal logos.” The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t know quite what to make of this, save to reiterate what I’ve written many times about cute labels, and to note that reasonable prices certainly matter regardless of culture and alphabet. One of the most popular Chilean brands, Condor, sells for about ¥580, a little less than US$6.

Joining the fray: A second liquor retailer has taken aim at Connecticut’s minimum pricing law, selling alcohol below the state mandated pricing. BevMax, 13 locations in Connecticut and New York, was advertising and selling liquor below the price set by wholesalers, an apparent violation of Connecticut law, reports the Hartford Courant newspaper. Says a BevMax official: “We feel that the law is unjust. It’s right to break an unjust law.” Last week, Total Wine sued the state to overturn the law, and has also been advertising its products for the state minimum. Late last week, the retailers said they would return to minimum pricing.

Even a small state: This story, about South Dakotans buying 1,158 cases of wine directly from the producer in the first year of direct sales in the state either speaks to the tremendous power of direct shipping or it doesn’t. That’s not a lot of wine, but consider that South Dakota has fewer than 900,000 people. But that still works out to about one-half bottle per legal age resident. So you tell me – is that a lot or not?

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?

Winebits 433: Rose, cheap wine, direct shipping

roseImportant rose advice: Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post, a long-time pal of the blog who was drinking rose when the hipsters thought Zima was cool, offers some rose wisdom and five roses to try, all of which is much appreciated: “After all, there are delicious pink wines made all around the world” he writes. “Pour a rosé you like, shed the cares of the day and consider your true priorities under the setting sun.” Is it any wonder Dave and I get along so well?

Cheap wine wisdom: The VinePair website, which usually offers practical wine advice, is mostly on track with this effort about how to buy cheap wine. Much of it will be familiar to the blog’s regular visitors, including the admonition to look for wine from less expensive places. I was a little confused, though, by the part about avoiding closeout bins, not because it’s wrong but because of the reason: “These are the wines a shop can’t sell, and that often means there was no one at the shop who was passionate enough to sell them.” Which isn’t always true; I’m more concerned with the age of closeout wines, because if they’re too old, it doesn’t matter who liked them. The wines will have faded and not taste like anything.

Arizona allows direct shipping: You can now buy wine directly from wineries in Arizona, the 42nd state to allow the practice. That’s the good news. This is an informative piece from our friends at the Wine Spectator, complete with informative map. The bad news is that winery to consumer shipping, and not retail to consumer shipping. The latter is still illegal in many states and often incredibly difficult when it is legal. One other note: Two of the eight states that don’t allow winery shipping are Utah and Pennsylvania, about as odd bedfellows as one can have.

Winebits 423: Kroger wine, direct shipping, Bordeaux

kroger wine ? The big get richer: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kroger wants to contract management of its wine and beer departments to Southern Wine & Spirits, the biggest distributor in the country, so that the grocer doesn’t have to worry about buying or stocking the shelves. If accurate, this represents another significant change in the way we buy wine and the choices we get when we do. For one thing, Kroger is one of the biggest wine retailers in the country, and has paid for political campaigns to allow supermarket wine sales in many states, including Texas. Second, Southern could favor its brands over those of other distributors, giving its products better shelf space. Third, and the story isn’t clear on this, producers would have to pay Southern for the privilege of having it manage the shelves, and how many small producers could afford to pay those fees? I’m going to follow this story, because if it happens, other big retailers will follow, and our wine-buying lives will get that much more difficult.

? Rapid growth: The direct shipping market — wine sold to consumers directly from the winery and the only exception to the three-tier systemgrew eight percent last year, to almost $2 billion. Which is a lot, though some perspective is needed: the U.S. wine market totaled about $39 billion in sales in 2014, so direct shipping represents less than five percent of the total. In addition, direct sales are focused on consumers in just five states, and one of them is California, where shipping costs are less of a factor. Also, the cost of the average bottle sold directly is $38, which means most U.S. wine drinkers are priced out of the DTC market. (And a tip o’ the Curmdgeon’s fedora to Steve McIntosh at Winethropology for sending this my way.)

? Cheap by whose standards? The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated that Bordeaux’s sales problems in the U.S. are a function of price, and this gem from the Village Voice demonstrates that nothing has changed. It touts the value in the current vintages of Bordeaux, yet only one of the eight wines in the story costs less than $25, a $17 bottle from what’s called a satellite appellation — a lesser region of Bordeaux. To add insult to injury, the story says it’s difficult to find satellite appellation wines because they usually don’t have scores and you will have to consult a “Bordeaux connoisseur.” Yeah, like most wine drinkers have a Bordeaux connoisseur in their phone. And aren’t we done with scores yet?