Once again, it’s time to vote for the silliest liquor law in the U.S.
Despite the Wine Curmudgeon’s cynicism, the three-tier system continues to astound me with its foolishness. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I obviously haven’t, as these six state laws demonstrate. Click on the law to vote for it. Voting runs through Sunday and I’ll post the results on Monday. And not to worry — even though I live in Texas, I won’t make you produce three kinds of identification to vote.
Or, sadly, as the laws in the blog’s first poll demonstrated. The winner was Indiana and its ban on selling cold beer. So, once again, a poll: Choose the silliest state liquor law from among these six.
Once again, the choices are hardly complete. If I did miss one, leave it in the comments. It’s difficult to pick my favorite: How can I choose between Maryland’s Robert Parker law and South Carolina’s Frances Willard day? I find it past ironic that the state had to certify Parker as “an alcohol beverage writer” so he could get samples. And I know about Willard from my college days, when I lived down the street from Willard’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union headquarters in Evanston, Ill.
Why can’t we buy the wines we like via direct shipping? What’s so evil about that in the second decade of the 21st century?
This is the second of two parts looking at how the century-old three-tier system still prevents us from buying wine on-line or from out-of-state retailers, hamstringing 21st century technology and sensibility. Today, part II: Dear Supreme Court: Please fix three-tier and allow direct shipping. Thursday, part I: The Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision, and why it didn’t change three-tier as much as everyone hoped.
Dear Supreme Court:
Yes, I know you’re busy. And yes, I know you are facing immense constitutional decisions that could alter the future of the republic. Still, it’s not like this one isn’t important, either: Please fix three-tier, so we can buy wine on-line and from out-of-state retailers.
I ask this not just to make it easier to buy $10 Gascon wine. I ask this because wine drinkers should be able to buy whatever they want, and not the wines that multi-billion dollar wholesalers and retailers allow them to buy. Because that’s the way the system works now – three-tier says each wine has to have a distributor in every state, so if a distributor isn’t interested in the wine, we’re out of luck. And since big distributors and big retailers want the same boring wines, we’re doubly out of luck.
Second, I’m getting more complaints about availability than ever, and it’s not like I write about weird wines made with weird grapes. No natural or orange wines on the blog, and certainly nothing from places like Georgia. Instead, wines from the five or six biggest producing countries in the world, made with reasonably common grapes — and that I have bought so I know that they are available somewhere. My mantra has always been: An independent retailer in a good-sized city should be able to sell readers the wines I write about.
But that seems to be less applicable as wine consolidates. A reader wrote the other day that he couldn’t find a California wine in California, and his search included an independent retailer. Even worse: another reader, no doubt more frustrated, asked if I could cobble together some sort of retail network for the blog’s wines. This is what it has come to, dear justices – someone wants the Wine Curmudgeon to sell wine. And I can’t even figure out a way to sell t-shirts.
So please do something, sooner rather than later (though I would be happy with later). In fact, it almost doesn’t matter if you decide to forever forbid retail to consumer shipping. It’s a decision, at least, and as bad is it would be for wine, it’s still better than what we have now. Which makes everyone crazy save the people who benefit from it.
The choices are hardly complete; that Mississippi isn’t listed says something about how silly the rest are. No doubt, I could have included something from almost every state. If I did miss one, leave it in the comments. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so.
My favorite, of course, is Utah’s Zion curtain. It’s mostly gone, but not to worry: The state has other safeguards to protect children from the glamour of working in a bar.
Poll image courtesy of The Fine Print, using a Creative Commons license
This week’s wine news: Is the plastic PET bottle the future of wine? Plus, Coronavirus wine humor and Utah may let residents bring wine into the state legally
• Is plastic the future? One analyst, noting that most wine produced today is made in bulk and to drink immediately, says recycled PET is “a realistic alternative” to glass bottles. Emilie Steckenborn, writing for the Beverage Daily website, says the plastic bottles are much better than the traditional glass bottle – lighter, more cost effective to ship and store, and infinitely more environmentally friendly. In this, the piece is surprisingly frank about the inefficiencies of the traditional bottle, and she sounds more like a certain curmudgeon than a member of the Winestream Media.
• Coronavirus wine? Let me apologize for this item first, but I couldn’t resist: A Dallas wine shop says it has “Coronavirus vaccine sold here: bubbly, white, red available.” As the article notes, it’s a refreshing change from the toilet paper hording stories that are dominating the news and even – dare we say – a reason to smile? Also, please note the difference between this and the hucksters and scam artists flooding the market with fake cures and testing kits.
• Finally, Utah? Regular visitors here know the WC enjoys poking fun at Utah, whose liquor laws are some of the most restrictive – and silliest – in the country. Well, there may be one less reason to poke fun: the state is about to let the state’s residents join wine clubs and bring wine in from another state without committing a crime. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the bill just needs the governor’s signature. Fortunately, the new law is very Utah – no home delivery for wine club members, who would have to pick the wine up at a liquor store and pay the state’s 88 percent markup in addition to the cost of the wine.
This week’s wine news: Supermarket wine prices vary significantly from state to state, plus a study says liquor stores and high crime are related and the FTC is going after social media influencers
• Supermarket wine prices: A home product review and renovation site says U.S. supermarket wine prices vary significantly by state, with Mississippi and Georgia selling the most expensive bottles. I mention this not because it’s news to anyone who spends any time on the blog, but because it’s always fascinating to see how non-booze sites deal with wine. To its credit, House Method, which did the survey, doesn’t draw any conclusions about why there is such disparity. (Or explain how it bought wine in supermarkets in states without supermarket wine sales.) The results, at the link, are interesting, if nothing else. Who knew red wine was less expensive in Hawaii than in California?
• Less booze, less crime? That’s the approach one study is urging on Baltimore officials as city leaders rewrite its zoning laws, with an eye toward reducing the number of liquor stores and bars in the city. North Carolina researchers used a computer model that took into account homicide rates in Baltimore, as well as previous research that showed one-half of violent crime can be attributed to alcohol access. The result? The study found that cutting the number of alcohol outlets might reduce homicides by as many as 50 a year, as well as generate savings of as much as $60 million annually.
This edition of Ask the WC: Where to find affordable white Bordeaux, plus crossing state lines with illegal wine, and the lower alcohol trend
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.
Hi, Wine Curmudgeon: Can you help me find an affordable white Bordeaux? Recently had a $36 bottle of the white blend that was heavenly but out of my daily price range. Looking for value
Dear Value: Premiumization strikes again. Fortunately, there is still plenty of quality, cheap white Bordeaux — the white wine, often a blend of sauvingon blanc and semillion, from the Bordeaux region of France. Chateau Bonnet, which is one of the great cheap wines of all time, is mostly available nationally and should be less than $15. Whole Foods’ Château La Gravière Blanc was the 2019 cheap wine of the year. And you can always use the search box on the upper right hand side of the blog — type in white Bordeaux.
Dear Wine Curmudgeon: I’ve heard that it’s illegal to buy wine in one state and then bring it back into your state. Is that true, or just another urban myth? Bootlegging wine
Dear Bootlegging: Yes, it may be illegal, depending on the state where you buy the wine and the state that is its final destination. Because, of course, three-tier. It would require an attorney and a couple of thousands dollars worth of consultation to be more specific about the various states and their penalties. But know that if you’re driving with wine purchased in another state, and you’re stopped for speeding in your state, there’s a chance that your wine can be confiscated and you can be fined.
Hello WC: I heard a story on NPR that young people aren’t drinking as much as we used to drink. That can’t be true, can it? Young people always drink, don’t they? Isn’t that part of being young? Aging Baby Boomer
Dear Aging: Here’s how much of a trend people in the booze business think this is: I wrote two stories this summer, for different trade magazines, about young people drinking less alcohol. So, yes, there seems to be something to the idea that the youngest Gen Xers, the Millennials, and the oldest Gen Zs aren’t as enamored of getting drunk as the Baby Boomers were at that age. The experts I talked to cited any number of reasons, but one struck me. When I was 19, it was a rite of passage to drive drunk. Today, we have designated drivers. Hence, a significant culture change.
This week’s wine news: Century-old shipwreck wine off the coast of Cornwall, plus NBA coach Gregg Popovich’s and wine and the National Review takes on the three-tier system
• Under water for 100 years: The Wine Curmudgeon must confess to a weakness for stories about shipwreck wine. Why is there such enthusiasm to rescue it, given that it’s probably not going to be drinkable? The most recent story comes from Cornwall, where a ship sailing from Bordeaux was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1918. Now, a group wants to salvage the cargo. There’s no word on what wine it might include, though a spokesman associated with the operation claims it’s a “one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a part of one of the most significant historical discoveries of the century. The rarity of such a cargo is unprecedented. …” On the other hand, it could be nothing more than pinard, the cheap red wine French soldiers were issued during the war.
• NBA wine culture: I don’t often get to write about wine and sports, but this item, from Psychology Today, does just that: “In a neo-Temperance public health period, Gregg Popovich stands apart.” The piece cites Popovich’s embrace of wine culture as something good – not something that will kill all of us if we have one glass. Popovich “is the son of parents from Serbia and Croatia. … For him, wine is essential to group gatherings.” And who can argue with one of the greatest coaches in NBA history?
• Too much government: Caleb Whitmer, writing in the National Review, asks: “Are crazy state liquor laws constitutional?” Regular visitors here know the answer to that question, but it is good to see one of the country’s leading political journals address the question. Whitmer misses the role the country’s alcohol distributors play in keeping the system buttoned down, blaming three-tier on local retailers and state legislatures. Still, it’s worthwhile reading, and especially his discussion of Mississippi’s quaint Prohibition-era liquor laws.
Illustration courtesy of Points: The blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, using a Creative Commons license