Tag Archives: three-tier system

Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system is rigged

Madeline Puckette

Madeline Puckette: The three-tier system gouges consumers

Says Puckette: The system gouges consumers with crappy wine and too high prices

Wine Retail Rant (Why Grocery Store Wines Are Rigged),” written by Wine Folly impresario Madeline Puckette is just the sort of thing that people who are more or less members of the wine establishment don’t write. It’s the sort of thing that I write, and we know what the Winestream Media and the wine establishment think of me.

Nevertheless, there it was, in all its incendiary glory. Wrote Puckette – who has initials after her name: The grocery store wine business is “a rigged market. … runs on Prohibition-Era policies that ultimately gouge the wine consumer, hurt independent wineries, and even hurt small retailers.”

Damn. Someone who isn’t a friend of mine actually agrees with me

The story is remarkable, and not just because of who wrote it. First, the Winestream Media doesn’t acknowledge wine is sold in grocery stores. Second, even if it did, it wouldn’t drink it. Third, it doesn’t acknowledge wine pricing, let alone complain that something isn’t a value. And to use the word “gouge”? Be still my beating heart.

Fourth, and most importantly, it almost never criticizes the Big Wine and three-tier system, and Big Wine makes almost all of the wine we buy in grocery stores. The wine establishment and the big producers and distributors that dominate three-tier are like the bird that eats the insects off grazing animals; each makes the other’s life easier, and both benefit. That they benefit at the expense of those of us who want quality wine at a fair price — and that is easy to buy — is not a consideration.

Yet Puckette is saying exactly that: “So basically, each transaction along the Three Tiers has a tax and a mark-up. The end result is that consumers pay $22 for a wine that the winery sold for $7. … Now, imagine that grocery store wine for $11.99? It was probably really crappy.”

Hmmmm. Where have we read this before?

I’m not as sanguine as Puckette is about some of the solutions she offers, which includes direct sales (though she does say nice things about private label wine). We need to tear three-tier down, not find a way around it. Still, Puckette’s rant is a fine start – in this effort, we need all the help we can get.

Winebits 571: Ed Lowe, three-tier foolishness, wine prices

ed loweThis week’s wine news: Ed Lowe, whose Dallas restaurant served Texas wine when hardly anyone knew what it was, has died. Plus, New York state three-tier foolishness and cheaper bulk wine prices

Ed Lowe: How important was Ed Lowe to the U.S. regional wine movement? He served Texas wine for 30 years at his Celebration restaurant in Dallas, and when he started doing that Texas wine was chancy at best. Lowe, 69, died before Thanksgiving during a canoe trip in the state’s Big Bend region. I knew Lowe a little, and we talked several times about local wine, his half-price Thursday night wine promotion, and quality local food. Celebration was farm-to-table long before the term was invented by some East Coast hype guru, and Lowe (who could still be seen busing tables) truly believed in the concept. The world will be a poorer place without him.

Take that, Wegman’s: The East Coast grocery store chain has been fined more than $1 million for illegally managing liquor stores by the New York state booze cops. That’s because grocery stores aren’t allowed to sell alcohol in New York, save in one location. The state liquor authority claimed Wegman’s violated any number of laws and regulations, including “illegally trafficking in wine.” That’s a delightful 21st century crime, yes? The infractions are arcane to anyone who doesn’t follow three-tier, and Wegman’s may actually have violated the law. The larger question, though, is why these laws still exist.

• “Awash with wine:” More bad news for premiumization – wine prices in the bulk market are dropping, “and in some cases, significantly,” reports a British wine trade magazine. The world is flush with wine after bountiful 2018 harvests around the world, and those interviewed in the story say prices could keep falling. Why do bulk prices matter? Because, save for the most expensive wines in the world, bulk prices influence the price of grapes everywhere. Cheaper bulk prices usually mean cheaper grape prices, and that usually means cheaper wine prices.

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 569: Organic wine, three-tier lawsuits, New York wine

organic wineThis week’s wine news: California betting on organic wine, plus three-tier lawsuits and an English critic signs off on New York wine

Make it organic: Organic wine has never been especially popular in the U.S., with a market share in the low single digits. But several producers see its growth as part of premiumization, as consumers pay more for better quality wine. “I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just not happening as quickly as we like,” says one winemaker. “I think it’s inevitable.” Perhaps. But until consumers see a difference between organic wine and conventional wine – the way they do with tomatoes – inevitable doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Join the lawsuits: Want to participate in the upcoming Tennessee three-tier case that will be heard by the Supreme Court? Then you can contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the Tennessee law. The campaign, sponsored by a retailer trade group and WineFreedom.org, which works for three-tier reform, was near its $25,000 goal at the beginning of the week. Meanwhile, the trade group for the country’s distributors and wholesalers filed an amicus brief asking the court to uphold the law because three-tier is vital to the safety of the republic.

Drink Local: Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, has been to New York’s Finger Lakes and found it worth drinking: “We are as far from Red Cat” as possible, referring to the legendary cheap, sweet white wine that fueled New York’s wine business for decades. That Jefford, one of Britain’s leading wine writers, likes what he found in the Fingers Lakes speaks volumes about how far Drink Local has come.

Winebits 565: Wine advice, ancient wine, three-tier system

ancient wine

This week’s wine news: More bad wine advice, plus a shipwreck could hold evidence of 2,400-year-old wine and a another challenge to the three-tier system

No, no, no: Points and scores are bad enough, but when a general interest website runs a story aimed at beginning wine drinkers and starts throwing around winespeak, we know we’re in trouble. But that’s what the Skillet site did, advising a white wine drinker to try a red made using carbonic maceration. There is almost no reason for anyone to know what that means, unless you’re a wine geek. And, of course, most people aren’t wine geeks. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business? Next time, use English – words like soft, fruity, and so forth – and then drop in tannins if you want to get technical.

More than 20 centuries old? A 2,400 year-old wreck has been found in the Black Sea, and researchers think the ship may have been used to carry and trade wine. “Normally we find amphorae (wine vases) and can guess where it’s come from, but with this it’s still in the hold,” said a member of the expedition. The wreck is similar to the ship pictured on the Siren Vase in the British Museum. The vase, dating to around 480 BC, shows Odysseus (of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) strapped to the mast as his ship sails past three sea nymphs.

Another challenge: A Florida-based wine importer has filed suit in California, claiming that the state’s version of the three-tier system is unconstitutional. The Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty law blog says that if the suit is successful, any importer or wholesaler in the U.S. – even if they don’t have a California license – may be permitted to sell to California retailers without using an in-state distributor. This would be a revolutionary change, possibly making it easier for consumers to buy wine previously unavailable. However, the firm doesn’t rate the suit’s chances highly, noting that the precedent used in the suit hasn’t been applied to importers before, calling it a “bridge too far” in the suit’s approach.

Winebits 561: Drink Local, three-tier, Dave McIntyre

drink local

Cool… a book about local wine trails

This week’s wine news: Drink Local gets a book, plus three-tier and the Supreme Court and Dave McIntyre celebrates his 10th anniversary at the Washington Post

All over the country: One more sign that drink local has become mainstream – a travel guide from one of the world’s leading travel publishers. Lonely Planet’s “Wine Trails: United States and Canada” includes 40 wine trails: The usual California, Oregon, and Washington suspects, plus Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Nova Scotia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, and Maryland. Again, if someone had told me I’d be writing about this book when we started Drink Local in 2007, I’d have laughed. And rarely have I been so glad to be wrong. So glad, in fact, that we’ll give a copy of the book away during Birthday Week next month.

Bring on the Supremes: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a key three-tier case this term, though it may not be as important as many people are making it out to be. The court will decide the constitutionality of a Tennessee law that requires anyone who wants a retail liquor license to be a state resident. Residency laws are often used to keep out-of-state companies, like Total Wine, from opening in a new state (and was used in 2016 in Indiana to stop an Illinois chain from opening stores). This Tennessee case is a big deal, given how few three-tier laws get to the Supreme Court. But there has also been a lot of cyber-buzz that the court will use it to allow direct shipping from out-of-state retailers, so that someone in Texas, for example, can buy wine from a store in Illinois. Currently, that’s illegal in most of the U.S. I checked with the blog’s liquor law attorney, and he says it’s too early to tell if a residency case could transform into a direct shipping case. If anything develops, I’ll write more.

Congratulations, Dave: My pal Dave McIntyre, who was a co-founder of Drink Local Wine, recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as the Washington Post’s wine critic. This is most welcome news, and not just because Dave and I have been friends for a long time. He possesses a fine palate, cares about quality and value, and wants to share those things with his readers. Would that more people who do this thought the same way.

Winebits 555: Bad rose, buying alcohol, wine additives

bad roseThis week’s wine news: A sommelier says there’s bad rose out there, plus technology could make carding drinkers obsolete and researchers may have found the ultimate wine additive

Score one for quality rose: No, I didn’t write this, which makes it even more refreshing: “… but when I see big-brand pink swill on otherwise nice restaurant menus, I get furious. You might know which brands I am talking about, the ones that sponsor huge parties in the Hamptons. They masquerade as luxury goods, with fun bottle shapes and cutesy names, but are simply bulk wines.” That’s Manhattan sommelier Victoria James, writing in Bon Appetit, and her rant took guts. It’s one thing for me to say that, given it’s the blog’s reason for being. But when you’re in the belly of the beast, as James is, it’s that much more difficult. And all she writes is correct, whether it’s being offered money to add wine to restaurant lists, the tarted up bottles made to look like perfume dispensers, and the other tricks foisted off on those of us who love rose. Welcome to the fight, Victoria.

New way to ID: Technology has made it possible to card booze drinkers without an ID, thanks to biometrics. Your fingerprint can serve as your ID; it can be scanned to prove who you are. The story doesn’t go much farther than that, but the technology may have other uses. In buying wine over the Internet, for example, it would make underage ordering almost impossible. The delivery driver could scan a print, which so far can’t be faked the way a driver’s license can, to see if the person buying the bottle is old enough. And would be another blow against the three-tier system.

Is that wine oily enough for you? Researchers in Spain may have found a plant oil that will make yeast more efficient during fermentation in the winemaking process, reports Scientific American. It’s a fascinating discovery (and the article isn’t too complicated, given its pedigree), but it raises several questions that it doesn’t answer. Are more efficient yeasts better for wine? Will it affect the wine in any other way?

Winebits 554: Three-tier, Aldi wine, corks

three-tierThis week’s wine news: North Carolina state liquor agency has been wasting taxpayer money for years, plus Aldi says it will upgrade its wine aisle and corks are now perfect

Are we surprised? North Carolina’s state-run liquor stores have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars through more than a decade of mismanagement, reports the News & Observer newspaper in Charlotte. The state auditor told the newspaper that $11.3 million vanished from Alcoholic Beverage Commission coffers in 13 years. “There was just no overview, no oversight,” she said. “There was no monitoring of that contract. You just had a contractor come up and say ‘I want more money,’ … and whatever the contractor asked for, it was what they got.” The irony here? State-owned liquor stores exist as part of the three-tier system in some 17 places, to prevent organized crime from corrupting the process. But who needs organized crime when you can get away with this? “Every year since 2004, the audit found, the [agency] authorized more state spending than it was allowed to. … The [agency] has four in-house lawyers, as well as a 12-person internal auditing team and multiple levels of management.”

I’ll believe it when I see it: The Wine Curmudgeon long ago stopped trusting discount grocery Aldi when it came to wine; I’ve spent too much time shopping there to swallow the chain’s wine hooey when the big seller is Winking Owl. But Aldi is at it again, “touting its award-winning wines” as part of a four-year, $5.3 billion remodeling and expansion effort in an interview with Forbes. I’ll repeat the interview I had with my store manager when the remodel and expansion was announced: “Wine? We have lots of wine. Why do we need more?” It would be one thing if Aldi added the cheap, high-quality wines it sells in Europe, but it appears to have taken the path used by most U.S. supermarkets – cheap, poorly made wine, sold because it’s cheap.

Corks are now perfect: Or so say the cork people, in announcing its latest tech upgrade in cork production. “This will change the wine world,” says the headline, but it doesn’t include the caveat for the worse. It’s good to know that we will still need a special, difficult to use tool to open a wine bottle when more and more people are not drinking wine. That’s sure to do convince them to move over to wine. By the way, those of you will are going to cancel your email or RSS subscription to the blog (because several of you always do when I write about corks): Use the safely unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email.