This week’s wine news: Walmart will appeal take Texas liquor store case to Supreme court, plus blog favorite Grocery Outlet wins award and the neo-Prohibitionists strike again
• Walmart appeal: Walmart, rebuffed twice by a federal appeals court, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to be allowed to open liquor stores in Texas. We’ve followed this closely on the blog, since Walmart is trying to overturn a state law that forbids publicly-held or out of state companies from getting a retail liquor license (one of the WC’s favorite three-tier restrictions). Walmart won its case at the trial level, but was rebuffed twice by the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. There’s no certainty the Supreme Court will take Walmart’s case. But if it does, expect some serious three-tier fireworks.
• Award-winner: The Wine Enthusiast has named blog favorite Grocery Outlet as one of its 50 best U.S. wine retailers. This is a big deal, if only because Grocery Outlet — best known for its cheap wine — is still mostly on the West Coast. The award puts Grocery Outlet in the same class as Costco, perhaps the U.S. leader in what the magazine calls “value-driven” wine.
• One glass of wine: An influential federal panel, reports Forbes, is recommending that men reduce alcohol intake to one drink per day, and that all Americans should cut back on added sugars. Who knew that a couple of glasses of wine were as deadly as that quart of vanilla ice cream? But that’s the finding from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which says that the extra glass of wine is associated with a “modest but meaningful increase” in death rates.
This week’s wine news: Randall Grahm sells Bonny Doon, Walmart booze plan in Texas suffers setback, and why there’s no health news on the blog
• Boony Doon is sold: Randall Grahm has sold his Boony Doon Vineyard, marking the end of one of the most unique and iconoclastic wine operations in the U.S. The new owner is WarRoom Ventures, a marketing company that owns California’s Lapis Luna Wines. No sales price was disclosed. Grahm, who pretty much invented the non-traditional wine label and pioneered screwcaps and ingredient labels, will become a partner in the new venture and oversee winemaking. The new Bonny Doon will make just four wines, and not its current 15 — its outstanding rose, a picpoul, and its flagship red and white Rhone blends. Boony Doon, regardless of whether the new company is successful, will be missed. For one thing, I will have less reason to talk to Grahm, who is always a treat, and I won’t be able to buy his standouts syrahs, some of my favorite wines in the world.
• Banging head against wall: The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to re-examine Walmart’s attempt to open liquor stores in Texas. The ruling means the retailer can try to appeal to the Supreme Court or give up on its plan, which seemed quite possible after it won on the district level in 2018. But the Fifth Circuit has twice refused to hear the Walmart suit questioning the constitutionality of a Texas law that prohibits publicly-held companies from getting a retail liquor license. Its reasoning? That Texas law discriminates equally against in-state and out-of-state publicly held companies. Cue the three-tier meme. The only good news from this? If Walmart appeals and the Supremes agree to hear the case, it could be one more chip in the wall of three-tier.
• More of the same: The Wine Curmudgeon banned health news from the blog years ago, since most of it was stupid or foolish or both. So here comes one more story to remind us why the ban is in place: Coffee may help people lost weight. Someone, somewhere, got money to do what appears to be legitimate academic research to discover the same thing that companies that make over the counter diet pills already know. Caffeine is a stimulant. Stimulants are diet aids. Coffee has caffeine. Sigh. And I once had an academic impugn the integrity of this research. Had only I known….
This week’s wine news: Wine retailers Walmart, Total Wine, BevMo are in the headlines
• Pricing dispute: BevMo, the West Coast liquor chain, has accused Total Wine of unfair advertising. It claimed that the latter’s ad campaign — “Don’t Paymo at BevMo” – that said BevMo’s prices were higher than Total’s wasn’t true. BevMo brought its complaint to the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory group set up by the ad business. Total declined to participate in the process, which it is allowed to do. What’s interesting here is that Total, which seems to spend as much time courtrooms as Perry Mason, wasn’t worried by the challenge, which was made by one of the biggest regional chains in the country.
• Pricing dispute II: Total has also run afoul of the Massachusetts liquor cops, who have accused it of violating the state’s minimum pricing laws. The chain has sued the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission for briefly suspending the licenses of two Total stores for allegedly selling vodka, rum, and other booze for $1 to $6 below cost. In the Total suit, the company said it assumes that local retailers turned the chain in to the state because they didn’t want to compete on price.
• Election dispute: How deep are Walmart’s pockets? The retailer spent more than $4.8 million that helped pass a ballot measure to allow wine sales in Oklahoma grocery stores. That was some 90 percent of the money raised by the group supporting grocery store wine sales. And, because this is about booze sales, the results of the election have ended up in federal court. The state’s retail liquor trade group claims the measure is unconstitutional and wants it voided.
The La Moneda malbec will be in Dallas-area Walmarts, but who knows which ones and who knows when?
May 15, 2017 update: A reader writes: Why so much publicity and so little availability?
Nov. 27 update: The Wine Curmudgeon braved Black Friday Dallas traffic to drive to a Walmart in Irving and bought the last bottle in the store. The review is here.
The news last week that the La Moneda malbec – “the world’s greatest cheap wine” – was going on sale in the U.S. demonstrated two things: First, that the Wine Curmudgeon will do almost anything for his art, and second, that the three-tier system is just as antiquated and worn out as I have always said it was.
I spent Monday morning hunting for the wine, a Walmart private label and available only at the chain. I visited the Walmart near me (“Never heard of it,” said the store manager); called the two biggest distributors in Texas to see which one worked with Walmart; and contacted the company’s media relations office in Bentonville, Ark.
The consensus? The La Moneda malbec should be available in some Walmart stores in the Dallas area sooner rather than later. Which ones? We’ll have to wait and see. The company spokeswoman emailed me that “Many stores in North Texas have or will receive the wine: multiple locations in Plano and Fort Worth, Arlington and Irving.” Meanwhile, the distributor told me the wine was in their warehouse, and he’d call if, when, and where it shipped.
Which is hardly definitive, but shows just how badly three-tier works in the 21st century.
Walmart is one of the world leaders in supply chain efficiency, and academics study the company to see how it eliminates waste and increases productivity in ordering merchandise. Walmart is supposed to be so good at this that it can tell you how many widgets are on the shelf at each of its almost 12,000 stores with a couple of mouse clicks.
This is a far cry from what the manager at the store near me said. “I’ll have to ask my food guy, who who will have to ask his wine guy,” the manager said. No mouse clicks here, because this is wine and not widgets.
Walmart’s supply chain brilliance is based on dealing directly with the producer. Which, of course, isn’t the case with wine. Three-tier laws require it to deal with the distributor, which adds another layer of bureaucracy, confusion, and waste to the supply chain. In this case, the wine’s availability is not about Walmart, but about the distributor. The world’s biggest and most important retailer is waiting on a third party to decide when it gets product. How quaint.
Next week, hopefully, I’ll review the La Moneda malbec. But if I don’t, you’ll know why — thank you, three-tier.
Three things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.
All that may be about to change.
Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.
I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.
More, after the jump: Continue reading